Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro, Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea, is a dramatic example how the landscape has been used and shaped. This city of great beauty reaches from the mountains to the sea.
Rio’s natural landscape started to be altered in the 17th and 18th centuries to allow sugar and coffee growing. Its parks and gardens later became protected, and as such attributed to the outdoor living culture of the city.
The designated area consists of the following parts:
- Tijuca National Park, including Corcovado peak and its Christ the Redeemer statue
- Botanic Garden
- Flamengo Park
- The mouth of the Guanabara Bay, including the Sugar Loaf
- Copacabana Beach Front
Map of Rio de JaneiroLoad map
I don't really know what to make of this WHS. Now don't get me wrong, I love Rio de Janeiro as much as anyone else. Yes, my visit, like my entire visit to Brazil, was a bit too short to soak everything in, so the experience would've definitely benefited from a longer stay. But I really truly don't understand the OUV of a cultural site like this. Cultural landscapes are one thing; iconic landscapes are another. I feel like Rio's natural landmarks fall under the latter more than the former, and to me, that makes for a weak, if not nonexistent, OUV. Sure, every iconic place is iconic for a reason, but not all of these reasons may be a reason to become a WHS. Niagara is a pretty iconic waterfall, but it sure doesn't hold the natural values that Iguazu or Victoria Falls do. Hollywood is one of the most iconic urban areas thanks to modern performing arts, but we aren't gonna see it on this website anytime soon (except Frank Lloyd Wright's work there, of course, and for completely different reasons). While Rio is certainly one of the most scenic cities in the world, it's not the only one. Capetown, Hong Kong, and La Paz may come to mind, and each of them had to find a way to fully utilize their land as well. In Capetown's case, its iconic natural landmark, Table Mountain, is now WHS, on its own natural merit. The point I'm trying to make here is simply that iconic is not synonymous to culturally rich and valuable. Iconic has its own value to it, one independent of what the WHS List prioritizes. It's great to look at, it captivates tourists all around the world, and I think that's enough.
While in Rio in April 2016, I got to visit Corcovado, Copacabana, and Pao de Acucar, among some non-WHS locations. The views from Corcovado and the Sugarloaf are stunning, as you might expect. The city sprawls below you, while other mountains rise up behind them. I can see that these unique natural formations have shaped the city in one way or another. But I don't get what makes these areas cultural WHS and not that sprawling city around it. Yes, great works of landscaping have been done here too, in the Botanical Garden, Flamengo Park, and a few other places closer to the ground. But what separates them from gardens and parks in other parts of the world? As Michael Turtle says in his review, "it's never really clear when you're actually in a World Heritage area - the designated spots are not distinct enough from the rest of the city." That basically sums up how I feel about it as well. It's not even that the inscribed areas are mostly natural features, but that no clear line is drawn between what contains OUV and what doesn't in this WHS. What makes Copacabana any more valuable than Ipanema, whose name also appears in some famous lyrics? What makes this mountain a WHS but not that one? What makes the mountains more important than the city it shapes?
Basically, Rio de Janeiro: Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea just leaves me with so many questions on the technicalities of what it means to be a World Heritage Site. But as a true traveller, I do have to not focus on the technicalities all the time. And in this case, I think I did. Rio was great for me; I had some of the best cheesy pastries and cashewfruit shakes ever in the city. It has so many non-WHS things to see as well, like the Selaron Staircase and the Lapa Aqueduct, among others. It's just a great city to be wandering around because it's so lively. It's clearly a living city that's also one of the great urban centers of the world. It's got great food, great people, great beaches, and great nature. And I personally think it is the most naturally scenic city in the world. I really did enjoy my time there, and happy memories of Rio will always come first before my confusions. But that doesn't mean I believe it's a great World Heritage Site.
Rio is one of these WHS I visually absolutely enjoy, but it is not really clear to me where the UOV lies. However, I enjoyed my visit and was happy that I could combine visiting a new WHS and completing my minor travel goal to visit all New 7 Wonders. The other reviews covered the most important points, so I will concentrate on how to get to the parts of the WHS I visited.
In general I walked a lot. There are “walk Rio” sign posts all around the city and it’s sufficiently marked where to go to get to the next stop. I never felt unsafe and hat no problem using my big camera and my mobile phone in public. After covering Valango Wharf and 2 TWHS on foot in down town, I took the metro to Copacabana. I got off at Cantagalo station and walked the few minutes to the beach. Copacabana is by far the part of the town, where I saw most foreigners and it doesn’t feel like a WHS at all. I still enjoyed walking in the warm water and moved towards the Sugar Loaf for around 1km. I left the beach at the Hilton and walked to the funicular station of the Sugar Loaf. Takes around 45mins and you will cross a tunnel on the way. I arrived at the funicular station around noon. Strangely I was much faster without online reservation. While those who reserved a ticket online were waiting in a tremendous line I pretty much entered instantly. After the first stop you have to change funicular, which means getting in line again. I was lucky a second time and got in instantly as well. As I saw on my way back, the waiting time can get much longer very fast. Turns out noon was just the right time. Probably many had lunch during this time. Views from the Sugar Loaf are the best, so it is a must on your itinerary. From the second station I walked down through the jungle. Very pleasant walk. I even spotted some monkeys.
