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Chapada Diamantina Travel Guide

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Deep in the heart of Bahia, the Chapada Diamantina (Diamond Highlands) and its Sincorá mountain range have long been a popular destination for travelers. Adventurous types are drawn by the region's challenging hikes, climbs, mountain biking, and rappelling, as well as growing ecotourism opportunities.

The area also attracts those who just want to admire nature, be it the beautiful sunset from atop Morro do Pai Inacio hill in Lenҫois, a majestic waterfall like Fumaҫa, or the play of light on the Poҫo Encantado pond.

Cultural traditions are also an attraction here, including the memorable, candle-lit Corpus Christi procession that takes place in Rio de Contas on the first Thursday that falls 60 days after Easter.

Though named for the diamond boom that sprung up here in the 19th century, the region no longer has active mining. It has been banned since 1985. These days, nature is Chapada Diamantina's true gem.

Travelling to Chapada Diamantina by car (via the potholed, poorly-marked BR-242 highway) requires patience and careful attention. The airport in Lenҫóis receives regular flights from Salvador and São Paulo.

Map of Chapada Diamantina

See videos of Chapada Diamantina in portuguese

LENÇÓIS CITY

See video Lenҫóis Travel Guide

Lenҫóis, about 425 kilometers (264 miles) west from Salvador, is the perfect base for exploring Chapada Diamantina. Its colonial houses and rosy stone sidewalks - well-preserved despite the legions of travelers who descend on the city every year – make this charming, simple town an attraction in itself. Founded as a small village in 1856, Lenҫóis grew to become the third largest city in Bahia and home to the French vice consulate thanks to the diamond boom and trade with Europe.

Great food and music abound in Lenҫóis. Try to catch the city orchestra at the Mercado Municipal. Gorgeous scenery is also abundant in the surrounding caves and waterfalls. Pictures of this panoramic landscape are on permanent exhibition at environmentalist-photographer Calil Neto's gallery (Praҫa Horácio de Matos, 82, Centro).

To get to Lenҫóis from Salvador, take BR-324 to Feira de Santana, then BR-116 onto BR-242. That last highway leads into the city.

TORRINHA, PRATINHA, AND LAPA DOCE CAVES



The town of Iraquara, about 82 kilometers (51 miles) north of Lenҫóis, deserves its nickname, "the town of caves". One cave, the Gruta de Torrinha, features rare aragonite “flowers", which are coral-like rock formations.

Inside the Gruta da Pratinha is an underground stream suitable for diving and snorkeling (if wearing a life vest) and home to 24 uniquely identified species of fish. Two of the species are specially adapted to live in perpetual darkness; the rest are restricted to the naturally illuminated areas.

Near Pratinha is the Gruta Azul (Blue Grotto), where the sunlight creates beautiful blue color effects when reflected in the cave's stream. The Lapa Doce cave has a spacious tunnel, which is some 40 meters (131 feet) high and 850 meters (2,800 feet) long, and contains many stalactites and stalagmites.

SERRANO AREA AND SOSSEGO WATERFALL



This stretch of the Lenҫóis River is named Serrano (from the mountains). Guided tours usually take visitors first to the Salão de Areias, whose sandstone rock formations local artisans mine to create multicolored landscapes in small bottles.

The next stops are the waterfalls known as Cachoeirinha (6 meters) and Cachoeira Primavera (9 meters), followed by the Poҫo Halley pool.

South of Lenҫóis is the pink-walled Cachoeira do Sossego (a 15 meters waterfall), one of the greatest attractions in the region. En route to Sossego is the Ribeirão do Meio, a natural waterslide.

The hike there is not easy: after 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) of trails, there are 2 kilometers of climbing over a rocky riverbed. The large, deep pool at the bottom of the waterfall is good for diving and swimming.

Besides the river, waterfalls, and cave pools, there are attractions for climbers as well.

PAI INACIO HILL

Morro do Pai Inácio offers a panoramic view of Chapada Diamantina. The 30-minute walk up this 1,170-meter- high hill features lovely vegetation.

At the foot of the hill is the Orquidario Pai Inácio nursery, home to hundreds of orchid species. According to local legend, the slave Pai Inácio fled up this hill and escaped his pursuers by jumping off and floating safely to the ground with an umbrella.

