The Atlantic Forest Great Reserve or AFGR contains some of the best and most extensive examples of Atlantic forest in Brazil. Around 28% of the whole area is legally protected, including 25 nature reserves, covering some 470.000 ha, that are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This extensive network of protected areas is made up of national and state parks, plus several legally protected private reserves locally known as RPPNs (Private Natural Heritage Reserve). Altogether, they offer the best opportunity to maintain complete functional ecosystems, with all their native species, within the Atlantic Forest’s original range.
Sadly, several national and state parks within the AFGR suffer a dire lack of personnel, infrastructure and implementation. It is critical that we value and visit these parks in order to promote their proper management and long-term maintenance by proper authorities. On the other side, private reserves in Brazil play a significant role in improving the amount and quality of legally protected areas. AFGR stands out for having many high-quality private reserves.
Here is a selected list of public and private protected areas found within the AFGR:
Superagui (34.000 ha, Paraná State)
This coastal park includes areas of the rare restinga forest that grows over sand dunes, combined with sandy beaches, mangroves and lowland rainforest. It is the main stronghold to the critically endangered black-faced lion tamarin, and also protects the endemic red-tailed amazon. The park offers excellent opportunities to discover a pristine landscape of islands and mangroves inside the Paranagua bay, joined by miles of wild beaches. Superagüi also hosts some of the best examples of caiçara culture, which mixes Amerindian, African and European traditions adapted to these coastal environments.
Guaricana (49.300 ha, Paraná State)
This mountain park includes samples of lowland and montane forests, plus some of the best protected areas of shrubby montane savannas. Also, surrounding private properties still maintain well-conserved remnants of the highly endangered araucaria forest. Guaricana and neighboring Saint Hilaire-Lange national parks, offer the best refuge for large animals like jaguars, tapirs and white-lipped peccaries. Though it lacks infrastructure of public use, this park offers excellent opportunities for trekking and mountain biking. Guaricana also hosts a unique traditional community composed of guarani and kaingang Indians.
Saint Hilaire-Lange (49.300 ha, Paraná State)
This is the twin neighboring park to Guaricana, sharing its rugged character typical of the Serra da Prata. Compared to the former, it lacks the Araucaria trees that come from the Planalto or Central Highlands. However, it also includes good samples of pristine forests and montane savannas. With almost no infrastructure for public use, it can be accessed through the touristic beach town of Matinhos. Saint Hilaire-Lange provides excellent-quality water to the string of communities from Cabaraquara in the municipality of Guaratuba to the city of Paranaguá.
Bom Jesus Biological Reserve (34.180 ha, Paraná State)
This vast and understaffed park conserves the lowland and mid-elevation forests of the Northern side of the Paranagua bay. It also includes significant mangrove areas. Presently it has no public use or management facilities and seems to suffer significant extractive pressure from neighboring communities. A small guaraní community lives within this reserve.
Carlos Botelho (37.644 ha, São Paulo State)
This park covers a steep and mountainous area with altitudes ranging from 50 to 975 meters. The vegetation is mainly montane and submontane rainforest, with small areas of alpine meadows and dense lowland rainforest in the areas below 50 meters. Besides such large mammals as jaguars, tapirs, cougars and white-lipped peccaries, Carlos Botelho contains more than half of Brazil’s remaining population of endangered southern muriqui, the largest primate in the Americas other than man. This park also holds a small population of the endangered black lion tamarin. It has very good facilities for public use, including a very well-designed and maintained road that crosses the park. The park headquarters in São Miguel Arcanjo has an Environmental Education Center with a Zoology Museum and a library with publications on ecology, animals and plants.
Alto Ribeira Tourist State Park or PETAR (35.700 ha, São Paulo State)
PETAR is mostly famous for its caves, of which there are more than 300 surveyed. It also includes many waterfalls, trails and archaeological and paleontological sites. There are four visitor centers and an extensive offer of trails and activities which are offered by local guides. Wildlife is abundant and easy to see, being most famous for the sighting of bellbirds (Procnias nudicollis) and nesting ornate hawk-eagles (Spizaetus ornatos). The area also harbors muriqui monkeys, jaguars, tapirs and other large mammals. Quilombola communities live in the park surroundings, where they keep much of their traditional way of life.
