Let the wilderness of Brazil put a spell on you. From steep canyons to jungle rivers, from impressive sand dunes to roaring waterfalls, from howling monkeys to colourful birds. At the end of long bus journeys, Brazil fascinates and captivates. With more than 70 national parks, the country tries to protect the nature of its vital ecosystems – and that’s for the best. We’ve partnered with other travel bloggers to guide you through some of them, in this selection of their favourite Brazil national parks.


Best national parks in Brazil:


Tijuca National Park

Stephanie from History Fangirl visited Tijuca National Park in July.

View on Rio de Janeiro from Tijuca National Park

One of the most-visited of Brazil’s National Parks, Tijuca Forest is the largest urban forest in the world, covering over 30 square km (12 square mi) inside of the city.

Tijuca Forest is a tropical rainforest, so visiting is a great way to learn about the rain forest if you aren’t leaving Rio de Janeiro on your trip to Brazil.

Why is this your favourite national park in Brazil?

Home to over thirty waterfalls, Tijuca is a great place to visit if you want to walk to waterfalls and experience their unique beauty (and refreshing atmosphere).

It’s also really special having a national park located in one of the world’s most thriving metropolises, making it uniquely accessible. Most travelers have to choose between city escapes and spending time outdoors, but in Rio you can escape to Tijuca for a day or two, making it possible to have both kinds of adventures on a single trip.

What did you like less?

For foreigners, it’s easiest to visit Tijuca by going on a guided day trip where you learn about the park and see the highlights as you go. However, this type of travel doesn’t leave you with any time to really explore on your own.

For example, If you really love waterfalls and want to hike to a few of them, you won’t be able to see more than one or two on a guided tour. So you might want to set aside time to go back on your own to get deeper into the park and see more of it.

 

Useful information about Parque Nacional da Tijuca

Best time to go:Spring (September-October) when it’s dry and not too crowded
Closest town:Rio de Janeiro
How to get there:by public transportation or taxi
Entrance price:free
Other expenses:/

 


Not far from Rio, Itatiaia National Park, the very first national park established in Brazil, is a pattern of valleys covered in Atlantic forest. The upper part of the park has steep trails leading to rocky elevations; while the lower part showcases waterfalls and water pools. Don’t miss it if you’re going backpacking to Brazil. Accessible from the town of the same name, it’s a great place for hikers, rock climbers and bird watchers.


 

Chapada Diamantina National Park

We visited Chapada Diamantina National Park in October.

Hiker at Chapada Diamantina National Park Brazil

Chapada Diamantina is a hikers’ paradise of lush forest landscape in the east of Brazil. “Chapada” refers to an area of steep cliffs, typically at the edge of a plateau; and “diamantina” comes from the diamonds that were found in the area.

There are a few towns around the national park, and we based ourselves in Lençóis, a small, cute and safe place.

Why is this your favourite national park in Brazil?

We liked this national park a lot because we could explore it independently, just using the Wikiloc app to follow the trails. The area is really full of beautiful waterfalls. The best trek we did was to the Cachoeira do Sossego waterfall, where we could swim in a pool at its feet.

It’s definitely worth spending more time in Chapada and do more hikes, or even multi-day treks, because the environment is beautiful and relaxing.

What did you like less?

It’s hot and humid in the park, and there’s no clean water filling or buying options, so we had to carry all that lot of water with us.

Also keep in mind that, at the start of the trails, many local “guides” try to lure hikers into hiring them for their trek, saying that they would get lost on their own. That’s something all backpackers in South America are used to. It’s true that the trails are not signposted but with Wikiloc or a similar app, it can be done independently without risking your life. And that’s good news.

 

Useful information about Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina

Best time to go:All year round
Closest city (town):Salvador de Bahia (Lençóis)
How to get there:(overnight) Bus from Salvador to Lençóis, then the park entrance is within walking distance.
Entrance price:Free
Other expenses:/

We mention Chapada Diamantina in our selection of best treks in South America. Check it out!


 

To visit also:

If Brazil doesn’t have very high mountains (the highest peak is Pico da Neblina at 2,995.30 m / 9,827.1 ft), it has plenty of high-range plateaus; what is called ‘Altiplano’ in the Andean world is here referred to as ‘chapada’.

Chapada dos Guimarães National Park is another one of those areas of flat-top mountains and impressive canyons. It extends next to the town of Cuiabá, in the state of Mato Grosso, in the heart of Brazil and in the geographic centre of South America.