Travelers interested in rappelling and zip-lining (flying fox) can visit Cachoeira waterfall and Poҫo do Diabo pool, on the Rio Mucugezinho river. They're just a 10 minute drive from the hill.

LAPÃO CAVE

With a 50-meter (164 foot) wide entrance and depth of 1 kilometer, the Gruta do Lapão is one of the largest quartzite caves in the country.

Since quartz, which is one of the hardest of the common minerals, rarely forms caves, its abundance here is quite unusual.

Instead of stalactites and stalagmites (which are created by water action on limestone), the cave interior features a floor of loose quartzite tiles, which make interesting sounds under travelers' feet. Farther inside the cave this strange symphony gives way to the thundering sound of the river's flowing water. Visits to the cave last about four and a half hours roundtrip.

It's advisable to take water, snacks, insect repellent, a flashlight, and an oil lamp. But at some point on the way, turn off your lights for a few minutes and savor in silence the cave's absolute darkness.

CRYSTAL-BLUE POOLS

When the light is right, the Poҫo Encantado, in the town of Itaete, about 160 kiJometers (100 miles) from Lenҫóis, contains extraordinarily blue water.

The pool lies in an area of carbonate rocks. This geological formation is prone to water infiltration and, therefore, to the formation of caves and subterranean tunnels.

The waters have a prism-like effect on sunlight entering the cave between April and September, which gives the pool its name, "enchanted well ".To reach the blue pool, make the exhausting descent down a 90 meters (295 feet) of steep steps and trails. Although, swimming in the pool has been banned, it is still worth the hike to see it.

Smaller and shallower than Poҫo Encantado, Poҫo Azul is in Nova Redenҫão, 67 kiJometers (42 miles) from Andaraí.

Swimming is also prohibited here. The best time of the year to go is between February and October.

CHAPADA DIAMANTINA NATIONAL PARK

The Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina seems like an island. Dirt roads and trails surround its rivers, mountains, and woods, and the BA-142 state highway is the only road that runs through it.

With 152,000 hectares (375,600 acres) that encompass the municipalities of Lenҫóis, Andaraí, Mucuge, and Palmeiras, the park is often confused with the Sincorá Range. There are ton of options for hiking and adventure sports – and the landscape is stunning.

HIKING TRAILS

HIKING TRAILS chapada diamantina bahia

Map of hiking Trails in Chapada Diamantina

1. Pai Inácio Hill-Capão

From the top of Morro do Pai Inácio you can see Morro do Camelo to the north. To the south, a string of fields and valleys leads to the foot of Morrão - this is where the trail begins. An excellent choice for a medium-difficulty hike through breathtaking scenery, the trek is about 30 kilometers (19 miles) long - 25 kilometers on foot and 5 kilometers by car. It can take all day to get to Capão, but if you decide to visit Conceiҫão dos Gatos by car, it will only take five hours to reach the village.

2. Lenҫóis-Capão

This medium-difficulty hike takes about five hours. The trail passes the foot of Morrão ("large hill") and winds along several rivers, which make for excellent swimming spots.

3. Morrão

You can reach the hill by any of several trails, including the ones listed above, those departing from the Pai Inácio Hill-Capão, and those leaving from the valley or from the village of Conceiҫão dos Gatos. Once at the foot of the hill, you can reach the top within 90 minutes. It's a steep ascent - at some points it'll seem like you are climbing, rather than hiking - but the view from the top and the hill's beautiful terrain make it worth the effort.

4. Igatu-Andaraí

This easy, four-hour trail doesn't demand much from its hikers. From the central square pass the Igreja de São Sebastião and the cemetery and follow the left bank of the Rio Xique-Xique. Mining activity has significantly altered the landscape along the trail. The hills overlook the region's cacti, xiquexique, and the beaches on the Rio Paraguaҫu at the foot of the hills.

5. Paty Valley

This is a long and demanding trail, but with multiple starting and stopping points, you can choose to walk a shorter stretch. Located within the heart of the Sincorá Range, the deep Vale do Paty is surrounded by beautiful hills and majestic walls. The most commonly used trails within the valley start at either Capão, in the north, at Guinévillage, in the west, or at Andaraí, in the east. A less traveled trail starts at Mucuge in the south.

