Tucked away from the tourist radar, and an outdoor lover's paradise
The small town of Serra do Cipo and its eponymous National Park are practically unknown to international tourism. This charming corner of Brazil, with its lush green mountains, magnificent thunderstorms and effervescent waterfalls, is instead a much loved get away for residents of nearby Belo Horizonte, and occasionally Rio de Janeiro.
Not much happens here. The town straddles a singular main road; a supermarket, a few restaurants and a tourist information office are about all that's on offer. But, as gateways into Brazil's stunningly beautiful countryside go, it doesn't get much better than this. Add that to the chance to veer off the traditional tourist route and you end up with a few days of peace and tranquility, interspersed here and there with the odd hike. What more could you ask for?
Cachoeira Veu da Noiva
Cachoeira Veu da Noiva, or The Bride’s Veil, is the perfect destination for a few hours of secluded relaxation. Situated only a couple of kilometres outside of town it is possible to hike there. The route is along a busy and unattractive main road, though, so it’s probably better to catch a taxi or to drive, if you have a hire car.
Your first chance to get in the water comes soon after the entrance in the form of a huge, natural swimming pool. The water here is clear and cold, providing welcome relief from the heat. With a backdrop of verdant green trees and huge, colourful butterflies, this place is truly a little slice of heaven.
Follow the short trail which emerges from the other side of the pool to reach the waterfall itself. Winding for ten to fifteen minutes along the path, sheltered and dappled by foliage, watch out for bright little birds and the occasional darting lizard. The route is uphill, but it won't take you long to reach your target, the glimmering cascade of Cachoeira Veu da Noiva itself.
Another natural pool has formed here, deeper and colder than the first. If you've never swum in a waterfall the force of the current may surprise you; swimming towards the downpour of water will lead to any but the strongest of swimmers quickly tiring and floating back to the edge of the pool. Be mindful of this (and of the potential for the cold to cause cramp), and don't swim during heavy rainfall as the additional water flow can be dangerous.
More impressive than Cahoeira Veu da Noiva is Cachoeira Grande, which literally translates to Great Waterfall. It’s certainly a dramatic sight; at more than 10m high and over 100m across this is one of the most visually striking waterfalls in the area. You can’t swim here, but bringing a picnic to the top and admiring the view is a very enjoyable alternative.
Like Cachoeria Veu da Noiva, Cachoeira Grande is reached by a short hike through woods and grassland. There’s plenty of wildlife to see here, and one or two streams which require fording on your way. At various points along the track it’s possible to turn off and visit smaller waterfalls and pools, where you’ll be able to get in for a swim. The best way to see these is on your way back, when you can use them to cool off and relax in after the bulk of the hiking is done with. There’s also a small area where you can hire kayaks, if you’re really desperate to get into the water.
It’s very doable to walk to the trail head (where you’ll need to pay a small entrance fee) from town, but, just as with Cachoeria Veu da Noiva, the route isn’t especially enjoyable. Again, it’s worth the extra expense of a cab or a few minutes in your hire car.
The National Park
Five kilometres away from the town of Serra do Cipo is the National Park proper. Here you can find even more waterfalls, as well as the opportunity for more strenuous hiking. One of the most beautiful is the six hour round trip to Vale do Travessao, a stunning valley in the heart of the park, while another trail will take you to the beautiful Canyon Bandeirinhas. A guide is absolutely necessary for either of these hikes and can be organised by Latin Routes. To keep things at a more leisurely pace, why not undertake a shorter hike to one of the several waterfalls? There are plenty which are only a couple of hours long and don’t require a guide.
As a centre for eco-tourism, hiking is far from the only activity on offer. Horse riding, cycling, kayaking and caving are some of the many alternatives if exploring on foot isn’t your thing.
Getting In and Around
Serra do Cipo is a short bus ride away from Belo Horizonte, which can be easily reached from Rio de Janeiro by bus or plane. As many of the main attractions, including the National Park, are some way out of town, you may consider hiring a car in Belo Horizonte and driving to avoid relying on taxis or transfers once you arrive.
Once you arrive, make sure to visit the Tourist Information Office (Centro de Atendimento ao Turista) and buy a map. This details all the trails and waterfalls in the area and also lists local businesses and restaurants. Don’t forget that most visitors here are Brazilian and English isn’t very well spoken, so having a map to refer to could really help you out.
Where to Stay
Accommodation in Serra do Cipo is mostly made up of small, family run pousadas, similar to English Bed and Breakfasts. As this is a very popular spot for domestic tourists, it’s worth trying to avoid the weekend to make the most of the peace and quiet this beautiful location offers.
Pousada Fazenda do Engenho
Pousada Fazenda do Engenho is a large, simple property located on the border of the Serra do Cipó National Park and consists of extensive, quiet grounds to relax and enjoy the countryside air and ocassional wildlife. There is a bar and small restaurant onsite as well as two outdoor pools to enjoy. Surrounded by rolling green hills and scented with native flowers this is a spot of pure tranquility and nature. Horses are kept onsite for those who wish to explore the park trails on horse-back.
Situated near the Veu da Noiva waterfall is this charming boutique lodge with privileged views over the Grande Pedreira, a highlight of the nearby National Park. Rooms are tastefully decorated in keeping with different themes and feature comfortable beds and private verandas with hammock. Evening meals can be enjoyed in their candelit taverna and breakfast is served until a leisurely 11am. Mountain bikes and maps are available to all guests.