Curitiba - Gateway to the Parana Coast and Morretes, Ilha do Mel & the Superagui National Park.
Curitiba is the progressive state capital of Paraná in the south of Brazil, and possibly the best organised capital of Brazil’s 26 states. The city itself is an agreeable to spend a day around the Botanical Gardens and parks such as Tangua and Barigui with pleasing cityscapes, as well as around the centre itself. Praça Garibaldi also has a decent Sunday market. The city sits 3,100ft/934m up on the high plain that leads to the interior of Southern Brazil, and has hot summer days, refreshing nights and also what passes for winter in Brazil.
The main reason for tourists to visit Curitiba is to make the journey of 100km or so from the city that sits 3,100ft/934m up on the high plain down through the Serra do Mar to the Parana coastal strip. The steep journey drops through mountains covered in lush green Atlantic Rainforest with spectacular views taking in Morretes, Antonina, the Paranagua Bay, Ilha do Mel and the Superagui National Park before the deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean.
There are five popular ways to make the journey in either direction. The Estrada da Graciosa, the original cobbled road finished in 1873 and constructed to take produce, mainly coffee, maté and wood, from the Parana plantations down to the ports such as Antonina and Paranagua. The paved road was the first one in the state, and remained the only one for half a century. The road is still in use and is a good mountain bike descent too. The new highway between the city and Paranagua makes the journey possible in an hour or so, which is too fast to appreciate the views.
A much longer journey that allows all the appreciation that you need is to hike the 18th Century pack trails that wind down through the mountains. With mountains towering around, steep canyons below and almost constant stunning views on clear days, it is a special walk. The hike begins at the top of the drop, rather than in the city, and takes the best part of the day, including the initial train ride.
The journey that attracts most people to the area though is the train ride. The Serra Verde Express from Curitiba is the most popular and spectacular train ride in Brazil or the whole of South America, passing over 67 bridges and viaducts, and through 13 tunnels on its journey to Morretes. The scenery on the journey is spectacular as the bridges traverse ravines and canyons along the steep drop to the bottom.
Whichever journey you choose to Morretes, the old colonial town nestling beneath the mountains is a pleasant little tourist trap. Lunch can take a while there, with the barreado meat stew attracting as many Brazilians as the train ride. Antonina is also worth visiting as a preserved colonial port, while Paranagua still has a historic central area.
Ilha do Mel is the most visited island in Paranagua Bay, a tropical paradise of beaches, hills, Atlantic Rainforest, surf and some good hiking around the island. There are no roads on Ilha do Mel, adding to the tranquil holiday atmosphere.
The Serra do Mar also has other fantastic hiking and climbing options, especially in the Marumbi State Park, with excellent tropical birdlife. Perhaps even better is the area around the remote Superagui National Park. Mangrove forests, miles of empty beaches, tiny fishing villages and a complete lack of development make this an area of outstanding natural beauty. From very few trails or an even more adventurous sea-kayak journey along the coast, you can encounter red-tailed parrots, toucans and hummingbirds galore. Dolphins swim in the waters, while howler monkeys shriek from the land. There are also deer, puma and even the elusive jaguar within the confines of the park. Sightings are very rare but the area remains as wild as it ever has been, a wonderful surprise and a reward for the few tourists who make the effort to visit Superagui.
Curitiba and the Parana Coast are not on the radar for most foreign visitors to Brazil, but there are still plenty of interesting sights, views and activities here to keep anybody interested.
Suitable Destination For: Ecotourism and Ecotourists; Train Enthusiasts; Hikers & Climbers; Lovers of Wildlife and Marine Life; Sea-kayakers and Surfers.
Best Time to Visit: Holiday periods of New Year to Carnaval plus public holiday weekends are busy. Curitiba has a winter from June to August, although the coastal areas can still be warm. Rainfall in the Atlantic Rainforest is quite even throughout the year, with less on the plateau.
Essential Sights & Activities: The Serra do Mar mountains and the Serre Verde Train Ride down through them; Morretes; a Barreado lunch; Ilha do Mel and its sandy paths; one of the wildest coastal areas remaining in Brazil.