While the beaches and mountains of Rio de Janeiro are most certainly its stand out features, the city is filled with wonderful parks and gardens of natural and man made beauty and endless pleasant surprises. Tijuacu National Park, Jardim Botánico and Parque Lage in particular, have a charm and grace that make the city of Rio one of the greats.

The world’s largest urban forest, the Tijuaca National Park is a 32km squared rainforest oasis, blanketing the hills and mountains of the city’s south with natural beauty and wonder (including towering Christ Redeemer-topped Mount Corcovado). Close to Ipanema and Copacabana, the trails weaving through the park offer orchids, spider monkeys, butterflies and waterfalls as well as some spectacular vistas on the city, bay and ocean. It can be accessed by car, but the most rewarding experiences are found when hiking – though some trails are certainly demanding.

A perfect start to a day of Tijuacu exploration are the verdant gardens of Parque Lage, with its deliriously beautiful stone 20th century mansion, once the residence of wealthy ship builder Henrique Lage and his wife, the opera diva, Gabriela Bezanzoni. The mansion now serves as a visual arts school (Escola de Artes Visuais), at which there are regular exhibitions and performances. It also has a beautiful café with timber tables and chairs under white umbrellas by a pool in its portico rimmed central courtyard. Nature’s wonders abound on garden paths that navigated the property… and lead into the native forests of Tijuacu.

Also bordering Tijuacu, and only a short distance from pretty lake (Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas) is Rio’s magnificent Botanical Garden (Jardim Botánico). Created by the royal family, with fruit trees, palms and bamboo stands, waterfalls and rivers, bromeliads and orchids, timber bridges, elegant greenhouses, monkeys, toucans and all manner of wonderful creatures, this quaint formal garden is suffused with tropical beauty and is an absolute pleasure to explore.

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