São Roque de Minas is a small city in Minas Gerais that stands out for sheltering most of the Serra da Canastra Park and its main attractions. There are several options of hiking trails, waterfalls, observatories, springs and caves, plus a good tourist service structure, with lodging options and restaurants with local cuisine. The receptivity of the people from Minas Gerais is an attraction in itself, allowing you to experience the customs and the tranquillity of a typical and quiet city in the interior of Brasil.
After arriving in Sao Roque, the Serra da Canastra Park will be your destination. From far, you’ll see the mountains and peaks that seem to form a large chest (or canasta, a kind of basket), origin of the name of the mountain. In fact, the area brings together two major mountain ranges: the Canastra and the Sete Voltas, with the Vale dos Cândidos in the middle. For being a sort of river cradle for two Brazilian river basins (the Paraná River and the São Francisco River), the Park was born to be a Environmental Preservation area. A paradise with native vegetation, wild animals and clear waters in Minas Gerais.
If you don’t know the Cerrado (predominant vegetation), you will be impressed with the trees of twisted stems and other quirky forms of native vegetation, characteristics which make it survive the heat of certain times of the year. Some say that the Cerrado is the brazilian savanna. The mountains also keep parts of the Atlantic forest vegetation, giving a unique look to the location. Here animals such as the giant anteater, the maned wolf and the pampas deer appear. With luck (and aided by the low grass and high hills) you will see some of these animals during your visit to the Park.
You can spend a whole week in the Serra da Canastra, and you probably will have to. Hiking trails, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, jeep tours, sports like motocross, kayaking, buoy-cross and rappelling, experimenting with cheeses, anyway, a multitude of activities in nature. There are several options available. But, basically, you can make two types of tours: the adventure tourism or the cheese tourism (the most typical and famous gastronomic product of Canastra). The canastra cheese is considered a Cultural Heritage in Brasil since 2008.
Since all routes within the Park are made by dirt roads, from November to March (rainy season) it is better to enter only with a 4×4 vehicle. If you don’t have one, inform yourself at the inn where you are staying, and hire a tour in this vehicle. The trip will be easier and safer, and also with a full air of adventure. Inside the Park, the best way of visiting the location is by walking. So, let’s go?
Probably one of the first locations of your visit within the Park of Serra da Canastra is the Casca d’Anta waterfall. The view is impressive. The 186 m of free fall have incredible strength, as if, every second, a 60 story building made of water fell from the wall. It is the first and highest waterfall of the São Francisco River, and one of the most beautiful in the country. The great attraction is climbing up to the top pools, before the fall. To get to the waterfall, you’ll walk and climb for about 4 km during 2 hours, approximately. Enjoy the view of Serra da Canastra and Babilônia, in the highest part. Beautiful!
Another famous waterfall is the Rolinhos. Access is through a short trail, 15 minutes from the main road. The waterfall can be seen from the top of an observatory. Its waters flow into the Lagoa Azul, with transparent waters.
Other attractions that are worth visiting are the Serra da Babilônia (numerous waterfalls of transparent waters and trails that can be travelled on foot, horseback or in traction vehicles), the Chapadões da Canastra (primitive fields that form the upper part of the Park, where you can observe many animals of the region) and the Gruta do Tesouro (a difficult hike of 1,500 m for about 2 hours through a dark cave through rock formations, narrow, slippery and flooded aisles -essential the aid of a guide, helmet and torch).
In the Park, there are at least eight other waterfalls that are worth a visit, such as the Cachoeira do Vento, do Fundão and Lavra. If you want to go to attractions outside the Park, go to Capão Forro, located 5 km from São Roque de Minas. There you can follow two paths: one that leads to the Cachoeira do Mato and another that leads to Trilha do Picareta, where there is a camping area. If you like to wake up in the middle of nature, this is your place.
Next to the Park, you can also visit the Lago de Furnas, an immense water reservoir with islands, rock walls, canyons, natural pools and waterfalls. The water is an emerald green color – that resembles the coast of Rio de Janeiro – and is perfect for swimming, surfing, kayaking and motor boats. It’s like the center of the country had a sea: the sweet sea of Minas Gerais.