Old Tales and Wild

Old Tales
and Wild

Juvenal was a stutterer. When narrating the games he would finish
describing the moves 15 minutes after the match had ended.
By Brazzil Magazine


Three-quarters of the state’s 289,000 inhabitants live in Macapá, leaving almost the
whole state (142,358 sq. km, extending north to the French Guiana border), to the
remaining quarter of the population. Only 0.2% of the Brazilian population live in Amapá,
which is the second least populated state of Brazil, after Roraima.

During the 18th century, the Portuguese built a fort at Macapá to protect access to
the Amazon. The discovery of gold in the region prompted several attempts by the French to
invade from French Guiana and claim Amapá. At the turn of this century, after
international arbitration had snubbed the French and definitively awarded Amapá to
Brazil, the area was promptly annexed by Pará. This annexation greatly displeased the Amapaenses,
who relentlessly pursued autonomy until it was finally granted by the Brazilian government
in 1943. Today, the state’s economy is based on lumber and the mining of manganese, gold
and tin ore.


Officially founded in 1815, Macapá, capital of the state of Amapá, lies close to the
equator, in a strategic position on the Amazon estuary. Inhabited mostly by public
servants, the town has few attractions. The name Macapá comes from the native Indian word
macabas, meaning the place of bacabas. Bacaba is a regional fruit; used to
make juices and ice cream.


Tourist Office—The DETUR/AP tourist information office (Tel.: 222-4135) is at
Avenida Raimundo Álvares da Costa 18, Centro. DETUR also has a posto de informações in
the foyer of the municipal library, next to the telefônica on Rua São José; it’s
open from 8 am to noon and 2 to 6 pm Monday to Friday.

Travelers planning to continue north into French Guiana will require a visa. There are
French consulates in Belém, Manaus, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and
Brasilia, but not in the state of Amapá.

Money—The Banco do Brasil branch on Rua Independência (near the fort) will
exchange US dollars and travelers’ checks.

Post & Telephone—The central post office is at Avenida Coriolano Jucá
125, and there are telephones on the corner of Rua São José and Avenida General Gurião.

Tour Agencies—Amapá Viagens e Turismo (Tel.: 223-2667) is at the Novotel
hotel, while Martinica (Tel.: 222-3462) is at Rua Jovino Dinoá 2010.

Forte São José de Macapá

This grandiose stone fort was built in 1782 by the Portuguese to defend against French
invasions from the Guianas. It is Macapá’s most interesting sight and is still in good
condition. The plan is a square with four pentagonal bastions at the corners. Protected
inside the massive stone walls are the buildings which served as soldiers’ quarters, a
hospital, jail cells, gunpowder and rations stores, a chapel and the commandant’s house.
More than 800 laborers were involved in the construction, mostly Indians, blacks and caboclos,
and during the building of the foundations many died due to accidents in the wet and
difficult conditions of building on the riverbank. Many other workers died at the hands of
the extremely repressive and violent administration. Attempts at escape were common and
contributed to the appearance of African communities in the region.

Museu de Plantas Medicinais Waldemiro de Oliveira Gomes—The museum (Tel.:
223-1951), at Avenida Feliciano Coelho 1509, has a display of medicinal plants, a caboclo’s
house, Indian artifacts and a moth-eaten collection of stuffed birds and animals. It’s
open from 9 am to noon and 2 to 5 pm.

Casa do Artesão 

The idea of this artists’ workshop is to foster local arts and handicrafts, and to
attract some tourist dollars, but most of the works for sale are unconvincing. It is
located on Avenida Azarias Neto.

Marco Zero do Equador

If you absolutely have to have that picture of yourself astride the equator, you
can catch a bus from the local bus terminal near the fort to the equator, via Porto
Santana and Fazendinha, and then back to Macapá. At the equator, the bus driver pauses
long enough for travelers to race to the roof of the tourist restaurant, snap their pics
and hop back onto the bus. Allow around three hours for the whole excursion.


O Marabaixo is an Afro-Brazilian holiday celebrated 40 days after Semana Santa (Holy
Week). The Festa de Joaquim, celebrated in the African village of Curiaú, is another
Afro-Brazilian party held during the month of August, with ladainha (praying), batuque
(drumming) and folia (dancing in colorful costumes).

The Festa da Piedade Batuque is celebrated during the last week of June in Igarapé do
Lago, a village 85 km from Macapá. The people from this village are strongly devoted to
Nossa Senhora da Piedade, and celebrate their devotion through various religious rituals,
including a river procession. The party’s main performance is the batuque. Forty
dancing women in costume depict the bailantes escravas devotas (devoted slave
dancers). You can get festival programs from the DETUR tourist office.

