Ibitipoca: a secret paradise in Brazil's countryside
Brazil is well known for its wonderful beaches, the mighty Amazon Rainforest, the enchanting city of Rio de Janeiro and countless numbers of beautiful landscapes. The state of Minas Gerais, in the countryside of Brazil, may not be in everyone’s travel guide when choosing to visit this country, but let me tell you something, there is gold hidden there. After living in Minas for most of my life I can say that the hospitality of its people is something that really touches the visitor’s soul, their mountains and waterfalls are a world to be discovered.
Discovering Ibitipoca State ParkOne of those secret paradises in Minas Gerais is the Ibitipoca State Park (Parque Estadual do Ibitipoca). The Park is a pleasure for all, from the ones who prefer adventurous hiking up the hills, or getting into dark caves to those who would rather just enjoy the sun and the amazing landscape by the lakes and waterfalls. The water itself is a delight for the eyes, with a lovely golden colour that works as a mirror for the sky reflecting every ray of sunshine and cloud above it. The park has three main circuits.
The Water CircuitThis one is pretty much a walk along the river and is also the shortest and least challenge path among the three, that doesn’t mean that you don’t see much. If I had to pick one of them, the Water Circuit would be my choice because there are so many points of interest in the 5 km of hiking, besides if you get really hot you can always enjoy a refreshing bath in the natural swimming pools or wash your soul in the stunning waterfalls.
The “Pião’s” Mount CircuitPião in Portuguese means “spinning-top”, and describes the shape of the hill that you will conquer. If you like climbing, this is your cup of tea. The biggest challenge here is the steep hiking, but the prize you will find at the top is a 360-degree view of the “seas of hills” landscape, that’s how local people from Minas call their panorama. On the peak of “Pião”, you will also find the remains of an old chapel where the inhabitants from the village of Conceição do Ibitipoca used to go to pray once per year before the building was destroyed by lightning. Although you will bearly see water on this hike the three caves on the way are an exciting part of this circuit. It normally takes around 5 hours of trekking at a relaxed pace, from the starting point to the peak is 5.6 kilometres, and the easiest way is to return along the same path. This poetic name matches the beauty of the circuit. The highlight is when you find out how ingenious nature can be by framing the sky where the river head meets, glistening rocks and luscious vegetation in perfect harmony with the four elements, as the wind is a constant presence at such altitudes. Before you reach the “sky window” you will see many other attractions on the way, there’s a variety of stone arches, caves, hills and waterfalls, which makes the longest circuit of the three the most interesting. It takes at least 8 hours total, and it is a good idea to take energy foods, fruits and nuts are always good, and lots of water, you will need it. Visitor’s Ticket (Per person): R$ 20,00 – Working days R$ 25,00 – Saturday, Sunday and national and /or state holidays of the State of Minas Gerais Camping (per person): R$ 60,00 – any day of the week Daily limit of 600 visitors per day
AccommodationIn the village, you will easily find what the locals call “chalés”, which are houses that you can rent. There are many hotel options as well if you prefer to be pampered while travelling. Another option is camping, as the State Park has good infrastructure but there aren’t many spots, so you should book it a long time in advance. There are also other private camping areas if you want a less pricy option, but it can get really cold during the night. The ecolodge Reserva do Ibitipoca is highly recommended for the ones who fancy splashing out a bit more, it’s a very interesting project unique to Brazil, I could spend the entire article just describing their social and environmental initiatives.
How to get there
By car:If you are leaving from Rio de Janeiro it is easy, you will drive along the national road BR-040 for 232km, then you will take the road BR-267 until the village of Lima Duarte. I suggest that you stop there for a coffee or even lunch before continuing the journey. In Lima Duarte, you will take the road that takes you to the village of Conceição do Ibitipoca. The whole trip should last 3:30h to 4h total. An important piece of information, there’s no gas station in the village, fill up while you can.
By bus:As Ibitipoca is a very well hidden paradise and to get there by bus can take much longer and there are no direct options, let’s assume you will leave from Rio de Janeiro again. You would then follow these steps:
- Take a bus from Rio de Janeiro to Juiz de Fora (there are several time options), here you will use a company named “Viação Útil” which is responsible for this part of the trip
- Make sure you arrive in Juiz de Fora before 2 PM
- Take the bus Juiz de Fora-Lima Duarte time 2 PM
- In Lima Duarte take the bus to Ibitipoca at 3:15 PM, and there’s no other later option. You will arrive in Conceição do Ibitipoca at 5 PM ?
Keep in mind that:
- The last bus from Juiz de Fora to Lima Duarte leaves at 7 PM
- The return schedules from Conceição do Ibitipoca to Lima Duarte are 8 AM and 5 PM