Best Outdoor Activities in Rio de Janeiro

10 Ways to Make the Most of Rio's Magnificent Natural Landscape

Rio de Janeiro really puts the 'great' in 'great outdoors'. The city is a dream destination for thrill seekers, sporty types and nature lovers.  The stunning city is home not only to seemingly endless beaches, but it also boasts eye-boggling mountains, and the world's largest swathe of urban jungle in the form of Tijuca National Park. Surfers and bodyboarders hone their skills at the beaches west of the city, while joggers and cyclists speed along the beachfront.

Rio de Janeiro outdoor activities can be as heart-racingly energetic or as soothingly laid back as visitors choose. While a strong undertow at most Rio de Janeiro beaches means that swimming is best left to the locals, there is ample opportunity to learn to surf with skilled instructors in Rio, while pleasant gardens such as Jardim Botanico and Parque Lage provide an opportunity to appreciate the city's magnificent native flora without breaking a sweat.

Hardy souls can hike through the jungle to arrive at legendary statue of Christ the Redeemer, at the peak of Corcovado mountain, while more leisurely strolls will lead visitors past natural pools and waterfalls to viewpoints that take in sweeping vistas over this most dramatically beautiful of citites.

And with a year-round hot, sunny climate, the only excuse for staying indoors is a tropical downpour - when it rains, the locals make a dash for their homes, or the nearest bar. 


Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

Lagao Rodrigues de Freitas, or Lagoa as it is popularly known, is Rio's beautiful city lake and yet another postcard perfect scene in this city of so many natural wonders. The vast stretch of water is flanked by jungle-clad, cloud-swathed mountains, and ringed by a seven-kilometer walking, running and cycling track that is a major draw for health-conscious locals. Tourists flock to take swan pedal boats out into the water, and this is a great place for a family day out. Cafes, bars and restaurants around the lake make pleasant places of a cooling drink and a revitalising bite to eat, and are often filled with the sound of live music after dark.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Visitors can take a boat onto the lake or run, cycle, or stroll the 7km perimeter.

Lucy's expert tip: Head here at Christmas to see an absolutely enormous artificial Christmas tree - lit with millions of twinkling stars - right in the middle of the lake.

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Sugar Loaf (Pao de Acucar)
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

One of the most famous mountain peaks in the world, Sugar Loaf (Pao de Acucar in Portuguese) scarcely needs an introduction. But while you may be familiar with the tourist board images of the cable car making its dizzying ascent up to the top of the mountain, nothing can prepare you for the spectacular views and the true splendor of Rio's cityscape as it unfurls below. The cable car makes two stops - calling first at Morro da Urca, Sugar Loaf's smaller sister mountain, before continuing its journey to the lofty vantage point. Sugar Loaf juts right out of the Atlantic Ocean, and the sweeping vistas of white sand beaches, jungle-clad mountains and crashing waves will take your breath away.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Climbing tours for all abilities make it possible to ascend the steep sides of this magnificent mountain.

Lucy's expert tip: Try to time your visit to catch sunset from the top of the mountain. Sipping a caipirinha while the pumpkin sun descends over the city is an unforgettable experience.

Read more about Sugar Loaf (Pao de Acucar) →

No trip to Rio would be complete without a trip to see 'the Big Guy', and the views from the feet of this most iconic of statues are truly breathtaking. One of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World, the 'Christo Redentor' stands tall atop Corcovado, or 'hunchback' mountain - the highest peak in this city of rugged mountains. While minibus trips run up to the statue, the best way to make the ascent is to ride the funicular railway. As the little red train climbs through the jungle-clad hills, leaving sweeping vistas in its wake, it's not uncommon for live samba bands to entertain passengers onboard.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Hardy types can take organised hikes through the jungle up to the legendary statue on his mountaintop perch.

Lucy's expert tip: While there are walking trails up to the Christ Statue, it is not safe to walk up unless you are with a group and an experienced guide

Read more about Christ the Redeemer and Corcovado Mountain →


While Copacabana wins out as the most picture-perfect city beach in Rio, Ipanema is easily the more chic of the two neighboring stretches of sand. Less flanked by high rise hotels than its neighbor, Ipanema is the ideal place to while away the hours just working on that tan and watching the beautiful people glide by. There are scores of kiosks selling tempting food and drink, too. The towering twin peaks of the Dois Irmaos (two brothers) mountains frames the beach scene in spectacular fashion, and visitors will find the beach informally divided into social groups. Head to Posto Nove (Lifeguard post 9) for a young, hip crowd, or look for the giant rainbow flag if you're looking for gay-friendly sunbathing and socializing.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Sporty types flock here to play soccer, handball, volleyball and a host of other athletic pursuits.

Lucy's expert tip: Rio's beaches are its social spaces - don't be afraid to try out your Portuguese if somebody catches your eye on the beach, just make sure they're not already accompanied before you try out your lines!

