The Northeast corner of the State of Rio de Janeiro is an attractive mountainous region, and it should not be overlooked. Here you will find Brazil's oldest national park, Parque Nacional do Itatiaia. As you are only 165 km away from the city of Rio, it is perfect for a weekend getaway.
The location of the park is quite strategic. Keeping the forest protected was a must. With a number of springs, streams and waterfalls, it feeds Rio Paraiba with much needed fresh water. Paraiba is the river that supplies most of the water used in the city of Rio.
This has been a favorite spot with nature watchers and adventurers since the 19th century. It's the birthplace of mountain climbing in Brazil. In addition to fresh-water swimming, the park offers a host of things to do and see. Nature walks, mountaineering, bird watching, and rappel are some of your options.
As you go uphill, the climate gets considerably colder. It has actually snowed in the park a couple of times recently. In the winter of 1985, the temperature dropped to 15C below! The snow was about a meter deep, and Cariocas flocked to the park. In 1988 it snowed again. But this time it was a little less, and only at the Pico das Agulhas Negras (2,787 meters high). Don't spread the word, though. Tell your friends it has already snowed in Rio, and they might think you are going nuts. Read here more about the park, its history and attractions, and visit the photo galleries.
One of the best places to stay near the park is the small village of Penedo. Founded by the Finns, this is where Brazilians were introduced to the concept of a Finnish sauna. The history is of Penedo quite interesting. Though today there are few descendants of the original founders, the village retained its Alpine scenery, and European charm. Typical handcraft, rustic carpets, and Finnish chutney are some of the products you will find for sale at local shops.
Penedo offers a number of lodging options. Choose from cozy family-owned inns to more sophisticated properties, where you can stay in comfortable private wooden lodges (challets). Some hotels offer convenient transportation in vans from the city of Rio, and feature facilities like a sauna and steam room, swimming pools, barbecue areas, a small fitness center and convention room. You can book walking tours, go horse-back riding, and visit neighboring areas like Visconde de Mauá and Maromba.
There are many restaurants on the main street. Most definitely do not miss the delicious fresh trout, that comes from the surrounding trout farms. Make sure you leave room for the dessert. Home-made chocolates, ice-cream and fruit preserves from Penedo are famous for their excellent quality. Read here more about the city and its attractions, and visit the photo galleries.