It offers a myriad hiking trails that bring you to impressive waterfalls dropping bravely from flat-face cliffs that could be the setting for many South American adventure movies. Don’t forget your camera to capture the local fauna, and your swimming suit to bath in the waterfalls pools!

 

Aparados da Serra National Park

Canyon in Aparados da Serra National Park, Brazil
Photo: Valdiney Pimenta / CC BY 2.0

Hiding halfway between Florianópolis and Porto Alegre, 50 km off the Pacific coast, lies a dramatic landscape of vertiginous gorges and free-falling waterfalls. A few kilometres of trails in between rock formations along the cliffs and the distant shouts of the brown howler monkeys bring you straight inside an XVIIIth-century adventure novel.

What is unique about this national park?

If few travellers go all the way to Porto Alegre, even less venture to Aparados da Serra. It’s a really off-the-beaten-path natural jewel that attracts at most a few national visitors. Even if you decide to visit on a tour, you should be able to enjoy the remoteness of the place.

The highlight is the incredible Itaimbezinho canyon, rumoured to be no less than the largest canyon in Latin America; although Peruvians will not agree. Whatever rank it might have, it opens up to the eyes like a scar on the surface of the earth. Don’t miss also the Véu de Noiva waterfall.

What are the drawbacks?

The park counts with less visitors, but also less budget. The infrastructure is therefore rudimentary, although not quite as bad as in the opposite Serra Geral (read further). The whole park is often closed in rainy season because of its impracticability, and some parts of the trails are hard to hike all year round.

The visitor centre within the park has great information about the local flora and fauna, but only in Portuguese.

 

Useful information about Parque Nacional de Aparados da Serra

Best time to go:June-August (Winter) for clearest visibility although it gets very cold. Oct-November (Spring) to see the wild flowers blooming.
Closest city (town):Criciúma (Cambará do Sul)
How to get there:There are public buses from Porto Alegre to Praia Grande via Torres (check on a map)
Entrance price:free, donation
Other expenses:/

Note: Bring your own food and water for the day as there’s no shop nor restaurant within the park.

 


On the other side of Route RS-427, Aparados become Serra Geral National Park. It offers the same landscape of rainforest, mesas, head-spinning waterfalls and canyons – like the award-worthy Fortaleza canyon. The main difference between the 2 parks is the infrastructure; the few boardwalks, viewpoints and public toilets of Aparados are non-existent in Serra Geral.


 

Serra da Canastra National Park

Bruna from I Heart Brazil visited Serra da Canastra National Park in September.

Casca d'Anta waterfall in Serra da Canastra national park, Brazil

Serra da Canastra National Park is the perfect destination for those who love adventure and ecotourism. The park, located in the southwest of Minas Gerais, is one of Brazil’s most national visited parks.

Beyond that, Serra da Canastra has historical attractions, such as the São Francisco River source –Brazil’s 5th largest river–, and the magical Casca D’anta, one of the prettiest waterfalls in Brazil.

Why is this your favourite national park in Brazil?

It’s a beautiful park packed with impressive views of the waterfalls, mountains, and green-hued hills. Not only that, but Serra da Canastra also is a fantastic hiking destination with trails for all levels and lengths.

And it’s the perfect place for adventure and food lovers. Yes, you read that right. The Serra da Canastra region is very famous for the Canastra cheese, a National Cultural Heritage product, and sold in plenty of farms surrounding the park.

What did you like less?

The access to the park is through dirt roads, and some are in terrible condition. So a 4×4 car is recommended to reach many hot spots in the park. Good to know: Driving through these roads after it has rained is not recommended.

Another downside is that all signs are in Portuguese. While that’s not an issue for me since I’m Brazilian, I can only imagine it is not helpful to international tourists.

 

Useful information about Parque Nacional da Serra da Canastra

Best time to go:Fall through spring, April-October
Closest city (town):Passos (São Roque de Minas)
How to get there:by car; by public bus from São Paulo or Belo Horizonte
Entrance price:R$ 21, only cash
Other expenses:Possible guided tour


To visit also:

There is a special place in the heart of Brazil, in the State of Goiás that surrounds the capital Brasília. It’s a place of endemic flora and fauna, a refuge for several species that is vital in maintaining the biodiversity of the area.

The 2 National Parks of Chapada dos Veadeiros and Emas are 1000 km apart but that’s nothing at the scale of Brazil. They are bound together as the Cerrado Protected Area, a World Heritage Site listed at the Unesco.

