I know I keep saying it, but Brazil really has it all. You could live for years in this country and still find new things to be amazed at. Today I’m talking about another gem, this time in the south: the state of Rio Grande do Sul. If you’re into nature – especially canyons and waterfalls – this state should be on your list. Planning a trip to Brazil soon? Here are six destinations in Rio Grande do Sul that you should visit.
1. Itaimbezinho Canyon
Starting with the most impressive of the six: the Itaimbezinho Canyon. Both this canyon and its slightly bigger brother Fortaleza Canyon (see #2), are incredibly impressive pieces of nature. Itaimbezinho is located in the national park of Aparados da Serra and there are two ways to visit the canyon: from below or from the top, about 600 meters higher. Visiting the canyon from the top is definitely the easiest one. You can reach the entrance of the park via an unpaved road from Cambará do Sul (about 18km), and once there you will find a visitor’s centre and two short and easy hikes (2-3km each). The views are gorgeous and also include the Véu de Noiva waterfall.
As I visited the canyon in Rio Grande do Sul’s winter, it was pretty cold, windy and rainy – so the tiny café “Casa da Vovó” located in the park was a welcome stop. This wooden traditional house is owned by a local family, that has been living there from before the area became a national park. It’s worth it to have a coffee there, see how local families used to live, and warm up a little if you also visit the park in winter.
The second option to visit the canyon is to do it from below, via the Rio do Boi hike. This option really is for the adventurous and fit among us: it’s a challenging, 8-hour hike, but worth it. It’s best to book this hike with a tour guide, as it’s difficult to find the route and may also not be safe (the rocks are often loose, you’ll have to cross rivers and there is a risk of flooding when it rains). But – even though “everyone” says a guide is mandatory – officially you can enter the park from below without a guide. On its website, ICMBio (which manages the national parks) says a guide is optional. However, this is not known at the park entrance below. We had to call ICMBio and ask for a message of “proof” before the guard allowed us in. If you don’t speak Portuguese and are not an experienced hiker, I would not take this chance and book an official tour instead.
The park (and both its entrances) is closed on Mondays.
2. Fortaleza Canyon
This canyon is equally impressive, if only for the enormous cliffs that you’ll stand next to without any protection fences! The Fortaleza Canyon is located in the Serra Geral national park, which is also a short drive from Cambará do Sul. There is one main (not very long) hike which leads you to the top of the canyon, a platform where you will have spectacular views of the entire Fortaleza Canyon. This is at your own risk, as the cliffs are up to 900 meters high, and this park (unlike Aparados da Serra) lacks fences or other protection. There is no danger on the platform itself, but you should be careful walking close to the edges. There is also a short hike leading to a waterfall.
Tip: As both canyons are close to Cambará do Sul, it’s worth it to stay there and make the small city your base for a couple of days.
Gramado is often mentioned as one of the cities that you shouldn’t miss in Rio Grando do Sul. It is a cozy town with a strong European look; from the typical Alpine-countries’ houses to the chocolate and fondue that is being sold everywhere. Coming from Europe, I personally didn’t really love it – it was way too kitsch for me. However, I can understand why some might adore this cozy town in the mountains. For me it was a great opportunity to warm up after the cold days in Cambará do Sul. It was cold in Gramado as well, but at least they had proper heating 😉
Tip: We stayed in Veranda das Bromélias, a beautiful and cozy boutique hotel with fireplaces in the room.
Tip:Have dinner at the amazing Trattoria Boniatto – you’ll understand why this Italian restaurant gets a 4.9/5 on the internet. The food and service are absolutely wonderful, and it’s just a short stroll from Veranda das Bromélias.
4. Vale dos Vinhedos – the wine region of Rio Grande do Sul
It may come as a surprise to you that Brazil also produces wine! I’m not going to lie: the quality is not comparable to your average Argentinian to Chilean wine. I’m not a fan of Brazilian wines, although they do make some nice sparkling ones. However, it is worth it to visit the wine region in Rio Grande do Sul, for a drive through it’s green hills with cute, small houses and small vineyards, and for some wine-tasting and a good lunch. We had planned to have lunch at Casa Valduga (a wine producer), but it turned out it was a fixed, expensive menu with a lot of courses and wines. We just wanted something small and enjoy the scenery. So we opted for Leopoldina Jardim, a big garden where you can get food, buy wines, go for an icecream and listen to live music. Perfect.
Tip: Rent a car for your trip to Rio Grande do Sul, and do Vale dos Vinhedos as a stop on your trip to Cambará do Sul, for example, if you’re in a hurry. An afternoon for the wine valley is plenty of time, although you can also entertain yourself for a full day there and spend the night in a pousada.
5. Rio Grande do Sul’s capital: Porto Alegre
Coming into Rio Grande do Sul or leaving the state again, you’ll probably change flights in Porto Alegre, the state’s capital. I haven’t spend much time in Porto Alegre, except for two nights, but I did enjoy the city’s food scene. There’s also plenty to do for those who do stick around for a day: cathedrals, museum and tours. But my only recommendation would be The Raven restaurant: an absolutely fantastic Mediterranean restaurant with good wines, amazing service and a great atmosphere.
6. Cachoeira dos Venâncios
And lastly, and insider’s tip for the region. If you’re in or close to Cambará do Sul, make a quick stop at the Venâncios waterfall. Although maybe not the most beautiful waterfall you’ve ever seen, it is impressive and you can visit it at several points, and get very close. The waterfall is located on private property which is also worth a walk. After spending so much time in the tropics, I really loved the area for its pine forest and beautiful red mushrooms. The property charges a small fee, around R$20 per person, and there are no or very few tourists around. The waterfall is another short ride from Cambará do Sul.