6. Lenҫõis-Fumaҫa Waterfall
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You'll have to be in excellent shape to reach the breathtaking Cachoeira da Fumaҫa.

There are two ways to get there: a three day hike from Lenҫóis or a day-long drive from Capão. The three-day hike starts at the bottom of the waterfall, climbs to the top, and finishes at the Capão Valley. Driving straight to Capão- 50 kilometers (31 miles) on paved roads and 22 kilometers (14 miles) on dirt roads -leaves you with a 6 kilometer (4 miles) walk up a steep slope to the top of the waterfall, and brings you back to Capão on the same day.

ADVENTURE SPORTS

Trekking is not the only option for adventure sports buffs in Chapada Diamantina.

Many of the hiking trails double as trails for mountain biking. In Lenҫóis, guides and tour operators lead various activities like climbing, rappelling, and canyoning at Morro do Camelo (250 meters, 820 feet) and Pai Inácio (150 meters, 490 feet).

Other attractions include: Gruta do Lapão cave (55 meters, 180 feet), whi ch offers those activities as well as bungee jumping and "cave jumping" (bungee jumping at the mouth of the cave); Cachoeira do Mosquito waterfall (two cascades, respectively 35 and 50 meters, or 115 and 165 feet high); and north of Chapada Diamantina, near Morro do Chapéu hill, 350 kilometers (217 miles) from Lenҫóis.

Transportation is included for the locales that are farther away: Gruta dos Brejões cave (a depth of 123 meters, 404 feet); Serra dos Brejões range (170 meters, 560 feet); and Cachoeira do Buracão waterfall (100 meters, 330 feet), in Ibicoara, 230 kilometers (143 miles) from Lenҫóis.

ANDARAÍ CITY

Andarai, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south from Lenҫóis is on the BA-142 highway, is a town frozen in time: people seem to live here just as they did during the diamond mining era.

Sitting on the eastern edges of the Sincorá Range, Andaraí leads a simpler existence than Mucuge and Lenҫóis, and, as a result, tourist services are limited.

The town is one of the gateways to Vale do Paty and its well-trodden hiking trails. Other attractions around Andaraí include the Marimbus wetlands, the Roncador and Garapa rivers, and the Ramalho
waterfall , with its 90-l1leter (295-foot) drop.

MARIMBUS

Where the Santo Antonio River meets the plains at the foot of the Sincorá Range, are several flooded areas: the Marimbus wetlands. A canoe is the best vehicle for taking in this region, which is also known as "O Pantanal da Chapada" (the Chapada wetlands, in contrast to the vast Pantanal wetlands farther south).

The fauna and flora of the wetlands are some of the main highlights of the area, which a huge va riety of birds and fish, anacondas, caimans, pacas, and tapirs, as well as a remarkable set of water lilies.

MUCUGE CITY

The small town of Mucuge, 134 kilometers (83 miles) south from Lencóis on the BA-142 highway, has a pleasant climate and an average temperature of 19°C (66°F).

Iphan, the National Institute for Artistic and Historical Heritage, protects its well preserved historical center. The City Hall, the Matriz de Santa Isabel and Santo Antonio churches, and the striking Byzantine cemetery, with its white gravestones, are among the many buildings built during the 19th century.

MUCUGE CITY PARK

The Parque Municipal de Mucuge opened in 1999, and its main attraction is the Projeto Sempre-Viva.

The sempre-viva (“everlastings") flower has been an important source of income for the people in the Chapada Diamantina since the end of the diamond boom.

As a result, the beautiful flower has become an endangered species; Ibama banned the buying and selling of the flower in 1985. The park is currently in the process of studying the pollination process in an effort to develop new cultivation technologies.

The hope is that these new technologies will make sempre-vivas commercially viable in the future, thereby increasing revenue to the town. In the park, trails lead to the waterfalls of Piabinhas, Tiburtino and Andorinhas, as well as to the researchers' lodgings and lab, and a snack bar and gift shop. BA-142 highway, Km 96, towards Andaraí, 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from Mucuge.

