Ecotourism in Brazil: Capitólio, Minas Gerais

Waterfalls, canyons, and outdoor adventure make Capitólio a must-see in South America

Text and photos by Ana Beatriz Marin

Travelers from all over the world, especially the ones seeking for ecotourism and outdoor adventure, start to hear about Capitólio, in Brazil. With 521 square kilometers of extension and just over 8,000 inhabitants, this small town, 284 kilometers away from Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais), attracts attention for its precious and magnificent natural landscapes. Located within the limits of the Serra da Canastra National Park, the town has absolutely stunning waterfalls, lagoons, and canyons.

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Going to waterfalls and lagoons are the main activities in Capitolio, Minas Gerais

Reaching them is not difficult. However, as all the attractions are located out of the town, it is necessary to go by car. But even if you have one, there are certain points that are only accessible by 4WD. In these cases, you have to hire rides with local guides, which is quite easy, because Capitólio is full of small tourism companies that are in charge of doing them. Usually, these rides are made with a minimum of three people.

The best time of the year to go

In the summer months (from the end of December to the end of March, in Brazil) it is when it rains the most. And if, on the one hand, that makes the waterfalls have more water, on the other it can harm some walks, since many roads are in poor condition. In July and August it does not usually rain and the temperatures are lower, which leaves the water colder. Perhaps, when it comes to the weather, the best time to go to Capitólio is in May, June, and September. 

I was there in June and it was perfect. Lower temperatures in the early morning and after 5 pm, and heat during the day. Sun, blue sky and no rain. The only thing is that, since we were in the low season and I was traveling alone, I had a little difficulty in closing the rides. But in the end, everything turned out fine.

The main attractions in Capitólio

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Mirante do Cânion, a 20-meter high canyon in Capitolio, Brazil

One of the most famous attractions in Capitólio is Mirante do Cânion. You can go by bus departing the city center, and it takes about 45 minutes. But you have to get off at the stop in front of the Ponte do Turvo (where the boats leave) and walk a bit. If you go by car, the better. 

From there, the view to the Lago de Furnas (an artificial lagoon that supplies the Furnas hydroelectric and is known as the “Sea of ​​Minas”, with no beach) is spectacular. To visit it, from 2019 you have to pay R$ 20 (around 4€). That is because the number of tourists in Capitólio has grown a lot. One of the guides told me that at the carnival last year, Mirante do Cânion received around 8,000 people in a single day. In other words, the same number of inhabitants that the city has. In order to better control the flow of people and offer more security, the mayor’s office decided that there would be a charge to visit the attractions. The values, however, are low. They cost between R$ 10 (2€) and R$ 45 (8€).

The complex known as Lagoa Azul (“blue lagoon”, waterfall and rock) is another of Capitólio’s beautiful attractions. It is one of the places where you can only get there by 4WD and is one of the most impressive that I have visited in the region. The enormous stone walls remind us that, for many years, it was a place of stone exploration. And the water, completely crystalline, invites you to swim…

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Lagoa Azul (blue lagoon) in Capitólio, Serra da Canastra National Park, in Brazil

The Capitólio companies responsible for the trips also offer boat trips, which can last four or eight hours (such as those made by car). The four-hour ones leave from the Ponte do Turvo and pass through the bottom of Mirante do Cânion (canyons are about 20 meters high), Lago de Furnas, Cascatinha, Vale do Tucano, Paraíso Perdido and Lagoa Azul. At some of these points, there is a bathroom stop. The eight-hour walks depart from the Escarpas do Lago, a well-off neighborhood far from the city center.

Food and accommodation

In general, when it comes to ecotourism, Capitólio is a sea of ​​beautiful and interesting possibilities. Accommodation and food, on the other hand, do not keep up the same level. They are pretty simple and serve their purpose. Nothing else. This is like this in the city center. If you go there with lower expectations, you will not have problems.

However, if you stay in Escarpas do Lago, the situation is different. As I have written before, being a well-off neighborhood, lodging and food have a better level. Everything will depend on what you are looking for. But be careful, you only get there by car. The bus station that serves Capitólio is located near the entrance of the city.

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How to get to Capitólio

Capitólio is in Minas Gerais, one of the main provinces in Brazil, in the Southern region, near Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. It is 270km from Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais.

For those who are not in Minas Gerais, one of the options to get to Capitólio is to take a plane to Belo Horizonte and, from there, rent a car or take the Viação Gardênia bus. The distance between the two cities is five hours (by bus). Keep in mind that Pampulha Airport is one hour from the center of Belo Horizonte, where the bus station is located.

For the rest, enjoy the adventure!

The author: Ana Beatriz Marin is a journalist and videographer that lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.