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Sugarloaf Mountain Cable Car (Bondinho del Pao de Açucar)

Sugarloaf Mountain Cable Car (Bondinho del Pao de Açucar) (33)

When this cable car was created, no one realised it would become a national symbol and go on to star in spy movies... But no doubt the scene in the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker will spring to mind when you're here.

The idea of creating an "aerial tramway" to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain was the brainchild of Brazilian engineer Augusto Ferreira Ramos, who began work in 1910. Two years later, on 27 October 1912, the first section of the cable car, linking Praia Vermelha to the Morro da Urca, opened. 

The cable car was the first aerial tramway in Brazil and the third worldwide. This first section reaches a height of 220 metres, and covered the 528 metres in about six minutes in a wooden cabin with capacity for 17 people. 

Brazilian and Portuguese construction workers worked on it using equipment and materials imported from the German company J. Pohlig. More than four tonnes of materials were transported to the top of the hills by hundreds of workers, who performed dangerous climbs in an operation that was very daring for the time. 

The cables to support the cable cars were installed by teams of specially trained workers. The first team carried a pilot cable to the foot of the mountain. The second team climbed the mountain through a forest trail, carrying a long rope. At the peak, they threw down one end of the rope and another team tied it to the pilot cable, which was at the base of the mountain. The cable was then pulled up and set in place. The other end of the pilot cable was placed at Praia Vermelha and was used as a guide for laying the steel cable that actually holds the cable car. The cable car was then hoisted up and attached to the steel cable.

A few months later, on 18 January 1913, the second part, separating the Morra da Urca from Sugarloaf Mountain, opened. It had a distance of 750 metres and was 396 metres high.

Initially a third section linking the top of Morro da Urca to the peak of Morro da Babilônia was considered, but the plan was discarded to prioritise the military use of the mountain.

The cable cars currently travel in each section independently and can carry up to 65 passengers each. The three minutes each journey takes provide a fascinating experience, with 360 degree views thanks to the transparent plexi glass of the walls of the modern cabins.

From the Morra da Urca, you can see the luxurious neighbourhood of Urca, which is home to famous people such as singer Roberto Carlos, Flamengo Beach and, on a clear day, the most characteristic buildings of the historic centre of Rio de Janeiro, including the unique conical structure of the Metropolitan Cathedral. 

Interestingly, due to the difference in height between the Morro da Urca and Sugarloaf Mountain, it's possible that the view from Urca is clear, while the top of Sugarloaf Mountain is covered with clouds or fog.

There is a large seating area with restaurants and cafés to eat or have a drink and an exhibition hall called Cocuruto, where you can take a tour of the history of the Sugarloaf cable car. There are also souvenir shops and a square known as Praça dos Bondes, since it features an exhibition of the old cable cars that ran throughout the 100-year history of the Sugarloaf Aerial Tramway.

After the second round at the viewpoint of Sugarloaf Mountain, the views can't fail to impress you, and if the day is clear enough, you can spot Copacabana Beach, the Morra do Corcovado and even the city of Niterói. 

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