Places to Stay

The Emerick Hotel (Tel.: 223-2819), at Avenida Coaraci Nunes 333, has a good
atmosphere. Singles/doubles with fan are $8/14, while single/double apartamentos cost
$14/19 with TV, and $18/24 with air-con. The Hotel Santo Antônio (Tel.: 222-0226),
at Rua Coriolando Jucá 485, opposite Cine Ouro, has single/double apartamentos for
$12/18 with fan, $17/20 with air-con. It also has communal rooms, which cost $7 per
person. The Kamila Hotel (Tel.: 222-0250), at Júlio Maria Lombaerd 48, is a small
hotel in a good position. Single/double apartamentos are $10/11 with fan, $14/18 with

The Mercúrio Hotel (Tel.: 223-4061), at Rua Cândido Mendes 1300, has large
singles/doubles for $22/31. The Mara Hotel (Tel.: 222-0859), at Rua São José
2390, has single or double quartos with fan for $ 19;

single/double quartos with air-con cost $24/31. The Muarama Hotel (Tel.:
222-5495), at Rua Henrique Galúcio 1623 offers apartamentos with air-con, TV, and
telephone for $20/25 a single/double. The Açai Palace Hotel (Tel.: 223-4899), at
Avenida Antônio Coelho de Carvalho 1399, offers single/double apartamentos for
$18/30 with fan, $24/42 with air-con.

The two-star Amapaense Palace (Tel.: 222-3367; fax 222-0773), on Rua Tirada
large apartamentos, with air-con, refrigerator and TV at $34/47 a single/double or $28/39
without a window. The Frota Palace Hotel (Tel.: 223-3999) at Rua Tiradentes
1104, has new single/double apartamentos for $53/65.

Also known as the Amazonas, the Novotel (Tel.: 223-1144) at Avenida Azarias Neto
17, on the waterfront, falls far short of its four-star rating. Singles/doubles here cost

Places to Eat

It is surprisingly hard to find good seafood in Macapá. The best saltwater prawns are
exported, and therefore expensive for the locals. Try A Peixaria (Tel.: 222-0913),
at Avenida Mãe Luzia 86. For comida a quilo (by weight) meals, Tom Marron on
the corner of Rua Tiradentes and Avenida Presidente Getúlio Vargas, and Só Assados at
Avenida Henrique Galúcio 290, are recommended. Kilão Central, on the corner of
Avenida Coaraci Nunes and Rua São José is another. Pizza & Companhia, at
Avenida Henrique Galúcio 1634-A, is a bit far from the center, but has a friendly owner
and OK pizza. Sorveteria Macapá at Rua São José 1676, has the best ice cream.


Amapá’s nightlife is virtually nonexistent, but if you’re desperate for a dance, try
Athenas (Tel.: 224-1165), which a disco on Saturday and Sunday and live music on Thursday
and Friday nights. Things generally don’t heat up until after 11 pm. Entry costs $12.

Getting There & Away 

Air—It’s possible to fly with Air France from Paris to Cayenne, French Guiana,
and then continue overland to Amapá; however, traveler’s who want to avoid overland
hassles may prefer to fly from Cayenne to Macapá. TABA now has flights to Cayenne on
Monday, Wednesday and Friday, departing from Macapá at 3.30 pm. The fare is $146/172 one

TABA also flies to Oiapoque on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, departing from Macapá at
10.20 am. The fare for the 1 1/4-hour flight costs $199 one way. There are also daily
(except Sunday) TABA flights to Belém, for $120.

TABA (Tel.: 223-1551) has an office at Alameda Francisco Serrano 34, and the
Varig/Cruzeiro office (Tel.: 223-1743) is at Rua Cândido Mendes 1039. Check the latest
schedules and prices for flights to Oiapoque, Cayenne or Belém with these airlines.

Bus—Macapá is linked by BR-156 to Oiapoque, the Brazilian border town
beside the Rio Oiapoque, on the border with French Guiana. The first 170 km of the road,
to just past Ferreira Gomes, is paved; the road then degenerates into an unpaved track.
It’s frequently washed out, and you should be prepared to hire vehicles or hitch on an
impromptu basis. There are buses direct to Oiapoque, departing from Macapá on Monday,
Wednesday and Friday. Tickets cost $44 and the trip takes a minimum of 16 hours. If you
have the time, it may be worth staging the trip: stopovers could include Ferreira Gomes,
Tartarugalzinho, the township of Amapá, and Calçoene. You can pick up the bus timetables
and buy tickets at Lanche no Ponto, at the local bus terminal.

