Brazilian National Park – The Serra da Canastra

Vista do Mirante da pousada Velho Chico em São Roque de Minas
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Are you looking for a Brazilian National Park to visit? The Serra da Canastra National Park in Brazil is one of the most striking places we’ve ever visited and we don’t just say this because of its natural beauty.

It may seem cliché, but the Serra da Canastra National Park has a quite unique atmosphere. Let alone the friendliness of the locals, who always invite you for a coffee and a good talk. We spent a week there, filming part of our documentary about the São Francisco River. Now, we tell you everything about the Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra!

BRAZILIAN NATIONAL PARK OF SERRA DA CANASTRA INDEX

 

Lobo Guara, the national animal of the Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra
Logo Guará (the guará wolf)

The Serra da Canastra National Park

The Serra da Canastra National Park in Brazil was created in 1972. It has officially 70,000 hectares, despite the initial plan for 200,000 hectares. The families who lived in the area had to be expropriated and the process was very delicate. Up to date, many people said they had never received compensation for their land. It’s worth talking with the locals, especially the older ones, to hear a little of their stories.

On the other hand, after being turned into a national park, the Serra da Canastra became an environmental preservation area. You will find here several types of plants and animals unique to the region, roaming freely and safely. The biome of the region, known as cerrado, is really impressive. In fact, we were fascinated by the biodiversity of Serra da Canastra National Park. During our visit to the upper part of the park, we had the opportunity to see maned wolves, giant anteaters, carcarás birds, owls and much more.

Wild owl at the Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra in Sao Roque de Minas

Entrance to Serra da Canastra Park costs approximately R$ 11 (R$ 5.50 half) and can only be paid in cash. During some holidays, there is a requirement to schedule the visit.

Serra da Canastra Map

Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra Map

Serra da Canastra essential tips and information

Due to its long extension, several questions arise when the subject is a trip to Serra da Canastra. Where is Serra da Canastra? Which cities is part of it? Where to stay in Serra da Canastra? Which city is the closest to the Serra da Canastra, and more. Here, we set up a quick Q&A to help you on your tour of Serra da Canastra.

Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra in Sao Roque de Minas

WHERE IS THE SERRA DA CANASTRA BRAZILIAN NATIONAL PARK

The Serra da Canastra National Park comprises an extensive region in the southwest of Minas Gerais State of Brazil and encompasses several cities. The most “traditional” part of Canastra, however, where you can find the true Canastra culture and the most famous attractions of the Serra da Canastra Park, such as the source of the famous São Francisco River, the Casca D’anta Waterfall, the cheese farms and so on, is around a single mountain range, which gives the region its name: Serra da Canastra. This rock formation is an impressive “wall” located between the cities of Vargem Bonita and São Roque de Minas.

WHICH CITIES ARE PART OF THE SERRA DA CANASTRA

The cities that are part of the Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra are São Roque de Minas, Capitólio, Vargem Bonita, São João Batista do Glória, Delfinópolis and Sacramento.

WHICH CITY IS CLOSER TO SERRA DA CANASTRA

The closest cities to Serra da Canastra National Park are São Roque de Minas and Vargem Bonita. As we explained, these are the locations around the most “traditional” part of the Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra.

IS CAPITOLIO IN THE NATIONAL PARK OF SERRA DA CANASTRA

Capitólio is located in the surroundings of the Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra. However, the city is 80km away from the main attractions. Therefore, we do not advise using Capitólio as a base if your intention is to know the National Park of Serra da Canastra. Though, this does not mean you should not visit Capitolio either.

SÃO FRANCISCO RIVER IN THE SERRA DA CANASTRA

The historical source of the São Francisco River is located in the upper part of the Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra. It is accessible via gate 1, next to the city of São Roque de Minas. In order to get there, you need a 4×4 car due to the road condition. If you don’t have a suitable car, you can choose to hire a 4×4 tour in the city. Otherwise, speak with local guides. We had the opportunity to meet the guides Esler Criscoullo (037 9 9994-3386) and the Elmo (037 9 9914-9737), both very experienced tourist guides of the region.

DO YOU MUST HAVE A 4X4 TO TRAVEL TO SERRA DA CANASTRA?

