Parks of Rio, Rio de Janeiro
Concierge.com's insider take:
The Mata Atlântica humid forest that once carpeted Brazil's coastline has been cleared from much of Rio itself, but the remaining fragments in the city's parks and open spaces give an indication of its astonishing biodiversity.
Outdoors enthusiasts flock to the 12-square-mile Tijuca National Park, the world's largest urban forest. Much of Tijuca's old-growth forest was felled in the 18th century to make way for coffee plantations, but after the clearance caused a dramatic reduction in Rio's rainfall and natural water supply, Emperor Pedro II ordered the area's reforestation in 1861. Today, wild cats prowl among the jackfruit, cashew, and Brazilian rosewood trees, while parrots, tanagers, and toucans put forth an intense, unending barrage of birdsong. Sloths and capuchin monkeys can be found in the middle canopy; cobras, vipers, and boa constrictors slither through the shadowy undergrowth below. Well-marked trails connect hikers and bikers to spectacular waterfalls and some of the highest peaks in the city, such as the 3,350-foot Pico da Tijuca, 2,750-foot Pedra da Gávea, and 2,300-foot Mount Corcovado, where the outstretched arms of Heitor da Silva Costa's Art Deco statue of Christ appears to embrace the city in all its turbulent glory.
There are few better spots for a quiet stroll than Parque Lage in Jardim Botânico, perhaps Rio's prettiest park. Laid out in the early 19th century by British landscape architect John Tyndale, the trails cut through subtropical Atlantic forest at the foot of Mount Corcovado, passing ponds, lookout spots, and even a miniature castle. An ornate mansion built in the 1920s for industrialist Enrique Lage now houses a school of visual arts that holds regular exhibitions; there's a decent café in its central courtyard.
Among the many local outfitters operating group excursions for hikers, bikers, and climbers, the best include Trilhas do Rio (55 21 2424 5455), Indiana Jungle Tours (55 21 2484 2279), Rio Adventures (55 21 2705 5747), and Rio Hiking (55 21 2552 9204).