“Do you hear that?” We stop on our electric bikes as a guide, Stefano listens carefully to the sounds of the Rio rainforest for a special note. Listen, ride a bike, listen, ride a bike. His excitement is contagious and my husband and I listen louder and pedal faster, just as deeply invested in the chase.
“It’s there, look!” We squint, peering into the thick tropical canopy when we finally spot it: a flash of orange, the gleaming beak of a toucan, owner of the distinct call (slightly different from a croaking frog) we’ve been tracking. Looking closer, we spot two, and Stefano smiles at us, explaining that toucans usually travel in pairs.
My husband, Alex, and I went to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil celebrating our honeymoon exactly one year later our wedding in Mexico. When planning our itinerary, I was determined to make the most of our five days in the wonderful city. None of us are usually the type to lay on the beach with a cocktail – chilling out for us usually involves physical activity rooted in nature, a forced digital detox, as our two jobs require us to spend a lot of our time online.
We divide our days in Rio between the green hills of Santa Teresa and the iconic stretch of sand of Ipanema. When searching Airbnb for nature activities at every location I came across Stefano’s e-bike tours in the rainforest of Tijuca National Park.
“My goal is to make you fall in love with the city I fell in love with. I want you to discover every beautiful corner of Rio in an experience totally immersed in nature,” he wrote in the description. His profile also bragged that he was the first guide to offer e-bike tours in Rio and had a five-star rating on Airbnb. ant of their trip.
Stefano offers two versions of the tour: one that lasts five hours and one that lasts three. The amount of ground covered depends on the group: how fast they pedal, how often they want to stop, etc. We opted for the three hour tour and effortlessly covered 19 miles – a feat I didn’t quite believe until Stefano showed us a 3D map that charted our journey.
A major appeal of the e-bike tour is that it allows people to not only cover a lot of ground through the rainforest, but also see extraordinary views that are similar to, and often better than, the views of the most popular and heavily traveled views. The forest roads that Stefano guided us through were perfectly empty, including the 2016 Olympic bike path, filled only with the buzzing of birds and insects, and the occasional croak of toucans.
There’s no place like Rio, that’s clear from any vantage point. A town perched between a rainforest and a beach looks like something I invented in my dreams. There are plenty of places to take in the city’s stunning vistas, like hiking to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue that towers over the city, or taking a cable car ride up Sugar Loaf Mountain. But these platforms can get quite crowded, which tends to undermine that special feeling of breathing and connecting to a new place and the people who live there.