Surrounding Brasília and the Distrito Federal is the state of Goiás. Brazil’s “heartland,” this state is often overlooked by foreign, and even many Brazilian, tourists, which is both a blessing and a shame since it has some unique attractions.
Much of the rolling highlands of Goiás is covered in Cerrado, whose dry yet striking grassland vegetation resembles that of the East African savannahs. Numerous rivers add pockets of lushness while waterfalls and natural springs offer ample opportunities to cool off while tramping over the region’s many hiking trails.
One of the most spectacular destinations is the Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Veadeiros, which lies in the mountainous region north of Brasília (and is a popular getaway for Brasilienses). This vast natural park offers landscapes you’re unlikely to see anywhere else in Brazil, with outcrops of coppery red rock, plunging canyons, myriad waterfalls, and an impressive array of flora and fauna.
The gradual development of ecotourism in Goiás has brought focus on the need to preserve the Cerrado. Sadly, it is estimated that close to 70 percent of this unique ecosystem has already been devastated—compared to 15 percent of the much more lamented Amazon rainforest—to make way for big agro-business such as cattle raising and cultivation of cash crops, which has made Goiás an increasingly wealthy place. Such prosperity is apparent in the state’s two major cities, Goiânia (the state capital) and Anapolis, both thriving modern boom towns that nonetheless hold little interest for travelers.
However, Goiás does have its historical attractions. Long before the region struck it rich with agriculture, it experienced a gold boom similar to, but more timid, than that of its neighbor, Minas Gerais. In the late 1600s, the fortune-hunting bandeirantes, who ventured inland from São Paulo and into Minas, also began exploring the hinterlands of Goiás. Their early encounters with the region’s Goyaz Indians led them to discover that the region’s hills were riddled with gold.
The subsequent gold rush that lasted until the early 1800s saw the birth of Goiás Velho and Pirenópolis, two prosperous mining towns whose charming colonial architecture and rich cultural and culinary traditions have been carefully preserved to this day.
Goiás has a fairly decent highway system and most attractions are easily reached by bus or car from Brásilia, although distances are considerable. The climate is fairly hot year-round, although the winter months tend to be dry, and rain is frequent in the summer months.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition