By: Camila Fróis
Photos: Tom Alves
In the heart of Bahía, one of Brazil’s most beautiful and vibrant states, the Chapada Diamantina National Park includes natural attractions that extend beyond its borders to encompass the surrounding towns that peaked at the end of the 19th century, when the region was famous for its massive diamond mines.
When the mining ended, this place remained frozen in time until it was rediscovered by travelers passing through the old mining routes, who fell in love with its cinematographic landscapes. To understand this area’s charms, which today combine nature, culture, and hospitality, it’s best to plan a long vacation. The picturesque historic towns, which receive visitors from all over the world, are surrounded by countless canyons, mountains, and several rivers that originate at the mountain peaks, slide down, tumble into waterfalls, and form natural transparent pools, filling caverns with their turquoise blue water.
The best way to visit these natural attractions is by hiking along short paths or taking longer journeys, enjoying the pure air all the while. Swimming in the waterfall, rowing, horseback riding, rappelling, mountain biking, climbing, diving into flooded caves, and visiting remote communities are options for exploring this region. If you would rather not go on demanding hikes, there are other choices as well. Some travel agencies offer off-road trips to spots that look like gorgeous picture postcards. These agencies also offer bilingual guides and extreme sports instructors.
Lençóis, the main entrance to Chapada Diamantina, is 250 miles from Salvador (the capital of Bahía). In addition to eco-tourism agencies, the city has beautiful 19th century homes, cobblestone streets, and the region’s best restaurants and hotels, including luxurious options with excellent cuisine and stunning views, like the Hotel Canto das Aguas.
Chapada Diamantina is a destination with many attractions, but a few in particular should not be missed. From Lençóis, there are roads leading to some of the important areas in neighboring cities and the National Park; highlights include the Morro do Pai Inácio mountain (with its breathtaking panoramic views), the refreshing natural pools of Serrano, the caves of Pratinha (with transparent water and colorful fish), and the Cachoeira da Fumaça waterfall, in the Vale do Capão, whose waters disperse, forming a splendid cloud. In the background, the vegetation is always lush with species from semiarid climates, like cactus and evergreens, and the Atlantic forest, complete with bromeliads and orchids. Select vistas from these picture postcard locales and plan your trip.
Cachoeira da Fumaça
In the mystical town of Capão, a community bordering the National Park, you will find Brazil’s second largest waterfall. If you want to visit, you will have to hop onto an expedition vehicle that will take you to the start of the trail; from there you will walk a little over four miles. From up high, resting on a rock, you can contemplate an impressive view of the waters plunging from a height of more than 1300 feet, creating a curtain of fog. Another option is a trip to the lower part of the waterfall, but this requires three days of walking and camping in the middle of the dense forest.
Morro do Pai Inácio
Another adventure consists of climbing this 3,675-foot mountain, Chapada’s main natural viewpoint. It offers a 360-degree panoramic view and the sunset’s best show. From the mountain’s peak, which is more than one billion years old, you can see, along the blue horizon, the contours of many of the mountains and curves making up the Serra do Espinhaço mountain range (the largest in Brazil). A beautiful 11-mile trail leads to the Morro do Pai Inácio, a journey that requires an entire day. A more comfortable option is traveling by car to the base of the mountain and hiking the remaining 1,300 feet to the summit.
The caves in the region are proof that Chapada Diamantina is as fascinating underground as it is on the surface. Gruta da Pratinha is an essential stop for those who want to relax and go for a swim. You’re allowed to dive or row in the outside part of the cave, or its transparent, blue-toned river, which reflects a silvery sheen. Gruta Azul is worth a visit to see the sun’s rays invading the canyon and cutting through the water with long bands of light, exposing the bottom of the cave. The Poço Encantado cave also has blue waters that form a stunning pool. The sunlight produces fascinating effects when it illuminates the water.
Vale do Pati Trek
This three to five day hike is an excellent option for those who can spare the energy and time to cover its forty-three miles. When visitors cross its beautiful valley, they stay overnight in the residents’ homes, with homemade food prepared in wood-burning stoves, antique lamplight, and lots of conversation. On this trail, hikers can admire impressive natural attractions such as plateaus, waterfalls, rivers, valleys, pits, and caves. The most astonishing point on the road, and perhaps the most interesting site in Chapada Diamantina, is the Cachoeirão, a large, deep valley where dozens of waterfalls over 900 feet high form during the rainy season, creating dark wells of water surrounded by dense Atlantic vegetation. Over this green immensity, butterflies fly about with subtle delicacy oblivious to vertigo. If you don’t want to undertake the entire trek, you can go through an agency that will take you to this point for a shorter hike.
In addition to the easier access points around the town of Lençóis, Chapada Diamantina has more remote, but no less captivating areas. Ghost towns, ruins, Byzantine cemeteries, secular churches, and towns such as Mucugê, Andaraí, Igatu, Ibicoara, and Caeté-Açu offer elegant inns and maintain the history of Ciclo de Diamantes. The roads that spread out around these cities lead to the region’s other splendid landscapes.
Cachoeira da Fumacinha
This 330-foot waterfall is one of the most popular attractions south of Chapada Diamantina. To get to the top, you must depart from the town of Mucugê for a peaceful walk of nearly nine miles. If you take the low road, you will travel along the river for eleven miles and then climb a steep incline to get to the summit.
Cachoeira do Buracão
In the town of Ibicoara, the Cachoeira do Buracão waterfall fills the well of a gigantic hole. The 280-foot waterfall lies at the end of an easy one-hour walk leading to the 295-foot high canyon interior. From here, there are two options: use a life jacket and swim, or cross a narrow bridge across the middle of the canyon walls. Extreme adventure is guaranteed.
The canoe trip through the Pantanal do Marimbus, situated in a flood-prone region in Chapada Diamantina, is good for contemplating the flocks of birds taking flight towards the horizon at dusk. With a little bit of luck you might see crocodiles in the river, and capybaras and anacondas hidden under the aquatic plants of the mini-swamp. In the middle of the trip, you can leave the canoes and walk about fifteen minutes to the Rio Roncador river, a very special place.
Exploring Chapada Diamantina
The roads aren’t marked so it is essential to be accompanied by a guide for visits to all Chapada Diamantina destinations. You can contract them locally at agencies such as Vertical Trip (www.verticaltrip.com.br), or, if you prefer, you can contact specialized operators like Boreal (www.borealturismo.com.br) ahead of time to purchase a complete package.
Once you’re in Lençóis, we highly recommend a visit to the scenic mine in the courtyard of Senhor Cori’s home; he is an old miner who shows tourists how people searched for the diamonds that abound in the region. With sifters on hand, Senhor Cori demonstrates the job he performed between the ages of 12 to 78. Today, this wonderful man represents the living memory of Bahía’s diamond boom.
Passionate about his profession, he built a museum in his home. Listen carefully to the story of how he met his wife, Dona María, fifty years ago; it is evocative of a time when love was a patiently crafted feeling.