Having made it now to not only two of Rio de Janeiro's biggest attractions but two of the biggest tourist sites in the world, Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain, I wanted to share a few of my first hand findings. This first piece of two deals with Cristo Redentor. A Google search was surprisingly irritating on how to get the statue that welcomes you to Rio with open arms...unfortunately there are plenty of tout sites with far better SEO than the official site
that you should use.
Information on legitimate ways of reaching Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) is displayed in almost every taxi window in Rio, and essentially indicates that you should go by the train or the official minivans to travel up to the summit of Corcovado statue and reach the statue. I wanted to go off piste though, and with limited time at an INSANELY busy time of year to make the pilgrimage to the statue, I needed a taxi to drive me as close as it possibly could to the summit. The first couple of taxi drivers refused and tried to insist that they drop me at the heaving minibus stop at Copacabana instead. I gave up and tried again at 07.30 the following morning. I persuaded a taxi driver to take me up, wait for me and bring me back for 200 Reais. The drive takes you through the beautiful Atlantic rainforest of Tijuca, and isn't for those prone to motion sickness. I'd seen the four hour lines waiting for the train in the local paper though, so I was feeling queasy yet smug. That feeling faded when we reached the Paineiras stop, which was jammed with cars, vans and people already at 07.55. Informed that I could go no further and feeling stupid for having failed to pre-book a ticket thinking I could swerve it with a taxi arrival, I grudgingly joined the line.
Plenty of cheer and camaraderie made it go faster, though. The admission was 34 Reais for one adult and then involved joining ANOTHER long line to get the minivan the final leg of the journey. 2.5km of hairpin turns in a fourteen-seater later, we arrived triumphantly at...another long line. Incredulous as to what this could be, I discovered it was for an escalator and elevator to the very top. I'd had enough of lines and opted for the stairs, which is what anyone should do unless they have small children or are mobility-impaired.
Talking of children, I reluctantly didn't take ours. I say reluctantly because I like to involve my kids as much as possible. However, at no point during the Corcovado visit did I regret leaving them behind. It's gruelling, in my experience intensely busy, at times boring and there are hazardous sheer drops. It doesn't feel like an experience laid on for kids, although there were plenty up there.
That said, the view during the clamber up the stairs and from the top is beyond breathtaking and very difficult to do justice to in photographs. The Christ itself, the world's tallest Art Deco sculpture, is as imposing and iconic up close as you could dream of up close. Once you've jostled through the masses to get to it, the view to Sugarloaf Mountain is also absolutely peerless.
Even the crowds can provide some entertainment, with people adopting extraordinary and death-defying contortions to get the best pictures. Brazil has given me my first experience of the "selfie stick" too, really hilarious...
Gazing out over the unique blend Rio enjoys of multiple urban environments and ocean, mountains, beaches and rainforests is not something anyone would easily get tired of. In terms of facilities, there are loos, a smallish café, a refreshments kiosk and a souvenir shop. There is apparently a small chapel which I'm embarrassed to admit I forgot to look for, so enchanting and distracting did the views on a lovely clear summer morning prove to be. I'd imagine that poor visibility really diminishes the experience - you definitely want to be able to see everything, to put it bluntly. I'd been told that sometimes curious coatis join tourists from the rainforest but sadly I didn't spot any this time.
I did spot Stadium, Ipanema, Lagoa, Centro and many other familiar Rio landmarks.
There was already a line for the minivan back down again when I headed off and apparently by mid-afternoon it can be absolutely crazy trying to get back down the mountain again - another point to bear in mind of you are considering this journey with little ones. As for the people I sighted in a kilometres long line waiting to get up the mountain at 10.30, they must still be waiting there now...
I found my taxi driver waiting patiently for me and once we'd taken AN HOUR in the traffic crawling back down the mountain again, we were speeding off back through town. A shout out to the registered taxi drivers of Rio - they are amazing. Good value, we did not have one taxi in two weeks that tried to over-charge us, wasn't incredibly clean and air-conditioned, didn't understand where we wanted to go, or failed to be incredibly polite and personable. They're a real credit to the city and an excellent way of getting around.
Like all good pilgrimages, the trip to the summit of Corcovado takes a bit of planning, patience, endurance and dedication. I wouldn't take children under the age of ten. For everyone else, is it worth it? Absolutely. It's got to be done, and it's got to be seen to be believed.