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One of the World’s Most Important Coastal Ecosystems: Paraná, Brazil

By Guilherme Mendes Thomaz@guimendesthomaz

This article was first published at the The Travel Word, who have agreed to its republication here. View the original article on The Travel Word.

Curitiba, the capital of the Brazilian state of Paraná, is the biggest city in Southern Brazil. It has the country’s eighth largest urban population, approximately 3.2 million people spread across 26 municipalities. It is also an important cultural, political and economic centre in Brazil.

Curitiba, the capital of the Brazilian state of Paraná, is the biggest city in Southern Brazil. It has the country’s eighth largest urban population, approximately 3.2 million people spread across 26 municipalities. It is also an important cultural, political and economic centre in Brazil.

"Vista panorâmica de Curitiba, da Torre daOI/Brasil Telecom"

From Curitiba's Telecom/Ol Tower, there is an unbeatable 360-degree panoramic view. There is also a telephone museum in the lower levels that attracts numerous visitors to this part of Brazil. Photo courtesy of Laura Lott from Flickr/whltravel

Despite its size, Curitiba is considered by some people to be an ‘unknown’ destination, especially when compared to São Paulo, Rio de JaneiroSalvador and other cities in Northeast Brazil. What most travellers do not even imagine is the exuberant flora and fauna found in the city and its surrounding areas, especially the wonderful islands on Paraná’s coastline.

Curitiba is located in an ‘ombrophilous mixed forest’ area also known as Araucaria moist forest, a sub-type of the Mata Atlântica or Atlantic Forest. The city is therefore fittingly famous for its green areas, like the Botanical Gardens and three greenhouses used for the annual production of native and exotic tree species, fruit plants and flower seedlings. Elsewhere there are thick populations of purple and yellow ipês (tabebuia) and Paraná or Brazilian pine (Araucaria angustifolia).

Biodiversity by Rail

To reach Paraná’s coast from Curitiba, you can go by car or take one of the most exciting train tours in the world across the Serra do Mar, one of the best-preserved Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest areas.

The incredible ecosystems of between Curitiba and Parana's Coast glide by during the train trip across the Serra do Mar, one of Brazil's best preserved Atlantic Rainforest areas. Photo courtesy of Carlos Renato Fernandes

Along the 110 kilometres of rail, the train traverses 14 tunnels, 30 bridges, and several mountains and viaducts. One highlight is the Viaduto do Carvalho, a segment of rail suspended on five masonry pillars above a hillside of rock; you almost feel like you are flying. Another unforgettable sight is a 70-metre waterfall called Véu da Noiva, which means ‘bride’s veil.’

Once you arrive in Morretes or Paranaguá, two historical and colonial towns located on the Paraná coast, you aren’t far from amazing landscapes, rich animal and vegetation biodiversity, spectacular bends, canyons, gorges, waterfalls and a lot more. You will also find the piers mooringboats to Superagui National Park and Ilha do Mel State Park and Ecological Station. Both are gorgeous islands offering up-close contact with the environment of the region, each of them with its own characteristics and peculiarities.

Ilha do Mel State Park and Ecological Station

Ilha do Mel is carpeted by the Atlantic Forest and home to two conservation units devoted to preserving the natural environment of the island. The Ecological Station covers approximately 95% of the island, focusing on scientific research and environmental educational. In addition to similar pursuits, the Ilha do Mel State Park is also open to the public for leisure and tourism.

Ilha do Mel, PR: Praia de Fora vista do Farol das Conchas

The Praia de Fora beach catches late afternoon light on the Ilha do Mel, a favourite island and state park on Paraná's Coast of Brazil. There is a strong focus on environmental preservation and education, as well as scientific research, but also public visitation, leisure and tourism. Photo courtesy of Guilherme Mendes Thomaz

The island is a perfect destination for hikers, bikers, surfers, nature lovers and anyone who just wants to relax and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Beautiful beaches, rich flora and fauna, mangroves, lagoons, swamps and other interesting attractions such as the Fortress Nossa Senhora dos Prazeres, the Lighthouse Farol das Conchas and Encantadas’s Grotto have turned the paradisiacal isle into one of the most visited places in Southern Brazil.

