Go for the ecotourism, unique ecosystem, hiking, swimming, off-the-beaten-path.
Located in the State of Minas Gerais, but less than a 5-hour drive from Rio de Janeiro, Ibitipoca is probably the least famous and visited place of my list. This is a well-hidden secret that only those more outdoorsy and free-minded people care to visit. This is most definitely not an international or fancy destination, so you will be lucky to get any assistance in English while you are there; having said that, locals will be more than happy to try to help you out despite the language barriers. Besides, getting to visit such a place will give you bragging rights when people ask you about how well you know Brazil.
While Ibitipoca is the name of the State Park, Conceição do Ibitipoca is the name of the quaint village just outside of the park limits, which hosts most of the park visitors. If you are travelling on a tight budget or would like to stay closer to nature, there is a small campground inside the park (book in advance if you like to stay there), as well as many other family owned campgrounds in and around the village. The region also has a great number of B&B's that will likely fit anyone's specific needs for comfort and budget.
The best way to get to Ibitipoca is by car, a 4WD would be preferable since the unpaved road conditions across the village and to the park deteriorates rapidly when it rains. Whether you choose to start you trip in Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte (the Capital of the Minas Gerais State) or Ouro Preto (one other amazing destination from my list), the drive time will be pretty much the same.
The Ibitipoca State Park is famous for its Coca-Cola colored streams and waterfalls; and the many caves. At a minimum plan the time of stay based on two day of hikes and some time to chill on the rivers and enjoy the slow-pace and hippie-vibe of that small village. For that, three days should suffice.
There are three main trails in the park, the shortest is the Water Circuit (Circuito das Águas), an easy 3-mile hike; and the longest is the beautiful "Window to the Sky" (Janela do Céu), which is a loop of about 10 miles that will take you the top of a waterfall with a fantastic view of the sea coast on a clear day (that view, framed by the tree tops, is the reason for the name of this trail). These are my favorite two trails! The third trail, called Pico do Pião, which is less travelled, will take you to the top of a 6,000 feet hill were ruins of a 1932 chapel stands; that's about a 7-mile hike in-and-out.
To visit the park attractions or to use its campground it is recommended that you make a reservation online, since there is a limit of visitors allowed.
NOTE: Despite the great number of streams in that region, fishing is not an option. The water's pH on these streams is very low; which does not favor the conditions for an adequate food source that allows fish to prosper.
Contact me for questions or comments at email@example.com and do not forget to subscribe to this webpage.
NEXT: Ouro Preto