Porto Alegre - Arrival City for the Gaucho Highlands and Wine Region, and also the Canyonlands of Itaimbezinho
Porto Alegre is the southern-most state capital of Brazil, the final stop before the borders with Uruguay and Argentina. The state of Rio Grande do Sul is largely populated by people of European ancestry, mostly coming from Germany, Italy and Poland in the late 19th Century. This European influence can be seen in the people and in the tourist destinations such as the mountain towns of Canela and Gramado, and the Wine Region around Bento Gonçalves. The residents of the state are known as Gauchos and Gauchas, and the cowboy culture common to southern Brazil, Uruguay, north-eastern Argentina and Paraguay is very strong here, with gaucho dances, outdoor barbeques and the chimarrao tea visible everywhere.
Porto Alegre is famous for its politically progressive city council with its participatory budgeting and has played host to the World Social Forum. The city is also home to two major football teams, Internacional and Gremio, both of whom have won the Copa Libertadores twice to become Club Champions of South America, and also the major World Club title, the Intercontinental Cup for Gremio in 1985 and the World Club Cup for Inter in 2006.
Canela and Gramado in the Gaucho Highlands have developed as two mountain towns popular with visiting Brazilian families. There are the natural attractions of forests and waterfalls, with trails around them for hiking and horse-riding to viewpoints over the rolling hills. The Caracol waterfall is the postcard of the region, and can be visited inside the state park of the same name.
Bento Gonçalves is known as the Wine Capital of Brazil, with many vineyards possible to visit in the area, including Salton which is possibly the most famous in the country. Wine-tasting tours take you up and down the different valleys, with a little Gaucho and Italian culture to enjoy along the way, with cheeses and other local treats. The Maria Fumaça steam train ride heading down to the towns of Garibaldi and Carlos Barbosa is one of the classic days out of the state, with live music and cultural performances in the carriages.
The Itaimbezinho Canyonlands of the Aparador da Serra National Park lie on the border with Santa Catarina State to the north, and boast some of the most spectacular scenery, highest waterfalls, and finest views in Brazil. Easy trails take you around the tops of Itaimbezinho and Fortaleza to look down the canyons from above the waterfalls, while tougher trails follow the streams that come out of the bottom in the Malacara Canyon and the Rio do Boi trail into Itaimbezinho. The views from various points can encompass the canyons themselves, huge waterfalls, the coastal plain 1000m below, and also the Atlantic Ocean another 50km distant.
Suitable Destination For: People who enjoy high quality Ecotourism together with a little regional Gaucho Culture
Best Time to Visit: April to August provides the clearest skies, although temperatures 1,000m up on the top of the escarpment can be cold in the Southern Brazilian winter! Any time of the year can be good, although clouds and fog can obscure the views of and from the canyons.
Essential Sights & Activities: Caracol Waterfall; Maria Fumaça Steam Train Ride; Wine-Tasting; Gaucho Barbeque; Itaimbezinho, Fortaleza, Malacara and Corao dos Indios Canyons, with Cotovelo, Andorinha and especially Tigre Preto being awe-inspiring waterfalls.