Pao D’Acucar, Rio’s Sugar Loaf

In a landscape studded with steep spectacular peaks, Pao d’Acucar, or Sugar Loaf, at the entrance to Rio de Janeiro’s Guanbara Bay, is one of the most imposing.

Pao D'Acucar, the Sugar Loaf
Pao D’Acucar, the Sugar Loaf

Although it was discovered and named by the Portuguese in 1500, it was not conquered until 1917, when a fearless English woman scaled the sheer granite face and planted the Union Jack on the summit.

Today, a cable car swings tourists by the tens of thousands up to the top of Pao d’Acucar. If not, I would most certainly not have enjoyed its unforgettable walks and views.

It’s a thrilling, but not too terrifying, two-stage trip up in the state of the art Swiss-made bubbles which give panoramic vistas from top, bottom and all sides, of treetops, sky, city and sea. The first stop is at 734 feet high Morro D’Urca, or Urca Hill, which stands just in front of Sugar Loaf. Here, we strolled along paths lined with native bush, enjoyed the views from a number of lookout platforms, sat in the amphitheatre, and had a coffee in the café while bracing ourselves for the next stage – the assault on Sugar Loaf.

The cable car hurtled across a divide of dense treetops, towards the vertical rock mountainside. Up close, it is pitted, grainy and sunlight glitters on its surface like a sprinkling of sugar. I could see then, that it was texture as much as shape that inspired the first Portuguese to name it Pao d’Acucar.

The view from the top of this rock 1,320 foot rock is certainly sensational. The whole of Rio fans out on one side. On another, the Atlantic Ocean sweeps away from miles of golden beaches and melts into the horizon. Guanabara Bay lies below, as still as a pond. On the neighbouring peak, Cristo Redentor stands with his arms outstretched against the sky.