The Discovery Coast Atlantic Forest Reserves are 8 nature reserves that protect Brazil’s Northeastern remnants of the Atlantic rainforest, probably the most endangered forest in the world.
They contain about 20% of the world's flora, including 627 species of endangered plants. There are no longer any corridors between the areas, which has led to an "archipelago of forests" and exceptionally high endemism.
Map of Discovery CoastLoad map
The Discovery Coast is one of the harder sites to visit in Brazil. It is centered around the city of Porto Seguro, which isn’t that well-connected to the rest of the Northeast. Also, it involves renting a car and the best part of the day to get anywhere close to the core zone and get a feel for its OUV. So although it was on the initial itinerary of my 2022 Brazil trip, I dropped it in the final preparations as it just seemed too much hassle for an unsure reward.
Fast forward to December 2022: travelling in Brazil turned out to be a breeze, everybody is just flying anywhere and my first car rental had turned out fine. So as I knew that I had a spare day each in Sao Paulo and Rio, I started looking for flights that would allow me to ‘do’ the Discovery Coast as a day trip from there. And I found a flight by Azul that leaves from Rio Santos Dumont to Porto Seguro at 7.30 in the morning, arriving at 9.00. Choosing a return flight in the evening would leave ample time on the ground to look at some forest!
During my first preparations, I had set my eye on the location called “Veracruz Station” – lately renamed to “Veracel Station”, as it is sponsored by a bioeconomy firm. This lies just 15km outside of Porto Seguro, probably even reachable by an Uber from the airport. They require booking in advance for a visit, so I sent them an e-mail in my (and Google Translate’s) best Portuguese. Unfortunately, I never heard anything back.
So on the day itself, I went to Pau Brasil National Park, some 40km from the airport. The flight unfortunately was delayed by an hour and the car rental pick-up was from an off-site location, so I did not get going until 10.45. I had read Wojciech’s review where he described the confusing logistics, and had also copied directions from the official park website. For both, however, it is important to establish first from which direction you are approaching the area: from Porto Seguro airport you can go right (east), then take a ferry to Arraial D'Ajuda, and then drive west again. Or you go left (west), and turn south after about 30km towards the road BA-001. I did the latter and indeed found a weathered signpost to the park entrance at -16.420911882855464, -39.28836103861423 near the town of Vale Verde. I entered this unpaved road, but after a km or so the road was totally flooded (it had been raining a lot for the past week). I did not see a way around it, and also still wasn’t 100% sure whether I was at the right location. I thought of pinging Wojciech to verify if I was right and how far it was to the reception area (so maybe I could leave the car and walk). But there was no cell phone reception.
I saw no other option than to turn the car and continue on the main road, looking for other possible ways to enter (you see the thick Atlantic forests on the horizon all the time by the way). Beyond the turn-off to Arraial D'Ajuda, I spotted a ‘Welcome’ sign and an open gate to the ‘RPPN Rio do Brasil Reserva’. By that time I was ready for some welcoming Brazilians, core zone or not! The RPPN is a private reserve, a former cacao plantation that has been established to widen the ecological corridor around Pau Brasil National Park. It has only opened to visitors since last year. They offer guided hikes and also canoeing. We settled on a medium-level hike, for 180 R$. A 4wd safari jeep brought us (myself and 2 guides) to a spot deeper in their reserve.
The guides had asked me what my interests were, and my 10 lessons in Brazilian Portuguese Duolingo allowed me to say “birds” and “monkeys”. The head guide went into full birding mode, with binoculars, a speaker to play the bird sounds, and a laser pen to point out the birdies to me. The foliage here is very dense, and the birds (all passaros = small birds) often would sit in the 10th or 20th layer of branches. This is terrible for photography, as there is always another tree branch your camera autofocuses on.
We saw two species of monkey as well right at the start – one white-headed marmoset (top right photo) and the other a less spectacular greyish one. The guides were quick to name every plant or animal species but knew them only in Portuguese.
