Some 100km east of Belo Horizonte in the heart of the Serra do Espinhaço, the Parque Natural do Caraça is a blissful spot. Isolated from the rest of the world by a mountain ridge, the park encompasses 110 sq km of transition zone between the Mata Atlântica (Atlantic rainforest) and cerrado (savanna) ecosystems. The park’s centerpiece, nestled in a bowl-shaped valley, is a former monastery and boarding school attended by several Brazilian presidents. Now converted to a pousada, it’s still owned and run by the Catholic congregation who use the neo-Gothic church for services.
The surrounding countryside includes several mountains, including Pico do Sol (at 2070m, the highest point in the Serra do Espinhaço), waterfalls and natural swimming pools. The hillsides are criss-crossed with hiking trails, all marked on a helpful map provided at the park entrance.