IBICOARA CITY

Ibicoara, 202 kilometers (126 miles) south from Lenҫóis, owes its tourism industry to the Cachoeira do Buracão and Cachoeira da Fumacinha. The former, a waterfall with an 85-meter (280-foot) drop and several swimming pools, is one of the greatest natural attractions in the Chapada Diamantina.

It is on private property in a canyon, in the south end of the park, so you will need to hire a guide for the 1-hour drive and 30-minute walk to the waterfall.

Cachoeira da Fumacinha, with its 100-meter (330-foot) cascade, is a demanding, 8-hour walk. This rocky route becomes very slippery when it rains; it follows a river at the bottom of a deep canyon for most of the way, so there is a high risk of falling.

IGATU CITY

This largely abandoned hilltop town stands on rocks covered by only a thin layer of soil. With no easy access to mud and clay, builders used stone for most the buildings.

The district was founded between 1844 and 1846, and it once was one of the most important mining centers in the Chapada Diamantina. Some estimates place its population at 10,000 during the diamond boom, but today there are just over 350 people who call Igatu home.

Still, many of the old houses are well preserved, making the town an intriguing, ali110st magical place to visit.

Formerly known as Xique-Xique, Igatu is only 14 kilometers (9 miles) away south from Andaraí along the BA-142 highway. At either Km 52 or Km 82 turn off onto the dirt road and drive west an additional 6 kilometer (4 mile).

ARTE & MEMORIA GALLERY

The Galeria Arte & Memoria opened in 2002 in a house styled after the town's lovely old stone buildings. The gallery oilers temporary exhibitions of fine arts and photography, as well as a cafe, which may serve the best cappuccino in the Chapada Diamantina.

Near the gallery's outside entrance, the Museu do Garimpeiro (Prospector's Museum) features a small collection of objects found in the old mines. Rua Luís dos Santos.

CAIM RAMP

Rampa do Caim trail ends at a point overlooking the entire Chapada Diamantina. Despite the long, 10-kilometer (6-mile) climb, the hike is not very demanding. Trail guides usually take visitors to two different lookout points; one oilers views of the Paraguaҫu canyon, and the other of the Paty river and valley.

The ascent takes about two and a half hours and the return a little less time. A longer and more demanding hike down to the bottom involves heading towards the Canion do Paraguaҫu and walking 13 kilometers (8 miles) on the banks of the river until you reach the BA-142 highway, near Andaraí.

From there you will have to arrange for transportation back to Igatu.

AMARILDO'S PLACE

Amarildo dos Santos, the living "database" of the town, owns a curious shop near the central square in Igatu.

Not only is Amarildo the repository of an endless amount of information about Igatu and its residents, but he also sells local history books that he wrote and illustrated. Amarildo's shop features an impressive magazine collection, although the periodicals are entirely in Portuguese, and a small tourist information center.

His hospitality knows no bounds: he has been known to welcome visitors to his famous house, which is located in the same building as the shop. Rua Ste de Setembro.

CAPÃO VALLEY (CAETÉ-AÇU)

The Capão river flows from the south of the Vale do Capão to the north. The valley is on the northwest border of the park, 70 kilometers (43 miles) west from Lenҫóis; it's accessible from the highway, Estrada Palmeiras-Caete-Aҫu, through 18 kilometers (11 miles) of dirt road.

Over the last three decades, the valley has received an influx of new residents who are drawn to its natural beauty.

Tourism is flourishing, with backpackers flocking here for the beautiful waterfalls, peace, and tranquility. This is where the main trail begins, leading to the highest waterfall in Brazil, with a drop of 340 meters (1,115 feet).

FUMAÇA WATERFALL

The Cachoeira da Fumaҫa, discovered only in the 1960s, is the most popular attraction in the Chapada Diamantina. There are two ways to get th ere: a 6-kilometer hike, or a three-day hike from Lenҫóis.

The 6-kilometer (4-mile) hike takes you 2 kilometers up a steep slope to the top of the canyon, offering a wonderful view of the waterfall. The more challenging, three-day hike is worth the effort when you reach the waterfall: The reason for the name "fumaҫa" (smoke) becomes evident once you see the smoke-like effect coming from the spray of the water. During the busiest season, some locals sell home-made cakes and Juice to the hikers.