Boat—For information about boat schedules and fares, contact SENAVA (Tel:
222-3611 ), at Avenida Azarias Neto 20, or the Capitania dos Portos office (Tel.:
223-4755), at Avenida FAB 427. SENAVA boats no longer go to Oiapoque. However, it may be
possible to arrange a trip in a private boat, but there isn’t a regular service and the
trip is reportedly quite treacherous.

Note that boats to Santarém and Belém depart from Porto Santana, the main port, 20 km
down the coast from Macapá. If you need to stay overnight in this archetypal Amazon port,
a reader has suggested the Hotel Muller (Tel.: 632-6881), at Rua Filinto Muller 373, which
charges $5 per person for an apartamento with fan. There is a regular bus service
between Porto Santana and Macapá.

Crossing the border—The Brazilian border town of Oiapoque, 560 km north of
Macapá, is the main crossing point for overland travelers between Brazil and French

The transport options available from Macapá to the border include a flight to
Oiapoque, a privately arranged boat ride from the Macapá docks to Oiapoque, or a long and
rugged bus trip to Oiapoque.

Unless you have a great deal of time and patience or absolutely must do the trip
overland, you may prefer to avoid all the hassles and hop on a plane.

The clean, state-owned hotel in Calçoene is excellent value—$5 for a double apartamento.
The two hotels in Oiapoque charge $5 for a double quarto and $6 for a double apartamento.

Get your Brazilian exit stamp from the Polícia Federal in Oiapoque, and your French
Guianese entry stamp at the gendarmerie in St Georges (French Guiana), reached by a
20-minute motorboat ride ($2.50) from Oiapoque. There are also plans to construct a bridge
over the river. If you need to change money, there’s a casa de câmbio at the
harbor in Oiapoque.



This African village eight km from Macapá was founded by escaped slaves. The name came
from the Portuguese expression criar búfalo, which the African slaves pronounced criar-ú.
They chose this area for its natural pastures, perfect for raising buffalo. The main
street (lined with distinctive timber houses) and the flooding valley are very

Parque Zoobotânico

This zoo was closed for renovation at the time of writing, but we were allowed into the
park for a look. The zoo has tapirs, deer, monkeys, alligators, birds, and some jaguars

which definitely fancied us for their next meal. You have to get off the bus on the way
to Fazendinha

Praia da Fazendinha

Buses run to Praia da Fazendinha, the local beach, 19 km from town. There are various
bars and restaurants along the beach—Bar do Bezerra is recommended for
good, cheap seafood.

Bonito and the Igarapé do Lago

Bonito and the Igarapé do Lago, 72 km and 85 km from Macapá, are good places for
swimming, fishing and jungle walks. 

Cachoeira de Santo Antônio

This is a waterfall in the municipality of Mazagão, an 18th-century Portuguese town,
which is accessible by ferry from Porto Santana.

Rio Araguari & The Pororoca

At the mouth of the Rio Araguari, about 100 km north of Macapá, you can observe (and
hear!) the pororoca (thunderous collision between the Atlantic tide and the Amazon.
The best time to see this phenomenon is between January and April, at either the full or
new moon. Excursions by boat (15 hours) to see the pororoca are organized by the
local tour agencies.

Serra do Navio

Serra do Navio, a mining town built in the 1950s to support the extraction of 40
million tons of manganese in the area, lies about 200 km north-west of Macapá. By 1990,
the manganese reserves had started to run out, and the concession to explore the reserve
finishes in 2003. The original mining consortium has handed over the town to national and
international organizations which are interested in using Serra do Navio as a base for
research into ecology, meteorology, hydrology and anthropology in the Amazon region. The
University of São Paulo has already set up a small research station in the town.

To prevent Serra do Navio from becoming a ghost town when mineral exploration ceases,
the industrialization of the area’s forest products is being developed. The development of
pharmaceutical products from medicinal plants, dyes for food and clothing, fruit products,
natural insecticides, resins, essences and oils are among the projects. This is the
starting point of a program to set up 11 collection areas and processing bases around the
Amazon forest. The objective of the program is to raise the Amazonian per capita income
(currently $250 per annum, just 10% of the Brazilian average).