The walk felt like a true jungle experience, with mosquitos and ants attacking us when we stood still looking for birds. Spiders, millipedes and insects appeared every time we looked at the ground or at each other’s clothes. The jungle here has a mix of tree species endemic to the North-Eastern Atlantic Forest and invasive ones such as the fig and the bread tree (which are also common in the buffer areas of the South-East Atlantic Forest WHS). But I did get to see plenty of interesting native species, such as a seedling of the Pau Brazil, the Sucupira whose fruit resembles a small ceramic cup and is loved by the monkeys for the seeds it contains, and the massive Red Juruena (top-to-bottom left in the photo collage). The two guides were lovely and they seemed to enjoy being out there as much as I did – we stayed out for 3,5 hours.
On my drive back I noticed another road entrance to the Pau NP, some 100m north of the one described above. This is an unpaved road as well, straight, and looked better than the one I had been at before. By now it had started raining heavily however and I had to get back to the airport, so I leave that one for future reviewers to explore.
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This entry consists of several components, but beware - only some of them are available for visiting. Places such as Una Biological Reserve and CEPLAC Experimental Station are open only to scientists and cannot be visited by tourists. The most popular components are definitely open - Discovery National Park, Monte Pascoal National Park and Pau Brasil National Park. I and my family visited only the latter.
Be warned that Google Maps gives inaccurate coordinates for Pau Brasil NP. Actually the Visitors Center is located near Arraial d'Ajuda. To get there, follow the BA-001 road towards Trancoso and, a few kilometers after the junction with the BA-986 road, turn right following the signs.
We got to the Visitors Center at 1.15 pm and although the park was officially open, tourists were only allowed in until 1.00 pm. Fortunately, the ranger took pity and called a guide who arrived in half an hour and took us to the park. I paid 140 reais for admission tickets for the whole family, with a guide and an off-road car included in the price.
A guide in Pau Brasil is essential, as is a decent 4WD car (although you can also visit the park by bike, tours are organized from Arraial d'Ajuda). From the Visitors Center to the hiking paths it was necessary to drive a few kilometers in a very dense forest, on a terrible road. There are about 10 different routes available on site, but due to the late hour, we were able to take a few shortest ones.
Pau Brasil National Park was established, among other things, to protect pau brasil, a tree which, due to its structure and colors, is extremely popular in the furniture industry and is also used to make violin. Pau brasil is a symbol of Brazil, and the whole country takes its name from it. There are indeed a lot of those trees in the park. The park's symbol is also animals, especially harpy eagles, and there are even jaguars and cougars there. Unfortunately, during our visit we did not meet virtually any animals except a large spider. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the trip very much, even though it was not our first visit to the rainforest. The forest in Pau Brasil was exceptionally dense and wild and it was especially beautiful on the viewpoints.
Of course, the question arises why Discovery Coast has been separately inscribed in a situation where it protects practically the same things as Atlantic Forest South-East, which was inscribed in the same year. From a layman's perspective, these two entries should be combined into one. Atlantic Forest South-East contains many more components and is therefore probably much more diverse, but there are also many places of interest to be found on Discovery Coast.
Discovery Coast is where the Portuguese first noticed the Brazilian land. It was in 1500, near Trancoso - today a tiny, but very charming town with colorful houses. Next door are the popular resort of Arraial d'Ajuda and the beach town of Curuipe, and the whole region is known for its great beaches. The closest major city is Porto Seguro, which has air connections to the rest of the country.
It was surprising to me to see this WHS hasn't been yet reviewed. Discovery Coast is by no means a difficult place to reach or uninteresting area to be looked down, all the way around. It is made up of several Atlantic Rainforest reserves, most of them close to Porto Seguro, a vibrant city (and with a famous carnival) that is also situated in the area where the first Portuguese colonizers arrived in Brazil (year 1500).
I have visited this reserves many times when I was a kid and also recently with my father. I could not see (and I doubt there is, at least for the casual tourist) any significant distinction between Discovery Coast Atlantic Forest (in States of Bahia and Espírito Santo) and the Atlantic Forest South-East situated more southerly (in São Paulo and Paraná States).
In any case, the exuberance of the tropical rainforest (along with good trekkings, waterfalls, birdwatching, etc.) usually pays off the visit. Do not expect, however, the same facilites and tourist infrastructure that can be found in Iguaçu or other more famous sites in Brazil.
Bureau - Brazil tried to convert 3 sites into 2 part way through the process
1999 Name change
Upon inscription, as suggested by IUCN: from "Brazilian Discovery Coast"
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