Flanked by the looming peaks of Sugarloaf Mountain and Papagaio Peak and dotted with over 100 islands, Guanabara Bay provides a dramatic backdrop to the city of Rio de Janeiro. Brazil’s second-largest bay, Guanabara is home to the cities of Niteroi and São Gonçalo, the Port of Rio de Janeiro, and Rio’s two airports.
Most visitors choose to explore the sights of Guanabara Bay with a boat cruise from Rio harbor, taking in highlights such as the Rio neighborhoods of Botafogo, Flamengo, and Urca; the beaches of Niteroi; and the fortresses of São João and Santa Cruz. Some tours include a bay cruise as part of a wider sightseeing excursion that includes such attractions as Christ the Redeemer, and many cruises include a Brazilian-style barbecue lunch. Another option for getting out onto the bay is renting a private motorboat, allowing you to create your own itinerary.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Guanabara Bay is a must-visit for photographing Rio’s iconic skyline.
- Unfortunately, the bay is heavily polluted, so swimming is inadvisable in many parts.
- If you wish to swim in open water, head for Copacabana, at the mouth of the bay.
- The bay is home to a small (and sadly declining) population of botos (river dolphins).
How to Get There
Guanabara, an Atlantic-fed bay stretching inland from the city of Rio de Janeiro, can be explored by boat from the city’s main port. The islands of Fundão and Governador and the city of Niteroi are also connected via road bridges to Rio de Janeiro, and passenger ferries regularly cross the bay to Niteroi and the island of Paquetá.
When to Get There
Most boat tours head out into Guanabara Bay in the middle of the day so that guests can see as many attractions as possible. If you want to see the bay bathed in the golden glow of sunset, you can join a tour that takes you to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain (by cable car or on foot) for the perfect vantage point.
Some of Guanabara Bay’s best beaches are in Niteroi, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro. Beaches here tend to be less crowded, and there are better opportunities for swimming and water sports. Praia de São Francisco, with soft, white sand and calm waters, is a good choice.