Superagui National Park

In 1989, environmental activism resulted in the creation of Superagui National Park, 21,400 protected hectares that are considered by the UN as one of the most important coastal ecosystems in the world. The park was also been declared by UNESCO a Biosphere Reserve in 1991 and a World Heritage Site in 1999.

Superagui National Park includes Ilha do Superagui and other small islands on Paraná’s coast such as Ilha das Peças, Ilha de Pinheiro, Ilha do Pinheirinho and some contiguous continental areas like the Rio dos Patos and Canal do Varadouro. Bays, beaches, mangroves and abundant Atlantic Forest compose the Superagui National Park ecosystem.

The lush vegetation of Brazil's Parana Coast, seen here at Superagui National Park, is why the area is considered by the UN as one of the most important coastal ecosystems in the world

The park is the natural habitat of a multitude of animal and plant species, some of them rare or endangered, such as the red-tailed Amazon (Amazona brasiliensis), the broad-snouted caiman(Caiman latirostris), the cougar (Felis concolor), the brown howler monkey (Alouatta fusca) and the Superagui lion tamarin (Leontopithecus caissara). This last one is a monkey species only been found on Superagui Island. Agoutis, deers, wild pigs, toucans, marine birds, jararaca and coral venomous snakes, among other animals, can also be found in the region.

On Ilha do Pinheiro, the roosting habits of the red-tailed Amazons are a strong draw. These endemic birds leave their nests in the morning to fly to the larger islands and then on to the continent, where they spend long daytime hours. They then flock by the hundreds back to the island at the end of the day, a natural spectacle not to be missed.

Another appealing animal is seen on the way to the park are dolphins. Wherever you end up, you are close enough to Baía dos Golfinhos (Dolphins Bay) at Ilha das Peças that you could see many groups of them. A dolphin-watching jaunt on Dolphins Bay is certainly a must-do when you go to Ilha do Mel State Park or Superagui National Park.

Along Paraná's Coast of Brazil, the endangered endemic red-tailed Amazon, or papagaio de cara roxa, perform their spectacular daily migration from Praia Deserta beach to the mainland and back. Photo courtesy of Guilherme Mendes Thomaz

There are also human settlements in the area, like the small fishermen communities on Ilha das Peças and Ilha do Superagui, where they run other businesses, such as pousadas and guesthouses, camping grounds, bars and restaurants. These locals live a life in sync with nature; unlike their counterparts on Ilha do Mel, Superagui locals also have less access to new technologies, which means that traditional costumes and dances, like the fandango(Paraná Coast’s popular dance), are preserved for future generations. Public access to the park is restricted, so you can only visit the communities, the beaches and their immediate surroundings.

The greatest land attraction of Superagui National Park is Praia Deserta, a 38-kilometre-long desert beach that can only be appreciated on foot (a four- to seven-hour hike) or by bicycle (rentals are available in the park).

For more about the wild nature, rich fauna and flora of Brazil’s Paraná Coast, contact Special Paraná, your whl.travel local connection in Curitiba and Paraná’s Coast, also an expert on the area’s accommodation, tours, activities and loads of local hints.

Guilherme Mendes Thomaz

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Filed under Ilha do Mel, Morretes, Paranaguá, Pictures, Superagui Island, Tours, Tours in Curitiba, Tours in Morretes, Tours in Paranaguá, Train Tour from Curitiba to Morretes, Train Tour from Curitiba to Paranaguá, Travel Tips

Vila Velha State Park, Brazil: Curious and Very Interesting Sandstone Formations!

By Guilherme Mendes Thomaz@guimendesthomaz

Nowadays, closing a vulnerable area can not be the best way to protect it. This idea has increased between managers and environmentalists – especially when the degradation agents (even unintentional) are the local communities. Opening the protected area for visitors and allowing the tourism activity to explore these areas of environmental protection will cause impacts like garbage, depredation, the habit to take “natural souvenirs” home, etc. However, if the visitation is well planned, developed and managed it can surely bring lots of benefits to the protected area.

