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From Myth to Reality: The Experience of Sustainable Tourism in The Vale Encantado Community in Tijuca Forest, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Du mythe à la réalité : l'expérience du tourisme durable dans la communauté du Vale Encantado, Forêt de Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro, Brésil
Del mito a la relidad : la experiencia del turismo sostenible en la comunidad de Vale Encantado, Bosque de Tijuca, Río de Janeiro, Brasil
Otávio Alves Barros and Maria Emília Melo
Do mito à realidade : a esperiência de turismo sustentável na communidade Do Vale Encatando, Floresta de Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil [pt]


Considered one of the largest urban forests in the world and the third largest in Brazil, the Tijuca Forest, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, faces the great challenge of living harmoniously and sustainably with the 46 slums located around it. One of these communities, Vale Encantado, whose occupation dates from the mid-eighteenth century, experienced the various production cycles that developed in the area, through logging, farming, livestock production, ornamental plants and black granite mining. To a greater or lesser degree, these production cycles impacted negatively on the native forest. However, simultaneously with this process, the Vale Encantado community has witnessed the implementation of reconstruction and conservation efforts of this fragment of Atlantic Rainforest, through reforestation and the creation of the Tijuca National Park in 1961. Today, through sustainable tourism and the social cuisine program, Vale Encantado has become a benchmark in the process of coexistence, integration and conservation of the local environment, and is the acknowledged "guardian of the forest."

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1The history of Vale Encantado is closely linked to the Tijuca Forest. Before becoming a National Park, Vale Encantado was already occupied by descendants of the old Portuguese tenants who inhabited the region and mainly grew coffee and sugar cane on their farms and smallholdings.

2In the last two centuries, the forest has undergone successive production cycles. This is a story that is told today by the surrounding inhabitants and recorded on maps, books and documents.

3The economic activities that have marked these production cycles considerably damaged the environment. Deforestation for logging and development of crops affected the availability and quality of water that supplied the city of Rio de Janeiro. This led emperor D. Pedro II to order in 1861 the reforestation of the area using slave labor, a process that took over 10 years.

4Agriculture continued until the middle of last century, when competition with crops grown in São Paulo by Japanese immigrants reduced local production. During this period, flower production and mining black granite of great commercial value started in Vale Encantado. The quarries using dynamite to mine granite caused serious damage to the environment, affecting the plant life and the springs that supply the community, while attracting new residents with opportunities of employment and income.

5Increased environmental awareness in the 1980s and 1990s, however, led to the end of mining in the quarries. The production of flowers (especially azaleas, camellias and Agapanthus) also decreased due to competition with the cultivation of new species in the sierra regions of the state by European immigrants. The decrease in flower production and the closure of the quarries caused many residents to leave the region.

6The lack of job opportunities and concerns about environmental conservation led the community to seek new opportunities for social and economic development.

7The difficulties faced with the closure of the quarries, deforestation and lack of employment, as well as other reasons, such as poor sanitation, lack of street lighting, waste collection and public transport, forced the community to organize themselves into an association. Thus in 1992, AMATA – the Association of Residents and Friends of Taquara do Alto da Boa Vista – was formed.

8In 2005, a representative of the non-government organization (NGO) ABAQUAR/PARIS was in Brazil and identified a great potential for tourism development in Vale Encantado. The community was different from other Rio de Janeiro slums in that it was peaceful and free from drug trafficking. Added to this was the fact that Vale Encantado is located in Alto da Boa Vista, an area that is frequently visited by domestic and foreign tourists attracted by its historical and cultural features and its natural beauty (Atlantic rainforest, rivers and waterfalls). Its prime location also offers a magnificent view of Rio’s West Zone beaches.

9From this approach and from the support of ABAQUAR/PARIS, the Vale Encantado ecotourism project was created. Recently, more support and other partnerships have emerged, born of the organizational skills and social mobilization of the community, from institutions like the Brazilian incubator Genesis Project of the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro – PUC/Rio – and The Ventura Institute for Sustainable Development.