Intervales (41,700 ha, São Paulo State)
Like in the previous two state parks, its terrain is mountainous, with altitudes from 900 to 1.200 meters. Intervales is especially famous as a bird-watching haven close to São Paulo city. This park has good infrastructure for public use and management, including four lodgings with a capacity of 100 guests, a restaurant, an environmental monitoring center, soccer fields, a playground, housing for researchers and staff residences.
Ilha do Cardoso (13.500 ha, São Paulo State)
This island park conserves excellent samples of rainforest, restinga and pristine beaches. Close to the beautiful colonial town of Cananéia, it is an excellent site to see the coastal Guiana dolphin (Sotalia guinaensis). There are six communities of caiçaras in the park, with about 465 residents. They are strongly influenced by indigenous culture, and have developed an accurate knowledge of nature. They are mainly fishermen, though they also gain significant income from tourism. The park has its headquarters in Perequê, where there is a visitor center, a waterfront kiosk on the Praia de Itacuruçá, and several trails. The traditional fishing village of Marujá also has trails that lead to waterfalls and fountains. Boats may be hired for trips to other parts of the island and hikes on trails, where visitors must be accompanied by monitors.
Lagamar de Cananéia (40,760 ha, São Paulo State)
This rugged and mostly inaccessible park falls from the mountains of Serra do Mar to the Iguape-Cananéia-Paranaguá estuary lagoon complex, one of the largest breeding grounds for South Atlantic marine species. It protects montane, submontane and lowland rainforests. With adjacent Superagui National Park, it serves as main habitat for the endemic and critically endangered black-faced lion tamarin, and also keeps nesting groups of the endemic red-tailed amazon. It has no facilities for public use, though it can be visited from the community of Ariri, where experienced local guides offer visits to track the beautiful tamarins.
Das Lauráceas (30.001 ha, Paraná State)
Close to the border with São Paulo state, this mountain park presents similar habitats to Carlos Botelho, PETAR and Intervales. However, Lauráceas has the unique presence of patches of araucarias and a high diversity of trees belonging to the Lauraceae family. This wild and beautiful park is undergoing structuring to receive visitors. Nowadays, only researchers know it. The area has some surveyed caves and a short but pretty trail that leads into the forest from the headquarters. Its park rangers come from neighboring quilombola communities, storing a wealth of traditional knowledge on how to live in the rainforest.
Pico Paraná (4.334 ha, Paraná State)
The Pico Paraná is the highest point in the south of Brazil at 1.877 meters above sea level. It adjoins the Graciosa State Park to the south and the Roberto Ribas Lange State Park to the north. The area conserves good samples of montane and semi-montane forests and some patches of montane grasslands. This is one of the most visited areas for mountain trekking in Southern Brazil. It takes four to ten hours to walk from the underdeveloped park entrance to the different alternative summits included within this park. Visitors must be in good physical condition.
Pico do Marumbi (8.745 ha, Paraná State)
The Marumbi Massif is located inside the state park, a complex with eight peaks with varying degrees of difficulty. As in the Pico Paraná State Park, climbing these peaks can be challenging, and it is advisable to employ an experienced guide. The park has a free camping area beside the forest police post, with toilets and showers. There is a museum with pictures, artifacts and maps about the conquest of the peak. It offers spectacular views to the vast Bay of Paranagua and the core of the Atlantic Forest Great Reserve.
Ilha do Mel State Park and Ecological Station (2.540 ha, Paraná State)
The Ilha do Mel Ecological Station covers the northern part of the Ilha do Mel island, sited in the municipality of Paranaguá. The ecological station is the more strictly protected of two conservation units on the island, the other being the Ilha do Mel State Park, which covers 393 ha and is sited on the southern part of the island. Both protected areas include samples of lowland rainforest, restingas, salt marshes and pristine beaches. Ilha do Mel also harbors archeological sites like the sambaquis (i.e. middens) made of sea-shells used by prehistoric groups. There are landing piers at Encantadas and at Nova Brasília, which includes the lighthouse and the fort. Visitors may bring bicycles, but no motorized vehicles are allowed.
