Ana Santos is a student at American University in Washington, DC, currently studying abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  She strives to adapt to Brazilian culture by dismantling stereotypes and looking for adventures in different parts of the country. In this article, Ana describes her climb to the top of the Morro Dois Irmãos – the Two Brothers Hill – in Rio.

You can find more of Ana’s photography and writing here.

Ana SantosThe crown jewel of the Ipanema and Leblon beaches in Zona Sul, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is the Morro Dois Irmãos – the “Two Brothers Hill”. It has two peaks that jut right out into the Atlantic Ocean; it makes for an incredible view from either beach. Lights from the Vidigal favela* sparkle along the base of the hill and from a distance, they look like fires.

A group of friends and I decided to trek up the Two Brothers Hill one cold, windy and overcast Sunday. We convened at Posto 12, the last beach and surf spot on Leblon beach to begin the hike.

We walked from Leblon to the edge of Vidigal, then took a “moto-táxi” through the favela to the beginning of the trail. I was not anticipating having to take a moto-táxi as part of the journey, but it’s a steep climb to the trailhead and we decided to conserve our energy. I became very religious on that ride up; I saw my life flash before my eyes every time we dodged a dog on the street or swerved around a tight corner. Nevertheless, we all made it to the trail’s entrance safety (although I later learned that because we were all gringos – foreigners – the drivers had charged us double the usual price).

“It is an amazing journey for that reason alone: to see the expanse of Brazil’s communities from high up above.”

The entrance to the trail that leads to the top of the hill is discreet and narrow; we had to squeeze past two houses and hop a fence in order to reach the dense forest area where it begins. It is a bit of a challenging hike to the top of the hill but there are several stops along the way where you can get a good view of Rocinha, a favela on the other side of Morro Dois Irmãos and the largest community in Rio de Janeiro. It is an amazing journey for that reason alone: to see the expanse of Brazil’s communities from high up above.

Getting down the mountain is much easier than going up. We slipped on the dirt a few times, tried to steady ourselves on thorny branches and mistook thin roots for snakes. Nevertheless, we made it back to Vidigal in good time. A few blocks from the entrance of the trail was a small restaurant called Casa Tapioca; we stopped there for coffee and “lanche” (Portuguese for “afternoon snack”) and celebrated the completion of our adventure.

Two Brothers HillAnd so, should you find yourself in Brazil wanting to meet the Two Brothers as well, my recommendations to you are as follows:

1. Have a good breakfast before you climb. There are no snacks to purchase on the climb.

2. Take rest when needed. The climb is steep and the rapid change in altitude can be challenging.

3. Bring a backpack and pack water, a snack, and an extra jacket. Temperatures do get cooler as you climb higher.

4. Take pictures – but take care of your camera. It’s usually safe to take pictures on the trail, but try not to have your camera hanging over your shoulder or neck while you’re walking in the favela. Although Vidigal is generally safe, you don’t want to attract unwanted attention or become an unwitting target for theft.

View of Rio de Janeiro from the top of Two Brothers Hill

*community or “slum”

Words and photos: Ana Santos.