10The community's dream of remaining in the locationin a dignified andsustainable manner, preserving their rootsand culture, found social support primarily in international cooperation and later with these Brazilian institutions.Withtheir support, the dream has come true.Increasingly assumingthe leading roleas "guardian of the forest," through the managementand sustainable use ofnatural and cultural resourcessurrounding theTijuca National Park, Vale Encantadois becomingareferenceto bedisseminated andreplicated inother communitieslocatedaround conservation units.

The Tijuca Forest National Park

Figure 1. The Tijuca ForestNational Park – PARNA-Tijuca covers 3,972hectares and is made up of sixforests: Andaraí-Grajaú, Paineiras, Santa Inês, Tijuca, Gávea and Carioca.These forests have crystal clear springs and ensure a mild climatefor the city, as well as providing landslide protection and flood control during heavy rains, therefore providing an importantenvironmental service.1

Figure 1. The Tijuca ForestNational Park – PARNA-Tijuca –covers 3,972hectares and is made up of sixforests: Andaraí-Grajaú, Paineiras, Santa Inês, Tijuca, Gávea and Carioca.These forests have crystal clear springs and ensure a mild climatefor the city, as well as providing landslide protection and flood control during heavy rains, therefore providing an importantenvironmental service.1

11ThePARNA-Tijuca is the home to major Rio de Janeiro city attractions, such as the statue of Christthe Redeemer, theChinese View, the Paineiras Hotel, the Sivestre restaurant, the Mayrink Chapel, the Weir Museum, etc.

12The original vegetationwasAtlantic Rainforest; however, dueto degradation processescaused by the removal oftimber for building,firewood and charcoal,and expansionof coffee plantationsand other crops, this was partiallydestroyed.Therecovery of the areatook placeby order of emperorD.Pedro II, whoruled that it be reforestedwith a rich anddiverse floraof native (mimosa, centrolobium, cedar, inga, tabebuia, palm, purple glory tree, etc.) and exoticspecies (bamboo, breadfruit, jackfruit, jaboticaba, mango trees, etc.).

13In 1991, theTijuca Forest was registered by UNESCOas a Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site.A joint effortof government andthe communitiessurrounding theparkhas been made byCONCA, the Alto daBoa Vista Citizenship Council, aimed at managing the coexistence of the communitieswith the conservation ofthe Tijuca National Park2.

The Vale Encantado community

Figure 2. The environmental impact of the quarries

Figure 2. The environmental impact of the quarries

Figure 3. Vale Encantado today – Nature conservation

Figure 3. Vale Encantado today – Nature conservation

14Diverse families, for example the Carvalhos, Barros and Medeiros – descendents of the old Portuguese settlers – occupied Vale Encantado. These families grew not only coffee but also greens and vegetables which supplied the smallholdings and the Alto da Boa Vista farm, with the surplus being sold in Praça 15 in downtown Rio.

15Around 1950 two new income generation cycles, growing flowers and Tijuca black granite mining, began in the Valley. These were short-lived, because, unable to compete with lower prices of flowers grown by European immigrants in the Rio sierra region, flower production was halted in the 1980s. In the case of granite mining, which was more profitable and had no competition, its development was rapid, generating income and attracting new residents to the location. The black granite was rare and high quality and had great commercial value. However, once again, the activity caused serious environmental damage, leaving the land without vegetation cover and was totally prohibited in the 1990s due to environmental pressures. Many of the immigrants who lived from granite mining went in search of a better life, leaving behind the few families that were already living there and others that had put down roots in the Valley.

16To solve the numerous problems that arose with the closing of the quarry, residents created AMATA – Association of Residents and Friends of Taquara of Alto da Boa Vista – in 1992, but six months later the association closed. The problems only increased. A legal suit by the Public Ministry for the removal of the community in 2005 caused the association to be revived. Today, AMATA plays an important part in local economic and social development on the management board of the Tijuca National Park, and one of its members is the Secretary. AMATA is one of the most active associations in Alto da Boa Vista.

