Rio de Janeiro View City Ocean sugarloaf travel adventure brazil

The formation of rises in Rio de Janeiro [Brazil]

RioIntro: Not too many cities in the world hold an allure quite like Rio de Janerio. Resting on the southern edge of Brazil, this metropolis was our final destination in Brazil, and well worth the wait. With a short flight from Salvador we arrived in this future 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics host city. With less than 5 days to explore we made the most our time, including the signature spots like Christ the Redeemer (offering busy crowds but gorgeous views), to the buzzing beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.

One of my favorite shows and a big inspiration for my own travels was Departures, and I remembered the episode when they were in Rio and went hang gliding. Thus, finding myself in Rio…

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro Brazil Adventure Travel Adrenaline South America

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

I would highly recommend doing it. It’s a bit pricey but gives you an amazing experience of catching thermals and flying over this gorgeous city. From a bird’s eye view you can really notice the unique mountainous seascape that befalls Rio. Vertical domes (like the famous sugarloaf) immerge from the ground and are encompassed by the rich-green rain forest.

So of course, being an all-around-lover of earth science (especially cool rock formations), I wanted to find out more about these domes and their unique relationship with the rain forest to share with you!

Rio de Janeiro View City Ocean sugarloaf travel adventure brazil South America

View of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with sugarloaf (left side in the background)

Science- Spiel: Protector of the Jungle (GeologyPhysical GeographyGeomorphology, & Ecology)

These dramatic, steep-sided mountains are the result of some collaborative forces. Composed mostly of metamorphosed granite, these gigantic rock intrusion initially formed underground have been exposed on the surface due to a combination of fractures, weathering, and climate.

Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janerio Brazil exfoliation dome South America rainforest Atlantic adventure travel

Another steep-sided exfoliation (less dramatic) dome, with a familiar figure on top

exfoliation dome

Exfoliation Dome Figure from Owen et al. at University of Leicester (2011), modified after Thomas (1978)

In the Cretaceous time period, Africa and South America separated to form the Atlantic Ocean, and this resulted in crustal stresses and fractures in the region. Fractures create weaknesses in the rocks, which are then exploited by tropical chemical weathering (i.e. by water interacting with minerals in the rocks to create chemical reactions). Over the years Rio’s climate allowed this to flourish with consistent swings in temperature, resulting in the outer layers to peel away, giving an onion skin appearance known as exfoliation sheets. Like an onion, the outer “granite skin sheds” on exposure, and falls into the valley’s below to be eroded faster, thus in turn steeping the slopes of theses sugarloaf-domes.

Now this plays a key role in creating a safe haven for the many endangered animals and plants of the Atlantic Rainforest, which has already been reduced to <7% of its original distribution due to deforestation. We went for a hike in Parque Nacional da Tijuca which is part of this Atlantic rain forest that surrounds Rio de Janeiro.

Old castle ruins Parque Nacional da Tijuca Rio de Janeiro Brazil Adventure Travel south america

Old castle ruins in Parque Nacional da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Wondering around you can tell how these steep valley floor (due to the sugarloaf-domes ramparts) forests are more diverse and have rich supplies of water and soil to support the thick, full tree canopies.

Brazilian Flower in Rio de Janeiro Brazil Adventure Travel Vegetation South America

Brazilian Flower in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Brazilian Fruit in Rio de Janeiro Brazil vegetation travel adventure South America

Brazilian Fruit in Rio, Brazil

The sugarloaf-domes also support summit and shoulder forests, which are isolated and perched on high steep slopes. The environment there is harsh with little soil, nutrients or water but allow host to a vast array of specialized vegetation.

Parque Nacional da Tijuca Rio de Janeiro Brazil Atlantic Rainforest adventure travel South America

Nadine in Parque Nacional da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Final Thoughts:

Rio de Janerio; a city of rich beauty, but underlying poverty. Definitely worth a visit and I would love to return one day. There are many things Rio has to offer, from delicious Brazilian fruits and açaí berries, to the sunny beaches and exciting football, and of course the gorgeous seaside landscape. To be able to learn a bit more about the foundations and formations of such a spectacular place makes it all the more rewarding for me to enjoy! Thus ends my dual travel trip in Brazil with my sister. You can check out her final video of Wild Nights in Rio, we missed the carnival but there is always good times to be had in Rio. And though this may be the end of Brazil… more is about to come as we visit some family ties and explore Eastern Europe. So stay tuned!


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Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janerio Brazil 7 wonders of world landmark statue adventure travel south america

Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janerio, Brazil

Copacabana Beach Rio de Janeiro Brazil South America famous Adventure Travel

Myself at Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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Leave a Reply


  1. Hi Steph,

    Thanks for the mention 🙂 Glad you enjoyed Rio and the mountains!

    Dr Sarah Owen (University of Leicester)

    • Hi Sarah,

      Nice to meet you and I’m glad you found my blog (and your figure). Thanks of course for your figure and research 🙂 And yes, I did enjoy the mountains of Rio!


  2. Gary Duggan

    Thanks for sharing, Stephanie. Nice to see you’re having a blast in Rio!! Interesting post as usual, keep exploring, working and keeping us informed. Can’t get enough of the geology lessons. Bless you and please be safe out there.

    • Hey, thanks for that. I should have checked this, it was the Cretaceous Period and I amateurishly wrote the upper limit. I fixed it now, though it still is very vague which I apologize for!

  3. I live in Rio, also interesting in mountain formations and I can tell you, there are so much more to see! A region here, called Jacarepaguá, offers an exquisite collection of volcano-shaped mountains. How can I be sure? Thanks.

  4. Allen Nault

    Hi stepanie : Just wanted to say thanks for this…I always wondered how the peaks of Rio were formed. Very simple to understand, I also light the graphics. Great job.

    Allen Nault , Montreal,Canada.

    • Allen Nault

      I mean like not light…

    • Thanks Allen! I’m glad my blog post could be of some enlightenment for you 🙂

      • Allen Nault

        Hello Stephanie, nice of you to reply, thanks. Bye the way, my cousin is a geologist. His name is Geordie Sinclair, from Windsor Ontario. It’s a small world, so maybe one day you will cross path’s with him or already have.

  5. Kevin

    Fellow geologist here. Interesting piece. Thought the bikini subduction in the right hand side of your “Myself at Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil” photo was pretty funny. Photobomb?

    • Haha, yeah I noticed that and was going to crop it out of the photo, but then I thought it was pretty funny too so I kept it in! Thanks for reading 🙂

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