One of Brazil's top natural attractions, the Abrolhos Marine National Park encompasses four of the five islands which make up the Abrolhos archipelago: Redonda, Siriba, Sueste and Guarita. One of the islands (Santa Bárbara), which holds the Abrolhos lighthouse, is under the jurisdiction of the Brazilian Navy.
The Abrolhos Marine National Park, with an area of approximately 352.51 square miles and managed by ICMBIO (the Chico Mendes Institute for the Conservation of Biodiversity) was created in 1983 and protects the richest biodiversity in the Southern Atlantic Ocean.
The archipelago is an important breeding and calving area for humpback whales and part of the Bahia shores known as the Whale Coast (Costa das Baleias).
Within the limits of the national park is Parcel dos Abrolhos, the archipelago's coral reef with mushroom-shaped formations, known as chapeirões, between 5 and 25 meters tall. Also protected is the Timbebas Reef, directly across from Alcobaça.
The name Abrolhos is said to come from "Abre os olhos" (open your eyes, or keep your eyes open) - a sailor's warning in an area rich in coral reefs. The lighthouse built in the 1860s, which is well-preserved but not accessible to visitors, helped navigation with its range of 20 nautical miles.
Charles Darwin noted the profusion of coral reefs, including brain coral, and wildlife - reptiles, spiders and totipalmate birds - when he carried out some studies in Abrolhos in 1830 as part of his voyage aboard H.M.S. Beagle.
Birds are plentiful on all the Abrolhos islands. Masked booby (Sula dactylatra; brown booby (Sula leucogaster); and red-billed tropicbirds (Phaethon aethereus are among the species that nest in Abrolhos.
The park is also an RBMA, a unit of Atlantic Forest Biosphere Reserve where at least two of the three essential functions of this type of reserve are carried out: conservation of biodiversity, promotion of sustainable development and permanent monitoring.
Since 2010, the park has also been recognized as a Ramsar Site.
How to Get to Abrolhos:
Caravelas is the main gateway to Abrolhos. Only boats authorized by ICMBio and with the institute's monitors can stop at the archipelago, and only at Siriba Island. Visitors can walk around the island on a 1,600-meter-long trail. A small beach, covered with shells, and natural pools are some of the sights.
For authorized Abrolhos boat and diving tours, contact Caramarã Horizonte Aberto (phone: 55-73-3297-1474, firstname.lastname@example.org), Caramarã Sanuk (phone: 55-73-3297-1344, email@example.com), and Catamara Netuno and Trawler Titan (firstname.lastname@example.org), which also offers whale watching tours.
Best Time to Go:
Summer is best for diving; the water is clearest. Whale watching season in Bahia is July-November.
Where to Stay in Caravelas:
- Marina Porto Abrolhos
The hotel facing Grauçá Beach opened in 1986 and has been well kept. It is situated near the spot from which the boats depart for Abrolhos. The bungalows in Polynesian style and the apartments are surrounded by coconut trees, which also make for some shade in the pool area. All accommodations have A/C, a mini refrigerator and a TV. Because so many guests leave early for boat tours, breakfast is served as from 6:30 a.m.
Where to Stay in Nova Viçosa:
- Hotel Abrolhos
Opened in 1987, the hotel has been expanded and thoroughly renovated; 40 of the guest rooms are still very new. Over 30 rooms have a double bed and a single bed. King size beds with box spring mattresses, new furniture, pools with water slides and a panoramic bar; amenities for families with babies are some of the perks.
- Pousada Cheiro de Mar
The toes-in-the-sand with 39 suites on Sabacuí Beach is one of the top choices for stays on the Whale Coast. Balconies of the second- and third-story apartments allow for great ocean views. The pousada has a nice pool area, a sauna, a beachfront bar and restaurant, a finess room, a playground and beach service. Services include wireless internet and laundry (paid separately), a closed parking lot. Whale watching tours can be arranged.
- Pousada Recanto dos Corais
Opened in 2006, the pousada has 18 apartments, a pool and a large lawn with a playground.
- Pousada Porto do Sol
Simply decorated, but right on Sabacuí Beach, Porto do Sol (opened in 2004) has eight apartments and a unit with tree bedrooms, a living room and a bathroom. The pool has an adjoining barbecue area with a grill, table and benches. Beach service is available.
See more places to stay under "Hospedagem" on local online guide Nova Viçosa.com.br
Abrolhos Marine National Park Visitors Center:
Opened in 2004, the visitor center on the banks of the Caravelas River hosts environmental education activities and exhibits detailing the area's insular, terrestrial and marine biodiversity. One of the highlights is a life-size replica of a humpback whale.
Visitors can also walk on the Marobá trail by the center.
Hours: Wed-Sun 9 a.m. to noon and 2:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. (check for updates).
Praia do Quitongo
Caravelas - BA