The Instituto de Estudos Amazônicos (IEA) runs a program that offers young people of
different nationalities work on IEA projects in return for free board and lodging for six
months. One of their sites is in the Serra do Navio. For more information, contact
IEA/ABIC, at Rua Espírito Santo 362, 90.010.370 Centro, Porto Alegre RS (Tel. & fax:
( 096) 221-9075).

Getting There & Away—Serra do Navio is connected to Porto Santana by a
railway, which crosses 200 km of Savannah and native forest. The train, bought from a U.S.
wreckers’ company 40 years ago, departs from Porto Santana on Friday and Sunday, taking
five hours. Alternatively, you can drive to Serra do Navio (about four hours on BR-210),
passing through beautiful forests. For more information, contact the mining consortium
Indústria e Comércio de Minérios (Tel.: 281-1415).


The Piratuba biological reserve covers an area of almost 400,000 hectares in the
northeast of Amapá state. The area has mangrove swamps along the coast, while the inland
has dense tropical forest, rich in a variety of Amazonian palm trees such as açaí,
andiroba and palmeiras. The local fauna includes some endangered species of
alligator, as well

as turtles, flamingoes, sloths, river otters, monkeys and manatees.

Access to the biological reserve is by boat only, via the Rio Araguari, departing from
the township of Cutias do Araguari, 130 km overland from Macapá.


This ecological research station is north of the Piratuba biological reserve, on the
northeast coast of Amapá state. Despite being an oceanic island, Ilha de Maracá doesn’t
have the waves and surf that are characteristic of most of the Brazilian coastal area.
Instead the sea water enters an immense mangrove swamp which covers about one-third of the
island’s 72,000 hectares. The clay color of the water indicates that the whole area is
actually an extension of the Amazon, mixed with sea water. The area provides a habitat for
large numbers of various species of aquatic birds.

Access to the island is by local boats from the township of Amapá, 308 km overland
north of Macapá.


This national park is at the northernmost corner of Amapá state, covering an area of
619,000 hectares in the municipal districts of Calçoene and Oiapoque. Most of the park’s
area is within 10 km of the Atlantic coast, with the rivers Cassiporé and Utaçá
crossing it to the ocean.

The native vegetation is influenced by sea water forming mangrove swamps and sandbanks.
The fauna is rich and diverse, due to the variety of environments that provide habitats
for a number of rare and endangered species. Manatees in the slow river waters,
crab-eating raccoons, birds such as flamingoes and guards in the mangrove swamps,
endangered species of anteaters, armadillos and jaguars in the forest, and turtles laying
eggs on the beaches. 

Access to the park isn’t easy—a rugged overland trip up to the town of Calçoene,
380 km from Macapá, then a boat ride out to sea and into the Rio Cassiporé, the extreme
north of Amapá state. The park has an airport, accessible to small aircraft all year

The national parks, reserves and research stations in Amapá state are managed by
IBAMA, and permission from them to visit these protected areas is required. For more
information, contact IBAMA (Tel.: 223-2099), Superintendência Estadual, Rua Hamilton
Silva 1570, Bairro Santa Rita, Macapá.


The new state of Tocantins encompasses what was previously the northern half of the
state of Goiás. Until the Belém-Brasília highway was built, there was no road link
between southern and northern Goiás. The new highway served mostly as an expressway from
the north to the south of Brazil, and consequently, each region maintained a different
cultural history.

Southern Goiás had mostly been colonized by people from the southern states of Brazil,
who traditionally didn’t mix with the native Indians or black slaves. Colonization of the
northern part of Goiás was mostly by people from the northern parts of Brazil, with
strong miscegenation with native Indians and blacks, creating a new ethnic group with
different physical characteristics and a distinctive culture. The separationist movements
in what is now Tocantins started as far back as the early 19th century, with the most
significant one, headed by Joquim Segurado, in 1821.

On 1 January 1989 a constitutional amendment creating the new state of Tocantins came
into effect. The state was supposedly created to give the Indians of the region greater
autonomy; however, they appear to have been conveniently shuffled aside to make way for
grandiose Big Plans with lavish use of statistics and slogans, such as ’20 anos em 2′ (20
years of progress in two).

Siqueira Campos, a man who had pushed for the state’s creation for 25 years, took part
in a bitter tussle with rival politicians before emerging victorious as the new governor
of the state. The political debate produced some strange claims. José Freire, one of
Campos’ toughest rivals, tried to prove that Campos was a murderer who had changed his
name in the 1960s. Freire offered a substantial reward to anyone who could prove this
theory by producing the relevant birth certificate and other pertinent papers. One curious
flaw in Freire’s argument was his inability to provide Campos’ real name.