Several areas in the Brazilian state of Paraná adopted this idea and are now using the income provided by the tourism activity to preserve the environment and also as an alternative for those who are considered illegal habitants on these areas.

Parque-Estadual-de-Vila-Velha-Vila-Velha-State-Park-Paraná-Brazil

"The Goblet" is the symbol of Vila Vleha State Park

A clear exemple is the Parque Estadual de Vila Velha or Vila Velha State Park. The park covers 40% of its operational costs revenue with the fee charged to visit the park (R$13 National visitors and R$25 for International visitors). In addition, the local demand leads the public power to invest more in infrastructure, as safe trails and bathrooms. “The tourist demand helps a lot in the financial and economical aspect and at the same time requires more investment. Equipments are required aiming to minimize the impact caused by visitors, especially a place filled of vulnerable elements as Vila Velha State Park”, emphasizes Maria Randall Dalcomune, coordinator of Vila Velha State Park.

VILA VELHA STATE PARK

Vila Velha State Park or Parque Estadual de Vila Velha is located about 90km (55 miles) from Curitiba. The park was created in 1953 and was listed as a State heritage in 1966. The park is famous because of its intriguing, curious and very interesting sandstone formations rise from fields which were at the bottom of an ocean 600 million years ago.

Volcanic eruptions, glaciation, and erosion by wind and rain have created over 20 gigantic shapes of a camel, a sphynx, a goblet and many others. The Goblet is a key element in an indigenous myth which explains the creation of Vila Velha. Seen from a distance or from the air, Vila Velha reminds a medieval town, standing majestic in the Paraná region of Campos Gerais.

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Furnas at Vila Velha State Park, Paraná - Brazil

At Vila Velha State Park you can also visit Furnas, craters which formed as sandstone collapsed and where water accumulates forming beautiful water mirrors. Of the two craters known as Hell’s Cauldrons, the most attractive to visitors is the deeper one, in which a panoramic elevator goes down to a deck above the water mirror.

Lagoa-Dourada-Parque-Estadual-de-Vila-Velha-State-Park-Golden-Pond

The Golden Pond

Golden Pond or Lagoa Dourada is another tourist attraction in the park. A similar process to the creation of the craters gave origin to the Golden Pond or Lagoa Dourada, so called because the incidence of solar rays on it used to create a bright, golden effect, thanks to the presence of mica on the bottom.

You can cover all the attractions in half a day, making Vila Velha State Park a very attractive day trip from Curitiba. Check out the Vila Velha and Furnas tour and book it online now!

The park is open all year, daily (except for Tuesdays) from 8:30 to 15:30h

References:

http://gobrazil.about.com/od/ecotourismadventure/p/vilavelhastpark.htm

http://www.adeturlitoral.com.br/br/?pg=noticia&id=578

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A Green City: Parks in Curitiba, Brazil

This post was first published on the City Parks Blog – http://cityparksblog.org

One of the most well regarded world cities in terms of urban planning is Curitiba, Brazil — a place known for its efficient and innovative bus rapid transit system. But the city is also known for its parks, in particular using them to increase quality of life and act as green infrastructure to protect against floods.

tanguá_park_curitiba_brazil

Tanguá Park, Curitiba

The city has about 50 square meters of parkland per person (i.e. 12 acres per 1000), most of which were created in the last 30 years under the direction of forward-looking urban planner/former mayor Jaime Lerner. The protected land is complemented by compact housing, as the city of 1.5 million has a population density of 10,750 per square mile (which is around the same as Philadelphia or Washington, D.C.).

tingui_park_curitiba_brazil

Ukranian Memorial - Tingui Park

Roughly 21 million square meters (5,190 acres) are linear parks along rivers and streams that act as buffers between flood-prone rivers and the city. Legislation set aside certain low-lying areas and river basins as special protection and management areas. The city also used a loan to purchase land at a number of critical sites around the city. Engineers built small damns and created new lakes that act as holding basins when flooding occurs.

