Back to Sugar Loaf

Last year, Rainer Jenss traveled around the world with his wife and two sons, and blogged about his experience here on Intelligent Travel. Now he’s writing a column that focuses on traveling with kids.

DSC_4186.jpegA recent one-week trip to Brazil marked the first time I’ve been overseas without my family since returning from our yearlong round-the-world trip last summer.  I was asked to be a keynote speaker at a conference in Sao Paulo, a city I lived in for three years when I was 2-5 years old.  As such, my very first memories come from this time, more notably from our family excursions to Rio where I remember Carnival, the beaches, and riding up the Sugar Loaf by cable car.  Because I hadn’t been back to the country in the forty years since, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the place that formed such lasting impressions.

So please excuse me for deviating from my usual posts that focus on experiences I’ve had with my children.  After all, I’m meant to report on family travel matter, but there is some relevance here.  In fact, the first comment to my wife upon returning home was that we are definitely going to Brazil together as a family sometime in the near future.  The country offers a wealth of what interests us: beautiful beaches (Salvador, Bahia), wildlife (the Amazon), and natural wonders (Iguaçu Falls), and the kids seem game to go.

Before leaving, I read that one could actually hike up the Sugar Loaf in Rio from the April issue of National Geographic Traveler.  Completely intrigued, I contacted Rio Hiking to make sure there was room for me during my weekend in town.  There was!

DSC_3851.jpegI was picked up shortly after noon by one of our two guides, Eduardo, from the Rio Guesthouse where I was staying.  I found this prime spot in Lonely Planet’s Brazil guidebook.  Always looking for alternatives to hotels whenever possible (I wasn’t quite ready for ‘couch surfing’ just yet), this B&B is located on the top floor of an apartment building just off Avenue Atlantica on Copacabana Beach.  The stunning views from the terrace would cost hundreds a night in a hotel and Marta, who runs the place, helped me and the other guests with recommendations and arrangements.

Six other hikers, none of whom had ever done any technical climbing, joined me on the five-hour excursion.  This seemed fine since the promotional materials mention only that one needs to be reasonably fit and that the hike is ‘moderate’ to ‘hard’ in difficulty (it doesn’t mention anything about footwear, but I would recommend a pair of sneakers over hiking boots so you can get a good foothold on the steeper ascents).  As it turns out, it was more challenging than I expected, and I considered myself more than capable.  Everyone in the group managed to make it with various degrees of anxiety and effort, including a 14-year old boy and his mother – who had a huge sense of accomplishment after completing the eighty-foot technical climb that had us strapped into harnesses with safety lines.  The guides did an excellent job assuring us we could do it and made sure we did so without getting hurt.  Otherwise, the trip up Pao de Acucar Mountain consisted mainly of hiking paths and steep trails through the forest that covers the granite rock mountain.  The guides also filled us in on the city’s famous landmarks the spectacular views provided.

The day’s only disappointment came when we actually reached the summit, which rises 1,300 feet above Guanabara Bay below.  As sometimes happens during Rio’s winter months, some fog rolled in and our view from the visitor’s platform was completely obscured.  But no one seemed to mind that much since we made it up without resorting to standing in line and riding the aerial cable car packed in with dozens of other tourists.  And as far as kids are concerned, I was told that twelve is the minimum age, which made sense to me after completing the outing.

So if you’re thinking about Brazil as a possible destination for a trip with the family, from my brief experience I would give it a resounding thumbs up – especially for parents with older children (10-12 years and older).  I sure as heck am putting it on our bucket list, which somehow seems to get longer, not shorter, as time rolls on.

Photos: Rainer Jenss


  1. Rich
    September 15, 2010, 4:28 am

    Tell me something, did you climb with a lot of equipment? How long was the descent?

  2. utari
    July 9, 2010, 10:00 am

    great adventure. The family adventure. I just wanna go to travelling around the world too, i hope someday, i can.