Rio de Janeiro is the only city in the world with a rainforest within its city limits: The Tijuca National Park. This ‘urban jungle’ is 33 square kilometres in size and home to a wide range of flora and fauna. Just beyond the mass of humans live iguanas, howler monkeys, cobras and various species of bird. Tijuca is a little piece of paradise in the middle of a metropolis.
Scientists have determined that the coastal jungle is around sixty million years old. This is pretty old - by comparison, the Amazon rainforest has existed ‘only’ forty million years. The original inhabitants of this forest are the Tupi and Tamoio Indians. With the arrival of the French and Portuguese in the 16th century, most of these Indians were killed or expelled. Trees were cut down for building houses and to make way for sugar cane and coffee plantations. In 1861 what remained of the Tijuca forest was declared a protected area and 100,000 trees were planted. The area was declared a national park in 1961.
The best-known sight in the park is Cristo Redentor, the gigantic statue of Jesus Christ that looks out over the whole of Rio de Janeiro. A red tram, the Corcovado Rack Railway, climbs through the rainforest until right under the statue. After this 20-minute ride you have a further 222 steps to climb to reach the foot of the statue. For the less mobile or less sporty visitor there is a lift and an escalator. Once you’re at the top you will enjoy impressive views over the park, beaches and city.
The rainforest can be enormously relaxing. Midweek, many Cariocas (inhabitants of Rio) picnic in the lush surroundings. A gentle stroll is also a possibility. The park has more than two hundred walking paths that are best experienced with a guide. Traversing the forest with a park ranger and a Jeep is one way, but if you would rather set out independently simply buy a map at the kiosk or visitor centre, or just follow the signs.
The temperature in Park Tijuca can sometimes become quite high. There are plenty of creeks and streams to cool off in, but it is important to take enough drinking water with you. The park also has various waterfalls under which to freshen up. The two most impressive are the Cascata Gabriela with a small water pool fringed by high trees, and the 30-metre high Cascatinha Taunay that is close to the park entrance.