Despite the lack of infrastructure, Brazil has some of the world’s best
public parks. Sometimes they are also called ecological stations and biological
reserves. Be prepared to make your acquaintance with the maned wolf, the giant
armadillo, the banded anteater, and many other wild animals, some of them on the list
of endangered species.
On a federal and state level, there are 350 parks and ecological stations, ensuring the protection of over 300,000
sq. kmroughly 5% of the national territory. Unfortunately, about 70% of them exist only on paper. Only 33%
of Brazilian natural reserves have a minimum infrastructure (warden offices and fences) and only 19.5% have
vehicles, equipment, weapons and personnel on an appropriate level. Of all national parks, the government has managed
to regulate only 22% of them. To pay out the owners of the land would cost $1 billion. The Brazilian Environment
& Natural Resources Institute (IBAMA) still hasn’t expropriated any land, so ranchers continue to use it.
IBAMA makes the distinction between parques
nacionais (national parks), reservas
biológicas (biological reserves) and
estações ecológicas (ecological stations). Only
parques nacionais are open to the public for
recreational use. Reservas biológicas
and estações ecológicas
are only open to researchers. To visit them you need
permission from IBAMA.
Despite all this, there are some fantastic parks to visit. IBAMA has a minuscule budget, which only allows it
to publish a small amount of literature in Portuguese and even less in English.
If you’re prepared to rough it a bit and do some camping, you’ll experience some spectacular places. The
following is a quick overview of Brazil’s main national parks, divided for ease of reference into regions.
In Rio, the Parque Nacional da Tijuca, surrounded by the city, is a popular day trip and offers
magnificent panoramic views. The Parque Nacional do Itatiaia, 155 km to the southeast of the city, is a favorite with trekkers
and climbers, its big attraction being the Agulhas Negras mountain with a 2787-meter peak. Another climbing Mecca is
the Parque Nacional da Serra dos Órgãos, 86 km from Rio. As well as its spectacular peaks it offers some great walks.
These last two parks both possess a well-developed tourist infrastructure.
On the border of Rio and São Paulo states, close to Parati, the Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina is where
the coastal escarpment meets the sea, and the Atlantic rainforest quickly changes to high-altitude
araucária forest as you move up from the Coast. There doesn’t, as yet, exist any infrastructure for tourists.
In Minas Gerais, there are some great parks to visit. The Parque Nacional de Caparaó in the east of the state, on
the border with Espírito Santo, contains the third highest peak in the country: O Pico da Bandeira, at 2890 meters, and
you don’t have to be a climber to get up there. The tourist infrastructure is well developed, especially for campers. In
the southwest of the state, 350 km from Belo Horizonte, the Parque Nacional da Serra da Canastra is where the Rio
São Francisco begins. The area is very beautiful and contains the spectacular Cascata d’Anta waterfall. The park is
also home to many endangered species, such as the maned wolf, giant anteater, pampas deer, giant armadillo and
thin-spired porcupine. Camping is permitted.
The Parque Nacional da Serra do Cipó, 100 km from Belo Horizonte, is an area that is full of mountains,
waterfalls, and open countryside. Its highlands are an arm of the Serra do Espinhaço. The 70-meter waterfall, Cachoeira da
Farofa, and the Canyon das Bandeirinhas are its two principal attractions, but the park contains no tourist infrastructure.
Also in Minas, near its borders with Bahia and Goiás, the Parque Nacional Grande Sertão Veredas is made up
of cerrado, caatinga, veredas
(swampy plains between hills and rivers), and a few stands of winepalms. Inhabitants
of the park include the maned wolf, giant armadillo, banded anteater and rhea. Once again, this is another park with
no tourist infrastructure and access is difficult.
In the southern region, the most famous national park is Iguaçu, which contains the falls. Also in Paraná, but
near the coast, is the Parque Nacional do Superagui, which consists of the Peças and Superagui islands. Notable
attractions of the park include the huge number of wild orchids and the abundant marine life. Created in 1989, it contains
no infrastructure for tourists.
Santa Catarina boasts the Parque Nacional de São Joaquim, in the highlands of the Serra do Mar, where it
even snows sometimes. As yet, it contains no tourist infrastructure.
