If you turn your back on Rio’s lively urban beaches and travel a short distance inland, the city suddenly seems very far away. Gentle clouds of fog float above a hilly terrain covered in a patchwork of lush shades of green. We set out to explore the mysterious forests that cover the mountains around Rio.
In the 19th century, vast areas of these hills and mountains were clear-cut to make way for sugar and – more importantly – coffee plantations, explains Ernesto Viveiros de Castro, Director of the Tijuca National Park. When the erosion finally caused a severe and enduring water shortage, the Brazilian emperor, Dom Pedro II, ordered one of the big landowners to start replanting trees. Eleven years later, the hills had regained a sparse covering of green. Now, after more than 150 years, the forest has almost completely recovered and is a wonderful expanse of secondary rain forest – and one of the biggest urban forests in the world.
De Castro is proud of the park. It provides a habitat for many species of birds and insects; monkeys swing through the tree tops, anteaters and armadillos forage in the undergrowth. And it’s not just the animals that benefit from this vast swathe of protected Atlantic rainforest. It also gives the Cariocas, as the inhabitants of Rio are called, a better climate and lets urban dwellers reconnect with nature on their doorstep.
Locals and visitors to the park are helped by the park’s good infrastructure – and the numerous rangers who patrol the park. Peterson is one of them, and he tells us which walk passes the most exciting caves and whether a cicada can sing itself to death. Watch our videos to find out more.