During the rainy season, it is very recommendable to travel to the Serra da Canastra National Park with a 4×4 car. However, during the dry season is not-so-much necessary though. We did with a Honda 1.4 and, even though we though we wouldn’t make some times, it was ok. We did had to send the car to fix some stuff though. Find out how much would be to rent a 4×4 here.

monday feelings in front of the Casca Danta Waterfall in Brazilian National Park

Best time to travel to Serra da Canastra

From April to October, which is the dry season, is the best time to visit the Serra da Canastra National Park in Brazil. In other months though, rain is frequent and can greatly disrupt the trip, especially considering the poor condition of some roads.

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Where to stay at the Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra

Sao Roque de Minas city at the Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra
São Roque de Minas city

São Roque de Minas and Vargem Bonita are the closest cities to Serra da Canastra. They are close to gates 1 and 4 of the park, respectively; thus being the best cities to use as a base during your tourism in Serra da Canastra.

The Gate 1 is 8km away from São Roque de Minas and 21km away from Vargem Bonita. It provides access to the upper part of the Serra da Canasta Park. The Gate 4 is 36km away from São Roque de Minas and 23km away from Vargem Bonita and provides access to the Casca D’anta waterfall. The two cities are 35km away apart.

Where we stayed in Serra da Canastra

Breakfast of Hotel da Canastra
Breakfast at the room at the Hotel da Canastra

We chose to stay in São Roque de Minas and enjoyed it a lot. The tourism in São Roque de Minas is better developed than in Vargem Bonita and offers some leisure options to enjoy the night, such as bars and restaurants.

We stayed in the centre of São Roque de Minas, at the Hotel da Canastra, which is in front of the main square and we loved it! The rooms are simple, but very pleasant and cosy. The breakfast is wonderful, with various delicacies of regional cuisine. The owner of the place, Bia, is lovely. A very engaged woman, passionate about the region’s history, who explained a lot about the Canastrera culture. Bia does everything to make guests feel at home and it worked out so well with us that we even went to an engagement party for one of the hotel employees.

Hotel da Canastra room in Sao Roque de Minas
One of the rooms of the hotel

If you like cosy environments, family service and good “prose”, you will love Hotel da Canastra. For those interested, follow contact number: +55 37 8819-0632

If you are looking for something further away from the city, there are several ranch hotel options close to the park as well, such as the traditional Fazendinha da Canastra, and others. See more options here.

What to do in Serra da Canastra

1) Upper part of Serra da Canastra National Park

Sao Roque de Minas city at the Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra
Fernanda at the source of the São Francisco River

Access to the Upper part of the Park is via Gate 1, 8km from São Roque de Minas. This area of ​​the park has one of the most impressive landscapes we’ve ever seen. It is a must-stop for anyone looking for things to do in Serra da Canastra National Park in Brazil. Get ready to marvel at the local landscape, a flat plateau with undergrowth that completely changes its appearance depending on the time of year.

Some animals can be seen there, especially in the early morning. The road to the upper part of the park is very bad and the path can only be done by 4×4, on foot (trails), bicycle or motorbike.

You should spare a full day for the tour to allow time to visit the main tourist attractions of the Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra. Up there, you find attractions such as the source of the São Francisco River, the Curral de Pedras, the upper part of Casca D’anta, some natural pools, among others.

2) Casca D’anta Waterfall

Casca D'Anta waterfall at the Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra in São Roque de Minas
Casca D’Anta Waterfall – 186 meters high

Anyone looking for what to do in Serra da Canastra cannot miss the Casca d’Anta Waterfall! With 186m of free fall, this is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Minas Gerais. Only 14km away from the source of the São Francisco River, it is the first waterfall formed by the Velho Chico.

To get to it, you need to make a 700-meter trail. The path is peaceful and takes just 20 minutes, passing through a beautiful and intense forest.

Access to Casca D1anta Waterfall is via gate 4 of the park (23km from Vargem Bonita and 36 km from São Roque de Minas).

3) Make the trail between the low and high parts of Casca D’Anta Waterfall

Casca D'Anta trekking path at the Serra da Canastra National Park in Brazil

For the more athletic people, it is possible to take a trail that connects the lower part to the upper part of the Casca Danta Waterfall. There are 3.5 km of trail to go up and another 3.5 km to descend. You should expect at least 5 hours for the complete route. When we visited the Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra, this trekking path was closed.

