The Alto Ribeira Touristic State Park (Parque Estadual Turístico do Alto Ribeiro - PETAR) is a state park in São Paulo state, Brazil. It is a prime destination for cave exploring, containing the Gruta da Casa da Pedra cave, with the largest cave mouth in the world.
The park has one of the largest concentrations of caverns on the planet — more than 4300 — in a region of untouched Atlantic forest covering mountains and ridges. This natural heritage site is made up of palaeontological, archaeological, and historical sites, not to mention the extreme biodiversity and speleological richness to be found in the region.
The high precipitation index, coupled with its action on the limestone, is responsible for the formation of the caverns and their endless stalactites (on the ceiling), stalagmites (on the floor), columns (from ceiling to floor), and curtains. The caverns include both horizontal ones (grottoes) and vertical ones (abysses).
Due to its area — almost 36,000 hectares — visitation is limited to areas concentrated around four different nuclei: Santana, Caboclos, Ouro Grosso and Casa da Pedra.
PETAR, in conjunction with the state parks of Jacutinga, Intervales, and Carlos Botelho, and the Xitué Ecological Station, forms a large, contiguous area of Atlantic Forest with more than 200,000 hectares and an immense variety of species. The whole region has be designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
PETAR is a big park, so to increase security and better support visitors, the park was divided into 4 different cores:
Being so far from each other, in some cases, it is recommended to you choose your stay looking into the cores.
Prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in 1500, the Atlantic Rainforest surrounded most of the Brazilian coast, but it has now been mostly decimated with exception of a few pockets, which now compose the Atlantic Rainforest South-East Reserves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Ribeira Valley, between the states of São Paulo and Paraná, contains most of the remaining primary rainforest. The Alto Ribeira Touristic State Park (PETAR) was created in 1958.
The park is spread across the Serra da Boa Vista range, part of the Serra de Paranapiacaba. Besides the exuberant rainforest covering this mountainous terrain, the most distinguishing traits of PETAR are its limestone caves - totaling 300. Of these, only 12 are open to the public. The park also contains 20 waterfalls and the towns of Iporanga and Apiaí.
Flora and fauna
The landscape is covered with virgin Atlantic Forest. Araucária trees, Brazilwood trees, palm trees, orchids, and bromeliads are common. There are also many ficus trees, whose roots can reach many meters into the earth. The larger trees can reach 40 meters in height.
The larger mammals which live in this habitat include the Red Brocket (a type of small deer), the Tayra (a type of weasel), the Jaguar, the Otter, the Southern Muriqui (a type of wooly spider monkey), the Robust Capuchin Monkey, and the Howler Monkey. Birds include the Harpy Eagle, the Vinaceous-breasted Amazon (a type of parrot), the Black-fronted Piping Guan, and the Dusky-legged Guan.
Being in subtropical area, the Park is hot and wet, especially at Summer that occurs between December and March. Is also when the Park receive most of Brazilian tourists. At dry season, April to November stills not that could, with 18°C in averaged.
All visitor centres are only accessible by car. Two visitor centers - Núcleo Santana and Ouro Grosso - are located at SP-165, between Iporanga and Apiaí. Núcleo Caboclos is at SP-250, between Apiaí and Guapiara. For those coming from São Paulo, it is better to first take the BR-116 (Régis Bittencourt), then take the SP-193 at Jacupiranga towards Eldorado, and finally, the SP-165 towards Iporanga and Apiaí. Those coming from Iguape or Ilha Comprida can reach Jacupiranga through the SP-222, passing through Paiquera-Açu.
For those who don't have their own means of transport, an alternative is to hire a tour agency, such as:
- Ipotur, Rua Diogo Ribeiro de Oliveira 67, Alto do Coqueiro - Iporanga, ☏ , .
- Núcleo Terra, Rua João Evilásio Nunes, 160, Alto do Coqueiro - Iporanga, ☏ , .
Fees and permits
- The ticket price at 2020 the PETAR are:
- Geral ticket: 32,00 BRL
- Mercosul ticket (-25%): 24,00 BRL
- Brasil ticket (-50%): 16,00 BRL (students pay half)
- Annual ticket – 10 visits (-30%): 112,00 BRL
- It is mandatory to a visitor have an accredited guide to entry at the Park, every guide can be responsible to a group of maximum of eight people. The prices of guides is not fix, they can choose the amount charged, the averaged price is around 200 BRL, per person, per day (prices checked at February 2020 doing the Santana core).
- Helmets with torch and closed shoes are mandatory inside caves, and some also require long sleeve shirt and knickers (pants).
- Normally the stays have the necessary equipment and also guides under their umbrella.
- Only 12 caves of the more than 400 are open to the public, the open ones also have restricted areas.
- The access to restricted area you must contact the park's main office:
- PETAR Public Use Team (Equipe Uso Público PETAR), Av. Isidoro Alpheu Santiago, 364 - Fepasa - Apiaí, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. M-F 07:00-17:00.
- Trails: The Park have several trails going through caves, waterfalls, rivers... the most visited is the Betari trail, having 3,6 km of extension and a lot of attractions on the way, as caves, waterfalls...
- "Boia-Cross" - imagine a hafting without paddles, normally using a buoy as the boat, this activity happens at the Betari river and normally in groups, one person per buoy during 2 km.
There is no place inside the Park to buy meals, but is allowed and stimulated that the visitors bring their food to be eaten inside the Park. Outside the Park there is not many options, but some stays offers dinner, and at the centre of the two cities that support the Park, there are some options.
Look the cores articles to have a proper stay, some stays can work to a core, but be 60 km from the other core.
- Remember to respect and follow the guide, they are there to keep not only you safe, but also to preserve the Park;
- Bring extra batteries to the torches, and some waterproof protection to your equipment;
- Do not forget water, light cloths that can fast dry out, avoid slippery shoes;
- At summer snakes are more active, mind were you support yourself, and do not enter the woods without the guide;
- The rods can be dangerous at wet season, they are potential mudslides in some areas, be aware.