17A French colleague, Jerome Auriac, from the NGO ABAQUAR/PARIS, came to visit Alto da Boa Vista in a middle class neighborhood near the Vale Encantado Community. He quickly perceived the tourism potential of the community and offered two places for residents to be trained as tour guides. From this point on, residents of the community began to hold meetings and discussions to create a Social Tourism cooperative. After many meetings, they chose two persons in the community to take the course, and through Jerome’s contacts and knowledge, many friends started to visit the Valley. They went for nature rambles and enjoyed a tasty lunch prepared by community women, made with products from the forest and others grown by residents.

18The idea began taking form in 2007, and COOVE-RJ, the Vale Encantado Cooperative Ltd., was formed, the first social cooperative in the PARNA-Tijuca area. From this point, AMATA and Coove joined forces in search of resources to promote local social development in a sustainable manner, through various projects. Today this organization is growing and improving the quality of life of Valley residents.

The ecotourism and social cuisine project

19In Rio de Janeiro an important social and cultural phenomenon has been developing. It is the conversion of slums into tourist destinations, as sociologist Bianca Freire-Medeiros analyzes in her book “Gringo na Lage”  (Foreigner on a Concrete Roof). This author tells us that these slums are being promoted, sold and consumed in several ways: as a physical and/or social landscape, as an ecotourism destination, and as adventure and/or cultural tourism.

20She estimates that "in Rocinha alone, five agencies (currently seven) serve together an average of 2,500 (currently estimated to be 3,500) tourists per month." In her view this phenomenon is not an isolated case, as in addition to Rocinha, several slums in Rio de Janeiro, such as Morro dos Prazeres, Morro do Babilônia and Morro da Providencia, have already developed some kind of tourist activities.

21The phenomenon that is transforming Vale Encantado into a tourist destination is no different. The proximity of the Tijuca National Park, the lush natural surroundings, and the community's social organization attract the interest of foreign and Brazilian tourists.

22In this process the community identifies itself as an ecotourism destination and seeks to stimulate sustainable tourism through two main lines of action that interact with each other with a view to local development: 1) implementing nature trails, and 2) promoting local cuisine.

23Through these efforts a number of initiatives are being developed within and outside the community, in search of a new model of sustainability.

Communitarian Ecotourism – Nature trails

24The Valley has attracted over 1,000 tourists from different origins since it started its activity. Some important partnerships have been made with agencies and tour operators concerned with the concept of sustainability and social development. The project has three types of trails, at whose end points the community offers a tasty snack, integrating the activities developed in the community. Tourists can also obtain community products such as jams and homemade candy, as well as purchase arts and crafts.

Figure 4. Communitarian Ecotourism – Nature trails

Figure 4. Communitarian Ecotourism – Nature trails

Promoting local cuisine

25The communityhas been developingrecipesin order to make better use of products grown in kitchen gardens and those thatgrow naturallyin the forest.With thesenatural ingredientstheypreparedelectable food items like: taro turnovers, chayote and chili jelly, jack fruit stew, jack fruit pies, heart of banana, among others. They also produce exoticjuices such aschayotewith mintand passion fruitwithsavory kale and tasty seasonal fruit cakes.

26Withanincreasing participation inevents organized bythe PontificalCatholic Universityof Rio de Janeiro/PUC-Rio, the cooperative's Social Buffet is gainingvisibility,demonstrating its potential and economic viability,and generating income,especially for the women in the community.

Figure 5. Promoting local cuisine

Figure 5. Promoting local cuisine

27These activitiesare supervised bysuccessful experience ofsharedmanagement of produced resources. TodayCoovehas 20membersthat carry out the daily workand enjoys the support of other residents of the community and region.

28The partnerships withnational and international institutionshave providedthe technical skills for staff,trainingthe chefs, waiters and tour guides,while also enabling the organization ofaninfrastructurecapable of dealing withexternalservices.