Rio Grande do Sul contains one of the most unforgettable parks in Brazil, the Parque Nacional de Aparados
da Serra, with its famous Itaimbezinho Canyon. Camping is permitted inside the park. Close to the town of Rio
Grande, in the south of the state, the Parque Nacional da Lagoa do Peixe is an important stopover for many species of
migratory birds. It also contains the largest saltwater lagoon in the state. A visitors’ center is still on the drawing board.
The Central West
This region has its share of parks too. Just 10 km from the national capital, Brasília, is the Parque Nacional
de Brasília, a favorite weekend spot with the city’s inhabitants. It contains a visitors’ center, and a leisure area with
natural swimming pools. Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Veadeiros, 200 km north of Brasília, in the state of Goiás,
contains some rare fauna and flora, as well as some very spectacular waterfalls and canyons. Camping is the only
accommodation option here. In the extreme southwest of the state is the Parque Nacional das Emas. Its main attraction is its
great abundance of wildlife and the ease with which you can spot it in the open country, especially in the dry
season. Accommodation is available inside the park, and camping is permitted.
Close to the city of Cuiabá is another popular park, the Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Guimarães, with
its waterfalls, huge valleys and strange rock formations. Accommodation inside the park is limited to camping, but
there are hotels in the nearby town of the same name.
Halfway between Cuiabá and Corumbá, near the fork of the Paraguai and Cuiabá rivers, the Parque Nacional
do Pantanal Matogrossense is deep in the Pantanal and can only be reached by river or by air. Porto Jofre, 100 km
upriver, is the closest you’ll get by land. Permission from IBAMA in Cuiabá is required to visit this park. Camping is the
only accommodation option here.
In Bahia, the Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina has a network of trails, and great hiking to peaks,
waterfalls and rivers.
On the Southern border of the state is the Parque Nacional de Monte Pascoal, which contains a variety
of ecosystems ranging from Atlantic rainforest to mangrove swamps, beaches and reefs, and rare fauna and flora.
A visitors’ center has been in the planning stage for several years.
Approximately 80 km offshore in the extreme south of the state is Parque Nacional Marinho dos Abrolhos,
which was designated in 1983 as Brazil’s first marine park. The attractions are the coral reefs, which can be visited
on organized scuba-diving tours, and the birdlife on the numerous reefs and islets.
The state of Pernambuco recently incorporated the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, which lies
approximately 525 km east of Recife. A section of this archipelago has been designated as the Parque Nacional Marinho de
Fernando de Noronha. The attractions here are the exceptionally varied and abundant marine life and birdlife. Package tours
to the archipelago are available and independent travel is possible. The tourist infrastructure is rapidly being developed.
The state of Ceará contains the Parque Nacional de Ubajara, which is renowned for its limestone caves.
Tourist infrastructure is developed, and access to the caves has been re-established with a new cable car, which replaced
the old system destroyed by landslides in 1987.
In the northern region of the state of Piauí is the Parque Nacional de Sete Cidades. The park’s interesting set of
rock formations resembling "seven cities"
(sete cidades) are accessible via a hiking trail. Tourist facilities,
including transport and accommodation, are established.
In the Southern region of the state, the Parque Nacional da Serra da Capivara contains prehistoric sites and
rock paintings, which are still being researched. Over 300 sites have been discovered so far, and this park is
already considered one of the top prehistoric monuments in South America. Tourism is still very limited, since it is
difficult to combine ongoing research with public access, but a museum and guided tours are planned.
In the state of Maranhão, the Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses has a spectacular collection of
beaches, mangroves, dunes and fauna. Infrastructure is limited, but transport and basic accommodation are available.
The national parks in the northern region of Brazil are best known for their diverse types of forests harboring
an astounding variety of fauna and flora. Most of these parks require that visitors obtain permits before arrival.
They provide few tourist services, and access normally entails lengthy and difficult travel by plane and/or boat.
The Parque Nacional de Cabo Orange extends along the coastline at the northern tip of Amapá state. This park
has retained a diverse variety of wildlife, including rare or endangered species such as the manatee, sea turtle,
jaguar, anteater, armadillo and flamingo. At present, there isn’t any tourist infrastructure available for transport or
accommodation in the park.
In the state of Pará, the vast forests enclosed by the Parque Nacional da Amazônia are being rapidly eroded
by illegal encroachment and destruction. The wildlife includes a wide variety of rainforest species, but poaching is
making rapid inroads into their numbers. And it’s difficult to see any change in this situation when only four park guards
are responsible for nearly one million hectares. Limited services for accommodation and transport of visitors are provided.
