Parque Nacional de Itatiaia in Brazil

Deep valleys shrouded in pristine rainforest hiding rocky clear-water rivers and icy waterfalls. Little winding trails through a whole swathe of different ecosystems, watched over by some of world's rarest birds and mammals. Hotels and guesthouses to suit all budgets from which to explore them. And all within easy reach of Rio or São Paulo.

Itatiaia is a must for those who wish to see Brazilian forest and animals and have a restricted itinerary or limited time. This 30,000-ha mountainous park is Brazil's oldest. It was founded in 1937 to protect Atlantic coast rainforest in the Serra de Mantiqueira mountains, and important species still find a haven here, including jaguars and pumas, brown capuchin and black-faced titi monkeys. This is good hiking country with walks through subtropical and temperate forests, grasslands and
to a few peaks just under 3000 m. The best trails head for Pedra de Taruga, Pedra de Maçã and the Poranga and Véu de Noiva waterfalls. The Pico das Agulhas Negras and Serra das Prateleiras (up to 2540 m) offer good rock climbing. There is a
Museu de História Natural
, near the park headquarters with a depressing display of stuffed animals from the 1940s.

Getting there and around

Itatiaia lies just off the main São Paulo-Rio highway, the Dutra. A bus runs from Itatiaia town run four times a day (variable hours) to the park
. The bus can also be caught at Resende, at the crossroads before Itatiaia.

The best way to see the park is to hire a car. There is only one way into the park from Itatiaia town and one main road within it - which forks off to the various hotels, all of which are signposted.

Tourist information

Basic accommodation in cabins and dormitories is available in the village strung along the road leading to the park. There are some delightful options inside the park but they are more expensive. Avoid weekends and Brazilian holidays if wildlife watching is a priority. Information and maps can be obtained at the
Administração do Parque Nacional de Itatiaia
park office
. Information can also be obtained from
Administração do Parque Nacional de Itatiaia
operates a refuge in the park, which acts as a starting point for climbs and treks. Information on trekking can be obtained from
Clube Excursionista Brasileira

Flora and fauna

The park is particularly good for birds. It has a list of more than 350 species with scores of spectacular tanagers, hummingbirds (including the ultra-rare Brazilian ruby, with emerald wings and a dazzling red chest), cotingas (included the black and gold cotinga, which as far as we are aware has never been photographed) and manakins. Guans squawk and flap right next to the park roads.

The vegetation is stratified by altitude so that the plateau at 800-1100 m is covered by forest, ferns and flowering plants (such as orchids, bromeliads, begonias), giving way on the higher escarpments to pines and bushes. Higher still, over 1900 m, the distinctive rocky landscape has low bushes and grasses, isolated trees and unique plants adapted to high winds and strong sun. There is also a great variety of lichens.

Engenheiro Passos

Further along the Dutra highway (186 km from Rio) is the small town of Engenheiro Passos, from which a road (BR-354) leads to São Lourenço and Caxambu in Minas Gerais . By turning off this road at the Registro Pass (1670 m) on the Rio-Minas border, you can reach the
Pico das Agulhas Negras
. The mountain can be climbed from this side from the Abrigo Rebouças
 refuge at 2350 m, which is manned all year round; take your own food.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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