Sugar Loaf Mountain is just something you do when you visit Rio, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Nearly 1,300 feet above the ocean lies this giant mound of granite and quartz, apply named for its resemblance to the traditional mound shape of refined sugar.
Being afraid of heights, I knew I was in trouble when I was asked if I wanted to hang glide. Ummm…well, apparently that guy didn’t realize that I chickened out of my bungy jump in New Zealand recently. No matter, I politely declined his invitation and got in queue for tickets.
As I was standing in line, I caught a glimpse of exactly what I was buying a ticket for. Above my head was a giant bubble attached to a way-too-thin cable. This bubble would first take me 720 feet up Morro da Urca. Then I would get in a second bubble and it would take us up another 600 or so feet to Pão de Açúcar, which is the summit. Really? I was paying to be scared to death?
Sixty-five of us crammed into a bubble and we slowly ascended up the mountain. I saw the ticket office get smaller and smaller and my pulse raced faster and faster. A couple of minutes later, and I was stepping onto the platform. Whew! I felt much better having my feet on solid ground.
Morro da Urca has an original German-designed cable cars first used in 1912. They were referred to as “bondinhos” because of their resemblance to the Rio electric street cars. In the original cars it took 4.5 minutes to get to Morro da Urca and six minutes to get to Pão de Açúcar. The most each car could hold was 22 people and 2,100 were transported each day. After being in service for 60 years, these cars were finally replaced in 1972.
Also on Morro da Urca is a heliport. For R$180,00 (US$105), you can get a six to seven minute aerial view of the city, but for R$1.050,00 (US$615), you can get an hour. There are multiple routes and various price levels as well. I defiantly passed on the helicopter ride.
Just in case you get hungry or thirsty on the ride up, there are several places to buy something to eat and drink. Or if you’ve decided you need some diamonds, there’s a H. Stern store. I was especially relieved to see that, because I just never know when the urge to buy a diamond is going to strike.
The views from Sugar Loaf are all spectacular and vary depending on your location. You can see the marina.
You can see the red umbrellas on Copacabana Beach.
You can watch planes take off and land at Santos Dumont Airport.
You can see kids mimicking Christ the Redeemer.
After exploring Morro da Urca, we hopped in the giant bubble and continued our trek to Pão de Açúcar. More views and shops greeted us, including Amsterdam Sauer, another fine jewelry store. You know, just in case you want to buy more diamonds.
Down a flight of stairs and a steep ramp is a vantage point that many visitors miss. There you’ll find a series of paths covered by jungle. Picnic tables and benches provide perfect places to relax and enjoy the coolness that the foliage provides. Lizards cross paths and monkeys keep their eyes on visitors. We walked through the paths and relaxed on the cool stone before making our way back into the sunshine. I caught one last glimpse of Copacabana Beach from the top and then headed back down the mountain.
Parched, we stopped at one of the restaurants on Morro da Urca for a coconut. Well, maybe I had two. The refreshing coconut juice did the trick, and I finished our journey to the bottom, but not before I had one last look at some diamonds at H. Stern. At the bottom of Sugar Loaf, Andre 3000, my trusty driver, was waiting to whisk me away to the next adventure.