Created in 1937 and inspired by Yellowstone, this is Brazil's first national park. It protects endangered Atlantic Rainforest and also the unique flora of the high altitude plains. The park basically has 2 parts : the rainforest part in the lower part the park and the high mountain plains around the beautiful Pico das Agulhas Negras (at 2.700 meters once thought to be Brazil's highest peak).
There are many short trails to waterfalls and also some nice circular ones and longer ones to scenic spots and long distance trails (with camping). There are some very spectacular viewpoints.
Very good for birding (there is a birdlist available) and you will also see animals like howler monkeys, coatimundis and others. Also lots of orchids and bromeliads.
There is a worthwhile visitor's centre. There are hotels inside the park (lower part, the only place to stay in the top part closed). The park also trains and register guides and there are maps of trails available. It is slowly being upgraded.
Ideally stay for 2 nights and visit both lower and upper part.
The ride to Itatiaia from Rio (or Sao Paulo) will take you through the Vale de Paraiba between the Serra do Mar and Serra de Mantiqueira. This was once all rainforest, but was burned to plant coffee (which didn't last).
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