Everyone knows that Brazil has heaps of beautiful beaches. Nearly every city on the coast has one, but is there anything to do other than laze around on the magnificent beaches in Brazil? My answer is definitely. Perhaps the most obvious example is the Amazon surrounding the city of Manaus and covering about 40% of Brazil. The Pantanal close to the city of Bonito in the southwest of the country is also another interesting wildlife adventure. Brasilia, the capitol, is smack dab in the middle of the country where one can witness impressive architecture by Oscar Niemeyer, and there are some very nice colonial towns scattered throughout the country. The most popular are Paraty, Ouro Preto, Olinda, and Lencois.
After our time in Rio de Janiero, we visited Lencois, a very small town about a 6 hour bus ride from Salvador de Bahia on the eastern coast. So why did we want to go here? Well for starters, we felt like we needed a break from the big cities and sandy beaches we had recently visited. We also love colonial towns and Lencois fits the bill perfectly. But, what really sold us was the fact that Lencois sits right at the edge of one of the country’s most famous national parks in an area known as Chapada Diamontina.
Lencois, itself, is a quiet, little town lined with colorful buildings, cobblestoned streets, and tour agencies. The tour agencies are trying to sell tours to Chapada Diamontina National Park, a strange, and timeless area of water wells, rock formations, caves, and ultra blue and red water. We visited some agencies to see what they had to offer and to get information on what types of tours were leaving in the next few days, but we felt the prices were much higher than expected. Since we were backpackers on a budget, it was time to get creative.
The deal in Chapada Diamontina is that all the locations can be quite far apart and some are a days drive away from Lencois. For this reason, Anna and I determined that because it was low season and there were not that many other people to split the cost of the tours, it was cheaper to rent a car, pay for gas, buy a map, and pay for local guides when we got to all the different sites. We rented a car (manual transmission, of course) from a place on the main plaza and drove to the attractions. We visited Gruta Lapa Dolce, Gruta da Pratinha, Morro do Pai Inácio, Poco do Diabo, Poco Encantado, Poco Azul and Cachoeira do Buracao.
By doing it independently, we figured we saved half the cost of going through an agency and we still got to see all the spectacular scenery we wanted. To be honest though, Chapada Diamontina is so large that one could spend weeks here and still not see every waterfall, cave, and impressive natural formations. There are even opportunities to do multi-day guided treks inside the park, but we chose to do our own thing this time.
On day one, we drove North and did a loop of some caves before returning to Lencois. Gruta Lapa Dolce is a 1 km long, pitch black, underground, cave with stalagmites (bottom) and stalactites (top), and all kinds of amazing cave formations. Our guide told us about the geology and history of the cave and pointed out the notable formations. We had fun guessing what the name of each was based on their appearance. During our time in the cave, it was only our guide, Anna, and myself down there. This was exactly the reason we came here. At one point, we turned off the flashlights they gave us and it was so dark that we could not even see our hands when touching our noses with them.
Gruta da Pratinha was our second stop and is basically a cave and a natural swimming pool with some of the clearest water I have ever seen. When we walked into the warm water, there were all kinds of little fish that would wait for you to get in then start kissing your feet and legs. I assume they were just going after the bubbles we brought with us when entering the water, but it was a strange experience nonetheless. Pratinha was a nice place to cool off from the heat of the sun in a beautiful natural pool. You could explore the cave, swim with the fish, or zipline into the water for an extra cost.
Morro da Pai Inácio is a lookout point North of the National Park. It is a plateau that is characteristic of the region and the view at the top is incredible. For a small fee, you can climb to the top of this natural rock formation and look out at the other rock faces jutting out all around you while you wonder how this strange landscape could have been made. It only takes about 15 minutes to get to the top and we would recommend it because you really get to see the unique geology of the region.
Poco do Diabo was our last stop of the day. Though it was a bit harder to find, despite being right off the main northern highway, we parked our car and started the 45 minute hike. The workers at the restaurant right next to the start of the trail were very friendly and helpful in giving us exact directions on how to get there. Poco do Diabo is a very beautiful, layered waterfall with reddish-brown water that you can swim in. It is contrasted by the slide-like Mucugezinho that is along the way to Poco do Diabo. Both are worth at least a quick visit or you can take your time enjoying the natural waterslide that is Mucugezinho and have a swim in the red water of “Devil’s Well.”
On day two, we drove South from Lencois to Poco Encantado and Poco Azul. “Poco” in Brazilian Portuguese means (water)well, and “encantado” means enchanted. The reason for the name Poco Encantado became clear as soon as we entered the cave. After descending down some steep stairs, we were able to swim in an unbelievably clear-blue pool in a cave. We were the only ones there and it was just as enchanting as it was spooky. It was incredible to be able to see 17 meters (55 ft.) down. At the same time though, it was a bit nerve wracking looking into the water toward the darker end of the pool – who knows what kind of monsters live down there!
Poco Azul is further South from Poco Encantado, but is much larger and even more blue. We arrived just after the time in the afternoon when the sun comes streaking through at just the right angle to shine a ray of light and make the water even more blue. Even without the added sunlight, the water still had its amazing blue glow. Unfortunately, and probably thankfully, it is forbidden to swim in this ancient cave because soaps, shampoos, and other personal hygiene products that people use can alter the mineral make-up of the water.
After the Pocos, we drove down to a town called Ibicoara where we spent the night. We arranged a guide for the next day to take us to Cachoeira do Buracao. When morning came, our guide directed us along a bumpy, gravel road for 1.5 hours. We parked the car, and began our hike along the river bed because the water had receded. Our guide said during summer months, it could be quite busy here, but because of the time of year that we visited, there was hardly any other people. Along the way, the guide pointed out some plants and small critters, and explained a little about the landscape.
Near the end of our hike, we started the descent down some rocks and ladders. We followed the trail to the left until the walls started to change. It was as if someone had made a canyon of stacked, flat boulders, and took the trail away. Or so we thought. The guide said we had two choices: hike or swim. Surprisingly, the water looked like Coca-Cola so we chose to hike it instead of swim. We then proceeded to hike across an aged wooden plank over the canyon water to the other side of the canyon wall. Carefully, we shuffled along the side of the stacked rocks using whatever we could for footholds and handholds. When we rounded the bend, we finally saw it.
Cachoeira do Buracao is one of the most unique waterfalls I have ever seen with its layered canyon walls, 85 meter (279 ft.) of height, ability to go behind the waterfall as well as jump off of the walls into the Coca-Cola water below. I guess that is why it is called “Big Hole Waterfall” in Portuguese. This was my favorite spot that we visited.
Though we only drove through a very small section of the National Park, as you can see, there are plenty of other features that make this area well worth visiting. Of the places we visited, my favorites were Lapa Dolce, Poco Encantado, and Cachoeira do Buracao. Hopefully next time we return, we can do some multi-day tekking into the interior of the National Park because there are plenty of other awaiting adventures in Chapada Diamontina!
I HIGHLY recommend visiting this place.