The next day I took a van from Largo de Machado metro station (Van terminal just outside the exit, in a small park) to Corcovado. I had reserved a spot online for 8am. Even though they tell you to be at the office 30mins before departure, they didn’t open till 8 and I had to wait. Taking the first van proofed to by a good thing. At Corcovado station you need to exit the van and take a new one that brings you all the way to the statue. I could board instantly, but infrastructure tells me this can change for those arriving later. For the way down I spontaneously decided to walk. The trail is easy to find, but only enjoyable for experienced hikers. Hiking through the jungle I again saw some monkeys (yes, I like them) and birds. It took my around 50mins to get the Parque Lage. From there you can take a bus to the next metro station or, like me, walk around the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas to Jardim de Alah metro station.
The issue I have with this site is that it's never really clear when you're actually in a World Heritage area - the designated spots are not distinct enough from the rest of the city. You don't really need to do anything special to see the WHS areas - any normal tourist will go to at least a couple of them. And I don't really see their significance.
Still, Rio is a fascinating city and certainly worth visiting. You'll never regret going if you haven't been before!
Read more from Michael Turtle here.
As far as arrivals go, not many places are going to top Rio. Our morning flight from Belo Horrizonte brought us over Rio’s incredible cityscape , nestled in amongst rainforest clad rounded peaks. My wife and I were clamouring over the window for our first glimpse of Christ the Redeemer, the Maracana, and Copacabana beach. Our descent into Santos Dumont airport was completed by a dramatic turn in front of Sugar Loaf Mountain. It was an incredible introduction to a unique city.
The world heritage site boundary is actually pretty limited. It excludes the majority of Rio’s built environment, which is covered separately by the four tentative sites that are scattered over a small area in the city centre. As such the outstanding universal value of this cultural landscape lies mainly in its natural features.
Given the limited boundary, it wasn't until late on our second day of touring that we entered the core part of the world heritage site. This was when we went for an evening stroll around the pleasant suburb of Urca, which is tucked up against Sugar Loaf Mountain. The seafront wall provided a nice place to join the locals while watching the sunset, the planes circle, and kids play beach football.
The unique urban landscape meant there were endless times when the best thing to do was gawp at the magnificent views. The best are from Copacabana Fort, from Niemeyer's Niteroi art centre back across the bay, the brooding monoliths that dominate the beaches of Botafogo and Ipanema, and of course the vista from the base of Christ the Redeemer statue. The latter is one of those places that lives up to its reputation and overexposure in 'must see' lists.
Rio turned out to be a welcoming and friendly place, though we never quite found the sort of neighbourhood atmosphere that has made many other large cities we’ve been to so enjoyable. Botafogo and Santa Theresa both seemed pleasant, but we happened to be in these areas on quieter nights and so perhaps not seeing them at their best.
As die-hard urbanites, we felt that Rio as a city left us wanting more. However, the spectacular natural setting and welcoming population make this world famous city an extremely enjoyable place to spend four very full days.
Site 7: Experience 7
Just visited (March 2013). I have some mixed feelings connected with Rio's nomination. First of all it is one of those places that don't need UNESCO status to be visited. There are not many other big cities in the world with so remarkable lanscape / location. Truely one of world wonders.
But if we see what was really iscribed these are just parts of the city mostly rainforest located inside the town but inscribed as cultural landscape. Little bit strange. Of course Christ on the top of Corcovado is amazing together with Sugar Loaf (in this case is just a huge rock) and less known Botanical Garden (one of the best I have ever been) but other areas were a little bit dissapointing (dirty Copacabana surrounded by modern buildings, similar Botafogo beach - part of Guanabara Bay). Apart from those top atractions there are just modern buildings although perfectly located
My visit to Rio de Janeiro was a short one, and I was rained out on the first day.
The next morning it was more or less dry. By bus, I went to the Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf). This is the most prominent hill in the landscape of Rio. You get to the top via two cable cars. There may have been 75 people inside and it was pretty busy. At the halfway stop I found the most beautiful: the views of the beaches and the Sugarloaf itself.
A day later the sun was shining again. So a quick taxi ride brought me to the Corcovado, the mountain with the well-known Christ statue. It is reached by a little train, a tourist attraction by itself in Rio. What I found striking was the number of people engaged in the train. It looked like an employment project for the local youth. The train ride took about 20 minutes, passing through the Atlantic rainforest of the Tijuca National Park. A beautiful ride. Up near the statue, there's a beautiful view of the city.
Back at the bottom again I visited the Museum of Naive Art. Definitely worth it, with paintings of Rio and the history of Brazil on show.
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- Full Name
- Rio de Janeiro, Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea
- Unesco ID
- Cultural Landscape - Associative
- By ID
2012 Advisory Body overruled
ICOMOS advised referral
On cultural criteria, to undertake an appraisal of the cultural values of Rio's setting
On natural criteria
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