Acaraí (6.667 ha, Santa Catarina State)
This park lies on the coastal plain of the island of São Francisco, and includes the Tamboretes archipelago. It protects one of the most important continuous remnants of coastal ecosystems in the state, the Praia Grande restinga. Besides such coastal habitats as restinga and mangroves, the park is predominantly covered by dense lowland rainforest, with some dense submontane rainforest on two small, isolated elevations. Acaraí is very close to the beautiful historic town of São Francisco do Sul and its neighboring touristic beaches. As a result of this, in the high season of summer the park suffers of intensive use by tourists who ride trail bikes and drive jeeps through the dunes.
Legado das Águas (31.000 ha, São Paulo State)
The largest private reserve of the Atlantic Forest, managed by Votorantim Reserves, aims to show the value of the standing forest, proving that it is possible to generate responsible businesses in protected areas, which guarantee the maintenance of the area itself and foster new local productive chains. Works assisting the socioeconomic development of the municipalities where it operates, generating shared value for the company and society.
Salto Morato (2.340 ha, Paraná State)
This private reserve was created by the Boticario Foundation to protect lowland submontane and montane forests. It also protects local landmarks such as the Garacuí and Morato mountains and the Salto Morato waterfall, with a height of about 120 metres. The area is open to the public and its excellent facilities include interpretive trails, a visitor center, kiosks, camping, lodging for researchers, a research center and a laboratory. Through intensive collaboration with researchers, two new species of fish and a new species of three-toed frog have been identified in the area. It lies quite close to the the historic town of Guaraqueçaba, founded in 1545.
Guaricica, Das Águas and Papagaio-de-cara-roxa reserves (19.021 ha, Paraná State)
These three private reserves were established by the SPVS (Society for Wldlife Research and Environmental Education) foundation as part of a ecological restoration program from former water-buffalo ranches and to mitigate climate change. They provide critical ecological connectivity and protection to the adjacent understaffed Bom Jesus Biological Reserve, conserving significant samples of mangroves and lowland and montane forests. Their facilities provide training to local youths on environmental issues and entrepreneurship, carry out ecological research and promote local sustainable business like honey production. Guaricica and Das Aguas reserves lie very close to the historic cities of Morretes and Antonina, offering excellent opportunities for ecotourism.
Trápaga Reserve (70 ha, Sao Paulo)
Located in the municipality of São Miguel Arcanjo, this private reserve is part of Fazenda Elgueiro and is managed by the Manacá Institute, an NGO dedicated to the protection of the Atlantic Forest. Being directly adjacent to important protected areas such as the Carlos Botelho State Park, it is part of the Vale das Arapongas ecotourism circuit. This area is home to several endangered species, including the endangered black-tailed tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysopygus). Tapirs are often seen, and it is open for birdwatching, counting with more than 219 registered species. The area also organizes training courses on conservation and field biology.
Sebuí Ecological Reserve (400 ha, Paraná)
Created in 1999, this reserve offers several activities to the visitor. Its only access is by boat from the Paranaguá bay, either from the municipality of Guaraqueçaba or the city of Paranaguá. Its isolation and is one of the main attractions, as well as the great diversity of fauna and flora. Visitors can visit different creeks, play outdoor sports like trekking and kayaking, enjoy the beautiful waterfalls, and slide on a zip line that is 60 meters long with 20 meters of slope. Rustic lodging is also one of its charms.
Volta Velha Reserve (876 ha, Santa Catarina)
Created in 1992 by the Machado Family, it is the oldest protected area in Itapoá and protects one of the last remnants of lowland rainforest on the northern coast of Santa Catarina. This private reserve promotes ecotourism, environmental education, and wildlife research, as well as the preservation of biodiversity. The Volta Velha Reserve is internationally known for birdwatching, receiving foreign and national visitors attracted by the exuberant local avifauna, with about 300 registered species. Its management is shared with ADEA – Association of Defense and Environmental Education.
Photography by Zig Koch, Luiz Faraco, Rubens Matsushita, Dep. de Geografia/UFPR, PE Carlos Botelho, Sergio Ravacci, João P. Burini, Guilherme de Camargo Vasconcellos, Projeto Toninhas, Luciano Candisani, Ricardo Borges, Reginaldo Ferreira, Hiago Ermenegildo, RPPN Sebuí & Rubens Vandresen