After ferocious politicking in three rival towns, the town of Palmas was officially
declared the state capital. Campo, during his first term, launched into dozens of
development projects, and the grandiose Palácio do Araguaia, seat of the state
government, was the first building completed. He had a hard time keeping up with the pace
of progress expected during the two years of his administration, and in the following
elections, in 1991, he lost his post to Moisés Avelino. Avelino’s administration aimed to
set up the basic infrastructure for industrial development in the state, and the obsession
with development continues: re-elected for a four-year term at the last state elections,
in 1994, Siqueira Campos now uses the slogan ’40 anos em 4′ (40 years of progress in

Tocantins currently has over 1.2 million inhabitants in 123 municipalities assigned to
15 administrative regions over an area of 286,706 sq. km. Technically, it belongs to the
northern region of Brazil, with Pará and Mato Grosso states to the west, Maranhão and
Bahia to the east and Goiás to the south.

Geographically, the state has three defined regions: north, with vegetation mostly
influenced by the Amazon rainforests; median (Araguaia), an area of transition between
forest and Savannah; and central south-east, which is mostly Savannah, with sections of
deciduous forest on the borders with Bahia and Goiás. The state’s climate is
predominantly tropical: humid, with average temperatures between 25°C and 36° C.


The state capital is a planned city strategically placed in the center of Tocantins. It
is 973 km from Brasilia and 1271 km from Belém. Unless you have a specific reason to
visit, give it a miss.

In 1991, Palmas had 2000 inhabitants in the plano piloto (pilot plan), mostly
public officials and construction workers. In 1995 its population was 25,000 in the town
of Palmas and about 140,000 in its municipality. The original plan of organized growth
seems to be getting out of hand, with migrants from other states arriving every day
seeking new opportunities. Optimistic estimates envisage that the Palmas district will
achieve a population target of half a million by the turn of the century.

At this stage, there is no official money exchange facilities in Tocantins.

Things to See & Do

Apart from the grandiose Palácio Araguaia, and other government buildings,
there isn’t much to see in Palmas. The vast, sparse scale of the city is typical of the
megalomania rampant in the state.

During the months of June, July and August, the beach of Graciosa (in the town
of Canela, 12 km from Palmas) and the Taquarassu waterfalls (in Serra do Carmo,
about 26 km from Paimas) are the places where locals go for relief from the heat.

Places to Stay

The accommodation in Palmas is generally expensive. You could try the Hotel Casa
Grande (Tel.: 215-1713), on Avenida Antônio Segurado, or Nivea’s Plaza (Tel.:
214-1917), at ACSUSO 50, conjunto 1, lote 9. The Hotel Rio do Sono (Tel.: 215-1733)
and the Pousada dos Girassóis (Tel.: 215-1187) are more up-market and

Getting There & Away

Air—From Palmas airport (Tel.: 214-1805), accessed via Avenida Antônio
Segurado, Km 2, there are flights leaving for Araguaína, Belém, Brasília, Redenção
and Tucuruí with TAM (Tel.: 214-1969) and Air Taxi Nobre (Tel.: 214-1500).

Bus—There are daily buses from the Palmas rodoviária (Tel.:
214-1603), Avenida Teotônio Segurado, to the interstate destinations of Belém,
Brasília, Teresina, Belo Horizonte, Rio and São Paulo. There are also regular buses to
most towns in Tocantins.


One of the three largest towns in the state, with about 104,000 inhabitants, Gurupi is
also one of Tocantins’ most important agroindustrial areas. It is 712 km north of
Brasília along the Belém-Brasília highway.


Money—There isn’t an official money exchange in Tocantins, but you may
exchange cash dollars at Urutur Turismo in Gurupi.

Travel Agency—Urutur Viagens e Turismo (Tel.: 851-3398), Rua Antônio
Lisboa da Cruz 1695, sala 5, is one of the few travel agencies in Tocantins. It can
provide information about places of interest around the state, including Ilha do Bananal.

To visit the Karajá and Javaés Indian reserves (on Ilha do Bananal) or the Xerente
Indian village (near Tocantínia), you need permission from the FUNAI office in Gurupi
(Tel. & fax: 851-2708), at Rua Presidente Castelo Branco 1363. It takes a minimum of
10 days to get formal permission, so you may want to fax your request in advance.


Festeaw6kx de Santo Antônio and the state’s largest agricultural exhibition are both
held during the month of June.