The Parque Nacional de Monte Roraima lies on the northern boundary of Roraima state. Established in 1989,
this park contains Monte Roraima (2875 meters), one of Brazil’s highest peaks.
In the state of Amazonas, the Parque Nacional do Pico da Neblina adjoins the Venezuelan border and
contains Brazil’s highest peaks: Pico da Neblina (3014 meters) and Pico 31 de Março (2992 meters). Visitors normally
require a permit from the IBAMA office in Brasília. No standard tourist infrastructure is established, however visitors
can arrange access by using a combination of air and river transport.
Brazil’s largest national park, Parque Nacional do Jaú, lies close to the center of Amazonas state. Visitors
normally require a permit from the IBAMA office in Brasília. No standard tourist infrastructure exists, but visitors can
arrange access by using a combination of air and river transport.
The Parque Nacional de Pacaás Novas lies close to the town of Ji-Parana in the state of Rondônia. The
principal rivers of the state, the Madeira and the Guaporé, originate within the park, where small communities of
indigenous Indians have sought refuge from the massive deforestation and destruction that is still raging through the state.
The Parque Nacional da Serra do Divisor lies in the extreme Western part of the state of Acre and adjoins the
border with Peru. Established in 1989, it has very limited tourist infrastructure.
The Parque Nacional do Araguaia now lies in the recently created state of Tocantins. The park area covers
the northern end of the Ilha do Bananal, the world’s largest river island, formed by the splitting of the Rio Araguaia.
The park has no standard tourist infrastructure, but visitors may be able to make arrangements in Santa Teresinha
(Mato Grosso state) or Gurupi (Tocantins).
Many travel guides suggest a certain sameness to the weather in Brazil. This is misleading. It’s true that only
the south has extreme seasonal changes experienced in Europe and the USA, but most of the country does have
noticeable seasonal variations in rainfall, temperature and humidity. In general, as you go from north to south, the
seasonal changes are more defined.
The Brazilian winter lasts from June to August. It doesn’t get cold in Brazilexcept in the southern states of
Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná and São Paulo, where the average temperature during the winter months of
June, July and August is between 13° C and 18° C. There are even a few towns that can get snow, which is very strange
to most Brazilians, who have never touched the white flakes. The rest of the country boasts moderate temperatures
all year long.
The summer season is from December to February. With many Brazilians on vacation, travel is difficult
and expensive, while from Rio to the south the humidity can be oppressive. It’s also the most festive time of year,
as Brazilians escape their small, hot apartments and take to the beaches and streets. School vacation, corresponding
with the hot season, begins sometime in mid-December and goes through to Carnaval, usually in late February.
In summer, Rio is hot and humid; temperatures in the high 30° Cs are common and sometimes reach the low
40s. Frequent, short rains cool things off a bit, but the summer humidity makes things uncomfortable for people from
cooler climes. The rest of the year Rio is cooler with temperatures generally in the mid 20° Cs, sometimes reaching the
low 30s. If you are in Rio in the winter and the weather’s lousy (the rain can continue for days nonstop), or you want
more heat, head to the Northeast.
The Northeast coast gets about as hot as Rio during the summer, but due to a wonderful tropical breeze and
less humidity, it’s rarely stifling. Generally, from Bahia to Maranhão, temperatures are a bit warmer year-round than in
Rio, rarely far from 28° C. All in all, it’s hard to imagine a better climate.
The highlands or planalto, such as Minas Gerais and Brasília, are usually a few degrees cooler than the coast
and not as humid. Here summer rains are frequent, while along the coast the rains tend to come intermittently.
Although there are variations in rainfall, throughout Brazil rain is a year-round affair. The general pattern is
for short, tropical rains that come at all times. These rains rarely alter or interfere with travel plans. The
sertão is a notable exceptionhere the rains fall heavily within a few months and periodic droughts devastate the region.
The Amazon Basin receives the most rain in Brazil, and Belém is one of the most rained on cities in the world,
but the refreshing showers are usually seen as a godsend. Actually, the Amazon is not nearly as hot as most
people presumethe average temperature is
27° Cbut it is humid. The hottest part of the basin is between the Rio Solimões and Rio Negro. From June
to August the heat tends to decrease a bit.