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MORRETES, Brazil – History and natural beauty stand side by side in Morretes.
Founded in 1733, the city is one of the oldest in the state of Paraná. It is located in the middle of the Serra do Mar, the best-preserved portion of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil.
Morretes was colonized by the Portuguese, who anchored in the Baía de Paranaguá and proceeded inland. The name was inspired by the small hills surrounding the site, which the Portuguese called morretes.
Drawn by the discovery of gold in the region, the first residents of Morretes were explorers and miners, who came mainly from São Paulo.
The city grew and by the mid-18th century, when the yerba mate trade and the cachaça industry became the principal economic activities.
Now, tourism accounts for 65% of the local economy, with the rest based on agronomy and agriculture.
Morretes is located about 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Curitiba, between Paraná state’s capital city and coastline.
Tourists from all over Brazil and throughout the world visit Morretes, but the majority comes from Curitiba, according the municipal Ministry of Tourism.
People on their way to the beach can pass through Morretes and admire its centuries-old architecture, purchase crafts and sample the barreado, a typical regional dish that includes shredded, stewed beef accompanied with white cassava flour, banana and seafood. The dish costs, on average, R$25 (US$13.12) per person.
For historians Mabel, 29, and Adriano Borges, 30, visiting the city is like traveling through time.
“I’ve been visiting Morretes since I was a little girl and I never get tired of it,” Mabel Borges says. “The paving, the houses and the environment are all teeming with history.”
Their son, Mateus Levi, 2, also likes the city.
“He can walk all around the historic streets, where cars are not allowed,” Adriano Borges says. “He is also a big fan of the barreado.”
Morretes has about 15,500 residents and welcomes more than a million tourists annually. It is among the 100 most popular destinations in Brazil, according to the Tourism Secretary of Morretes.
“Approximately 70% of the tourists come here during the high season, from October to March. But during the rest of the year, we still welcome 300,000 tourists,” says Loizety Sueli Sidreira, the minister of tourism for Morretes. “Since Curitiba is going to be one of the host cities of the 2014 World Cup, we expect the number of visitors to triple in the coming years.”
The city has about 30 tourist attractions. There are waterfalls, a two-century-old church and trails for ecotourism and cycling, among other attractions. The historic and gastronomic center is surrounded by royal palms and divided by the Nhundiaquara River, which passes through the entire city.
The historic center is highlighted by the well-conserved Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Porto, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2012.
“I lived abroad for years, but I never forgot the trip I took to Morretes with my parents. When I decided to come back to Brazil, I knew exactly where I wanted to live and work,” says tour guide Maurício Veiga, a 45-year-old who has lived in Morretes since 1999. “The city is a refuge –perfect for people who want peace and quiet.”
The Curitiba-Morretes-Paranaguá Railroad
A trip by train to Morretes is a journey within itself.
The railroad that runs from Curitiba to Paranaguá, passing through Morretes, was built in 1890. At the time, it provided the only access to the coast.
Stretching 110 kilometers (68.35 miles), with 13 tunnels and 30 bridges, the project was considered cutting edge at the time. In some parts, such as the Carvalho Viaduct, the tracks are supported by pillars drilled into the side of a mountain. Riding in the train, it feels as though the train is flying through the air, without anything beneath it.
The railway now offers daily tours to Morretes, and on Sundays it goes all the way to Paranaguá. The trip from Curitiba to Morretes lasts three hours and fares begin at R$100 (US$52.51).
Grills and kiosks along the way
Tourists who visit Morretes by car can make the trip on the PR-410 Highway, known as Estrada da Graciosa.
The Paraná portion of the Serra do Mar, which includes the railroad and the Estrada da Graciosa, was recognized by UNESCO in 1992 as an Atlantic Forest Biosphere Reserve, due to its role in biodiversity conservation, sustainable development and scientific research.
The Estrada da Graciosa, which was completed in 1873, stretches 28.5 kilometers (17.7 miles) and was mainly used by cattle drivers. The two-way road is steep, winding and constructed mainly of cobblestones. The trip lasts about 30 minutes.
At various points along the way, there are kiosks and grills that can be used freely by tourists. There are also restaurants and overlooks providing views of waterfalls, the mountains of the Pico do Marumbi State Park and the beauty of the Atlantic Forest.
Another option is to do the trip by car or bicycle along the Parque Highway. For more adventurous tourists and mountain bikers, there is also the Anhaia Trail, which is close to the Estrada da Graciosa. The trip takes about two hours.
“It’s a difficult trail – it’s slippery and full of rocks, with a 2.5 kilometer (1.5 mile) descent. We ride our bikes a little, jump in the river, take pictures and ride some more. The trail ends in downtown Morretes,” says former professional cyclist Eugênio Mônaco Júnior, 36, who now offers bicycle tours.
One of the most popular attractions on the Estrada da Graciosa is the Boia Cross. With individual inflatable rafts and safety equipment, visitors can drift down Nhundiaquara River, beginning at the Estrada da Graciosa and finishing in downtown Morretes. The tour has several small waterfalls and dense forest on both sides of the river.
It’s available to adults and children over the age of 11. The adventure costs R$18 (US$9.45), equipment included.
Learn more about Morretes
Morretes is located in the state of Paraná, in Southern Brazil. The city is about 70 kilometers (43 miles) away from Curitiba, between the state capital and the coast.
How to get there
Take BR-277 from Curitiba toward the coast 65 kilometers until you reach the exit for Morretes.
From Curitiba, it is also possible to take BR-116. After 30 kilometers (18.64 miles), there is an exit for the Estrada da Graciosa, which leads to downtown Morretes. The total distance is approximately 80 kilometers (49.7 miles)
It is also possible to take BR-116 from São Paulo.
In addition, the trip can be done by rail, from the Curitiba train station. The cost of a roundtrip tour ranges from R$100 (US$52.51) to R$380 (US$199.56).