When you visit Rio de Janeiro, you absolutely cannot leave the city without visiting the Sugarloaf mountain (Pão de Açúcar in Portuguese). This tall, steep mountain rises 1300 feet above the water right next to Copacabana beach, and, combined with the smaller Morro da Urca (Urca Hill in English, 720 feet tall), is a distinctive spot on the Rio de Janeiro skyline.
It’s so unique that in 2012 it was made a UNESCO World Heritage site. This mountain was at the very top of my list of my favorite spots to see and visit in Rio.
While the most straightforward way to visit the top of the mountain is via cable car, there are actually a few ways to enjoy this incredible landmark. In this article we’ll discuss those options as well as the best time to visit Sugarloaf and what to expect at the top of each hill.
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Best Time to Visit Sugarloaf
Sugarloaf is beautiful anytime, but I highly recommend going up for sunset. The way the mountain lights up and glows in the evening light is beautiful!
Ideally, I would try to time it so you are arriving at the top of Sugarloaf 20 minutes before sunset, at the latest, which means getting on a cable car no later than 40 minutes before sunset. This means I would arrive at the ticket station no later than an hour before sunset (and probably earlier if you really have your heart set on sunset from Sugarloaf, just in case there are long lines.)
A bonus with visiting at this time of day is that as it gets dark, the city lights come alive! Honestly, this view just felt absolutely magical to me. I loved seeing the contrast of the lights with the dark mountains and hills in Rio, plus the beach promenades all lit up. It was so dramatic!
I would definitely recommend not visiting Sugarloaf Mountain if there are low hanging clouds. We came here one afternoon and the top of Sugarloaf was covered in clouds, so you wouldn’t be able to see any views.
If that happens and you have flexibility, I would put off visiting until another, clearer opportunity. (ie I wouldn’t wait until your last day to do Sugarloaf, in case the weather and cloud cover isn’t good.) Note that even if clouds look like they are moving off the hill, sometimes they continue to re-form directly on the hill, so it never actually clears up.
How to Visit Sugarloaf: 4 Different Options
Okay, let’s get into your4 different options for visiting Sugarloaf mountain!
Option 1: Taking the Cable Cars Up
This is the most obvious option for how to visit Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio, and the one most people choose. This involves taking 4 separate cable cars (2 ascending, 2 descending). You start by taking a cable car from the base of the mountain to the top of Urca Hill, and then another car from Urca Hill to the top of SugarLoaf.
For this option, you can buy tickets at the ticket office at the base of Urca Hill. It costs R$120 for adults ($24) and R$60 for children ($12).
Alternatively, you can buy tickets ahead of time and bypass any queues at the ticket office. With this option, go to the line marked “online tickets” to pick up a physical ticket (note that you do have to print and bring a physical voucher for this option), but you do get to skip the main line on both cable car rides. Check out the online ticket option here
Cable cars leave ~every 20 minutes and it’s a smooth and scenic 3 minute ride up.
Hours for Sugarloaf (specifically the cable cars) are from 9am-7pm, with the last cable car departing from the street at 7pm and the last cable car from Urca to Sugarloaf departing at 7:20pm. The viewing platforms are open past 7, however.
Option 2: Hiking Urca Hill (and then taking the cable car)
For this option, you will hike up Urca Hill, and then, at the top, take the cable car from Urca to Sugarloaf. The trail up is an easy to moderate ½ mile hike, and you’ll gain about 700 feet in elevation. It took us about 25 minutes to do the hike, and we were going at a pretty moderate pace.
To find the trailhead, you walk towards the beach, through the big square/plaza that is right next to the ticket center for the cable cars. It’s just a couple minute walk and if you keep to the left side of the plaza, you’ll reach the beginning of the Pista Claudio Coutinho, a paved nature trail. There is a gate and a guard at the entrance as it’s right by a police/military building. Walk along the paved trail for another 5-ish minutes, and on the left, you’ll see a turnoff and a large sign that starts the hike up to the top of Urca Hill.
The trail is a combination of steps and dirt pathway. The steepest section is at the beginning and is mostly steps. While you do need to be careful of hikes and secluded nature trails in Rio (gangs can inhabit them and there have been muggings), this was a very popular hike and we saw many other people on the trail, and so I would feel very comfortable doing this hike alone.
Follow that trail to the top, and you’ll reach a large fence and gate leading to the viewing platform. When you pass through the gate, you’ll reach a ticket office where you can purchase tickets for the cable car from Urca up to Sugarloaf. These tickets cost 100 reais ($20).
One big thing to note is that the trail closes at 5pm. When we talked to employees at the main ticket booth about this, it really sounded like the trailhead closes at 5pm.
Oh no no no. The gate at the top of the trail that gives you access from the trail to the landing zone on Urca Hill closes at 5pm. We thought we had made it just in time by starting the hike at 4:55pm, only to arrive at the top and see that it was locked. A couple people on the trail had indicated that it was locked to us, but we wanted to be sure and see for ourselves. So down the trail we went and took the cable car up to Urca Hill.
