Parque Nacional do Itatiaia
With rocky mountain peaks to climb and dense tropical forest to hike through, Parque Nacional do Itatiaia (tel. 24/3352-1461, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, R$3 pp, R$5 per vehicle), Brazil’s oldest national park (founded in 1937) spans the state frontiers of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Minas Gerais.
The easily accessible lower regions are covered with lush native Atlantic forest, wild orchids and begonias, and spectacular waterfalls such as Itaporani, Véu de Noiva and Maromba, all of which are easy to reach and boast beckoning (if chilly) pools for bathing. Its numerous easy hiking trails can be easily explored by families, without a guide, and are easily accessible from the pretty mountain towns of Itatiaia and Penedo.
The upper part of Parque Nacional do Itatiaia—dominated by a stark and imposing landscape of sculpted rocks—also has its attractions, among them the dramatic peaks of Agulhas Negras (2,548 meters/8,360 feet) and Prateleira (2,791 meters/9,157 feet). To scale them, you’ll have to be in superb shape and be accompanied by a guide.
The entrance to the lower portion of Parque Nacional do Itatiaia is easily reached by following the 2-km (1.2-mile) stretch of BR-116 that links the town of Itatiaia to the entrance of the Parque Nacional do Itatiaia. This is where you’ll find the Centro de Visitantes, which offers information and maps. The best time to visit the lower parts of the park are from January to February and October to December.
For climbing Agulhas Negras and Prateleira, May through August is best due to low rainfall (although temperatures can get chilly).
Getting to Parque Nacional do Itatiaia
Cidade do Aço (tel. 0800/703-4022, www.cidadedoaco.com.br) operates regular bus service from Rio to Itatiaia and Penedo. By bus, the trip from Rio takes approximately three hours. By car, from Rio, take the BR-116.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition