Since July 2011, a second cable car in Rio has shifted in context from urban mobility solution to unlikely tourist attraction. More than 150 cabs, each with a capacity of 10 people, cut a swathe through the skyline from hill to hill in the notorious favela complex of Alemão, providing stunning views of the city and an alternative perspective on the city's reality for millions of inhabitants that a well-trodden trip to Copacabana or Ipanema could never offer.
Simply grab a taxi or from Central station take a train to Bonsucceso, and for the integrated price of R$6 you can ride the cable car all the way to Palmeiras station. The escalator from the 1886-inaugurated main station takes customers into the shiny new teleférico (cable car) station, and up to the waiting cabs. Once whisked into the sky, the sweeping views across Guanabara Bay take in Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf, and, on a clear day, the mountains of Teresopolis and the distinctive Dedo de Deus mountain formation frame the landscape.
Down below, children swim in paddling pools on the lajes (rooftops), waves of funk and hip hop music bellow out, horses graze on patches of land and a city within the city opens up before your eyes. Look out for the magnificent Igreja da Penha perched atop its hill, and the Engenhão/Stadio Rio football stadium to the left.
At the final destination, Palmeiras, just 16 minutes after the start of the journey, everybody has to get off and you can buy your return trip back after grabbing a drink in what is the heart of Alemão, affording fantastic views from the snack bar complete with some impressive local graffiti.
The day we visited, security troops were standing in line with their machine guns at the final stop, serving as a reminder that despite the breathtaking views, this is no Christ the Redeemer postcard region. The vast majority of those jumping on and off the 152 cable cars in service are residents of a community very much in transition, but as a slice of Rio life as it is really lived by millions, the teleférico cannot be beaten.