Places to Stay & Eat

There are two small hotels in front of the bus terminal—try the Hotel Vila Rica
(Tel.: 851-2910), which is friendly and has clean quartos for $8/12 a
single/double. The Veneza Plaza (Tel.: 851-1441), at Avenida Pará 1823,
charges around $45 for apartamentos.

For a good-value self-service meal go to Restaurante e Churrascaria Parolle, at
No 1373 Rua 05.

Getting There & Away

Air—From Gurupi airport (Tel.: 851-2468), on Avenida Sergipe, there are
flights to Santa Terezinha and São Félix do Araguaia on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and
weekends. Tickets (around $200) can be booked through Urutur Turismo.

Bus—There are daily interstate buses from Gurupi to Belém, Brasília and
Imperatriz, and at least twice-daily bus services to the main towns in the state. The bus
terminal (Tel.: 851-1444) is on Rua 19.


This small town is about 70 km west of Gurupi, towards Ilha do Bananal. It has about
19,000 inhabitants, mostly agricultural laborers, farmers and public servants.

Projeto Rio Formoso

If you are interested in agriculture you can visit the Projeto Formoso, a mega-sized
rice plantation in an area claimed to be the largest continuous area of irrigated crop in
the world! We saw wild deer end chameleons, as well as rheas and various other birds,
living on the plantation.

Places to Stay & Eat

The town has two cheap hotels near the rodoviária: the Grande Hotel on
Rua 2, and the Hotel Bonanza on Avenida Rio Branco. The latter has a restaurant,
which serves good, simple meals. 

Getting There & Away

There are buses twice daily from Gurupi to Formoso, and once a day from Goiânia.


In the center of Tocantins, this small town on the Rio Tocantins is a good place for a
stopover if you are travelling through the state or from Belém. It is 23 km off the
BR-153, about 800 km from Belém and 1032 km from Brasília.


During the dry months (July to September), the town’s beaches, Praia do Mirassol and
Praia Ponte de Apolo (just oppose the main street), are exposed. Huts for drinks
and snacks are erected in the middle of the river. Access to Praia do Mirassol is via a
suspended footbridge above the water. Other beaches include Praia do Amor, three km
upriver from the town center, and Balneário do Lucena (which reportedly has good
infrastructure for visitors), 17 km uphill.

Places to Stay & Eat

The Grande Hotel (Tel.: 866-1851), at Rua Bela Vista 771, has clean, simple apartamentos
and friendly service. Singles/doubles cost $10/15. The Miracema Palace(Tel.:
866-1161) is a bit further out of town, as is the Pousada Tocantins on the way
Miranorte, with apartamentos for $40. To get to these two, you may have to pay for taxi
rides, which aren’t cheap in Tocantins.

The Restaurante Bom Paladar at Rua Primeiro de Janeiro 318, Centro, has good,
self-service meals. You could also try the Restaurant Palace, at the Miracema

Getting There & Away

From the rodoviária (Tel.: 866-1281), at Avenida Tocantins 1376, there are
daily buses to Belém, Brasília, Conceição do Araguaia, Goiânia, Imperatriz and
Marabá, and at least two buses daily to Palmas and Porto Nacional.



The town of Tocantínia is located on the opposite side of the Rio Tocantins to
Miracema, a short crossing on the regular ferryboat. It is now compulsory to exit your
vehicle, since a bus rolled off the ferry into the river! There are huts at both sides of
the ferry port that sell inexpensive local Indian arts and handicrafts.

Tocantínia is 89 km from Palmas, on the edge of the Reserva Indígena Xerentes. One of
the state government’s development strategies is to build a highway linking Palmas to the
Northeast. Misleading the Xerentes into believing that just a small bridge was going to be
built over the Rio do Sono, they promptly began construction of a massive structure. In
response, the Indians set up an aldeia (village) at the site to stop the work,
recognizing that a substantial highway was intended to cut straight through their reserve.
The Xerente we spoke to said that if necessary, they would fight to the death to protect
their land, because if the highway proceeded, their culture would be destroyed anyway. To
visit an aldeia, you will need permission from FUNAI in Gurupi.


This very small town has a picturesque, rocky river beach and a waterfall. There are no
hotels, but you can stay at Miracema (50 km away) or camp by the river.


Founded in 1861, Porto Nacional (population over 43,000) is Tocantins’ second-oldest
town, after Natividade. It is 764 km from Goiânia and 70 km from Palmas.

Things to See & Do

The Igreja de Nossa Senhora das Mercês (1903) and, during the dry season, the
river beaches are the town’s main attractions. The beach of Porto Real is close to
the town center, Carreira Comprida is five km upriver and Praia Rebojo is
two km downriver.