botanical_garden_jardim_botanico_curitiba_brazil

Botanical Garden

In effect, these green spaces are giant stormwater facilities, with the lakes as central features. If rains are heavy, the lake rises over the surrounding parks. And Lerner and parks director Hitochi Nakamura made sure to connect places to one another (as mentioned in the below linked video). Together they helped create over 90 miles of new trails within the city, located in southern Brazil about 250 miles southwest of São Paulo.

barigui_park_parque_barigui_curitiba_brazil

Barigui Park

Much has been done to document what’s occurred in Curitiba. A nice 15-minute video (YouTube) by Journeyman Productions gives a good overview, and includes interviews with both Lerner and Nakamura. (The segment on parks starts just after the seven-minute mark.) Another good resource on all of the planning efforts and problems that persist in the city is the book, Urban Renewal, Municipal Revitalization: the Case of Curitiba Brazil.

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“Curitiba: A green miracle in a developing country” By Daniela Ochoa Gonzalez

Developed and developing nations are being challenged more than ever to provide a good quality of life for their inhabitants while coping with population growth. Curitiba, the most environmentally friendly city in Brazil, is flourishing by meeting these needs. Through embracing sustainable development, it has become an important reference among these communities in terms of planning, public policies, and successful strategy implementation towards environmental sustainability. With 1.7 million residents, Curitiba has grown through calm, harmonic urban solutions that respect individuals and cultures and preserve the environment while sustaining its cosmopolitan cultural identity. This setting makes Curitiba an example for the rest of the world.

How Curitiba got there

Most of the policies that transformed Curitiba into a model of environmental sustainability were initiated by Jaime Lerner, Mayor of Curitiba during Brazil’s military regime in the late 1980s. He and a working team designed and implemented the urban master plan, which included integrated initiatives of green areas, waste recycling, and transportation projects. Today, the public transport system accommodates 2 million passengers daily and is the main source of transportation for 54 percent of the city. Most Curitiba citizens embrace the city’s commitment to environmental responsibility as part of their collective subconscious. The exhaustive marketing and educational campaigns that were carried out during the military regime have been maintained and reinforced during the democratic mandates that have followed. Citizens have incorporated environmental awareness as part of their lifestyle.

Curitiba started its green transformation with the development of an integrated plan for basic sanitation and environmental preservation. When in the early 1970s the United Nations declared that every urban inhabitant should have a minimum of twelve square meters of green area, Curitiba had only a half-square meter per inhabitant. The city implemented various strategic changes, and today the green area per inhabitant is fifty-one square meters. Through land expropriation, the city government offered new sport and leisure spaces while preventing illegal land occupation by those without explicit right to the property. They also created ponds and lakes by containing rainwater at a cost fifty times less than a typical channel network.

 These green areas are spread among thirty forests and parks that have become highly valued meeting points for the population. Several of them are allusive to important local history, honoring the arrival of immigrants and the native habitants, the Tingui Indians. Because immigration contributes to the multicultural accent and development of the region, Curitiba’s green spaces represent its culture with free public libraries of various languages and open spaces that host annual cultural and gastronomic celebrations. The authoritarian government, which reigned from 1964 to 1985, sustained Lerner’s foresight, but the successes of his administration ultimately led to his democratic reelection.

Additional projects improved the strategic use of the extensive green areas in an inclusive way. UNILIVRE, the free university for the environment, is the first of its kind in the Americas. UNILIVRE holds workshops for environmental awareness and education for people of all ages, backgrounds and socioeconomic conditions.

Keeping it clean through sustainable waste management

 A few of Curitiba’s most notable successes are its solid waste management and recycling programs. The city established an industrial landfill through a public-private partnership near the assigned industrial development area. At the landfill site, they neutralize toxic waste (such as batteries) and reuse other materials for cement production. Additionally, they collect and process cooking oil to be reused for soaps and fuel. Finally, they introduced a particular process for clinical and hospital waste to be sterilized before being sent to the organic landfills.

