Chapada Diamantina (Diamond Highlands), six hours out of Salvador, is one of Brazil’s most easily accessible National Parks and is quickly becoming a place not just to visit but to invest. There are three different biomes that meet here: Atlantic Rainforest, cerrado and caatinga.
From the small village of Lençóis at the entrance to the national park, you can do hikes ranging from an easy 45-minute climb to the Serrano waterholes to a three-day hike to the valley of Capao. And it’s not just the landscape that you see changing in your travels; it’s the ecosystem itself.
Some adventures are not for the fainthearted: rappelling down the Fumaça Waterfall (at 340m the highest in Brazil until someone discovered a higher one in the Amazon no one visits or cares about) has cost one tourist’s life so far. The only activity now allowed is the – difficult – hike to the top of the waterfall, where you can look down in awe.
Here’s just a selection of what I did in the three days I was there.
There is some sort of nightlife in Lençóis. The backpacking scene has seen to that. In fact, the owner of the excellent grill restaurant El Jamiro told me off for wanting a steak well done: “For you, we have filet mignon”, she said with pity in her voice.” We only cook our steaks rare”.
The Lapa Doce, the Sweet Cave, was a new one on me. It is not slippery and cool at 15C, but dry and warm at 22C. A dry cave still has stalactites though; they are formed during the dry season only. The floor is composed of red dust that floats everywhere inside. The guides have to wear a mask, because the thin particles can cause miner’s lung.
As for the nearby Gruta Azul: here was an underground lake whose colour changes to a striking cobalt blue as the rays of the sun hit it through the cave mouth.
A short, sharp and knee-exhausting climb to the mesa of Pai Inacio for the picture-postcard of the park. It’s famous in all Brazil because of a telenovela where the hero escapes by falling down the 300m we walked up using an umbrella as a parachute. Do NOT try it readers!
Then there is the swimming and snorkelling in the Pratinha cave (cold) and Pratinha lake (warm). If you do snorkel in the cave, you can see the tiny mollusk shells at the bottom; at first sight you think they are fine sand. They are dead shells and are washed up from the depths of the cave when the mollusks die. No one has ever found a live one yet; we don’t know exactly where in the cave they live.
And talking of strange lifeforms, when I swam in the Pratinha lake, I got a very Brazilian surprise.
Then there is more swimming in the potholes of the Rio Mucugezinho; this is where I saw my first ever marmoset family. The place itself is called the Poço do Diabo – the Devil’s pool.
And if this was not enough, there is more swimming in the Serrano rock holes where the swirling Lençóis river provides you with a natural jacuzzi.
And that is what I did in three days. People have been coming and coming for years and they never get bored. As I said, Chapada Diamantina is not just a place to visit. It’s a place to invest..
[Now where’s that tenner I put aside just in case?]
John Malathronas’s second edition of Brazil: Life, Blood, Soul is now available on Kindle.