You need a guide to enter the parks and enjoy the low mesas, the gigantic waterfalls and the oldest quartz formations on the planet. In fact, Chapada dos Veadeiros used to host mines and now attracts seekers of natural energy.

Even without going to the Park itself, there are numerous natural wonders to enjoy, like the waterfalls in São Bento Farm, the Valley of the Moon and several other sights. Many visitors stay in the village of São Jorge, which has less infrastructure but is at the gates of the Park.

 

Iguaçu National Park

Campbell and Alya from Stingy Nomads visited Iguaçu National Park in March.

View on Iguazu Falls from the Brazilian side

The spectacular Iguazu waterfalls are the largest waterfall system in the world comprising 275 individual drops stretching for 2700 m to connect Argentina and Brazil.

The falls can be reached from both countries; from Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil or from Puerto Iguazú in Argentina. They’re also very close to the town of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. The Iguazu Falls are owned by the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Iguazú National Park in Argentina and the Iguaçu National Park in Brazil.

The waterfall system connects the Misiones state in Argentina and the Brazilian state of Paraná. The Iguazu river flows through Brazil for most of its course; below where it joins the San Antonio River, the Iguazu River forms the boundary between Argentina and Brazil.

Why is this your favourite national park in Brazil?

Since Iguazu can be visited from National parks located in both Argentina and Brazil, many visitors can only visit one park and often compare the two.

In Iguaçu National Park in Brazil the panoramic views of a network of 275 waterfalls with rainbows everywhere is really spectacular. You can get up close to one of the highlights in the park, walking almost into the Devil’s throat. Here you are guaranteed to get wet, it is an amazing experience and great fun to walk almost into this massive waterfall!

What did you like less?

Only about 20% of the falls are located on the Brazilian side of the falls, there are not many trails to explore like on the Argentinian side. Entrance into the park is expensive and the park is extremely busy in peak season (January-February) with long lines and lots of traffic.

 

Useful information about Parque Nacional do Iguaçu

Best time to go:March-April or August-September, when weather is good but crowds are fewer
Closest town:Foz do Iguaçu
How to get there:Frequent public buses from Foz
Entrance price:R$ 59
Other expenses:R$ 11 transport + R$ 2 Iguaçu fund

 


 

Pantanal Matogrossense National Park

Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan visited Pantanal Matogrossense National Park in November.

Colourful Toucan in the Pantanal Matogrossens National Park, Brazil

Why is this your favourite national park in Brazil?

The Pantanal is the largest wetland in the world and offers incredible opportunities for wildlife viewing. While the Amazon is more famous and is undoubtedly full of biodiversity, you actually have a much better chance of spotting animals in the Pantanal than in the Amazon. That’s because in the Amazon the animals stay hidden in the jungle, whereas the Pantanal is largely made up of marshes and grassy plains, without so much undergrowth or tree cover.

Mammals that you might see here include capybaras, giant otters, anteaters and, if you’re lucky, jaguars. You’ll definitely see lots of caimans and many different species of birds. The bird watching here is best during the dry season, as this is also the breeding and nesting season for the birds. Jabiru storks have become the symbol of the Pantanal, and macaws and toucans are also commonly seen.

What did you like less?

The national park only covers a small fraction of the entire Pantanal wetland area. Much of the rest is sadly dotted with cattle ranches. Since tourists are not allowed to stay overnight in the park, most visitors find themselves staying on a cattle farm, as it’s common for the farmers to make extra money by renting out rooms to tourists.

Be prepared to be bombarded by swarms of mosquitoes. As you can imagine, the wetland is the perfect breeding ground for them.

Another thing to be aware of is that the wet and dry seasons have become less predictable thanks to climate change. Planning your Pantanal tour just two or three weeks too early or too late could have a huge impact on your experience. September is your best bet if you can swing it, as the rains will almost certainly have stopped by then, and you’ll miss the hordes of Brazilian tourists who arrive in July.

 

Useful information about Parque Nacional do Pantanal Matogrossense

Best time to go:September, to escape both the rains and the national visitors
Closest town:Corumbá (south) or Cuiabá (north)
How to get there:by bus via Campo Grande
Entrance price:free
Other expenses:on-site accommodation and tours

 


 

Jaú National Park

Jau national park, Brazil, seen from above
Photo: Marco Antonio Pereira de Freitas Junior / CC BY-SA

As one of the largest forest reserves in South America, Jaú National Park welcomes you in the depth of the Amazon rain forest. Looking for pirogues, piranhas and adventure? Here they come!