29Otherinitiatives such asthe establishment ofanativeplant nursery, an organic vegetable gardenandwaste recyclingare beingformulated and implemented.The search foralternative energy sourceslike the Low-Cost Solar Heater andalternative forms ofwaste treatmentare also partof the community goals. The community has had its work widely divulged in the printed, digital andtelevision media, demonstrating the great interestit arouses.

Lessons learned – an experiment that is becoming a reference

30Theproject contextis to pass on the experience gained over tens ofdecades bylegitimatelocalresidents of a locationforgottenby the local government, that to liveand makea living fortheir familiesdepends onlogging andplantingandactivities such as the black granite mining that have degradedthe environment.

31These residentsrecoveredtheir historyand origin, almost forgotten in time.Today,the oldest members pass on to the youngesttheir experiences, the rightsand the duties oftheresidents surrounding aprotected area,so that in thefuture they are not forgotten and becomehostagesof real estate speculation.

32In this new reality, Valleyresidentsintendto livepeacefully in the natural settingthat surrounds them, making their livelihood from it without degradingit.

33Much progresscan be recorded, such asthe conservation of the forest, soil and water, income generation, creation of job opportunities, social recognition andimproved community self-esteem. But manychallenges still remain for Valley residents, such as overcoming the long term problemsof accessto public servicessuch as transportation,waste management,lighting, etc.

34Todaythe cooperativeis as important astheneighborhood association. The expectedgrowthis 33.3% per yearuntil it reaches100% at the end of2013, when it will become thefirstself-sustaining community in the area surrounding theNational Park ofTijuca.

35With this growthand visibility, the goal is for the Vale Encantado project to becomea referenceand expand toother communitiesof Alto da BoaVista, generating income and stimulating development,bringing newopportunities for residentsof the Valley.


36The community thanks all those who, through their organizations or individually, have contributed to the implementation, success and awareness of the work in Vale Encantado. Listing all our important supporters would be too extensive and some names might be unintentionally omitted. For this reason we chose to name you collectively here, offering our deepest thanks to all our friends and co-workers.

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1. The Tijuca ForestNational Park – PARNA-Tijuca –covers 3,972hectares and is made up of sixforests: Andaraí-Grajaú, Paineiras, Santa Inês, Tijuca, Gávea and Carioca.These forests have crystal clear springs and ensure a mild climatefor the city, as well as providing landslide protection and flood control during heavy rains, therefore providing an importantenvironmental service.1
File image/jpeg, 280k
Title Figure 2. The environmental impact of the quarries
File image/jpeg, 352k
Title Figure 3. Vale Encantado today – Nature conservation
File image/jpeg, 340k
Title Figure 4. Communitarian Ecotourism – Nature trails
File image/jpeg, 172k
Title Figure 5. Promoting local cuisine
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Electronic reference

Otávio Alves Barros and Maria Emília Melo, “From Myth to Reality: The Experience of Sustainable Tourism in The Vale Encantado Community in Tijuca Forest, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil”Field Actions Science Reports [Online], Special Issue 3 | 2011, Online since 24 November 2011, connection on 30 November 2023. URL:

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About the authors

Otávio Alves Barros

President of Coove-RJ – Cooperativa Vale Encantado Ltda and Chairman of AMATA, the Association of Residents and Friends of Taquara, Tourist Guide registered with Embratur, Cooperativa do Vale Encantado (Vale Encantado Cooperative) – Coove, Estrada da Paz – Travessa Vale Encantado, 02, Alto da Boa Vista, Rio de Janeiro, CEP 20.531-340,  Brazil, Website:, E-mail :

Maria Emília Melo

Consultant to the Ecotourism Project in Vale Encantado, an Agronomist who studied at UFRPE with a Masters Degree in Agricultural Development from CPDA/UFRRJ. Researcher in the area of tourism and sustainability with an MBA from the Tourism Innovation Observatory of EBAPE/FGV-Rio de Janeiro, E-mail :

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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