A Brazilian Hotel’s Quest to Preserve the Largest Tropical Savanna in South America

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What most people know about Brazil tends to be limited, either to the iconic beaches of Rio de Janeiro or the vast jungles of the Amazon. The massive jungle is one of the world’s most important ecological areas due to its thick carbon-capturing forest, the destruction of which is a worrisome contribution to climate change. 

Less known, even by many Brazilians, is another of this country’s critical biomes, one that feeds the Amazon and other key areas with the stuff it needs to keep the planet thriving: water. That biome is called the Cerrado, which is pronounced “cehado” in Portuguese, and is the largest tropical savanna in South America, with 2 million square kilometers home to more than 13,000 plant species, 278 reptile species, and 850 bird species. The landscape features arid tablelands, open grasslands, and marshes with palm trees. There is an oasis in the heart of the Cerrado where visitors can not only travel in luxury and spot rare and endangered wildlife but learn about this rapidly vanishing resource—and maybe help save it. 

Pousada Trijunção is one of three properties owned by a group of investors led by Brazilian media magnate Jose Roberto Marinho. It’s reachable by a 248-mile drive from the country’s capital, Brasilia, or by a plane ride. That travel distance comes with a substantial reward, though, in the form of solitude in a landscape found nowhere else in Brazil and one often overlooked by its own citizens. 

“When you talk about conservation in Brazil, you tend to focus on the Amazon, or the Pantalon. The Cerrado, nobody cares about, but it’s a very important place that’s already lost 50% of its area,” says manager João Sampaio, which is troubling news for the 150 species and animals at risk of extinction because of this habitat degradation. “We want to put the Cerrado on the map.” 

Marinho’s group bought the 81,000-acre Trijunção farm 30 years ago. The land borders the Grande Sertão Veredas National Park, so the conservation-minded new owners saw it as a good buffer to protect both the groundwater and the park. The lodge, named “Trijunção” because it sits at the junction of three Brazilian borders—Bahia, Goiás, and Minas Gerais—opened in 2018. It’s one of three hotels. In Paraty, on the southeastern coast, there’s the Pousada Literária, and in Trancoso there’s the Pousada Tutabel. 

THE ITEM

The hotel has seven rooms broken into three categories. There’s a 90-square-meter primary suite with a private hot tub and two balconies, three premium suites each 60 square meters, and three standard suites, half that size. The food from Belgian chef Bertrand Martene is inspired by the writings of famed chef Guimarães Rosa. It includes ample local specialties from jerked beef bruschetta with Buriti jelly and filet mignon tournedos encrusted with native Brazilian nuts and is sourced mostly from the pousada’s vegetable gardens or from nearby purveyors of pork and beef. 

THE PRICE

The standard suites cost 3,200 Brazilian reals (about US$650) per day, while the premium suites go for 4,200 reals, and the largest for 4,800 reals. That covers all food and drinks except wine and spirits. 

WHAT’S THE GOOD

Eco-tourism often focuses on making people feel good about how they travel, with sustainable or educational activities and buildings made from recycled materials. Pousada Trijunção heats water with solar panels and uses reclaimed wood throughout the property, but it also aims to bring people to the Cerrado so that they will understand and help fight to protect it, Sampaio says. “The idea is to introduce people to this place and show how important it is to the environment as a whole,” Sampaio says. 

The humidity created in the Amazon creates precipitation above the Cerrado, which is why it’s often referred to as the “nest” of that water, which provides rain to this biome that makes up 22% of Brazil. Water from the Cerrado then flows widely to other regions, such as the Pantanao. “The Cerrado is right in the center of Brazil and it touches all the other biomes,” Sampaio says. 

For centuries, the Cerrado’s 1.9 million acres were largely left alone, its soil considered worthless by Brazilians, until government researchers realized that with enough lime and fertilizer, the land could grow soybeans. The Cerrado is also a respite for a vast array of sensitive species, from the giant anteater to the iconic and graceful maned wolf, which lives only in this place and is threatened with extinction. 

Pousada Trijunção partners with another conservation group, Onçafari, to offer guests the chance to see the mane wolf and other species on early morning and evening safaris. The idea is to fund research into the mane wolves’ habits and also to use visitors to help acclimate the wolves to humans, which may seem counterintuitive but helps keep the animals in a safe corridor and hopefully makes them less likely to wander through more dangerous agricultural areas, which are now proliferating in the Cerrado. Guests can also roam the property to spot birds, kayak on a small lake for a nighttime search for the adorable dwarf caiman. 

The pousada is also home to a commercial breeding center, which produces emus, tapirs, caterpillar deer, peccary, and jabutis, that can be purchased as pets or as food. This helps battle the black-market trafficking of wild species, Sampaio says.

WHAT’S NEXT

Over the next few years, Pousada Trijunção is planning to release some of the animals it produces in the breeding center—the Great Ria, the tapir, pampas deer, the peccary, and the tortoise into the national park, to bolster the numbers.  “We’re definitely making progress” on raising awareness about the Cerrado’s plight, Sampaio says. “It’s catching more attention every day.”

Source: PENTA