Rio's iconic Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue stands arms outstretched atop 690-meter-high (2,300-foot-high) Corcovado mountain. There's an eternal argument about which city view is better, the one from Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf) or the one from here. In our opinion, it's best to visit Sugarloaf before you visit Corcovado, or you may experience Sugarloaf only as an anticlimax. Corcovado has two advantages: it's nearly twice as high, and it offers an excellent view of Pão de Açúcar itself. The sheer 300-meter (1,000-foot) granite face of Corcovado (the name means "hunchback" and refers to the mountain's shape) has always been a difficult undertaking for climbers.
It wasn't until 1921, the centennial of Brazil's independence from Portugal, that someone had the idea of placing a statue atop Corcovado. A team of French artisans headed by sculptor Paul Landowski was assigned the task of erecting a statue of Christ with his arms apart as if embracing the
city. (Nowadays, mischievous cariocas say Christ is getting ready to clap for his favorite escola de samba.) It took 10 years, but on October 12, 1931, Christ the Redeemer was inaugurated by then-president Getúlio Vargas, Brazil's FDR. The sleek, modern figure rises more than 30 meters (100 feet) from a 6-meter (20-foot) pedestal and weighs 700 tons. In the evening a powerful lighting system transforms it into an even more dramatic icon.
There are three ways to reach the top: by funicular railway, by official van, or on foot (not recommended without a guide for safety reasons). The train, built in 1885, provides delightful views of Ipanema and Leblon from an absurd angle of ascent, as well as a close look at thick vegetation and butterflies. (You may wonder what those oblong medicine balls hanging from the trees are, the ones that look like spiked watermelons tied to ropes—they're jaca, or jackfruit.) Trains leave the Cosme Velho station (Rua Cosme Velho 513, Cosme Velho,021/2558–1329, www.corcovado.com.br) for the steep, 5-km (3-mile), 17-minute ascent. Late-afternoon trains are the most popular; on weekends be prepared for a long wait. Buy tickets online to avoid queueing twice: once to buy tickets and once to board the train. Official vans are slightly cheaper but not as much fun as the railway. There are boarding points for the vans in Copacabana and Largo do Machado, and at Paineiras inside the national park. Tickets can be bought online (www.paineirascorcovado.com.br). After disembarking you can climb up 220 steep, zigzagging steps to the summit, or take an escalator or a panoramic elevator. If you choose the stairs, you pass little cafés and shops selling souvenirs along the way. Save your money for Copacabana's night market; you'll pay at least double atop Corcovado. Once at the top, all of Rio stretches out before you. Visit Corcovado on a clear day; clouds often obscure the Christ statue and the view of the city. Go as early in the morning as possible, before people start pouring out of tour buses, and before the haze sets in.