A complete guide for hiking in Serra da Bocaina National Park, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

When I first read in Lonely Planet about the possibility of hiking the Gold Trail in Serra da Bocaina National Park  I got really excited. The idea of spending several days walking through pristine Atlantic rainforest in Rio state countryside sounded like an amazing adventure.

I usually travel on a budget and try to avoid hiring guides, so I can be free to explore places in my own pace. However, when I started looking for practical information on how to do the Gold Trail in Serra da Bocaina independently, I could barely find anything written in English.

Since I’m Brazilian, it was not a problem to read information in Portuguese, but I’d like to share my experience in English so that foreigners can also appreciate this amazing park in Brazil. I know it can be hard to find reliable information about less travelled hiking trails and parks – especially in countries where you do not speak the local language – so here you have a guide based on the online information available in Portuguese and on my personal experience hiking in this incredible and off the beaten track destination in Rio state.

I also created a map on Google Maps to help you understand our experience, but since Google Maps does not work offline for custom maps, I’d recommend you to download the Wikiloc app to your phone + the Wikiloc map I used to plan and guide me in this trip (it works offline based in your GPS location).


General information

  • When: September, 2019
  • Distance: 42.89 kilometers
  • Time spent: 4 days
  • Total cost: R$ 700 – for 6 people (~R$120/person)
  • Best time to go: from April to September (less rainy)

Step 1: Get your permit

One of the best things about this amazing hike is that you don’t need to pay any entrance fees, unlike some other famous hiking destinations in Rio state, such as Itatiaia National Park or Serra dos Orgaos National Park.

The only thing you need is to email the park administration 3 days in advance to request a permit, which is very simple and easy to get, considering that it is an uncommon destination even to Brazilians. To do so, send an email to pnsb.rj@icmbio.gov.br informing the full names of everyone in the group, ID/Passport numbers and phone number for contact (if available).

 

Step 2: Get to São José do Barreiro

The main trail crossing Serra da Bocaina National Park is called Caminho do Ouro (Gold Trail), and it runs from the highlands in São Paulo state to the coast of Rio. This historical path was used in the past to transport (some say smuggle) gold, and later coffee, from Minas Gerais state to Rio de Janeiro’s ports.

The starting point of the trail is near the town of São José do Barreiro, in São Paulo state. This is also the closest place you can get by public transportation. As we had our rented car, it was easy to reach the town. If you are coming by bus, these are the steps you should follow:

From Rio:

  1. “Cidade do Aço” or “Viação Sampaio” bus to Resende – Graal Terminal. You can find their updated timetables at Buscaonibus or Clickbus.
  2. Taxi/Uber to Resende’s central bus station (Rodoviária, in Portuguese) – The Graal Terminal is near the highway, but buses to São José do Barreiro depart from another bus station located inside the city of Resende, 2km away from the Graal Terminal
  3. “Viação Penedo” bus to São José do Barreiro

From São Paulo:

  1. “Cometa” or “Pássaro Marron” bus to Guaratinguetá. You can find their updated timetables at Buscaonibus or Clickbus.
  2. “Pássaro Marron” bus to São José do Barreiro. Departures: 07:00 –  12:00  –  18:30. Some buses bound to Bananal also stop in São José do Barreiro.
Serra-da-Bocaina-National-Park-4
The view from São José do Barreiro to Serra da Bocaina National Park’s entrance

Step 3: Get to the park entrance

If you have your own vehicle, you can drive in a dirt road up to the park entrance (24km, around 2h drive). The problem is: you will have to leave your car at the park entrance, start your 3 or 4 days hike and finish your trip in the opposite side of the park. Unless you have energies to walk back and uphill the whole trail (trust me, you won’t), the logistics back to São José do Barreiro would be quite complicated (several buses and high costs).

Alternatively, we decided to hire a driver to take us up to the park entrance and rescue us after 4 days at the end of the Gold Trail. Our driver was called Eliezer, and charged us R$ 200 to take us to the park entrance + R$ 500 to bring us back to São José do Barreiro (a 4h30 drive in a pickup truck). He does not speak English, but he told me that he’s taken other groups of foreigners to the park before. If you do not speak Portuguese, I’d ask the staff in your hotel/hostel to call him before at (12) 3117-2123 and set up a date/time to meet.

Our meeting point was at a gas station that belongs to his family. São José do Barreiro is a tiny city, so it was not hard to find it.

 

Step 4: The hike (finally!)

Day 1 – km 0 to 9

Once you reach the park entrance, you will find a ranger who will issue your permits (remember to email the park in advance). It is a very easy and fast process.

Many people do this hike in 3 days, but we decided to do it in 4 days in order to enjoy better all the waterfalls and landscapes along the way. We arrived at the park entrance around 2p.m. and immediately started our walk.