It’s all good though! We got the chance to do the trail, which was really a very nice, scenic trail and were still able to make it back with enough time to take the cable car up.
If you want to hike Urca Hill, I would start at the latest by 4pm or 4:15 to give yourself enough time to hike and be at the gate at the top by 5pm. The trail is free to hike.
Option 3: Rock Climbing Sugarloaf Mountain
For a more intense and adventurous journey to the top, you can actually hike/rock climb Sugarloaf as well. This seems crazy, because Sugarloaf looks very sheer! While experienced rock climbers can climb that steep face, the eaiser way is to climb the backside of Sugarloaf.
Okay, so how to rock climb Sugarloaf Mountain? You will follow the Pista Claudio Coutinho (the seaside pathway that leads to the Morro da Urca trail mentioned in Option 2), but instead of turning onto the Urca Hill trail, you continue along the coast to the backside of the Sugarloaf mountain and then ascend that east face.
If you want to do this option, I would for sure recommend doing it with a guide, as, while there are some sections that are more of just a “hike,” there are also spots that are steep and move into rock climbing territory, and you will need the requisite equipment for those spots. Go with a guide that has rock climbing experience and gear to make this a safe and enjoyable experience, even for beginners.
These are three good guided options for rock climbing on Sugarloaf:
A few bonuses of these rock climbing tours are that they include your cable car ride down (so you get the adventure activity but also the traditional cable car ride), you get some tour guide commentary about the area, and some of the tours offer hotel pickup.
Option 4: Visiting Sugarloaf Mountain as part of a Tour
If you don’t have a lot of time in Rio, or just prefer to have someone else work out logistics, a city tour could be a good choice for you!
This particular tour is a full day experience with pickup/dropoff at your hotel, and visits to Sugarloaf, as well as Christ the Redeemer, and several other noteworthy attractions, including the Sambadrome, Maracana, the Selaron steps, and the Metropolitan cathedral. A Brazilian barbecue lunch is included. Get more details here
This half day tour includes hotel pickup and dropoff, stops at Sugarloaf, Christ the Redeemer, Santa Teresa, the Selaron steps, and the Metropolitan cathedral. Get more details for this tour here. Get more details here
When visiting the summit of both Sugarloaf Mountain and Urca Hill you’ll enjoy 360 views of the city!
I will say, I was surprised by how developed the platforms on both of the mountains were. This was not just some quick, utilitarian stop – it was almost a full-on mall.
There were multiple shops (including a tattoo shop – we thought that was kind of funny), cafes, bars, and dessert shops, murals, eating areas, chairs to sit, and an open air stage for music, and just overall a vibe that made you want to stay and hang out for a while. (Although unsurprisingly, food prices were about double what you’d see down in the city.)
One added perk of all of these amenities is that there ends up being a lot of space. Unlike Christ the Redeemer, which has a relatively small viewing platform and it can feel really crowded really quickly, there is a lot of space for people to disperse and spread out here. There were large, expansive spaces, with a lot of different viewing platforms offering different angles of the city.
When you arrive on Sugarloaf mountain, it seemed like most people went to the viewing platform that is on your left as soon as you exit the cable car, which does offer a gorgeous view of the city. However, if you swing around some shops and head to a viewing platform down on the right side, you’ll find a much less busy viewpoint. That view does show less of the whole city and more of Copacabana/Ipanema, but it’s still a nice view and one that you will share with less people, for sure.
Be prepared that there can be a significant line on the cable car return, especially towards the end of the evening.
A Few Other Notes About Visiting Rio de Janeiro
What to Know Before You Go
Rio de Janeiro is an incredible city to visit, but there are definitely some important travel tips and good things to know before you go! I’ve got you covered – check our my Rio de Janeiro travel tips post for aalll the details!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Securing some travel insurance is an important part of prepping for any international trip – you never know when something might happen, and your regular insurance generally won’t cover you overseas. Costs for a medical emergency on vacation can add up extremely fast, so it’s just better to be safe than sorry. (If covid has taught meanything, it’s that you never know what could happen!)
I like booking insurance at Insure My Trip, as they offer a variety of plans with different coverages to choose from, so you can find the right option for you. Plus, they have great customer support if you need help before, during, or after your trip.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Sugarloaf Mountain
Visiting Sugarloaf Mountain was truly one of my favorite things we did in Rio de Janeiro, and is one of the best viewpoints in Rio. Whichever one of these options for visiting Sugarloaf you choose, I know you’ll love it too!
Read More Rio de Janeiro Articles:
- 22+ Foods in Rio to Try, Plus Best Restaurants
- 13 Rio de Janeiro Travel Tips to Know Before You Go
- A Rio de Janeiro Travel Budget: What Does a Trip to Rio Cost?
- A Rio de Janeiro Favela Tour Review