By Beatriz Miranda, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Arriving in Ibitipoca feels like entering an enchanted, peaceful place, where everything is in harmony with nature. Situated in the Southeastern Minas Gerais, Conceição de Ibitipoca, approximately three and a half hours away from Rio, is the perfect destination to recharge and relax with stunning nature, tasty food and great music.
Characterized by its adorable cobblestone streets, with colorful little houses, bistros and handicraft stalls, the village of Ibiti, how it is affectionately called, belongs to Lima Duarte, municipality that is part of “Zona da Mata Mineira” – one of the twelve regions of Minas Gerais.
In Ibitipoca, time seems to have stopped: local habits, such as an unpretentious chat at Praça da Matriz (the main square), or indulging in a shot of artisanal cachaça while listening to live jazz or forró music, set the tone of the village and defines its incredibly tranquil pace.
Conceição de Ibitipoca started to stir attention from tourists – specially the residents from Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte – after 1973, when the Parque Estadual de Ibitipoca park was created. Only three kilometers away from the park, Ibitipoca soon became the gateway for this great natural attraction. Today, Ibiti offers a nice infrastructure of lodges, restaurants and bars to accommodate several visitors who come during the year.
Apart from the Parque Estadual and its unmissable attractions, Ibitipoca is known for a mouthwatering culinary scene and great music festivals and presentations. Those looking for a high standard musical agenda should definitely visit the village during winter, time for the jazz and the blues festivals – in July and August, respectively.
What’s more, October is also a great period for foodies to visit Ibitipoca: this is when the recently created “Sabores da Serra” festival – a bustling culinary event – is promoted. Since Ibitipoca’s park supports a limited amount of visitors, dates like New Year’s and Carnival are not recommended (this is when the village gets extremely busy).
Situated on 1,500 meters above the sea level, the Parque Estadual de Ibitipoca stands out for its fascinating biodiversity, natural pools, waterfalls, caves, caverns and lookout points. It is worth noting that the park includes a good infrastructure of signage signs, restrooms and a visitors center.
Three are the tours one can do to explore the Parque Estadual de Ibitipoca: Janela do Céu; Roteiro das Águas and Pico do Peão. The first one is known to be the hardest, with sixteen kilometers of extension. The most challenging path, however, leads to beautiful natural attractions, including four caves (Cruz, Três Arcos, Fugitivos and Moreiras), the Ibitipoca peak, Rio Vermelho river and the lookout point Janela do Céu.
The easiest trail is the five kilometer long Roteiro das Águas. Recommended for visitors of all ages, including those with no hiking experience, this trail leads to some outstanding spots from the Parque Estadual, such as Espelhos lake, Negro lake, Prainha natural pool, Macacos waterfall and Rio do Salto river.
Through the eleven kilometer long Pico do Peão, one will have the opportunity to see amazing caves, the lookout point Pico do Peão (where one can see the majestic Minas’ mountains from the top), but also the ruins of a former church.
After a day of intense hiking in Parque Estadual, the best program certainly is enjoying what Ibitipoca’s restaurants have to offer. Several are the culinary options in the village, and among the most talked about one can find Bar da Firma (officially named Candeias Blues Bar), a rock bar that looks like a pirate ship and serves artisanal cachaça, beer, and typical Minas’ finger food.
For indulging in a delicious pão de queijo (Minas’ traditional cheese bread), one should check Ibitipão, Ibitipoca’s bakery. Their pão de queijo is believed to be the best one has ever tried, and stands out for its generous size and great price.
At restaurant Tia Tonica, one can find homemade Minas’ dishes, like angu (corn-based cream), feijão, couve (a very popular plant in Minas’ cuisine) and torresmo (Minas’ version of bacon). For R$12, clients can choose a piece of meat (pork, cow or chicken) and eat as much from the side dishes as they want.
What’s more, make sure to try Ibitipoca’s local beer, the Ibit beer. The label offers six different varieties, which can be found in the village’s main street. The long neck bottle costs R$10.
Among Ibitipoca’s accommodation options, it is possible to find houses for rent; camping sites, like Ibitilua (the most central one) and Reserva Canto da Vida (closer to the park); lodges, like Pousada Meu Recanto, Chalés Belo Vale; and more sophisticated hotels, like Alpha Ville Chalés.
To go to Ibitipoca from Rio de Janeiro, one must take the BR-040 Highway and follow until Juiz de Fora. Instead of entering this city, one must continue until Lima Duarte, and then take the road that leads to Ibitipoca.