The Journey –
Parque Estadual do Ibitipoca, a National Park in the State of Minas Gerais, Brazil is considered a national treasure in Brazil. So much so that they only allow a few guests in daily with no overnight stays in the park. I first heard of this park from a friend who lives in Barbecena, the closest town with hotels you can use as a kick off point. She told me about the waterfalls and cave systems and a quick Google search showed me the information I was looking for. With locations in the park named Stone Bridge, Window of Heaven, Three Arches Cave to say I was intrigued is an understatement, I couldn’t wait to board the plane.
The trip from Barbecena can take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, depending upon the route you choose. The shortest route also happens to be the one that requires a 4×4 vehicle to navigate while the longer route you can take via normal car. I recommend flying into Belo Horizonte and driving to Barbecena for the night before continuing further on to Ibitipoca.
Once you leave the main road you have another 27 km of dirt roads with views of the mountains andd valleys, often one lane with tiny bridges. It’s a long journey from Barbecena, but the views are well worth it. There were multiple times along the route were I had to stop just to enjoy the view of the Mountains.
At the end of the road lies Concepçeá de Ibitipoca, a quaint little village at the top of the mountain. You’re taken back in time here with distinct architecture, antiques, beautiful chalets, and a view of the mountains in the morning to die for! You wake to a beautiful, cool blanket of fog, birds in the trees, and a cool gentle breeze. Chalés Belvedere is where we stayed on both trips to this beautiful place. We found it at almost 12 am and got the last cabin they had. The staff were amazing and very nice. Beautiful and very comfortable and the view from the porch was breathtaking. Breakfast the next morning was delicious and beautifully prepared, giving us energy to make it through Ibitipoca Naciónal Park before taking the long journey back. We only had one day to visit the park so we decided to see as much of it as possible before making the long journey back to Barbecena.
The Park –
My goal as a photographer and writer is to always show the beauty of this planet we live on. To show you the places I visit and hopefully inspire you in some way to visit them yourself. And although it is a bit of trek to get to, Parque Estadual do Ibitipoca is well worth it. You can easily spend 3 days hiking through this beautiful place in order to enjoy it. With multiple waterfalls, canyons, ridgelines, caves, and caverns to explore, there is something to see every where you turn. The Park is over 1488 hectares in size and has an elevation of 1590 meters at its tallest point. The trails are rocky and some are very steep so I recommend you be in good shape and wear a good pair of hiking boots. Take a day pack, pack a good, light, healthy lunch and take a water bottle and water filter with you. During the summer months it rains at multiple times of the day and the water is fresh and clean, but you still need a filter.
As I said, Parque Estadual do Ibitipoca only allows a certain number of visitors in each day; 300 per day during the week and 800 per day on the weekend. They allow even less vehicles in in order to maintain the roads and environment. There is a space available for parking near the restaurant about a kilometer inside the gates but there is also an additional fee to drive in. Parking outside the gate fills up quickly and as it is along the side of the road heading up to the park it is best to get there early so you are not walking up the hill too far.
Parque Estadual do Ibitipoca is approximately a kilometer past the last coffee shop in town. You can, if you so choose, stay in one of the small hostels nearer to the park and simply walk in the next day. Entry into the park is only a few dollars per person and you mark down what country you are from by dropping a tile into labeled containers. You would be surprised how many people are there from the United States and other parts of the world. Once inside it is approximately a kilometer to the welcome center where they have an interactive display showing the various parts of the park, animals native to the area, and the history of the park. I highly recommended spending some time in here getting to know where you want to go and deciding prior to heading out. The staff are amazing and some speak English. They will provide you with a map of the park and tell which locations you should avoid, if any. This is a good idea as you do not want to be hiking down and up multiple times, unless that is something you enjoy. With multiple canyons and guidelines there are multiple elevation changes throughout the park.
Ok, so who here doesn’t like to swim in cool mountain streams, jump from cliffs into beautiful pools of cold water, or just sit under a waterfall and let the rushing water wash away every care you have ever had? Definitely bring, or wear, a bathing suit and bring a towel with you. Everything I just mentioned is available here. And, due to the limited number of people allowed in each day along with the size of the park, you can have a lot of these places to yourself. I recommend a few of the spots away from the main trails, these will allow you to be more relaxed and have some privacy.
Although there are no open flames, cooking, or camping allowed in the park, you can bring in hammocks and hang them in the trees by the river and enjoy a beautiful, peaceful day relaxing and swimming. Our second trip to Ibitipoca I brought my hammock with me and pitched camp near a waterfall and cave. With the breeze and the rushing water the temperature was around 10 degrees cooler than up on the ridgelines in direct sun. This made for a very relaxing few hours before heading back out for more photos.
Although it may be a long journey to arrive at Ibitipoca, the views, nature, water, and the little village in the mountains make it all worth the journey. Spend a week here and just explore all the park and city have to offer and you will not be disappointed.