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There's an eternal argument about which view is better, from Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf) or from here. In our opinion, it's best to visit Sugar Loaf before you visit Corcovado, or you will remember Sugar Loaf only as an anticlimax. Corcovado has two advantages: at 690 meters (2,300 feet), it's nearly twice as high and 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, the Cristo Redentor (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 a dramatic icon.
There are four ways to reach the top: by cogwheel train (R$45), by minibus (R$40 per person) or on foot (not recommended without a guide for safety reasons—guides roughly R$25 per person). 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-mi), 17-minute ascent. Trains run from 8am to 7pm and depart every 30 minutes. Late-afternoon trains are the most popular; on weekends be prepared for a long wait. After desembarking, to get to the summit, you can climb up 220 steep, zigzagging steps (which was the only option available prior to 2003), or take an escalator or a panoramic elevator. If you choose the stairs, you pass little cafés and shops selling film and 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 the tour buses, and before the haze sets in.
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