Luxury tourism to Brazil is back in focus with the news that Virgin Atlantic recently announced that they would launch daily flights on their Dreamliner fleet between London Heathrow and São Paulo in 2020. Of course, Brazil’s beaches and Rio de Janeiro are on the wish list of most international travellers, but there has been a distinct rise in demand recently for Brazil’s nature destinations such as the Pantanal and Amazon.
Everyone knows the legend of the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, famed for its biodiversity and crisscrossed by thousands of rivers including the powerful Amazon itself. But few are aware that Brazil is also home to the planet’s largest wetland, the Pantanal region – with its own spectacular appeal, which for centuries has attracted attention of world-leading biologists and botanists.
Brazil is quite simply the country with the greatest and most fascinating biodiversity on earth. Its immense area subdivides into different eco regions in several biomes; the jungles of the Amazon Rainforest and the Atlantic Forest, the tropical savannah of the Cerrado, the xeric shrubland of the Caatinga, and the immense wetland area, the Pantanal. It should surprise no one that a great percentage of the word’s undiscovered flora and fauna species are located here.
Here are our top five picks for where you can experience the ultimate in natural Brazil.
Anavilhanas National Park, Amazon Wetlands
Close to the Rio Negro at the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. Anavilhanas National Park comprises about 400 individual islands nestled within a vast stretch of untouched rain forest. The Amazon rainforest is the world’s largest equatorial forest, stretching over 6.5 million Km2 and covering over 40% of Brazil. The Rio Negro is the biggest tributary of the left bank of the Amazon River and is the world’s longest dark water river, with over 720km of navigable water.
Visitors to Anavilhanas National Park can participate in activities such as nocturnal safaris, where they can spot birds, sloths, snakes and alligators. By day, visitors can see pink and grey dolphins in the river, canoe along waters and between trees, and fish for piranha. On the dry forest floor, expert guides can tell visitors about trees, wild fruits, survival strategies and medicinal herbs. It’s possible to stay in lodges within the park that have facilities such as pools that overlook the river and a 13m high observation tower with stunning views over the river.
Cristalino National Reserve, Amazon Forest
This region of the Amazon lies at an altitude of between 300 and 450 metres above sea level and therefore the rivers do not generally flood the forests. For this reason, the predominant vegetation here is the evergreen forest (terra firma) with tall and well-formed trees.
This is one of the richest destinations in the Amazon for biodiversity and its possible to observe mammals, butterflies, orchids and endemic birds, such as the white-cheeked spider monkey (Ateles marginatus), red-nosed saki (Chiropotes albinasus), cryptic forest falcon (Micrastur mintoni), crimson-bellied conure (Pyrrhura perlata), black-girdled barbet (Capito dayi), Brazilian tapir, sloths and giant otters. Other, less commonly sighted species include the collared anteater (Tamandua tetradactyla), giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), tayra (Eira barbara) and shy three-toed and two-toed sloths (Bradypus variegatus and Cheloepus didactylus). Encounters with jaguar, black panther (both variations of Panthera onca) and puma (Puma concolor) occur perhaps once or twice a year.
Located in the geographic centre of South America, the Pantanal is the largest wetland plain on the entire planet. Its fields and mountain ranges, bays, rivers and lakes cover an extremely flat area of 210,000 km2, fed by tributaries of the Paraguay River, which runs through the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, as well as Bolivia and Paraguay. The unique combination of location, gently sloping topography and seasonal rise and fall of the waters, characterised by intense rainfall in summer, gave rise to a lush, mega-diverse biome.
The imposing and magnificent scenery is the habitat of the largest concentration of wildlife in the Americas. It shelters over 650 species of birds, 400 species of fish and 80 species of mammals, many threatened with extinction. In 2000, the Pantanal wetland was designated a World Natural Heritage and World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Ecotourism projects here are well established, for example, the Caiman Ecological Refuge was established in 1987 as the first ecotourism operation in the Southern Pantanal and operates an internationally recognised Nature Conservation Programme, which maintains the private reserve and supports various research and species management projects.
Iguassu National Park
Home to the sensational Iguassu Falls, a three kilometre chain of 275 individual cascades where water flows at 1000 cubic metres per second. This natural escape also offers thrills and excitement in abundance: helicopter trips over the river gorge and jungle treks to view amazing wildlife including colourful toucans, monkeys, capybaras and giant butterflies.
Lucky visitors once a month can join an exclusive full moon tour to witness a sight rarely seen by most in their lifetimes – the lunar Rainbow. It’s a mystical experience, perhaps only surpassed by magnificent bird’s-eye-views of Devil’s Throat from helicopter.
Ibitipoca State Park, Atlantic Forest
The white sands of Reserva do Ibitipoca’s region resemble beach dunes, and rightly so! Over 600 million years ago, this area was the bottom of the sea and slowly rose up as the Mantiqueira mountain range. Today only 7% of the Atlantic Forest remains compared to estimates made at the discovery of Brazil 500 years ago.
The Atlantic Forest is one of the richest ecosystems of the planet, with about 10 thousand species of endemic plants and has more diversity per hectare compared to many biomes. Unfortunately, over 60% of species threatened with extinction in Brazil live in the Atlantic Forest and one out of four animals native to this region are endangered. Ibitipoca is located within the heart of the Atlantic Forest and due to its unique topographical and geological characteristics, you can find distinctive landscape here: islands hidden in the mountain’s curves that contain rare and unique endemic species of flora and fauna – gnarled trees, cacti, orchids, candeia and bromeliads – over 180 flowers, 400 lichens, 140 orchids, and 60 bromeliads.
Simone Scorsato is Executive Director of Brazilian Luxury Travel Association. BLTA’s main objective is to promote and strengthen Brazil as a travel destination to the global luxury market.