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A guide to Brazil’s Tocantins state, home to this season of "Survivor."
SAO PAULO — The government of Brazil’s Tocantins state, home to the 18th season of "Survivor" which concludes tonight on CBS, estimates that the free publicity from the show was worth approximately $2.8 billion.
But you could give $2.8 billion in free publicity to a mud pie manufacturer too, and it wouldn’t do them much good.
So is the Jalapao — the remote and beautiful but scorchingly hot area of the state where "Survivor" was filmed — worth the visit? And was it worth it for Tocantins to have the massive "Survivor" operation in town, building structures and sewage systems and trampling around land in a environmentally protected region?
Jalapao State Park, it turns out, is a fairly well-known tourist attraction within Brazil, mentioned in press reports and guides as a top adventure travel destination. Tour operators in Palmas, the 184,000 person capital of the state, run rafting and camping trips there: One American company, the California-based Mountain Travel Sobek, even set up a trip there two years ago, although it never ran. The area is known for its crystalline and shockingly warm rivers, as well as waterfalls, dunes (where “Exile Island” was located), a natural pool called Fervedouro, and a small village called Mumbuca, where descendents of escaped African slaves make crafts out of caipim dourado, the “golden grass” that grows in the area.
But even Brazilians don’t get there much, in part because it is not a convenient place to reach. Americans have it worse: Plan on a red eye to Sao Paulo, then a four-hour flight to Palmas, stopping first in Brasilia. From Palmas tack on several hour trip over dirt roads into the park, 4x4 required.
The distance was a prime reason the Mountain Travel Sobek trip never garnered enough interest, said Alicia Zablocki, the Latin America program director for the company. She had taken a rafting trip to the Jalapao a few years ago and fell in love with the area, she said, especially the “just unbelievable” warm, clear water of the Novo River. The bumpy ride from Palmas into the savannah-like park “reminded me so much of certain parts of Africa.”
But though it would make a great family trip once you’re there, she said, with at least one day of travel each way, it’s not a friendly option for those looking for a week’s vacation.
“You Americans take such short vacations,” said Ricardo Freire, a well-known Brazilian travel writer and blogger. He suggested combining the trip with a stop to see Oscar Niemeyer’s masterpieces of modernist architecture in Brasilia or tacking on a week at northeastern Brazil’s beaches.