The residential parts of Brasília are rarely thought of as a destination for visitors, but the older areas are by far the best place for a stroll during the day. The parks and gardens between the blocks are extremely well designed, and even at the hottest times of year you can walk for hundreds of yards in certain areas without leaving the shade. The oldest superquadras are all in Asa Sul; 108 Sul was the first to be completed in the whole city, designed as a showpiece to make the city tolerable for those bureaucrats moving here from Rio (a miserable failure in that respect at the time, but things eventually improved as the trees grew). The adjacent blocks from 107 down to 104 were all built shortly after and make for a great urban walk – take a bus or walk up W3 Sul, get off at the 508 block, walk two blocks down, and then start strolling towards the centre. There are plenty of comercials along the way if you want to make a pit stop.
For a taste of the cerrado before heading deeper into the planalto, or just a temporary break from the city, consider venturing to the Jardim Botânico, at the far end of Asa Norte, and the Parque Nacional de Brasília, across the striking JK Bridge over Lago Paranoá in Lago Sul. Both were created in the early 1960s to preserve large green spaces within easy reach of the city – it seemed superfluous then, but the pace of development has been so fast that there would be very little native cerrado anywhere near the city without them. The Jardim Botânico, at Setor de Mansões Dom Bosco in Lago Sul, is a calm and well-organized retreat where you can experience the flora and fauna of the cerrado at first hand. There’s an information centre, a large display of medicinal plants of the region, a herb garden, and over forty square kilometres of nature reserve with an extensive network of trails. It’s good hiking, but make sure you bring a hat and water.
Parque Nacional de Brasília
Parque Nacional de Brasília
The Parque Nacional de Brasília, the city’s very own national park, at the far end of Asa Norte, is the only area of native vegetation large enough around Brasília to support proper wildlife populations. During the week, you will have the place largely to yourself, and while the park itself is enormous, visitors are restricted to its southern corner, where the main attractions are two very large swimming holes, Piscina Velha and Piscina Nova, both a short, well-signposted walk from either of the two entrances, and built around a stream, preserving the natural flow of the water. When there is nobody there, this is a lovely spot – especially for a picnic. You may spot capuchin monkeys leaping acrobatically through the trees, but they have become used to scavenging picnic remains so take care not to leave food lying around, and be sure to pack plastic bags away as the monkeys regularly choke on them.
Although the swimming holes get very crowded at weekends, virtually everyone sticks to the water, so if you want space and some solitude, head up the slope to a small fenced trail through a section of gallery forest and continue up the hill until you come up onto open cerrado savanna. Here you’ll find another much longer trail, a four-mile circuit called the Água Cristal (crystal water trail), which lives up to its name, taking you through a number of clearwater streams before dumping you back more or less where you started. The views are beautiful, although it is frustrating you can’t hike into them.