Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina is a 1520 square km national park 400 kms to the west of the city of Salvador in Bahia state. It is famous for it's spectacular mountains, stunning waterfalls, limestone caves and thick forest. It attracts many Brazilian and international travellers who come to trek in the park.
We had 3 days/4 nights there and got a brief but very worthwhile taste of Chapada Diamantina.
The gateway to the park is the town of Lençóis which is a 7 hour bus ride from Salvador (there are also flights if you don't want to take the bus). We took the 7.00am bus so arrived around 4.00 in the afternoon. This gave us time to find our pousada (guesthouse) and have a look around town which has an interesting feel.
Gold was originally discovered in the region followed by diamonds and gems, with extensive diamond mining happening throughout the 19th century until 1985. Most of the buildings date back to the mining days of the 1800's. Nowadays, with tourism being the town's mainstay economically, many are restaurants, bars and other commercial ventures.
A lot of people come to do overnight 2 day, 3 day or longer treks to places such as the Paty Valley. But we decided that we would do 3 single day walks/trips to experience a variety of landscapes in the time we had.
Day Trip 1: Barro Branco and Pai Inacio
This was a trip in two parts: a long day walk (14kms) followed by a drive and short walk to the top of a mountain with spectacular views.
The walk started from town just after 8.30am, before it got too hot. We headed out of town and up into the hills, following an old donkey supply route that connected Lençóis to the town of Barro Branco. We passed through different vegetation types, which our guide, Emiliano explained to us. We were just three in our group: Cally and I and Aghate from France, who we met at our guest house.
It took around 3 hours to get to Barro Branco. The region we were walking in had had a major fire several months earlier so a lot of the forest had been burnt out, especially in the higher parts. This meant that shade was often in short supply. By the time we reached BB we were grateful for the shade and a bit of a rest. The town itself has few residents these days.
We continued on, through the day and the expression ''mad dogs and Englishmen” came to mind. Mercifully, we lunched by a creek with a pool deep enough to submerge in and this raised our spirits and lowered our core body temperatures. We reckon it was about 35 degrees in the sun.
Needless to say, no one was keen for the lunch break to end, but onward we had to go. A lot of the landscape was scarred with the remains of old mining digs, made more prominent because of the fire stripping away a lot of the vegetation.
However, despite this the landscape was impressive.
At the end of the walk we were met by a pre-arranged driver who sped us to the top of the peak, Pai Inacio so we could enjoy the late afternoon sun with the shadows making for some good photo opportunities.
This day trip was arranged through H2O Adventures. We found them a little slack in their communication when we were trying to arrange some day trips before we arrived, but on the day, our guide Emiliano was very good.
Day Trip 2: Ribeirão do Meio
There are a couple of walks you can do from the town that don't require a guide. They are on well marked tracks and are not overly long. One of these is Ribeirão do Meio which is a 4 km walk to a river with a large swimming hole and natural waterslide.
The track starts at the southern end of town (just follow Rua da Palha until you see the signs for the track). It's a fairly flat dirt track through shaded forest for most of the way.
If you're in need of some refreshment along the track there is a drinks stall around half way.
The final part of the walk is a short downhill section to the swimming hole, where, if it's hot, and it probably will be, the plunge into the pool will be a relief.
Day Trip 3: Mosquito Falls and Poço Azul (Blue Well)
Again a trip in two parts: a visit to a 60m waterfall followed by a drive to a limestone cave pool where you can swim. This trip involved a fair bit of driving to the two sights, but well worth it.
Aghate joined Cally and I again and this time our guide was Pieter from Diamantina Mountain Tours. Pieter picked us up at our pousada at 8 and we drove for around and hour or so to the car park for the falls.
There was then a 20 minute walk to the base of the falls. We were the only people there.
The falls are inside an impressive sandstone canyon. It gets the name Mosquito Falls from the small diamonds (mosquitoes) that are found in the sand around the falls.
The flow varies considerably depending on the season and we were lucky that it was flowing strongly enough to give us a good hydro-massage as well as some great photos.
As we were leaving a couple of car loads of people arrived. Pieter had organised our early start in order to beat the rush.
The drive to Poco Azul was around an hour and a half. The site has a restaurant and a very good buffet lunch was included in our trip.
The pool is at the bottom of a series of steps and finally a ladder. It is managed to ensure that there are only small groups of people in the pool at any one time. All are given a life vest (so you can float and enjoy the view below you in the crystal clear water) as well as a snorkel and mask. All participants need to have a shower before entering the pool to wash off sunscreen, sweat and other unctuousness.
Our group, of around 9 people spent a good 20 minutes in the pool before heading back up the steps. It was excellent and well organised.
As an added bonus a community of marmosets were living in the tree next to the washrooms and were entertaining to watch as we dried off and dressed.
Then it was back to Lençóis and time for a cleansing ale after a great day.
We would thoroughly recommend Pieter Ferny and Diamantina Mountains. Pieter is an excellent guide and very good company. Originally from Belgium he speaks a brace of languages so he could talk to all of us in English, but give Agathe a break from the English and speak to her in French as well. Diamantina Mountains prices are very reasonable and we were impressed by their clear but informative website. For more info on Diamantina Mountains click here.
There are a number of other day walks that can be done in the park. A very popular one is Fumaça Waterfall, one of Brazil's highest. But it hadn't rained for a while before we came and the falls were dry so we left this one out. And there are others, so it's worth checking out the tour company sites before you go.
We're very pleased that we went to Chapada Diamantina. It was a side of the Brazilian environment we hadn't heard much about before going. The beaches and the Amazon tend to get most of the attention, but if you have the opportunity this is a place well worth a visit.
PS We forgot to mention that there are some excellent restaurants in Lençóis. The one we would recommend the most is Cozinha Aberta Slow Cooking. We had the slow cooked goulash with dumplings and the red chicken curry. Our meal here was the best we had in our month in Brazil – dead heating with Axego and it's moqueca in Salvador (see our next post on our 'Best of Brazil' coming soon). So you won't starve in between treks.
PPS This post has been featured in "The Top 50 Places to Visit in South America", by Tour the Tropics. Click here for more info.
Ken and Cally