JACOBINA CITY

Upon first glance, Jacobina, 283 kilometers (176 miles) north from Lenҫóis, seems as if it has been fashioned whole and deliberately plopped down in a deep valley surrounded by majestic peaks.

The town has its share of historical buildings, like the Igreja Matriz de Santo. Jacobina is accessible by the BR-324 highway nothwest.

WATERFALLS

There are hundreds of waterfalls within a short distance of Jacobina. The best known ones lie near Itaitu village, 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) from the Jacobina exit on the BR-324 highway.

Those familiar with the plunging waterblls in the Chapada Diamantina, which spill from huge vertical walls into cavernous canyons, will be surprised by the difference here: waterfalls around Jacobina cascade down steep bedrock into deep rivers.

A 20-minute hike through hundreds of babassu palms leads to Véu de Noiva (35 meters, 115 feet), located in the middle of lush rainforest. Like many waterfalls in the area, the Cachoeira do Pianco (20 meters, 66 feet) is only accessible by crossing private property.

To reach its swimming pools, you must go first by car, then continue on foot for 15 minutes.

Cachoeira das Arapongas has a series of cascades averaging 6 meters (20 feet) long, and several diving pools, like the Poҫo da Geladeira. Access to the waterfall is limited, however, so you should try to arrange a visit in advance.

MORRO DO CHAPÉU

Near the town of Morro do Chapeu, 172 kilometers (107 miles) north of Lenois, is the Cachoeira do Ferro Doido. The watelfall, recognized as a state natural monument, sometimes dries up between December to February, so you may want to go there during the wetter months.

The waterfall, Gruta dos Brejões cave, and Vila do Ventura, a village that once was a major diamond center are the region's must-see attractions. Morro do Chapéu is accessible from Rodovia do Feijão on the BA-052 highway, coming from Feira de Santana; it can also be reached by the BR-122 highway, coming from BR-242.

VENTURA VILLAGE

This ghost village in Morro do Chapéu , is home to the Estrada do Ouro (Gold Road) connecting the Chapada Diamantina to Minas Gerais.

The road, planned route for horseback trips and pilgrimages, is a linchpin in a regional revitalization project. Other attractions around Vila do Ventura include many archeological sites, the former Sítio de Igrejinha, now known as Cidade das Pedras (City of Stones), and the Cachoeira do Ventura also known as Cachoeira do André Mocó.

Most of the archeological sites are caves with ancient paintings on the rock walls.

In the Cidade das Pedras, rock formations come together to resemble a city. The best time to see the falls is during the rainy season, between November and March, as they are dry during the rest of the year.

With a guide's assistance, you can visit the village and its surroundings within a day; the local tourist office can recommend a good guide.

BREJÕES CAVE

When you reach the mouth of Gruta dos Brejões, in Morro do Chapéu, it is easy to see why the cave has become well-known. At 106 meters (348 feet) high and 7.8 kilometers (4.8 miles) long, its size alone is impressive.

But that's not all: it has a river running through it, several tunnels and underground galleries.

Moreover, the surrounding area contains a selection of unusual flora and fauna, including rare species like the black-chested buzzard-eagle and the broad-snouted caiman. For more information, contact the tourist office.

RIO DE CONTAS CITY

Rio de Contas, 225 kilometers (140 miles) south of Lenҫóis, is one of the most important historical towns in Bahia, with many of its buildings protected by Iphan. The first inhabitants of the area are said to have been the survivors of a slave ship that reportedly sunk off the coast near the mouth of the Contas River during the 17th or 18th century.

The fugitives might have followed the river up to a secluded location around its source, near the modern town and settled the area.

The town's architecture is extremely well preserved, due to the efforts of the local community, and the work of projeto Monumenta, a conservation project supported by the Department of Culture. Rio de Contas is home to the highest peaks in the Northeast.

The beautiful Pico das Almas, 1958 meters (6,424 feet) high, probably stages the most moving Corpus Christi celebrations in the region, which usually occur in June.