Places to Stay & Eat

There are a couple of accommodation options including the Shelton Hotel (Tel.:
863-1686), at Rua Joaquim Aires 2262, and the Hotel São Judas Tadeu (Tel.:
863-1242), at Praça Belarmina Prado Aires 1563. The Restaurante da Tia Júlia, Praça
Eugênio Jardim 27, is reported to be good for regional dishes. 

Getting There & Away

Air—The airport (Tel.: 863-1300) is at the end of Avenida Castelo Branco.
There are regular flights from Porto Nacional to Brasília, Goiânia and São Paulo.

Bus—The rodoviária (Tel.: 863-1224), on Avenida Luís Leite
Ribeiro, has interstate buses daily to Brasília, Goiânia, Belo Horizonte, Teresina, Rio
and São Paulo, and more regular buses to Gurupi, Palmas, Miracema and Paraíso do


The oldest town in Tocantins state (it’s 258 years old), Natividade is 160 km from
Porto Nacional. It has Portuguese and French-style architecture inherited from the
colonial period.

The ruins of Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário, which was built by black slaves
during the last century, are the town’s main attraction. Cachoeiras do Paraíso waterfalls
(from December to June) are four km out of town, and there are beaches at the Rio Manoel
Alves, 13 km out of town.

There are no hotels in Natividade, but it was reported that you can get a room from
locals (ask around) or camp along the river’s edge.


This small town, with just over 2000 inhabitants, is 87 km west of the Belém-Brasília
highway and is one of the main tourist destinations in Tocantins. It has a lake about 4.5
km in diameter, with a protruding boulder in the middle. Its name, which means Lake of
Confusion, comes from the disagreement over whether the rock moves around the lake!

Places to Stay

Praia do Rio Formoso has an isolated area for camping, 35 km out of town on the Estrada
Lagoa-Ilha do Bananal. The Hotel Lagoa da Ilha Praia Clube (Tel.: 864-1110) is said
to be the largest leisure and tourism complex in Tocantins state. The Big Hotel and
the Hotel Espora de Ouro are both on Avenida Vitorino Panta.

Getting There & Away

There are daily buses to Lagoa da Confusão from Palmas and Porto Nacional.


Barreira da Cruz

Another gateway to the Parque Nacional da Ilha do Bananal, this fishing village is on
the margin of Rio Javaés, 52 km from Lagoa da Confusão. There are buses between Lagoa

da Confusão and Barreira da Cruz.,

Lagoa dos Pássaros

Reportedly good for birdwatching from June to September, this lake is 45 km from Lagoa
da Confusão via Rodovia Lagoa-Fazenda Conag.


The Rio Araguaia begins in the Serra dos Caiapós and flows 2600 km northwards, forming
the borders of Mato Grosso, Goiás, Tocantins, and Pará before joining the Rio Tocantins
where the states of Tocantins, Maranhão and Pará meet, near Marabá. About 500 km from
its source, the Araguaia bifurcates into the greater and lesser Araguaia rivers, which
course west and east respectively and then rejoin, having formed the largest river island
in the world, Ilha do Bananal.

The river is not easily accessible, so tours are a good idea. The best access from Mato
Grosso is via Barra do Garças, about 500 km from Cuiabá. Barra do Garças has the Parque
de Águas Quentes (hot springs). Camping facilities are open from May to October. It’s a
rapidly growing agricultural boom town of 30,000 people and there are four simple hotels.

The stretch of the Rio Araguaia from the town of Aruanã up to Ilha do Bananal is
considered one of the best freshwater fishing areas in the world. The region is beginning
to attract Brazilian holiday-makers during the dry season (June to September), when the
receding waters uncover white beaches along the riverbank. Many Brazilians camp on the
banks of the river. During the May to October fishing season, pintado, pirarucu,
pacu, tucunaré, surubim and matrinchã are there for the

Organized Tours

If you’re serious about fishing and have the money, there are tours, arranged in
Brasília and Goiânia (in Goiás state), where you meet a boat-hotel in Aruanã and sail
around the island. If you want to explore the river without a tour, catch a boat in
Aruanã or Barra do Garças (in Mato Grosso state); however, if you want to get as far
north as Ilha do Bananal and don’t have a lot of money, it’s best to take a bus up to São
Felix do Araguaia (in Mato Grosso state) and hire a boat from there.


