History of Parque Nacional de ItatiaiaIn the early 19th century the park region was part of the route used to transport gold mined in neighboring state of Minas Gerais. Once these gold reserves were depleted, it started to attract the attention of adventurers, and nature lovers.
This is the birthplace of mountain climbing in Brazil. In 1856 Franklin Massena was the first climber to reach the top of Pico das Agulhas Negras. Standing 2,878 meters above sea level, it that was for decades mistakenly considered the highest mountain in the country.
The area of the park itself belonged formerly to Barão de Mauá. As the land was not used for coffee farming, the wildlife was largely preserved. It is of particular importance because of the countless springs that feed Rio Paraiba. This is the river that provides most of the water used in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The area was purchased by the State in 1908. After the unsuccessful attempt to use it for fruit farming, here was turned into the first national park in Brazil.
Parque Nacional do Itatiaia was founded in 1937. Today it occupies an area of about 120 square kilometers, that stretches all the way to the states of Minas Gerais and São Paulo. It is located in a mountain range named Serra das Mantiqueiras. Itatiaia is a Native Brazilian word, meaning rocks full of sharp edges.
The lower parts of the park are about 1,100 meters above sea level. It is an important pocket of protected Mata Atlantica. This is the most endangered Brazilian forest, only 7% of the original forest is still preserved. As you go up, the vegetation changes. You will see more grassy fields, and bare granite rocks on the mountain peaks.
Things to Do and to SeeThe biodiversity in the park is amazing. The forest is distributed in several levels, topped by conifers and jequitibá trees that grow up to 30 meters high in search of light. Closer to the ground you will see giant pre-historical ferns, orchids, bromeliads, and giant bamboos. The latter are a contribution of Portuguese settlers, that imported them to be used as fences to separate colonial farms.
Bird-watchers will relish to see dozens of hummingbirds, green-beaked toucans, owls, saíras, guachos, macucos, and even hawks that call the park home. Small mammals like the cute quatis, caxingueles, lazy sloths, and chubby antas (the largest rodent in Latin America) share the Mata Atlantica with the occasional wild cat, and possibly even the endangered lobo-guará wolf. Primates are represented by the muriqui, the largest neotropical monkey, and the tiny marmoset. Snakes, assorted reptiles and water turtles are also part of the scene.
Insects are too many to name, but if you have an interest in spiders, beetles, and exotic little guys like the bicho-pau (that looks uncannily like a tree twig) and the bicho-folha (shaped exactly a like dry leaf), you will get a sensory overload. Start at the fauna and flora museum in the visitor's center to get an idea of what to look for.
Nature lovers can keep busy for days. There are several trails in the park you can follow. Only 10 minutes on foot from the visitor's center you will find the first spot where you can stop for a refreshing dip in a fresh-water river. Walk a little more to reach scenic Lago Azul. There are food kiosks available if you need a snack. Cachoeira Poranga is the next stop in line. The waterfall is ten meters high, and ends in a natural pool 30 meters wide. Maromba Pool is also wonderful for bathing, and only a little farther away.
The most famous postcard in the park that can be reached on foot is Cachoeira Véu de Noiva, the Bride's Veil waterfall. The highest peaks, Agulhas Negras and Maciço das Prateleiras are for more experienced trekkers. You need mountain climbing equipment, and the escort of an experienced local guide.