By Anna Fitzpatrick, Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Between the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Minas Gerais, lies the Itatiaia region. If a hike in breathtaking scenery and challenging climbs are your idea of a good time, then take heart that it is a reachable weekend destination from both Rio and SP.
The Itatiaia region was popular with European settlers, and with a more temperate climate and neatly tended farmland it feels strangely un-Brazilian, though those familiar with places further south in the country may be able to draw some similarities.
The main draw is the Itatiaia National Park, which takes in an area of mountains that make up part of the Serra da Mantiqueira. The highest mountain in the range is Pedra da Mina at 2,798 meters, closely followed by Pico das Agulhas Negras at 2,791 meters, which both come in a little taller than Pico Paraná.
The National Park of Itatiaia is the oldest protected area in the country and includes lush virgin rainforest, waterfalls and trails. It was established in 1937 and is full of birds, monkeys and sloths. It is not the sole confine of mountaineers, so if a gentler weekend of walking is appealing, this can be catered for too.
The park is divided into two regions, upper and lower, and it is in the upper part where the challenging mountains of Pedra da Mina and Pico das Agulhas Negras can be found. If a climb is on the agenda, be sure to pack the correct equipment and clothing – despite the rainforest humidity it still gets nippy when the sun isn’t shining.
Either Pedra da Mina or Pico das Agulhas Negras take the best part of the day to reach the summit, and using a guide is recommended as there are some challenging parts of the climb. Guides can be organized before you go, or from the tourist information center which is open 24 hours.
All routes up Pico das Agulhas Negras require a certain amount of arm strength – needing ropes for certain tricky rock faces is a strong possibility, which is why experienced guides can come in handy.
Not only do they know the best routes up the mountains, they can also support less experienced climbers with the trickier parts of the climb.
The challenge is well worth it. Once at the top of any of the peaks in the park greenery, rocky crags and pools stretch as far as the eye can see.
For committed climbers and walking enthusiasts, by far the best place to get rest is the Abrigo Roboucas, a basic shack inside the high part of the park. Food and bedding will be needed here but the time saved by being inside the park is an advantage.
If more comfortable lodging is desired, the Hotel do Ypê is within 10km from the lower park and the chalets conjure images of Switzerland and, if weather permits, the outdoor pool is great for soothing tired joints.