By Carolina Pinheiro
Photos: Tom Alves
More than four hundred million years ago, wind and rain sculpted the sandstone formations in Seven Cities National Park, which sits 124 miles from Teresina and is now a stop on the Adventure Route.
Nature created an incredible open-air laboratory in one of the country’s oldest regions, which dates from the Paleozoic era. The clusters of rock formations inspired scientists to call them the Seven Cities of Stone. The park, spreading over some 15,400 acres, is located in the El Cerrado area, an extensive eco-region of tropical Brazilian savannah rich in caatinga, a type of semi-arid scrub vegetation found only in Brazil. The rocky outcrops resembling people, animals, and historic monuments attract around 30,000 visitors to the park every year.
The park’s predominant flora is typical of El Cerrado. Caatinga groves contain juazeiros or jujube (a tree common to the Brazilian northeast), aroeiras (Brazilian peppertree), cactuses such as the xique-xique (also a regional plant), and dandelion.
One of the most visited attractions is the Arch of Triumph, a rock that brings to mind one of France’s most famous postcard views. The rock formation can be found in City Two, which also boasts The Overlook, which is the highest point in the Seven Cities, and The Library, named for its resemblance to a stack of books.
Created in June 1961, the park encloses one of the most beautiful ensembles of geomorphological features in Brazil. Researchers can convincingly theorize that the region was originally a marine biome.
After asking tourists to identify several monuments, the guides reveal which one is the most popular. The Turtle Stone in City Six looks exactly like the shell of the famously slow animal.
The wealth of detail on the rock outcrops is impressive in terms of both beauty and uniqueness. The feelings evoked by the mystical atmosphere fluctuate between one sensation and another. This ancestral land dates back to one of the planet’s oldest geological eras.
While these enigmatic landscapes alone are certainly reason enough to make the trip, there is another attraction that rivals the monuments: a number of walls featuring rock art. Tourist guide José Carlos Ferreira de Souza tells us that the park has more than thirty sites with inscriptions, some more than 10,000 years old.
The 7.5 miles of road that is open to the public constitutes a circuit that can be traveled by car, bus, bicycle, or on foot; the full circuit takes around eight hours. Visitors can decide on the tour that best suits their needs and schedule.
Several types of wild animals, such as pumas, boas, foxes, and monkeys can be spotted during the tours, fueling the collective mythos and giving rise to legends that are passed down from one generation to the next.
The surreal landscape breeds speculation about the site’s origins, with many of the hypotheses being incredible albeit amusing. One theory posits that Atlantis was connected to the Parnaíba Delta and the people of that supposedly lost continent were the forefathers of the indigenous Tupinambá and Tabajara tribes that once inhabited this area.
Some claim that the formations must be the work of alien beings. Descriptions of magical moments like a sunset over this slice of land deep inside Brazil also feed the stories that are bandied about.
How to Get There
After leaving Teresina, continue along BR-343 to Piripiri, then follow the sixteen miles of paved road leading to the entrance to Seven Cities National Park. Visitors who are visiting the Parnaíba Delta while on the Adventure Route can link up with tours run by local operators. Travelers who wish to go by bus should check the timetables to Piripiri at the Teresina transport terminal. If you leave from Piracuruca, traveling eleven miles along the PI-111 will take you to the park entrance, and three more miles will deposit you at the administration building. Admission costs fifteen reales (a little less than four dollars), with a 50% discount for Brazilians.