 Curitiba was the first city in the country to practice selective garbage collection by separating organic from inorganic waste. The municipal service collects an average of 1200 tons of organic waste and thirty tons of recyclable materials daily, and independent collectors gather an additional forty-five tons of recyclables daily. Through “Cambio Verde” (green exchange program) another thirteen-and-a-half tons are exchanged. This program exchanges four kilograms of recyclable material for one kilogram of food at over eighty-eight points in the city twice a week.

Recyclables are a profitable source of income not just for the lowest quintile of the local society, but also for the other stakeholders in the recycling system. The majority of the collected materials are donated to the Pro-Citizenship Institute (Instituto Pro Cidadania de Curitiba, or IPCC), a local NGO. IPPC separates, compacts, and sells the material to surrounding recycling factories, giving a source of income to over sixty employees.

Another group that benefits from municipal assistance with recyclable material are the “ecociudadanas” cooperatives. The city provides groups of twenty to twenty-five citizens, mostly women, with a physical space to keep, select, compress and sell the recyclable materials they collect. This system allows them able to double and sometimes triple their regular income while also obtaining healthcare, childcare, and education access for them and their children. As of July 2008 nine ecociudadano cooperative groups existed, and given their successes, the local government is continuously opening more.

Application to other cities

The most likely obstacles that other local governments will face while trying to integrate these policies in their municipalities are budget restrictions. Surprisingly, the expenses for such a progressive system are relatively limited. In 2006, expenditures for the Environmental Department represented just 1.4 percent of Curitiba’s annual budget. However, the annual expenditures for urban development and education were 39.8 percent and 18 percent of the annual budget for Curitiba, respectively. Sustainable planning requires a willingness to invest and cooperate with the private sector, and Curitiba demonstrates how this commitment efficiently promotes environmental preservation.

Curitiba is far from being an ecologic sanctuary, but the “green” attitude of Curitibans has taken them in a positive direction and has transformed the city into an important reference worldwide, inviting others to be creative and value citizens’ input as a priority for environmental conservation. Curitiba, along with other cities such as Portland, OR (USA), Geneva (Switzerland) and many others as in Germany and Sweden, is a living model for other cities that want to implement sustainable living policies. As a blossoming city in a developing country, Curitiba is an inspiration for other cities in this context to overcome economic resource constrains and address the same sustainable challenges.

Daniela Ochoa Gonzalez is a 2009 MPA Candidate in CIPA concentrating in environmental policy.

Check out the tour “Curitiba like locals: Urban Planing”, a  private tour where visitors can have the chance to see how locals use the great Curitibas’s public transportation system  and also get more information how Curitiba developed it in the last decades. Well recomended!

Click here to book this tour online! Check other Curitiba tours at www.curitiba-travel.com.br

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Sweet and Natural as Honey: Brazil’s Ilha do Mel

By Maureen Valentine

This article was first published at the whl.travel blog, who have agreed to its republication here. View the original article on the whl.travel blog.

Found off the coast of southeast Brazil, Ilha do Mel, which means Honey Island, is about as far from life’s chaos as serene nature can get. Hikers, surfers, bird watchers, stargazers and nature lovers alike are in awe of all that this little Atlantic island has to offer. In fact, many agree that Brazil’s most pristine beaches are located right here, where, until the 1970s, the local economy was dominated by fishermen and the lack of traffic spared the land as an ecotourism haven.

haha

As Ilha do Mel is an island of fishermen, this colourful pier is always full of activity. Sampling the abundance of seafood available in the eateries from the daily catches is always a treat.

As Ilha do Mel is an island of fishermen, this colourful pier is always full of activity. Sampling the abundance of seafood available in the eateries from the daily catches is always a treat.

Ilha do Mel is hardly a mass tourism destination, which is one of the things the locals and visitors love about it. Recently reconnected with the mainland –  electricity was introduced in 1998, as were regular boat shuttles, water pipes and other eco-friendly amenities – the island today is fortunately still car-free, a sandy knot of trails crisscrossing an ecological reserve protected by strict regulations on guesthouses, restaurants, stores and tourism. Even better, one guiding principle on the island – a long-term one – is to preserve the environment in its unspoiled state.

