A scenic journey through a precious place: the Serra Verde Express through the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest

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June 27th 2015
Published: June 27th 2015
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We recently read a review of the Serra Verde Express train journey, written by an Australian guy who has travelled extensively and done some interesting things, like kayaking across Sydney Harbour and horse riding in the Australian outback. He said that his sensational ride on the Serra Verde Express in Paraná, Brazil, was “up there” with all the rest of his travel experiences. This kind of recommendation cannot be ignored, so we decided to ride this train. Would it live up to such high expectations? It did! Our Serra Verde experience this week was certainly up there with all of our other travel highlights and the Atlantic Rainforest is up there with other outstanding scenery that we have been fortunate to see, like the Grand Canyon and the Amazon. This train journey, through the Atlantic Rainforest, is rated as one of the most spectacular in the world. It is truly awesome!

The Serra Verde train hugs densely-forested mountainsides, crosses gorges and steep ravines on viaducts and bridges, tunnels through ancient rock to emerge sometimes deep in the jungle, which towers overhead and at other times one is travelling high up across the canopy amidst misty clouds. It is as though the train is gliding in the air. Viv thought it would be scary but it wasn´t, despite the sheer drops from the viaducts which go deep down beyond the traveller’s vision and the narrow ledges and single-track bridges across gorges. It was too sensational for fear! It was the train journey of a lifetime!

Built between 1880 and 1885, the railroad links the city of Curitiba to Morretes in the mountains, before descending to the Paranaguá on the coast. It is a wonderful feat of engineering, built in just five years despite the difficult terrain. Between Curitiba and Morretes the railroad passes through thirteen tunnels, the longest being 500 metres in length, as well as crossing several viaducts and bridges. The highest bridge, St John´s Bridge, was built in 1883 and it is constructed of 500 tons of Belgian steel. Today it is still used extensively by freight trains as well as the tourist trains.

The Serra Verde Express is a tourist train which travels to Morretes throughout the week and on to Paranagua at weekends. We took the Australian guy´s advice and booked the “Executivo” class carriage, which gave us a bilingual guide called Maria Teresa, who was delightful, as well as free snacks, soft drinks, as much coffee and beer as we wanted, all for about just fifty euros per head for a return ticket, a 43 kilometre trip each way. The carriages are pulled along for three and a half hours at a leisurely pace, allowing plenty of time for photographs. Great value!

The Atlantic Rainforest is the oldest rainforest on earth. It was there before the Amazon, when the Amazon River still flowed west into the Pacific, before the Andes Mountains were formed. Scientists believe that the earliest life on earth was to be found here; it is full of water, the giant trees and plants have permanently damp roots and have been sustaining life for millennia. Here the little water holes, the small lakes and tumbling streams and waterfalls eventually combine to form the Rio Iguazu, which in turn, six hundred kilometres further on, will become the mighty Iguazu Falls. So we have seen the birthplace of the falls, which we shall see in a few days’ time. The Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest is a very precious place for the whole planet. We feel so privileged to have spent two days travelling through it.

From Curitiba the train passes through two towns, Pinhais and Piraquara, where the Rio Iguazu begins. From then on, all the way to Morretes, it is all mountains and jungle. The jungle is home to over two hundred bird species, including Toucans, Parrots and Birds of Prey, as well as Spider Monkeys, Para Cu Monkeys and quite a large population of Pumas. We didn´t see any! It is an untouched wilderness and most of it is impenetrable. It is so dense, the density seen from high in the canopy takes one´s breath away. It is amazing. We think that Brazil must surely be the most scenic country on earth, it is certainly the greenest. It has the Amazon, the Pantanal, the Atlantic Rainforest as well as mountains, tropical islands and beaches and the Iguazu Falls. It is a Paradise!

Morretes is a very small old mountain town, lovely for one night, but it wouldn´t hold many people´s interest for longer. We stayed the night in an old hotel, the oldest building in town in fact; the first part of it being built in 17th century. The Hotel Nhundiaquara sits on the banks of the pretty Rio Nhundiaquara in the pedestrianised Historic Centre. Morretes also has a beautiful church, built in 1812 and contains paintings by Theodore de Bona.

Although we thought a ride on the famous Serra Verde Express would be pretty good, we never expected it to be so spectacular. This journey turned out to be one of our travel highlights. It was a scenic journey through a very precious place.

We returned to Curitiba for one night, then yesterday we journeyed another 260 kilometres by bus to Guarapuava, through yet more stunning scenery. We left the rainforest behind us and crossed high plateau and rolling hills, rich with arable land and forests. Yet again, we were the only foreigners on the bus. We are getting used to being a novelty!

Guarapuava is a medium-sized city, at 1,120 metres elevation and it often snows here at this time of year. We are lucky, we have winter sunshine. It is a bit chilly! It is known as one of the coldest cities in Brazil and its name comes from one of the Indian languages, “tupy guarani” which means “brave wolf”, believed to be the name of the chief of the earliest settlement.

There isn’t much here for the tourist, we came here simply because it was roughly half way between Curitiba and Foz, so when we arrived yesterday we did the washing (we were running out of clothes) and today we shall explore the town a bit and chill out. Tomorrow we shall catch our seventh long-distance bus to Foz. The buses here in Paraná are very plush, quite luxurious in fact, so they provide a comfy ride and although tomorrow will be a long journey, about 390 kilometres, the scenery promises to be stunning once again. We shall leave the uplands and descend once more to rainforest and warm climate. It is 33 degrees there today, so we´ll be back in the shorts and flip flops. The regions of Brazil are quite climatically extreme. It is a big, diverse and wonderful country.

Additional photos below
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The Historic Centre, MorretesThe Historic Centre, Morretes
The Historic Centre, Morretes

Nhundiaquara Hotel on the left

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