Planes, trains and scarlet ibis - Ed in southern Brazil
In September, I headed to southern Brazil to visit the colonial cities, Atlantic rainforest and picture-postcard beaches of Paraná state. From Sao Paulo, I flew to the regional capital Curitiba to take the Serra Verde Express, one of the most impressive train journeys in South America. The train cuts a dizzying trail through mountains and Brazilian monkey puzzle trees (araucaria angustifolia) before dropping into steamy Atlantic forest that surrounds the sleepy, colonial town of Morretes. Morretes is a popular weekend retreat though I was more drawn to the faded grandeur of Antonina close by, a decaying port overlooking the pretty Paranagua Bay with crumbling colonial facades and where the original locomotives are slowly rusting away at the abandoned station - wonderfully photogenic! Accommodation is generally very simple geared to the local market though just outside Molletes is the Santuario Nhundiaquara, a comfortable jungle-style resort.
From Morretes, I took a boat trip across the bay to the Superagui National Park to stay at Sebui Lodge, my favourite part of the whole trip! Surrounded by dense Atlantic rainforest, this unique ecological reserve encompasses mountains, waterfalls, forest and coast and is wonderful for wildlife, especially birds. You can swim in crystal clear pools, kayak through the mangroves and visit the surrounding villages (sampling the local oysters as you go!). After the rain forest it was time for the beach and so I headed to the Ihla do Mel, a pretty island a short boat ride away. Once a haven for hippies and surfers, the island now offers a good mix of simple pousadas and I particularly liked the Grajagan Surf resort and the colourful, family-run Las Meninas. Beaches aside, there are plenty of activities on offer from surfing and biking to visiting the historic fortress and lighthouse. Best of all, there are no cars making this a great destination for families.
Returning by boat to Paranagua, I was driven back to Curitiba for a flight to Iguassu. After a quick stop at the falls (truly stunning even though this now was my fourth visit!), I decided to nip across the border into Argentina to explore the sub-tropical rainforest of Misiones which surrounds the national park. My destination was Yacutinga, a unique jungle lodge and private reserve which sits on a peninsula on the Paraná river facing Brazil. Though the forest is dubbed interior Atlantic rainforest, this is a world away from Sebui and home to quite different species of flora and fauna. Designed and built by the owner Carlos Sandoval, the lodge itself has its own quirky design and is ideal for those looking for an authentic wildlife experience away from the hustle and bustle of Iguassu. There are a number of trails to explore with a guide, including a small wooden canopy walkway as well as boat-trips along the river's narrow tributaries. My visit coincided with a group of regional guides who had all travelled to the lodge for training on butterflies, truly fascinating especally as I quickly acquired guinea pig status. It is not often I have nine guides fighting over me, each trying to out-explain the other. In fact, never before have I felt so proud of not knowing anything!
Brazil is a huge country with a daunting range of tourist attractions that so often entail long flights involving several connections. However, what I liked most about Paraná state is this great combination of colonial towns, Atlantic rainforest, stunning train journeys and beautiful beaches (not to forget mighty Iguassu of course!) all contained within a relatively small corner of the country. Great for families and better still, by removing all the huge distances, this is excellent value for money!