What is unique about this national park?

Together with Anavilhanas National Park (read further), Amanã and Mamirauá reserves, it is part of a Unesco World Heritage site. It’s destined to preserve several endemic animal species, including the black caiman, the cute margay and the Amazonian manatee. You might not have the chance to spot any during your visit, but you’ll help ensure their conservation and that’s a good start. A boat trip on the curves of the Jaú River make for an unforgettable experience.

What are the drawbacks?

Hard to be more remote than this park, you only get there if you really want to. There are no roads connecting to the closest city, Manaus, so it’s only accessible by boat (or if you build your own pirogue, I guess). In fact, there are no roads inside the park either.

The climate is not the friendliest: it’s constantly humid and generally hot (22-32°C / 70-90ºF). That means, wait for it, armies of mosquitoes waiting for your fresh blood.

 

Useful information about Parque Nacional do Jaú

Best time to go:Between July and September are the driest months
Closest town:Manaus
How to get there:By public boat from Manaus to Novo Airão, then by flyer boat.
Entrance price:R$3 per person per day
Other expenses:Additional charge by boat if you’re going independently; possible guided tour from Manaus


To visit also:

Anavilhanas National Park is a rain forest archipelago on the northern bank of the Rio Negro, just opposite the town of Novo Airão*. It’s possible to visit on your own after registering by the local rangers. But you might deem it more interesting to hire a guide and learn about this incredible (and oh-so-vital) ecosystem; or to book a boat tour on the river and watch the elusive pink river dolphins.

Why not venture even further along the Rio Negro and feel the rush of adventure tickling up inside your belly? Step into the jungle in Pico da Neblina National Park, bordering with Venezuela and surrounding the highest peak in Brazil. The closest town is São Gabriel da Cachoeira, from where you can book a tour or join a climbing party if that’s your thing. Another great thing to do is to pay a (respectful) visit to one of the several indigenous groups living there.

*Google Maps shows the Anavilhanas National Park in the wrong location so look up this town rather. 

 

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

Oksana & Max from Drink Tea & Travel visited Lençóis Maranhenses National Park in September.

The lovely sand dunes of Lençois Maranhenses National Park, Brazil

Located on the Atlantic Coast of Brazil, Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is known for its otherworldly landscape. The park is made up of seemingly endless white sand dunes, which are interrupted only by its pools of emerald green rainwater. It is truly one of the most unique things to see in Brazil.

The pools are only accessible from July to September. The pools collect rainwater during the wet season from January to June and disappear altogether with the wind after September.

Why is this your favourite national park in Brazil?

The entire area is a protected wildlife zone and has tons of salt marshes, mangroves and private lagoons too.

There is a vast array of ways to experience the park. You can go on a stand-up paddle trip, on horseback or on a quad bike tour; however, the most popular way to visit Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is with a 4×4 jeep.

What did you like less?

A 4×4 tour usually includes some time hiking the sand dunes and swimming in the rainwater pools. However, the downside is that the tour stops tend to be crowded in the high season. There is also a total lack of infrastructure in the park and the temperatures often climb over 30 degrees making a visit uncomfortable for some.

Despite its truly extraordinary beauty Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is often overlooked on visits to Brazil or South America. This is because the season to visit the park is very short (July to September) and because of its remote location. Lençóis Maranhenses is located about four and a half hours from São Luis but in our opinion, it is worth the trek anyway!

 

Useful information about Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses

Best time to go:July to September when the water the pools are accessible
Closest town:São Luis
How to get there:Most people enter the park via Barreirinhas and take a tour from there
Entrance price:free
Other expenses:/

 


If you don’t find the time to travel as far as São Luis, stop at Jericoacoara. Overlooking the South Atlantic, the sand dunes and natural pools of the Jericoacoara National Park await. It gets a tad crowded in the high season but it’s a lovely alternative to the usual beach sunset (boooring!).


 

Fernando de Noronha Marine National Park

A bay in Fernando de Noronha National park, Brazil
Photo: photo pantai / CC BY

A series of 21 islands form the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, 354 km (220 mi) off the coast of Brazil. The National Park is made up of about a third of the main island, Fernando de Noronha, and an exquisite piece of the surrounding Atlantic Ocean.

What is unique about this national park?

This is one of the few national parks in South America that protects the marine wildlife. The island itself is home to several protected birds and other animals. There’s even a so-called ‘Dolphin Bay’ where you can watch your favourite aquatic mammals. It might not be the otherworldly fauna of the Galápagos, but it’s quite the wildlife paradise anyway.

