Rio! Rio! Rio! Always on the spotlight and most recognizable post card of Brazil, the city of Rio de Janeiro is the birthplace of climbing in the country, home to an amazing climbing community, routes of all shapes and sizes and the largest urban climbing area in the world. Be it a 300 m multi-pitch to the top of Sugar Loaf, a 5.13c sport route right next to the sea or a boulder within the tropical urban forest, you climb, grab a beer or a bowl of açaí and can hit the bars, your sofa or the beach right after to recover for another day of inspiring landscapes and challenging routes. If you come to Brazil for climbing, you HAVE to climb in Rio.
The city of Rio de Janeiro has thousands of routes. There´s hundreds of multi pitch and mixed protection routes that range from face climbing to 200 meter dihedrals distributed in the dozens of mostly gneiss-composed mountains withing the city. Sport climbing areas are usually granite with really hard overhanging routes and some sectors do not even have a 5.11 to warm up on, but if that is your favorite type of climbing you will go crazy. Boulders are also abundant and in paradise looking settings.
Because there´s too much in Rio, I decided to write about it in parts, and I will begin with Urca region. Urca is a neighborhood that surrounds the famous Sugar Loaf mountain, and its lesser know neighbors Urca and Babilônia hills. All of those have multi-pitch and mixed protection routes of great quality, as well as really challenging aid routes on immense roofs, all right next to Vermelha beach and the Guanabara bay. There are also sport climbing areas on some of the bases of these mountains, as well as on the rocky edges that hit the sea. Last but not least, hundreds of boulders sit between the mountains and the sea, all in the shade during most of the day.
Some of the highlights of climbing in Urca is its easy, safe access and great views of the city from most points. Because it is mostly within military area and there´s no favelas nearby, criminality is reduced compared to other areas. Aside from that, trails to the longer routes are no longer than 40 minutes, and most boulder and sport climbing areas are easily accessible through the Claudio Coutinho path (a walking path that goes around the Sugar Loaf mountain and begins at Vermelha beach), sometimes being right next to it. The area is a mere 10 minutes by car from Botafogo neighborhood, 15 minutes from downtown. Finally, from the top of the routes at any of the above mentioned mountains the views of the city are breathtaking, and arriving at the summit of Sugar Loaf, right under the cable car, is an experience every climber in Brazil always dreams of.
The grades are presented in YDS/French format (i.e. 0.00x/0x).
If you have any questions, don´t hesitate to send a message on the About Me section. Enjoy!
Urca is the largest and most traditional climbing area in the city of Rio de Janeiro. It has 325 multi-pitch, mixed protection and sport routes mostly on gneiss, as well as over 300 boulder problems, of all styles and grades. To access any of the routes of the Sugar Loaf or Urca mountains you must take the Claudio Coutinho path which is open everyday from 6h to 18h (19h in the summer). Babilônia is accessed to the left of the cable car station, and you must leave a piece of ID and sign a visitors book (open from 7h30 to 19h, 20h in the summer).
Climbing first started in Brazil with the ascent of Sugar Loaf mountain in the 19th century, and the first recorded ascent dates back to 1817. From them onward the opening of routes boomed having its phases of ferrata and aid climbing, with free climbing becoming the norm in the 80s and a sport climbing craze taking over in the 90s.
Bring a 60 m rope (70 m even better), 15-20 quick draws, slings, and a full trad rack for long routes. Mandatory to bring lots of water, headlamp, food for the day, garbage bag and insect repellent.
STYLE AND GRADE RANGE
There´s routes for everyone in Urca. Grades range from 5.5/3 to 5.13c/8a+, although they tend to feel harder to outsiders because of the rock. Gneiss predominates in the area, and overall there´s endless smearing and super tiny holds everywhere you go. You can find however, great dihedrals, some irregular cracks, challenging overhangs and amazing chimneys on several routes, especially on Sugar Loaf. Climbing here is a lot about balance, very technical moves, patience and having a cool head (“there´s nothing!” is a very common expression among outsiders).
It is highly recommendable to “warm up” on the easier sectors of the area before tackling any of the big classics, as the Rio grading is famous for feeling “harder” than normal. I would recommend the Coringa sector on Sugar Loaf or the easier routes on Babilônia Hill.
