10 Top Tours and Excursions to Enjoy in Beautiful Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is a city blessed with far more than its fair share of attractions - both natural and manmade. The landscape itself is dazzling, with curious mountain formations, dense jungle, crashing waves and white sand beaches all part of the cityscape. In addition, the city is home to innumerous iconic man-made images, of which the most famous is the statue of Christ the Redeemer, embracing the city from his lofty mountaintop perch. The beautiful hilltop neighborhood of Santa Teresa is cooled ny mountain breezes and is home to the city´s most impressive colonial buildings as well as some of its most welcoming bars and restaurants. while the farther-flung beaches of Grumari and Recreio are a far cry from the built up sands of Copacabana and Ipanema and are popular with surfers and photographers. And while Rio de Janeiro city offers so much, the wider state has still more to offer - those who can fit in a trip along the gorgeous Costa Verde (Green Coast) would be wise to do so.

Rio de Janeiro is a city divided by jungle and mountains. and finding the time to visit all those ´must-see´attractions can be a genuine challenge, ans taking an organized tour or excursion is often the best way to fit everything into one visit. Very time-pressed travellers would be wise to look out for companies offering whistle stop ´City Tours´.


Praia do Recreio

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.

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. While it isn't safe to enter the jungle without a knowledgeable guide - not least because getting lost would be all too easy - you can take your pick from a 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.

Costa Verde

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.

Botanical Gardens
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

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.

Praia Grumari

Some 30 kilometers west of Rio, Grumari is a wonderfully unspoilt beach surrounded by dense jungle and accessible only by car or by taking a very long, arduous hike (there are no bus routes out here). The beach is as sedate and tranquil as Copacabana is frenetic and people-packed, and the number of vehicles allowed access to the beach is limited at weekends and holidays, meaning that it never gets too busy. Grumari beach is located in an area of environmental protection, meaning that there is little danger of high rise hotels spoiling the tranquility any time soon. As such, so this is a top spot for nature loving sunseekers.

Cruz the Coast Brazil operates fun, hassle-free tours between Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, as well as loops within Rio de Janeiro state. Taking in gorgeous beaches, wild jungle and natural pools as well as activities such as capoeira classes and barbeques, Cruz the Coast tours whisk passengers from door to door on trips that last from four to 11 days. With savvy English-speaking guides, comfortable transportation, door to door pick up-up and drop-offs and the option for pre-arranged accommodation, these tours are ideal for fun-loving visitors to Rio who want to see more of beautiful Brazil, and there are even optional - free - Portuguese classes.

Santa Teresa
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

There's more to Rio de Janeiro than its beaches, and the artistic heart of the city can be found up in the jungle-clad hills of Santa Teresa. Here, pastel-colored colonial mansions have been converted into bucolic bars, friendly guest houses, artists' studios and some of the best restaurants in Rio, and the lofty location makes for some terrific views over the city. Start your visit to Santa Teresa at Largo do Guimaraes, the busy square at the start of the city, and follow the steep cobbled streets to discover vintage clothes stores, bustling drinking dens and some of the friendliest locals in the city.

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.

No visit 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.

No visitor to Rio can fail to notice the favelas - communities built on the hillsides - and a tour of these complex communities can lead to a better understanding of the city itself. Understandably, many visitors have concerns about 'poverty tourism', but the original - and still the best - of the favela tours is actually an insightful and sensitive look at how these communities function. Marcelo Armstrong has been leading favela tours since the 1980s, and his visitors are respected and welcomed by the communities. Favela tours take visitors to Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil, and the smaller Canoas, and provide an opportunity to speak to locals, and see how this sector of society lives.


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.