The Tijuca National Park is the world’s largest urban forest, covering 32 square kilometres reclaimed from plantations and replanted with diverse Atlantic Rainforest.
Hand-planted by a dedicated group of engineers and horticulturalists over a period of ten years, the Tijuca Forest is a man-made reclamation of land around Rio de Janeiro which had been cleared and developed to grow sugar and coffee.
In 1861, the Brazilian King Don Pedro II raised concerns about the erosion and deforestation caused by intensive farming, as declining levels of rainfall were already impacting the supply of drinking water available for the growing city.
A decision was made to halt agriculture across an 8,000 hectare band around the city, which also encompassed some of the most beautiful and famous landmarks of Rio: Sugarloaf Mountain and Cocovado Hill.
These granite and quartz morros (monolithic outcrops) rise up from the water’s edge, dominating the landscape and the skyline of Rio, especially the iconic Cristo Redentor, one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World, rising from the peak of Cocovado Hill.
Beneath these giant guardians, the Tijuca Forest is home to 30 waterfalls, fed by streams later harnessed for drinking water, and hundreds of plant and animal species, many of which are unique to the delicate ecosystem of the Atlantic Rainforest.
The vegetation is so dense and thick that scientists have estimated that it has helped to lower the ambient temperature of the surrounding area by up to 9°C.
Many traditional species such as jabuticaba fruit trees, the “ipe-tobacco” tree with its fuzzy leaves and flowers and huge, spindly jequitibá trees grow in abundance across the park, which was replanted by hand with individual saplings.
Declared a National Park in 1961, Tijuca Forest remains a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, with visitors spending time hiking through the forests and up on to the morro peaks for stunning views across the city.
The top of the Sugarloaf is a popular spot for hang-gliders, leaping from the peak for a breath-taking flight over the forest and Rio, but a cable car running up the mountain provides an alternative but less dramatic way to take in the vista.