Multi-pitch and Mixed-protection
- Italianos+Secundo 5.10a/5+ (Sugar Loaf – West Face)
- Cavalo Louco+Secundo 5.10d/6b (Sugar Loaf – West Face)
- Ás de Espadas 5.10d/6b (Sugar Loaf – Coringa Sector)
- Stop Chimney 5.7/4 (Sugar Loaf – Totem Sector)
- As Lacas Também Amam 5.11d/7a (Sugar Loaf – Totem Sector)
- Lagartão 5.11a/6b+ (Sugar Loaf – Totem Sector)
- Xeque-Mate 5.11b/6c (Sugar Loaf – Totem Sector)
- Costão 5.5/3 (Sugar Loaf – East Face)
- Iemanjá 5.10a/5+ (Sugar Loaf – East Face)
- Roda Viva 5.10b/6a (Babilônia Hill)
- Luiz Arnaud 5.10d/6b (Babilônia Hill)
- Diedro Pégaso 5.10d/6b (Babilônia Hill)
- Ácido Lático 5.11a/6b+ (Babilônia Hill – Parede dos Ácidos Sector)
- Teto Nosferatus 5.13a/7c+ (Babilônia Hill – Parede dos Ácidos Sector)
- Urubunda 5.11a/6b+ (Pedra do Urubu Sector)
- Aresta do Urubu 5.11b/6c (Pedra do Urubu Sector)
- Speed 5.11b/6c (Pedra do Urubu Sector)
- Southern Comfort 5.13c/8a+ (Pedra do Urubu Sector, route opened by Wolgang Gullich)
- Hot Dog 5.11d/7a (Pedra do Hot Dog)
May through September guarantee lower temperatures and drier climate, especially on the south faces. Be aware though that even in the winter temperatures in Rio can reach 30°C (90°F). The orientation of the face you climb will determine how soon or how late you can start climbing and in which season. The Urca climbing guidebook has a great explanation on this. Buy it.
Rio is a big city in a developing country. As such, it has considerable criminality, but the Urca region has less so. Still, do not walk around with expensive shiny things hanging out, showing off expensive cameras of with large amounts of money or even a passport (carry a copy). Also, always keep an eye in your belongings and never leave anything at the base of the routes, even if you´re going to rappel back to the same spot. Even the longer routes never take longer than a day, so plan for that in order to carry little weight since you will have to carry your backpack on the long routes.
Guiding in Rio is as common as in Europe. If you decide to take a guide, hire a reputable service, since official climbing guides in Rio are very skilled and have to go through a lengthy and difficult process to get their certification, but still it´s easy to get ripped off by less than trustworthy types. I can recommend Cia de Escalada or Climb in Rio, and they all speak English.
Most of the Urca area is within a natural conservation monument, so you will see wildlife, especially small monkeys. DO NOT FEED THEM as this stimulates them to act outside of their natural behavior and therefore puts the species in danger. Even though there´s several signs telling tourists not to feed animals, they do. However, because you are an intelligent person and even better, a climber, YOU WILL NOT FEED THE ANIMALS.
Once in the city, the closest subway station is Botafogo, and from there you can take a bus (20 minutes), taxi (10 minutes) or walk to the area (40 minutes).
WHERE TO STAY
There´s numerous hostels in the city. I always stay at friend´s houses so I cannot personally recommend a hostel but I do recommend staying the the south zone, preferably near a subway station since it is more central to access all the climbing areas around the city. I personally prefer to stay in the Botafogo neighborhood because it is far from the excessively touristy areas of Copacabana and Ipanema, packed with shops and restaurants, super close to Urca (which is my favorite climbing area in Rio) and close to Lapa and Santa Tereza (for partying).
IN THE TOWN
Rio is a big city equipped with everything you can think of, with big city opening hours. But because it is so touristy, it is also quite expensive, and that includes eating out or cooking in, acommodation, drinking, public transportation and so on.
Right before getting to the Urca square to your left there´s a small snack shop everyone calls the Arab (“Árabe da Urca”). It´s the only place to buy food if you don´t have any before climbing, and a mandatory stop for a beer or açaí after climbing.
Some stores sell equipment in case you need anything, and most of them are in the downtown area:
Rio has some of the best climbing guidebooks in the country. Most are produced by Cia de Escalada, a guiding service and bookshop owned by renowned climber Flavio Daflon. The books have anything you can find in any European guidebook, grade comparison tables, symbol and key table for reading the topos and excellent maps of the areas. I highly recommend buying the Urca guidebook, you can do so at Cia de Escalada website or at the newspaper stand in the Urca square, as well as in the equipment shops mentioned above. The Cia de Escalada website also regularly updates the topos and uploads them in their website.
They also do an excellent job of maintenance on the routes since everything is so close to the sea. Their website always has information on which routes are under maintenance or recently had their protection changed.
Here´s some links with extra info:
- Rio Climbing Federation
- Rio Climbing Guide´s Association (for a list of all certified guides in the city)
Daila Ojeda and Olivia Hsu climbing in Rio: