The sprawling green hills of the Tijuca Forest dominate the geography of the city. The world's largest urban forest, it covers an area of 32 square kilometres even though, from first glance you would be hard pushed to believe the scale. Harder to imagine is that much of it was replanted by hand in the second half of the Nineteenth Century at the behest of Emperor Dom Pedro II after coffee plantations had decimated it for decades.
In 1961 the forest was declared a national park and is currently the most visited of its kind in Brazil with over 2.5 million intrepid explorers hitting its paths in 2012. Divided into four distinct sections, the Serra Carioca holds Cristo Redentor, the spectacular (on a clear day) viewpoints Mirante Dona Marta and Vista Chinesa and several cooling waterfalls among its jewels, while the 'Pedras' region is home to Pedra Bonita and Pedra da Gávea.
Halfway up Bonita you will find the city's main hangliding ramp, launching daredevils into the sky for a 15-minute flight down towards the landing point on Praia do Pepino in São Conrado with Rocinha unfolding below, the latter one of the most popular (and arduous) hikes anywhere in the city up to it's unmistakable flat summit.
The hike to Pico da Tijuca is less of a strain, albeit a two hour walk deep into the Floresta da Tijuca region, and on the way in it is worth a quick stop at the pink Capela Mayrink chapel, dating back to 1850, with its Candido Portinari tiles. Also worth a visit is the Museu do Açude, one of Castro Maya's two museums in the city and whose main attraction is an impressive permanent sculpture exhibition in the gardens. The fourth sector, Pretos Forros/Covanca, remains entirely wild, without infrastructure and off-limits to the public.
Trails are largely well-marked, but it is advisable to visit the park with a guide or someone who knows the area well in order to get the best out of your trip, especially if it is your first visit. Jungle Me (jungleme.com.br) run a 5-hour Big Circuit hike (R$150) and a 2-hour Express hike (R$130), the former taking in the two key peaks of Pico Tijuca and Tijuca Mirim. Rio Hiking (riohiking.com.br) also have an in-depth knowledge of the area and use English speaking guides.