Formed by the splitting of the Rio Araguaia, Ilha do Bananal is the world’s largest
river island, covering 20,000 sq. km. The northern section is the Parque Nacional do
Araguaia, but most of the island is an Indian reserve inhabited by Karajás and Javaés
Indians. Farmers use the island’s lush pastures for grazing their cattle. In September
1994 the federal government officially declared that all trespassers were to vacate the
island. Since many of the 900 families have lived on the island for generations, this has
caused a lot of ill feeling in the community. At the time of writing, compensation (in the
form of relocation) was being arranged. The Indians were understandably becoming impatient
with the bureaucracy, and threatening to take their own action.

Much of the island is covered with forest and there is plenty of wildlife, but only
birds are visible in abundance. At sunset and sunrise you can reel in all sorts of fish,
including dogfish with teeth so large that the Indians use them to shave with. There are tucunaré
with colorful moustaches, ferocious tabarana, pirarucu (two-meter-long,
100-kg monsters) and several other slimy critters. The river also harbors botos
(freshwater dolphins), jacaré, soias (rare, one-eyed fish) and poraquê (electric

Peter Fleming describes an excursion in this region in his excellent travelogue
entitled Brazilian Adventure. Fleming’s route took him down the Araguaia to São Félix do
Araguaia, where his group prepared for an expedition up the Rio Tapirapé in an attempt to
discover what had happened to Colonel Fawcett, am English explorer who disappeared there
in 1925.

Permission to visit the park can be obtained from IBAMA (the national parks service) in
Brasília or Palmas (Tel.: 215-1873), or from the park director (Tel.: 2242457), who lives
in Goiânia (Goiás state). Of course, if you just show up, you may save a lot of time and
hassle and get in just the same. There is simple accommodation available on the island,
but no food other than what you bring.

Ilha do Bananal is also accessible from Formoso do Araguaia and Lagoa da Confusão, in
the state of Tocantins.

Places to Stay & Eat

São Félix do Araguaia

São Félix with a population of around 3000, is in Mato Grosso state on the Rio das
Mortes, and has a few simple hotels. On the river’s edge, you’ll find the very basic Hotel
Araguaia. If you’re tempted to take one of the rooms with air-con, don’t. When the
electricity is turned off, at 11 pm, those tomb-like rooms turn into ovens. Get a room
that has a ceiling vent through to the hallway.

In town, you can arrange boat rides from fisherfolk and locals who hang out on the
water’s edge. The pizzeria and fish restaurant overhanging the water is recommended. In
July, the town may well be flooded with local tourists looking to catch some rays.

Santa Teresinha

Another gateway to Ilha do Bananal is the small town of Santa Teresinha (in Mato Grosso
state). A small hotel on the water’s edge is popular with foreign naturalists, who use it
as a base for visits to the Parque Nacional do Araguaia. Costs in this region, as in all
of the Amazon, are higher than those in Rio or Salvador—so be prepared.

Getting There & Away

To/From Barra do Garças

The long, dry road to Ilha do Bananal begins 400 km west of Goiânia, at Barra do
Garças (in Mato Grosso state). Buses leave early in Mato Grosso, in an unsuccessful
attempt to beat the heat—the bus from Barra do Garças to São Félix do Araguaia
leaves daily at 5 am. 

If you don’t want to take the bus, air-taxis cover the distance in one hour.

To/From Aruanã

It’s probably easier to reach the Araguaia from the state of Goiás (Goiânia in
particular) than from Mato Grosso. For those without a 4WD at their disposal, the town of
Aruanã, accessible by bus from both Goiânia (310 km) and Goiás town, is the gateway to
the Araguaia. There is a campground at Aruanã. Hire a voadeira (a small aluminum
motorboat) and a guide for a river trip to Ilha do Bananal.

To/From Barreira do Pequi and Porto Piauí

There is a raft on the bank of the Rio Javaé, which is used by farmers to access the
village on Ilha do Bananal. At the time of writing, these farmers were in the process of
being evicted from the Indian reserve.

Porto Piauí is on the opposite bank to the Javaés Indian village of São João do
Javaés. There are daily buses to Barreira do Pequi (60 km) and Porto Piauí (36 km) from
Formoso do Araguaia, but you will need permission from FUNAI in Gurupi to cross the river
to Ilha do Bananal.

To/From Barreira da Cruz

It’s possible to reach the Parque Nacional da Araguaia on Ilha do Bananal from this
small fishing village on the margin of Rio Javaés, 52 km from Lagoa da Confusão, in
Tocantins state. There are buses between Lagoa da Confusão and Barreira da Cruz.

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