I think the name speaks for itself. “Pedra Bonita,” or “Beautiful Rock” in English, is yet another one of Rio’s exquisitely stunning natural landmarks. Resting in between Rio’s “Gávea” and “Barra da Tijuca” neighborhoods, the Pedra Bonita is a little bit outside of where most tourists tend to stay while in Rio. However, don’t let this deter you. The Pedra Bonita, which lies within the massive Tijuca National Park, is located in a safe and easily accessible area of town. With a little sweat and sense of adventure, the hike to the top of Pedra Bonita is an easy addition to your “Things to Do While in Rio” list.
What also makes this spot special and unique is its paragliding and hang gliding hub. This marks the only place in Rio de Janeiro where you can paraglide and hang glide; but I’ll get to that a little later.
The trickiest part about Pedra Bonita is probably getting there. If you don’t have a car (and it’s not worth renting one just for this), your only option is bus or taxi. From Ipanema or Copacabana, you can take the 308, 557 or 525 Buses and get off in front of the Gávea Golf and Country Club. Check out a map beforehand so you know where to hop off (or ask the bus driver). In front of the country club, you need to then take the 448 Bus, which will slowly wind its way up a hill. Again, it’s best to ask the bus driver to let you know where the stop is for Pedra Bonita – although I bet most people on the 448 Bus will be going to the same place.
From the bus stop, you will endure about a 20-minute uphill, curvy walk to the start of the trail. Be heads up for cars whipping around the corners or people “running” down the hill. You’ll find, on the return, that it is just as easy to let your body go and run down the steep decline.
After getting a nice sweat on, you’ll see a small shack on the right-hand side of the road. Here is where the real trail begins. I would say the trail has a medium to low level of difficulty. There are a few steep areas but all in all it is not too grueling. Furthermore, about half way to the top, there is usually a guy selling cold drinks – you’ll most likely need one. You should also keep an eye out for “micos,” which are small monkeys. You can get close to them to take a picture but it is definitely not advised to touch or feed them.
After about 45 minutes (from the shack) you will reach the top. On the left, you can see the Christ the Redeemer statue in the far distance and also Ipanema beach. Right below you, on the left, are the neighborhoods of “Rocinha” and “São Conrado.” You can also spot the golf course where you most likely got off the first bus. The massive rock mountain in front of you is “Pedra da Gávea,” one of Rio’s most iconic landmarks. It is a lot more difficult to reach the top of Pedra da Gávea than it is to reach Pedra Bonita’s climax. Some people say that the rock’s formation on Pedra da Gávea looks like the head of a monkey. I’ll let you form your own opinion about that one.
After taking your fair share of selfies, head over to the far end of the Pedra Bonita. From here, you get a magnificent view of the “Barra da Tijuca” neighborhood and some other surrounding neighborhoods. If you have a good eye, you can even spot the Olympic Park in the distance on one of the lakes. The views from Pedra Bonita truly are some of the best in Rio.
After trekking back down, I suggest that you make your way to the paragliding and hang gliding launch pad area. To get there, just keep walking up the road (from the shack) – you’ll eventually start seeing signs. Not only is the view awesome from the launch pad, but it also offers a nice, up-close seating area to watch people paragliding and hang gliding. There is also a small snack bar here if you need to kill some hunger.
There are two primary companies that arrange hang gliding and paragliding lessons and excursions: Rio Hang Gliding and Rio Adventures. Both of these companies have well-experienced teachers and also have people available to speak English. However, you will pay a lot for one of these services. I suggest that you arrive, without a reservation, to the launch pad early and talk with the instructors there. Each instructor is only allowed to do 3-4 jumps per day so you need to get there early to make sure his or her day is not already booked.
Talk to the instructor and try to work out a deal. If you can get a price under R$ 400 (during the off-season) then you are getting a solid deal. Try to also negotiate a price that includes pictures from a go pro. I know this may sound a little unsure and “risky” to go all the way to Pedra Bonita without a reservation – but it’s the Brazilian way. The launch pad area opens at 8am and closes at sunset. You can also find out more information about the full experience here.
One more thing to note: hang gliding and paragliding will not be possible during the period of the Olympics for safety reasons. If you are really interested in doing one of these activities, I suggest that you get to Rio a little before or after the Olympics.
Hiking to the top of Pedra Bonita and witnessing some of the paragliding and hang gliding makes up a solid half-day in Rio de Janeiro. If you are into a little adventure, and also one-of-a-kind views, you should definitely put Pedra Bonita towards the top of your Rio list.
Above: Christ the Redeemer can be seen in the background (to the left) as well as Ipanema beach
Above: Pedra da Gávea (see the monkey’s face?)
Above: Enjoying the view….
Above: Barra da Tijuca neighborhood as seen from Pedra Bonita
Above: A paraglider sets off from the launch pad near the top of Pedra Bonita