The best way to reach Rio de Contas is by the BA-142 highway, from Barra da Estiva to Tanhaҫu, then following the BR-030 highway to Brumado. From Brumado, take the BA-148 highway to Livramento de Nossa Senhora, which leads to Rio de Contas.

THE TOWN CENTER AND ITS SURROUNDINGS

Those interested in the cultural history of the Chapada Diamantina should be sure to visit the center of Rio das Contas and some of its neigh boring villages.

In the town center, its main buildings, protected by Iphan, include the 18th century Casa de Camara e Cadeia (Council Chamber and Prison), which currently serves as the town's courthouse, and the 19th century Town Hall and Teatro São Carlos, a theater.

In Bananal and Barra, two communities of runaway slaves' descendents make their livings off of the exhausted land. In spite of their hardships, they fervently preserve some traditional dances, songs, and prayers of the past.

As you go farther towards Morro do Bittencourt hill (1,500 meters, 4,920 feet), the landscape changes: near the village of Mato Grosso, farming fields stretch from the backyards of houses to the hills.

Coffee, corn, chayote, and other vegetables grow within the simple irrigation systems, terraces, and stone walls.

For the most part, this is pesticide-free, organic agriculture. Mato Grosso is an old settlement of Santo Antonio de Mato Grosso - settled mainly by the Portuguese, it grew into a village by 1718.

Be sure to check out some of the houses' beautiful gardens. From atop Bittencourt Hill you have an almost 360-degree view of the area; we recommend hiring a guide to get to the top.

CORPUS CHRISTI BY CANDLELIGHT

The Corpus Christi celebration is very important to the residents of Rio de Contas.

Locals often paint their houses in the weeks that precede the holiday. The holiday itself falls on the first Thursday that comes at least 60 days after Easter, which will be May 22 in 2008 but is in early June in most upcoming years.

On Wednesday, the eve of the festivities, children cover the sidewalks with white paintings and everybody decorates their houses with small candle lanterns.

All of the house plants are placed outside, transforming the town into a huge, illuminated garden.

The street lamps are turned off one by one, and the whole town of Rio de Contas is visible only by the flickering light of the lanterns. A procession then winds through the streets, accompanied by the town orchestra, which plays marching music and leads the faithful to the church.

There, they celebrate the Corpus Christi Eve mass for hours. The next day, the children's sidewalk paintings are covered with brightly colored sawdust, rice husks, and other materials - the streets appear to be covered with colorful carpets. Throughout the day there are several masses, and festivities take over the town; throngs of people from the region and the obligatory crowd of tourists stream through the streets.

WATERFALLS

The area around Rio de Contas boasts several waterfalls, though they are hardly the region's main attraction.

The Cachoeira do Rio Brumado, located next to the road to Livramento de Nossa Senhora, 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) to the south, is a well-known waterfall. Standing 70 meters (230 feet) high, it takes about 30 minutes to walk to the top.

MOUNTAIN RANGES

The highest hills in the Northeast are found around Rio de Contas. Serra do Barbado, at 2,033 meters (6,670 feet) high, claims the honor of the tallest peak, followed by Pico do Itobira, 1,970 meters (6,460 feet) high. However, Pico das Almas, 1,958 meters (6,424 feet) high, is the most well-known, with its beautiful rock formations and more than 1,200 species of plants.

It takes an entire day to climb Pico das Almas, with more than 17 kilo meters (11 miles) along a dirt road, followed by a 3-hour hike to the top. This hike is difficult: be sure to hire a guide and bring snacks, water, and warm coats.

Other peaks are just as challenging to summit: it takes 4 hours of demanding hiking to reach the Pico do Itobira, and, the most distant of all, Pico do Barbado is a 7-hour hike on a challenging hilly trail.

VACCARO FARM

The famous organic cachaҫa "Serra das Almas" is grown right on this farm. In order to get certification as an organic product, the sugarcane crops as well as the employees' working conditions must adhere to rigorous regulation. Anyone interested in seeing the production process at Fazenda Vaccaro should arrange in advance for a guided tour.

Chapada Diamantina travel Guide and tourism information such as accommodation, festivals, transport, maps, activities and attractions in Bahia - Brazil Travel Guide

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