The Trembling Highlands of Brazil
Ibitipoca. Tough to pronounce; hard to get to; but well worth the effort. Here goes: Ibitipoca is pronounced “ee-bitch-ee-pokah” (sounds like a palavrão I know). But it actually comes from the indigenous Tupi-guarani language in which “ybytyra” = mountain, and “pok” = burst, a combination of words the natives used to describe the intense roaring of thunderstorms, and their subsequent interactions on their land, that can make it seem like it trembles.
Brazil has many epic and wondrous places to visit, with names as evocative as Ipanema and Copacabana, the Amazon and Bahia, and Rio, Iguassu and the Pantanal. However, in such a vast country, there are thousands of less well known places, and one such distant gem is Ibitipoca, located “somewhere” in the midst of Minas Gerais, a lovely verdant state known for the idyllic colonial towns of Tiradentes and Ouro Preto, and also that art-gallery-cum-jungle Inhotim.
Ibitipoca is more accurately known as Ibiti Project and is a reserve of 14,000 acres (23+ square miles) of which 98% is protected land or in the process of regeneration, creating an intentional rewilding belt around the Ibitipoca State Park. Within this vast area, you have the main lodge of Fazenda do Engenho, a rural farmhouse built in 1715, and painstakingly restored in 2006 to retain its colonial architecture and charm while incorporating some more modern flourishes. There are only 8 guest rooms in Engenho Lodge alongside a separate three-bedroom villa, Casa Carlinhos. Four additional remote cottages are spread across the reserve, allowing guests to complete lodge-to-lodge circuits and to fully immerse themselves in the beauty and remoteness of the area. Finally, and most unusually, is the mountain village of Mogol in which 5 additional small houses provide accommodation, built in the local style, and allowing guests to live right in the community, which counts a school, the Muriqui monkey conservancy project, a veggie resto, and, most preciously, its 22 residents. The supreme mineira countryside experience, with kids running around the main square and the nightly chat on the sidewalks.
Ibitipoca feels remote because it is remote: a 3.5 hour drive from Rio de Janeiro – but also has its own airstrip and helicopter pad should one choose to fly in. Or you could start in Belo Horizonte or Juiz de Fora, and travel through Mina Gerais to the lodge. And there is much to do once here. The area is rich in wildlife, and Ibiti’s regenerative tourism programme is fundamental to their rewilding projects. Activities include horse-back riding, swimming beneath waterfalls, yoga, cooking… The lodge and tourism activities are deeply rooted in the local community and indeed have been certified B-Corp since 2017.
Oh and the local communities distill their own cachaça. Caipirinha anyone?