Building and Supporting Sustainable Infrastructure

Ilha do Mel is a relative newcomer as a tourism destination and is actively fine-tuning its infrastructure. Efforts are also being made to educate local business owners about business improvement opportunities that tap into tourism as a force for long-term sustainability and an improved standard of living.

Boats are a common sight around this oddly shaped island, since they are the only form of motorised transport. Travellers must reach the island by boat and can walk its expanses, taking in all the magnificent views.

Ilha do Mel boats

Boats are a common sight around this oddly shaped island, since they are the only form of motorised transport. Travellers must reach the island by boat and can walk its expanses, taking in all the magnificent views.

Within this framework, some guidance is being offered by Discover Paraná, the whl.travel local connection on Ilha do Mel, in cooperation with Sebrae, a non-governmental organisation that contributes to the sustainable development of communities by offering to micro and small enterprises the conditions necessary for their survival.

“Our main focus on Ilha do Mel is to train the local guesthouse owners,” explained Bibiana from Discover Paraná. “Together with Sebrae, we take part in meetings. On these occasions we explain to entrepreneurs what the Internet is, how Internet bookings can help them, how they can reach clients, what clients expect from them etc. Building up the entrepreneurs we will build up the destination, as they will be more aware about what they can do. With this done, a change in the destination will be a natural process.”

One local guesthouse owner, Carlos, is a community leader and involved with many programs, like the Ministry of Tourism’s ‘Bem Receber‘, which educates and incentivises entrepreneurs to create and run projects relating to responsible tourism, including water and energy saving, staff education and training, waste recycling and more. As a result of his participation in this program, Carlos’ pousada, Enseada das Conchas, as well as another lodge called Fim da Trilha, have succeeded in reducing the accommodations’ waste production. Travellers staying in these inviting, locally owned Ilha do Mel hotels and guesthouses are rewarded with the knowledge that efforts are being made to minimise the environmental impact their stay is having on the surrounding gorgeous gardens.

Getting Practical

Ilha do Mel is accessible only by boat from Paranaguá or Pontal do Sul. From Pontal do Sul, the 30-minute service runs every hour in low season, every 30 minutes otherwise. Cars can be left in Pontal do Sul, in parking lots from which public transport buses easily reach the dock. After 5pm, private boat transport must be arranged.

From Paranaguá, boats depart for the 90-minute crossing two to five times per day, depending on the season. The boat owners are organised in an association and all tickets include the price of the return trip, as well as a nature conservation fee of approximately US$2 dollars. All passengers arriving from Pontal do Sul must produce a badge showing that the fee has been paid.

pousadailhadomel_fortress_fortaleza

This fortress was built by the Dutch in 1767 to ward off English buccaneers. Its whitewashed walls are quite a remarkable site and tourists are welcome to peruse the dark, dreary jail, which is quite a contrast to the beauty of the rest of the island.

Upon arrival at the island’s dock, several men wearing uniforms (t-shirts) wait to assist travellers with luggage. Their services are priced at fixed rates, depending on the location of the guesthouse; haggling is not usual in Brazil. These helpers are also organised in an association and only the next worker in line is able to take luggage, a very helpful service for guests who don’t know their way around the island and will have difficulty toting their bags through the sand.

Travellers who can get by with a little Portuguese will find that guesthouse owners are more than willing to lead personalised Ilha do Mel tours that bring to life their little paradise in the Atlantic. Others will simply take pleasure in exploring the bountiful jungle or strolling along pristine, sandy beaches. Surf enthusiasts will find all their needs met by Fernando (from Pousada Treze Luas) and Zeco (from Grajagan Surf Resort), experienced surf instructors with boards for rent or lessons to teach.

The local cuisine is all about fish and seafood. Try the best of it at Mar e Sol, where the ‘Prato Surfista’ is highly recommended.

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