Rio de Janeiro: a perfect base for eco tourism

Working to promote sustainability in hostels in Brazil has allowed us to experience a wide range of what this big and beautiful country has to offer. The last month, as a part of our Say HI to Sustainability project, we – being Michael and Kaja – have explored the perhaps most famous state in the country: Rio de Janeiro. Our brief conclusion is that this state has it all!


A state that has it all

Relative to its size, we have not really seen much of the Rio state. Still, we have experienced a great variety of nature and activities: from getting a glimpse of colonial architecture and gold export history in Paraty, being a part of the vibrant Rio de Janeiro city life, to hiking in endemic nature on Ilha Grande and watching turtles and whales from splendid beaches in Arraial do Cabo. Hostelling International offers several quality hostels throughout this state, and we highly recommend staying in some of them to have the ultimate base for exploring and enjoying.


Rio de Janeiro is a perfect base for eco tourism, and we have picked some destinations we would recommend you to explore.


Relax in car free surroundings on Ilha Grande

Local boats are the only modes of transportation around Ilha Grande, and a perfect way to explore some of the wonderful beaches to be found here.

 Ilha Grande, ”The big island”, has welcomed tourists since 1994. The lush, untouched and car-free island used to house a top-security prison until then. In its earlier times, Ilha Grande has been frequented by pirates and functioned as a hiding place for slave dealers who also brought slaves there to work.


The island is full of trails for hiking and running, many of them leading to breathtaking, beautiful beaches and giving the opportunity to experience endemic nature and wildlife on the way. We would highly recommend to set aside a couple of hours to hike to the Lopes Mendes beach, that actually was appointed “the seventh most beautiful beach in the world” some years ago. If you enjoy hiking and good views, another must is to visit the highest point on the island: Pico do Papagaio.

The peak Pico do Papagaio (“Parrot peak”), really resembles a parrot’s beak and is giving the hiker a steep challenge as well as a splendid 360-degree view of the island from something like 985 meters above sea level.


The hostels as well as the guests visiting, have to use the natural resources of the island responsibly. If you are going to visit Ilha Grande, we would recommend to check out these 10 tips on how to be an environmentally responsible visitor. A great starting point, is to stay at the green and relaxed HI Holandes that gives the feeling of being in the middle of the jungle. Make sure to set aside enough time to enjoy their amazing, homemade breakfast that even hummingbirds come to observe!


Hike, swim and climb in Parque Nacional da Serra dos Órgãos

The Organ Range National Parks offers splendid nature and spectacular views for those who wake up early to watch the sunrise. ”I recommend this trip to everyone who likes adventures and enjoys to watch the ocean from as high up as 2000 meters above sea level”, Kaja says. Photo: Ingerid Zeiner.

Founded in 1939, Parque Nacional da Serra dos Órgãos, “the Organ Range National Park” was the third of its kind in Brazil. The park is said to offer one of the best trekkings in the country, in addition to giving great opportunities for exploring waterfalls and do rock climbing, such as the iconic Dedo do Deus; ”God’s finger”. It is a park rich in wildlife, inhabiting more than 460 bird species and at least 102 endangered species, such as the rarely spotted wildcat cougar. During her vacations, Kaja did a 3 day hike in the “Organ range”, from Petrópolis, which is situated less than 2 hours from Rio de Janeiro by car or bus, to Teresópolis, also easily accessible from Rio..

Between Petrópolis and Teresópolis there are two mountain cabins that are guarded by friendly park rangers. The cabins house around 30 people and have cooking facilities, and even solar heated warm showers – which is great, since the un-isolated building can reach temperatures as low as 0 degrees in the night! Photo: Ingerid Zeiner.

The best time to visit the park is between May and September when temperatures are rather low (make sure to carry warm clothes) and there is less chance to experience heavy rainstorms. More information and booking can be done from this website.


Experience rich marine wildlife and crystalline waters in Arraial do Cabo

A three hours bus ride east from Rio takes you to the little town Arraial do Cabo, situated among some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It is a peninsula stretching out into the Atlantic Ocean, and in almost every direction you go, you will encounter one of the city’s magnificent beaches.

Praia Grande, a giant cove with fine white sand that stretches 40 km along the beautiful coastline, is famously known as one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil, and it is easy to see why.

Ice-cold streams with lots of nutrients from the Antarctica, gives the area a very rich and diverse marine life, and Arraial do Cabo is a hotspot for scuba diving and snorkeling. The little town even has an Oceanographic museum showcasing how the ocean streams change and attract the abundant marine wildlife. We could even watch whales from a beachside restaurant, and see turtles swimming from far above the sea.

The HI hostel we visited during our stay, Hostel Marina dos Anjos, is so centrally located that a 10 minutes walk can take you to four different beaches that are all gorgeous!

The picturesque Praia Brava offers the feeling of being in paradise, and is a 15 minutes walk from the hostel. Be on the outlook for turtles that can be seen from high above.

The hostel is inspired by its environment, and all the rooms have names of shipwrecks from the surrounding bays. Do not miss the opportunity to rent the hostel’s watersports equipment, such as kayaks, surfboards, snorkeling equipment, stand-up paddleboards and even foot pedaled kayaks. When visiting Hostel Marina Dos Anjos it is easy to see that this hostel is taking measures to become more sustainable, as they are currently working on a lot of great projects. Within short time they hope to have their composting and urban garden up and running, as well as a system to harvest rainwater from the roof of the building. The biggest thing to mention is that a few years back they invested in solar-panels, which is now provides the only source of power needed for all water heating at the hostel’s seven bathrooms.


The lively city of Rio de Janeiro

This photo is taken from Apoador, a view point in between the world famous beaches Ipanema and Copacabana that are surprisingly clean and beautiful despite how crowded they are on a sunny day.

In what is probably one of the most famous cities on the planet, you will find everything from beautiful city beaches and famous landmarks to favelas and a thriving nightlife. Rio de Janeiro, “The river of January”, was the capital of Brazil until 1960 (then it was moved to Brasília), and got its name from the first explorers that came to the harbor and mistakenly thought is was a river mouth.


Brazil has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world, and the difference between rich and poor is obvious due to the fact that the wealthiest areas of the city are surrounded by the ”favelas” (slums). And even though the city has a lot of problems with crime due to this, through the eyes of a tourist, the city can look like a quite harmonic city.

Rio de Janeiro is a city full of contrasts. and offers great view from the top of the “Sugar Loaf”.

Visiting the city’s biggest attractions is important whilst staying in Rio: the famous ”Pão de Açúcar” or in English ”Sugar Loaf” provides a great view of Copacabana beach as well as the marina of Botafogo. Also make sure to visit Corcovado mountain which is the home of the most iconic symbol of Rio de Janeiro: ”O Cristo Redentor”. It is easily accessed from Copacabana beach, through transport services, or one can choose the more traditional way up with the train that departs from the root of the mountain.


Brazil is a colorful country, something that is easy to notice when visiting the mosaic stairs in Lapa in Rio de Janeiro. This is also a famous place to visit by night, as the neighborhood is said to host the best party street in the city.


When visiting Rio, Kaja stayed in Mango Tree hostel – a relaxing hub situated only 50 meters from Ipanema beach! Michael enjoyed the good atmosphere in the HI hostel Rio Rockers (Rio de Janeiro) where all guests are invited to join great parties with their funny, friendly staff.


Kaja Knutsdotter Fjørtoft and Michael Øseth are HI Norway’s exchange participants in Brazil. You can follow their journey here. The exchange project is supported by FK Norway.

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