 

Important points:

  • Where to sleep: Although it is common to sleep in campsites along the way, where a shower and meals are available, we decided to do wild camping and brought all our food with us. As we were in a group of 6, it was easier to share the weight of the food, water and camping gear. I think it was a smart decision, as it cut the costs of accommodation and food, gave us freedom to stop wherever we wanted, and eliminated the need to call the campsites to book our spots.
Serra da Bocaina National Park Camping
As the trail is really empty, you will find plenty of spaces to do wild camping. This is the spot we chose for our 2nd night.
  • Map: The trail is very clear. Most of it, especially in the beginning, is in a wide dirt road. In the end it gets a bit harder, as you walk downhill into the jungle, but definitely possible for anyone who is minimally fit. In order to be safer, we guided ourselves using a map in Portuguese available in Wikiloc. I downloaded the Wikiloc app to my smartphone and managed to follow the whole trail even when there was no phone reception. Although it is not in English, the trail was very accurate.
Serra da Bocaina National Park 5
Most of the trail is wide and clear
  • Water: the Wikiloc map also showed points where you have water available (it is written H2O in the map). You can also see these spots on the Google map I created. As these are all natural water sources with no formal treatment, I’d recommend the use of chlorine water purifying tablets to get that amazing taste of swimming pool in your water 🙂 So basically there is no need to carry water for the 3/4 days, as you will find plenty of it on the way. But of course, carry some bottles with you to start your hike.

On this first day you will visit 2 waterfalls:

  • Santo Isidro waterfall (cachoeira Santo Isidro): around 3km from the entrance
  • Das Posses waterfall (cachoeira das Posses): 40m high, around 9km from the entrance

We slept in the side-trail to Das Posses waterfall, which was a flat area that was suitable for camping. The trail and the ruins in the area are the remains of an old eucalyptus farm that existed in there in the past. People who do the trip in 3 days often sleep further, at Barreirinha Pousada Camping, but that would require us to reach the km 18 of the trail, which would not be possible in this first day. They offer shower, breakfast and meals (R$ 45/person), but you need to book in advance. Phone: (12) 3117-2205 / (12) 99789-2333

 

Day 2 – km 9 to 28

On the second day we continued our walk and got to the Barreirinha Pousada Camping (km18). We talked to the owner and asked if he would sell us a beautiful bread he had just finished baking. He agreed to sell it for R$10, and it was quite good.

We enjoyed nice countryside/forest views most of the day and saw farms, cattle and few local residents. As we had a whole day to walk, we managed to get up to km 28, where we reached the Central Farm (Fazenda Central). There were some flat areas before and after the farm, where we decided to set up our tents. To be more specific, we slept close to a small bridge crossing a beautiful stream a bit after Fazenda Central.

We’d only reach the Deer Waterfall (Cachoeira do Veado) – which was our main goal in this trip – the next day. People who do the hike in 3 days often sleep the second night in an open area by the entrance of a side-trail to the Deer Waterfall (km30). The place is marked as Ruinas Casa Queimada in the Wikiloc map.

Serra da Bocaina National Park 6

Serra da Bocaina National Park 7
Some photos of our 2nd day

Day 3 – km 28 to 38

On the third day we finally visited the Deer Waterfall (Cachoeira do Veado), which was a beautiful 2-levels 100m tall waterfall. After having our breakfast there and spotting nice birds, we continued our walk.

Around the km 33 you will start the descent towards the coast. It was quite hard for us to find a camping spot after this point, as the trail gets thinner and steeper. Luckily we found an open area in the left side of the trail near the km 38, where we set up our tents and covered ourselves from the thin rain that had just started. So if you find a good spot to camp after km 33, just take it.

 

Day 4 – km 38 to 42

We woke up early the next day and started heading to end of the trail, where our driver Eliezer had agreed to meet us at midday.

He told us that near the end we would see a hanging bridge in our right – which we should not cross – and few minutes later a house with dogs (the first we’d see), where he would meet us. The only problem was that he was not there when we reached this place, so we started wondering whether we were in the right place or not. Considering that in Brazil people often get late for meetings, we relaxed and waited for half an hour until he finally showed up to pick us up.

As there is no phone reception in this area, it is impossible to contact anyone. But it is easy to follow the road and if you get confused about the direction, just head towards the town of Perequê/Mambucaba, following the direction of the river with the same name.

Serra da Bocaina National Park 10
The hanging bridge close to the end – Do not cross it

For those continuing to Rio, Ilha Grande or Paraty…

As I said before, we had to return to São José do Barreiro to pick up our car. If you are using public transportation, you obviously do not need to return to your starting point. Instead, you can head to other amazing destinations for hikers in Rio’s south: Ilha Grande or Paraty.

In this case, you will need a pick up in the end of the trail to take you to the town of Perequê/Mambucaba – the nearest bus station. It is a 20km drive, and when I contacted a local driver to ask for the price – Cristiano – (24)99882-0211 / (24)98845-5085 – he was charging R$200, which I found very expensive for such a short drive. Alternatively, you can try calling Oseas (24) 99953-6749 / (24) 3362-3409, to get his quote.

Once you reach the bus station, you can take a Colitur bus to Angra dos Reis (for those going to Ilha Grande and Rio) or Paraty (for those hiking in the Joatinga Ecological Reserve). Both cost R$6,90.

Hope you enjoy your trip, and feel free to send a message asking for information or sharing your experience in the trail!

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