Read more about Ipanema Beach →

Botanical Gardens
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

The informal restaurant inside the leafy gardens that give Jardim Botanico its name is one of the most pleasant spots in the city to enjoy a sandwich, salad and a coffee or glass of wine. This shady botanical garden is a must-visit for anyone with an interest in the fascinating flora and fauna of Rio as well as those just looking for a shady retreat from the sticky heat of the city streets. Colorful butterflies flutter through some 6,500 species of vegetation, while chattering marmoset monkeys play overhead. The sprawling gardens are spread over some 55 acres, with trails leading from one point of interest to another. It is perfectly possible to spend an entire day in this scenic park, so head here early in the morning to make the most of all there is to see here.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: A stroll through the beautiful botanical gardens is a low-key way to appreciate Rio's truly great outdoors.

Lucy's expert tip: Bring a picnic if you're on a budget - there are several cafes within the park, but they are predictably pricey.

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Rio de Janeiro´s city beaches are famous the world over, and with good reason. But if you´ve been partying hard during your Rio vacation and are feeling the need for a little rest and relaxation in more tranquil surrounds, the Costa Verde (Green Coast) of Rio de Janeiro State beckons. This paradisiacal stretch of coastline takes in innumerous beaches and more islands than one could count - the Costa Verde town of Ilha Grande is in itself surrouned by 365 islands. The largest of these is the vast nature reserve of Ilha Grande, whose history as a prison for dangerous criminals and, before that, a leper colony, have not stopped visitors from flocking here in the search for isolated beaches surrounded by wild palms and chattering monkeys, as opposed to the high rise hotels of Copacabana. Of the beaches on Ilha Grande, Lopes Mendes is the most dramatically beautiful with its white sands and lapping waves. Take a boat if you don?--´t fancy the two-hour jungle trek to get here from Ilha Grande?--´s one real town.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Boat rides along the beautiful Costa Verde - Green Coast - allow for diving, snorkelling and swimming.

Lucy's expert tip: The main points of interest along the Costa Verde are Mangaratiba, Angra dos Reis and Ilha Grande. Boats depart from Angra dos Reis each afternoon and take around two hours. Should you miss the official ferry, there are scores of fishing boats on hand to transport you to your island paradise.

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Copacabana Beach
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

Copacabana beach is famous the world over, and while it's 1950s glamorous heyday is over, it is still a spectacular stretch of sand. The crashing waves, scantically-clad beachgoers and skilled beach soccer players all call the eye, while the vision of Sugar Loaf mountain in the background frames the scene perfectly. This is one of the best places in Rio to shop for keepsakes and gifts for friends and family back home - and you can do it all from the comfort of a beachfront bar. Vendors stroll along the beachfront, selling all manner of goods from replica christ statues (scaled down, of course) to hats, t-shirts and sarongs.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Copacabana beach attracts soccer players, volleyball enthusiasts, runners and other sporty types.

Lucy's expert tip: Give a polite but firm shake of the head to the many beach vendors if you don't want to buy their wares - some can be pushy if they think there's a chance of a sale.

Read more about Copacabana Beach →

This beautiful park, located right next door to Rio de Janeiro's famous Botanical Gardens, is largely overlooked by tourists. More fool them, as the park is home to one of the most spectacular builldings in the city, framed by the figure of Chriar the Redeemer atop his mountain perch. This building is currently home to an art school, and there are regular exhibitions, and is also the location for a coffee shop and restaurant that make great options for a leisurely brunch. The park may be recognisable to hip hop fans - it appears in the video for --Beautiful--, by Snoop Dogg and Pharell.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Parque Lage can be a relaxed picnic spot or the starting point for hikes into the Tijuca National Park.

Lucy's expert tip: Take some time to wander around the park - it throws up a few surprises in the form of caves and other curiosities

Read more about Parque Lage →

Some 40-minutes bus or cab ride away from Ipanema and Copacabana, this scenic beach is a popular hangout for surfers and body boarders. Although packed at weekends and on public holidays, it is usually blissfully quiet during the week. The ambiance is a world away from the touristic rush and crush of Rio´s more famous beaches, and the jungle-fringed setting is nothing short of spectacular. Nearby, informal bar-restaurants offer a chance to refuel, and the atmosphere here is a whole lot more laid back and less hectic than that of central Rio. Although not far from the rush and crush of the city, it feels like a whole world away.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: One of Rio's farther-flung beaches, Recreio is blissfully quiet during the work week and is a great place for surfers to hone their skills.

Lucy's expert tip: Avoid heading to Recreio during peak traffic times - from 7am-10am and 4pm-7pm on weekdays, as traffic bottlenecks mean the journey can take hours.

Read more about Praia do Recreio →

Tijuca National Park
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

The largest stretch of urban jungle in the world, Tijuca National Park is home to Corcovado mountain and the Christ statue as well as being the setting for some serious outdoor pursuits. It isn't advisable to enter the jungle without a knowledgeable guide - not least because getting lost would be all too easy - but visitors can take their pick pick from a vast range of guides and tour operators running everything from hop-on, hop-off sightseeing drives to mountain-climbing adventures. Natural pools and waterfalls provide an opportunity to cool down, but be sure to bring plenty of drinking water.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: As the world's largest urban jungle, this is the ultimate outdoor playground.

Lucy's expert tip: Slather on the insect repellent, and wear loose, comfortable clothes that cover the body as much as possible - there are lots of biting insects here.

Read more about Tijuca National Park →


Meet Lucy Bryson

Lucy is a British freelance writer living in Rio de Janeiro since 2007. While there are some things she misses about her home country, the lure of year-round sunshine has proved too powerful to resist.