Within the park boundaries, Praia do Sancho and Praia do Leão are considered 2 of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches. The park is well-maintained and a joy for the whole family (as a TV ad from the 90’s would probably say).

What are the drawbacks?

Well it’s a bit far off, isn’t it? The 2 options to reach the island are by plane (1h10 from Natal, 1h40 from Recife); or on a 4-6 day cruise in high season, from either of these cities or from Fortaleza.

The resulting problem is that the access is rather expensive. Add to the transportation the obligatory and very pricey 10-day pass to the Marine National Park. Accommodation and food are also double (at least) the price of mainland Brazil.

Only 500 visitors are allowed each day so reservations should be made well in advance.

 

Useful information about Parque Nacional Marinho de Fernando de Noronha

Best time to go:All year round
Closest town:Natal, Recife
How to get there:By plane from Recife, Natal or other large Brazilian cities
Entrance price:R$200 for a 10-day pass (no other duration available)
Other expenses:Possible boat tours, stand-up paddle, snorkeling, etc.

Are you planning a trip to Brazil? Which national parks attract you the most?
Tell us in the comments section below!


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Who am I?

Anna and Anthony are long-time travellers, polyglots and all-kinds-of-art-lovers. They write about eco travels, nature hikes and cultural discoveries, mainly in South America, on the budget travel blog Green Mochila.

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17 Comments

  1. WOW. I’m absolutely loving this series on national parks in south america!! another great collection for brazil. 🙂 I have literally never heard of most of these and every one that was introduced, i want to put it on my list. I need to go to south america and use your blog as my trusty guide. love it!!

    1. Thanks, Lannie for your sweet comment, it’s outright heartwarming to read that our post made you feel like putting on your hiking shoes! I really hope soon we can again travel to South America, and that you’ll have an amazing experience.

    1. Oh, it’s actually far from comprehensive, Riana: we had to leave aside more than 50 national parks and even more wildlife refuges in Brazil. But well, I think we came up all together with a very pretty & diverse selection. Thanks for your visit!

  2. Awesome post, Anna and Anthony! Loved checking out this expertly curated gateway that gives you an initial glimpse to these *amazing* parks in such an *amazing* country! We appreciate this type of collaborative posts very much – to the point, breezy to read, great images, full of first-hand practical advice… Though it’s difficult to pick two or three parks to visit out of this remarkable bunch, we tend to prefer the off-the-beaten-path, more “raw” areas – and your post allows any like-minded travellers to find such places. As wildlife observation and birding lovers, Pantanal Matogrossense is already calling… Thanks so much to all involved in putting this together, and to you two for having orchestrated such a great post!

  3. Fantastic collection of National Parks each with their own unique diversity. It’s kind of refreshing knowing so many are hard to get to as I’m sure this will protect the habitat for longer. Gorgeous photos!

    1. It’s always the catch, isn’t it: we want to share what’s off-the-beaten path but we also want to protect it. I want to believe that our readers are responsible travellers who enjoy nature responsibly. Just like you are Linda, I’m sure!

  4. What a wealth of information! I’ve never been to Brazil, but have been trying to line up something with my friend who is from San Paolo. This is beautiful and full of great info. The pictures tell a wonderful story! It’s also becoming clear to me that I’m CRAVING outdoorsy stuff right now!!

    1. We are in the same shoes Kevin, especially while writing and curating this article, the wanderlust just completely took us over.

      Brazil is a great country to immerse in nature and culture, and I’m sure you’ll be in good hands with your friend who’s local. I hope you’ll be able to do that trip soon – please do let us know your experience!

  5. South America has been on my bucket list for a long time and these wonderful photographs and descriptions of the National Parks in Brazil have made me want to go even more. Such a diverse landscape from the mountains and waterfalls to the golden sands of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park – it all looks so incredible.

    1. Brazil certainly has some beautiful national parks! We were particularly amazed by the impressive canyons and rock formations. Thanks for your comment, Angela!

  6. Another really interesting collection. Unlike the books and movies, these look a lot harder to complete the list. I’m attracted to the gorge, and the dunes. Beautiful. But I’ll pass on the mosquito filled one. I’m like dessert to them.

    1. Surely it’s a tad more difficult to complete the list, but we have a lifetime for it, and not a problem if we fail by a few 😀 Thanks again for stopping by John, always a pleasure 🙂

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