Chapada Diamantina Part One


A six to seven hour bus ride inland from Salvador lies a national park called Chapada Diamantina. The landscape we could see out of the bus window was very cool, with lots of red sand and tall hills and parts were lusciously green, with so many cacti.

We stayed at the edge of the park in a small, quaint town called Len├žois, which is packed full of restaurants and tour offices. It is a lovely town to spend the evening in – very calm, safe and far from the intensity of Rio or Salvador. We had read many reviews and comments before going that said no matter how long you stay, doing hikes and expeditions, it would never be enough time to see everything in Chapada Diamantina. What a great way to sell a place! We were really excited. The plan was to arrive on a Monday afternoon and leave about Friday lunchtime, giving us three full days to do day-trips and some shorter nearby hikes.

Len├žois has a population of around ten thousand and came to fame as a place for diamonds, an industry that brought many slaves and much prosperity for a few people. The town is now the main hub used as a base for all of the hikes, treks and activities available in the nearby national park.

After the 7am bus departure and getting settled into our pousada (bed and breakfast), our first afternoon involved a short twenty minute walk to the peak of a waterfall called Cachoeirinha, close to the town centre. After chilling at the top for a while we made our way down the fall, climbing over rocks and eventually making it safely back to the road. The strangest thing was the colour of the water, which you can see in the photo above was very dark. It was a pleasant walk and a nice way to begin our adventure in Chapada.

Morro do Pai Inácio

For our first full day we arranged a private, organised tour (as that is all that is apparently available). It cost R$195 each and included an 8:30am pick-up from the pousada and our very own Portuguese-speaking guide for the day. We used the day to practice and train up our Portuguese, working particularly on our cave-related vocabulary and knowledge of strange mountain plants.

The first stop was at Pato (duck) waterfall and involved some climbing over wet rocks. A bit further downstream was the Diabo (devil) waterfall and a view of the nearby valley. It was a decent looking waterfall and we had the option to swim there, although we didn’t. It took us fifteen minutes to walk there in twenty degree heat, which is ideal hiking weather, but doesn’t really inspire swimming. When hiking in really hot weather, the most natural response to seeing a waterfall is to jump in, getting rid of all the sweat. We did this when hiking in Banaue, in the Philippines, and it was awesome. All those hours of being uncomfortable and hot and tired were washed away in an immense feeling of coolness. However this time when we arrived comfortable and only a little warm, the waterfall didn’t seem like it would offer the same kind of sweet relief. So which is better? Enjoying a mild temperature throughout the walk, or enduring the extreme heat for a taste of real pleasure at the end? I think I am more a fan of the extremes as it makes me feel more alive.

Anyway our private tour meant we started the day a bit quicker than most, so there were no other tourists about until we were on our way back, when we spotted quite a few people arriving. Next up was a cave called Lapa Doce. It was at this point we started getting more information about the area. Apparently many millennia ago the whole area was under water, which is when these caves and rock formations were created. They have mapped 47km so far of caves and found fish which have evolved without eyes or skin pigment, and use radar for navigation as there is no sunlight. We didn’t see any but we did see some cool stalactites and stalagmites.

We ate lunch (which was included in the tour price) and then went to see a couple of caves that have turquoise water. The first cave is called Pratinha and here we were allowed to swim and even go zip-lining into the water, although I thought the R$30 charge for this activity was a bit steep. Steeper than the zip-line itself. I went for a swim (Katie had a cold so didn’t join me), and when I entered the water, loads of fish decided to come and have a nibble at me! That, combined with the very cold water, meant it was really more of a dip than a swim.

The next cave, called Gruto Azul, contained more turquoise water. It was very pretty but the sky was a bit cloudy and so the colours weren’t as vibrant as they could have been.

Saw this weird fish in the cave!

On the way to our final stop we passed through a cute village and (as we were on a private tour), I asked the guy to stop for a bit. It was a quaint village square, and we got a cheeky chocolate milk from the shop, which always makes everything seem better!

The final stop was Morro do Pai In├ício, and was the highlight of the day. We approached the mountain that looked like this…

We ascended the hill by car before walking uphill for fifteen minutes to get to the main viewpoint. From there we could have seen the surrounding area for miles in each direction, but unfortunately it was very cloudy and visibility wasn’t great. If we had been in a bigger tour group, we wouldn’t have had the flexibility to wait as long as we did at the top, but luckily after about twenty minutes the clouds blew over and the visibility improved significantly. It was a fascinating sight.

Our guide waited for the weather to blow over

The top of the mountain we were on was flat and covered in cactuses and succulents. It was very eerie and stunning at the same time. The view wasn’t as special as it could have been, but you can’t control the weather and we enjoyed our time up there anyway. Blistering blue skies would have been preferable though.

All in all it was a pretty good first two days in Chapada Diamantina. Have a look at the great photos below and come back soon to join us on the other tours we did!

Bus from Salvador to Len├žois (one way using ClickBus) = r$75 pp (£16 pp)
Private Tour of Morro do Pai Inácio = r$195 pp

During the day it is empty and quiet but at night Len├žois really comes alive

A Hummingbird

Definitely not sweaty enough to go swimming!

Another spiky tree

This sand wasn't sand at all - it was tiny shells!

Gruto Azul

Where shall we build the pylon? I know! Right in the middle of this amazing view!