We heard from locals and guides that the path is steep and the level of difficulty is high about the Casca Danta waterfall trail. It is not advisable for people not accustomed to this type of activity.

4) Other waterfalls to visit in Serra da Canastra besides Casca d’Anta:

Looking for things to do in Serra da Canastra besides Casca Danta waterfall? We made a list of other beautiful waterfalls to visit in the region:

– Capão Forro Waterfall: just 7km from São Roque, Capão Forro Waterfall is easily accessible, being a great option for those who want to cool off and enjoy the local nature for a few hours. It is possible to arrive with your own car.

– Cachoeira do Cerradão: Also close to São Roque de Minas, the Cachoeira do Cerradão has easy access and is very beautiful. There are 202 meters of drop, divided into three levels.

– Cachoeira dos Rolinhos and Cachoeira Rasga Canga (they are the same – one is the high part and the other is the low part): with 4 falls, the largest of which is 15 meters, in addition to two natural wells, this waterfall is ideal for a refreshing bath.

– Fundão Waterfall: 80 meters high and 50 km from São Roque de Minas, Fundão Waterfall is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Serra da Canastra. Unfortunately, however, its access is quite complicated, even being closed for some months of the year. It is possible to access it on foot along a 14km path.

The sun rising from the Brazilian National Park Serra da Canastra

5) Visit a farm that produces canasta cheese and other regional products:

A trip to Serra da Canastra is not complete without a visit to one (or more) farms producing the award-winning cheese of Canastra. During the tour it is possible to taste, buy and learn more about the production of cheese and other regional products. Here we suggest 4 producers for you to meet and enjoy in Serra da Canastra:

  • Roça da Cidade: less than 2 km from São Roque de Minas, this is one of the most traditional cheese farms in Canasta. In its fifth generation, the focus there is 100% artisanal production. A simple but very welcoming place, where the visitor learns about the entire cheese production process.
  • Estancia Capim Canastra: responsible for the first Brazilian cheese awarded in the Outside, this is another unmissable visit in Serra da Canastra. The space was idealized by businessman and producer Guilherme Ferreira, who also organizes various experiences as a way of valuing the Canastre culture, such as balloon rides, workshops, courses, etc.
  • Zé Mário Farm: this is another typical family farm. Zé Mário is one of the oldest producers in the region, a simple and hospitable man who insists on receiving everyone with affection and attention.

6) Watch the sunset from the lookout at Pousada Velho Chico

View from the Velho Chico Inn belvedere in São Roque de Minas
One of the best views of the Serra da Canastra

Owned by Adriano, a former miner and now a tourist guide, the Pousada Velho Chico has a lookout with one of the most beautiful views of the sunset in Serra da Canastra. Despite being on private land, Adriano is extremely kind and we are sure that if you talk to him, you will be allowed to access the lookout. Be sure to visit the shop with regional products that he has on the property.

Where to eat and hang out in São Roque de Minas, Serra da Canastra

Velho Chico Restaurant in São Roque de Minas

On weekends, the streets around the main square of São Roque de Minas are closed for the exclusive use of pedestrians. For those who want to do a bit of tourism in São Roque de Minas, it’s worth walking around, eating a skewer, listening to live music and drinking a beer like the locals like to do.

For those who want a slightly more elaborate dinner, we suggest the Restaurante Velho Chico or the Zagaia. As for a bar, Decks, recently opened when we visited Serra da Canastra, is great! They have various cocktails, wines and beers and live music.

Serra da Canastra 3-day itinerary

Tiago and Fernanda watching the sunrise over the Brazilian National Park of Serra da Canastra

  1. DAY 1 – Arrival at night in São Roque de Minas. Check-in at Hotel da Canastra or another, and then go out for a walk in the city. Dinner at the Velho Chico Restaurant or have a drink on the Decks.
  2. DAY 2: 4×4 tour through the upper part of Serra da Canastra Park. It lasts the whole day and includes visits to waterfalls in the region.
  3. DAY 3: Visit Casca Danta Waterfall and, if you have breath, hike to the high part. For the less adventurous, go for a refreshing dip in Cachoeira Capão Forró. In the afternoon, visit a cheese producing farm in Canasta.

We hope this text about what to do in Serra da Canastra is useful for your trip. If you have any questions or suggestions, send them in the comments and we will respond as soon as possible.