Brazil’s Capital of Canyons

6 min read
Published 8 months ago by Julie

When people think of traveling Brazil, they mostly think of beaches, beaches, and… more beaches. But there is so much more natural beauty to Brazil than that. Case in point – canyons! Who knew there were these magnificent canyons not far inland of those famous beaches? Plus they are national parks to boot. Seven years after Julie’s first trip to Brazil, we finally went to check them out. (Unsurprisingly, it was also Carlos’ very first time.)

Aparados da Serra National Park

Created in 1959 as a national park, Aparados da Serra straddles the border between Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul – two states in the very south of Brazil. The spectacular Cânion Itaimbezinho (Itaimbezinho Canyon) is within its grounds, as well as other smaller canyons like Malacara. Praia Grande in Santa Catarina (not São Paulo!) is the largest base for visiting Aparados da Serra – the city calls itself the “capital of the canyons.” Many accommodations and tourism operators are based there, including the luxurious Morada dos Canyons (one day we will splurge and stay there!).

Going up the windy road, Serra do Rio do Rastro, Brazil
Going up the windy road, Serra do Rio do Rastro, Brazil

A mostly unpaved 20km road connects Praia Grande to the park, so be prepared for a hour-long drive in or out (and a dirty car). Entrance to the park is free! Several walking/biking trails showcase Itaimbezinho and the best the park has to offer:

  • Trilha Vértice (Vertex Trail) – super easy, 20 minutes roundtrip along a paved path with multiple viewpoints of Itaimbezinho Canyon. Definitely not to be missed, especially since it’s so short and the trail begins at the Visitor Center.
At Canyon Itaimbezinho, Brazil
At Canyon Itaimbezinho, Brazil
  • Trilha Cotovelo (Elbow Trail) – around 6km roundtrip along a wide trail, flat the entire way. The sign said 3 hours roundtrip, but it only took us 2 hours with plenty of stopping along the way taking pictures and admiring the view.
Overlooking Canyon Itaimbezinho, Brazil
Overlooking Canyon Itaimbezinho, Brazil
  • Trilha do Rio do Boi (River of the Bull Trail) – we missed this one, but it’s a hike along the river inside the canyon, with incredible views up the massive canyon walls. Parts of the trail include wading through the river and the proper gear is necessary. Approximately 6 hours roundtrip.

The views of Itaimbezinho were incredible. Huge chasms separated otherwise flat and grassy plains, with near vertical drops along the rocky walls oftentimes covered in greenery. Araucarias (Brazilian pines or candelabra trees) towering above the rest of the forest seemed to welcome us with open arms. The occasional waterfall and vultures circling the skies provided the only sounds in the stillness. After months of quarantine, we can’t express how rewarding it was to finally be one with nature again. We could have sat there for days, soaking up the traquility and admiring the view.

Waterfall at Canyon Itaimbezinho, Brazil

The vastness and immensity of any canyon cannot be properly captured on camera and must be experienced in person. Besides hikes, many tour operators offer other activities in the park, such as horseback riding, hot-air ballooning, etc. Capital dos Canyons is a great resource that’s available in English!

Serra Geral National Park

Not far from Aparados da Serra, a second national park was created in 1992 to further protect the region that became known as Serra Geral. This park has the largest canyon in the country, Cânion Fortaleza (Fortaleza Canyon), and many trails within the grounds. One of the biggest differences between national parks in North America vs. Brazil is the extent to which they are developed. While North American national parks are much more accessible, the Brazilian ones have maintained their wild nature. This meant we could get even closer to it all.

At the edge of Canyon Fortaleza, Brazil

We started with the Mirante do Cânion do Fortaleza (Fortaleza Canyon Viewpoint), a roughly 3km trail, slightly uphill in the second half, that led to the very top edge of the canyon. We had a panoramic view of the entire canyon, both horizontally and vertically, as there was no railing or fence. One could walk right up to the edge of the canyon (but hopefully not off)! This chasm stretched as far as the eye could see, with rolling hills in every shade of green. As strong gusts of wind swirled all around us, it reminded us of the power of nature, the insignificance of our fragile lives in the grand scheme of the universe, and just how little we’re really in control of. All important perspectives given current world events.

Overlooking Canyon Fortaleza, Brazil

The coolest part of the canyons was our last trail to the Cachoerira do Tigre Preto (Black Tiger Waterfall). Unlike usual waterfall trails that lead to the bottom of the falls, this one took us to the top. We followed what seemed like just a typical riverside path until we hopped rocks to cross the water and realized we were right at the edge of a canyon waterfall. That view – wow! A semi-circle of glistening water cascading down to a first lower tier, then a second plateau underneath, framed by the vertical walls of the canyons on all sides. It was reminiscent of Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls and the feeling of being at the top of the world.

Black Tiger Waterfall, Canyon Fortaleza, Brazil

It wasn’t until we arrived on the other side of the canyon that we saw what the entire Black Tiger Waterfall consisted of. It was massive! Countless trickles of water flowed around rocks and greens alike, down the sides and across the plateaus, creating a three-tiered waterfall wall along an entire section of the canyon. To think we were at the very top of the entire thing! Other hikers still at the waterfall gave us the perspective that we must have given to those before us. Simply stunning.

Julie & Carlos at Serra do Rio do Rastro, Brazil

We left the canyons more sure than ever of these three truths. First – there’s so much more to Brazil than just beaches. Second – we never have to go far, wherever we may live, to appreciate our beautiful planet. (Many of us forget about this and take our local areas for granted.) Last but not least – there is a special kind of calmness and peacefulness than can only be achieved by being outdoors in nature.