We might be on another planet if it weren’t for the green scrub that carpets the valley; rock formations towering unnaturally tall and orange from the landscape, the constant, unrelenting heat rebounding back at us from the baked earth. I suppose this is how the Arizona plains appear, and I half expect to see cowboys galloping over the horizon. Instead, the pack mules that transport food to the remote cottages nestled between the mountains crawl by, and we stagger on after them, humbled by the stark beauty of the landscape.
We are making our way through Chapada Diamantina, a jewel among Brazil’s national parks and a major draw for backpackers reaching Salvador. It is difficult to explore the park without a guide; the trail is not well marked and water is not always easy to find. Unlike our trek through Torres del Paine, we have elected to join a guided three day tour with Zen Tours, the cheapest of the options we found in the jump off town of Lencois.
When the first day comes, we are initially less than enamoured with our choice. We have ended up on a fourteen person tour, large by anyone’s standards, and as a result the pace sometimes feels rushed. But as we settle into the group and friendships form, any regrets are washed away by the camaraderie which quickly develops. The going is often tough – we cover over 70km of mountainous terrain in the three days – and a friendly face, self deprecating joke or sweaty, helping hand soon become the fuel which keeps us going.
The trek begins a bumpy, two hour ride away from Lencois, the trail winding through the picturesque Pati Valley, past extraordinary, rocky outcrops, terrifyingly sheer cliff faces and glistening caves. Each day we stop for lunch by pools and waterfalls stained a disconcerting red by the tannins in the surrounding tree roots, jumping in to swim and sunbathe. We fill our bottles up from the running water, sceptical at first, but by the last day barely even noticing the odd colour.
After the first day of trekking we reach our accommodation for the next two nights, a collection of basic but sweet little rooms, towered over by the surrounding cliffs. Most of the families who live in the valley make a living from hosting the guided tours; commercial farming is now against the law and they are only allowed to grow food for personal use. We are lucky enough to have a private room looking out into the garden.
We cover less ground on the second day, about 13km, but our route takes us up and down some seriously steep rock formations, through a huge cave and up to a breathtaking view over the valley.
It’s easy to see why a guide is necessary; at times we are scrambling alongside sheer drops and the paths up to the view points are not marked at all. Sitting on top of a tower of rock, looking out over the landscape and eating lunch, the expense of an arranged tour suddenly seems very much worth it.
The way home goes past a picturesque stream, perfect for a swim, followed by a stunning amble through the woods to where we are staying.
After dinner we settle into some beers and a game of cards and are joined by an elderly cat, who is passed from lap to lap until bedtime, and two tarantulas, who are welcomed less eagerly to the group. It’s pretty cool to see some wildlife up close, but we make sure to shake our boots out in the morning!
Our final day sees us trek over 30km and reach arguably the highlight of the tour. A rocky ledge overhanging an impossibly tall waterfall provides the photo opportunity of a lifetime – if you’re brave enough! Terry is predictably the first on; I manage to stop freaking out for long enough to take a picture but can’t help shouting a reminder that he has responsibilities now (me) and isn’t allowed to fall. When my turn comes I don’t make it very far along but am still pretty proud of myself.
We leave the park the same way we came in, this time with the sun setting behind us and plenty of new friends. Despite the cost of the tour, exploring Chapada Diamantina was worth every penny.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What to bring For Trekking Chapada Diamantina
- Watter bottle
- Backpacker to carry your personal things
- Trekking shoes
- Waterproof jacket
- Swimsuit Spare clothes
Getting to Chapada Diamantina
If you’re flying to this park, international and domestic airlines go to Rio de Janeiro or So Paulo, then to Salvador, where you may connect to a local commuter aircraft to Lençóis. You may also hire a cab to take you on a seven-hour trip from Salvador to Lencois. You may make your own arrangements via a travel agency, or you can book directly with the Lençóis Taxi Drivers Association.
Salvador: The most direct route is Salvador-Feira de Santana-Ipirá-Itaberaba-Lençóis. We take a different route than the bus since it is less congested.
SP and MG: SP-MG (BH) – From Belo Horizonte, use the following route: Sete Lagoas- Montes Claros- Janaba- Porteirinha- Mato Verde- Monte Azul- Espinosa- Urandi- Guanambi- Caetité- Brumado (do not enter the city). Tanhaç- Ituaç- Barra da Estiva- Ibicoara- Mucugê- Andara- Lençóis.
– From Brasilia and Goiás, take BR-020 or BR-349 to Bom Jesus da Lapa- Ibotirama- Seabra- Palmeiras- Lençóis.
Bus: We suggest arriving at Lençóis or Palmeiras/Vale do Capo. In comparison to other cities, the bus is significantly superior, and the journey is shorter with fewer stops.
Can you Swim in Chapada Diamantina?
Yes. Take a dip in one of the Chapada Diamantina’s popular swimming holes, such as the Ribeirao do Meio rock slide, the Sossego waterfall, or the Fumaça waterfall. My favourite Chapada Diamantina caverns are filled with amazingly pure, blue water, and you can even swim in them!
When is the Best Time To Visit Chapada Diamantina
Chapada Diamantina does not have harsh seasons due to its inland position in the sunny northeast of Brazil, and temperatures remain mild all year. The rainy season lasts from November to March, although heavy rain is infrequent, and bright, sunny days are the norm. The remainder of the year is drier, and owing to the lack of rainfall, some of the waterfalls may be less stunning from August through October.