LivingTravelChapada Diamantina National Park: the "lost world" of Brazil

Chapada Diamantina National Park: the "lost world" of Brazil

Take a landscape of mesa, strange and fantastic rock formations above the surface, a system of quartzite caves with crystalline lakes and underground rivers, and you will be the scene of some of the wildest ecological adventures in Brazil.

Add in a historic boom of diamonds, prospectors, natural monuments and you have the 152,000 hectare Chapada Diamantina National Park in the northeastern state of Bahia.

At the beginning of the 19th century, two German prospectors discovered a huge vein of diamonds in a region of unusual rock formations, plateaus, underground rivers, waterfalls, valleys and mountains called morros. When word spread, the ensuing diamond rush brought an avalanche of seekers, called garimpeiros, who formed the city of Lençóis as a base to explore what is now known as the Chapada Diamantina or the Lost World of Brazil.

Now, the Chapada Diamantina National Park, created in 1985, is a region of mixed terrain: green slopes and red rock plateaus fed by the groundwater system that contrasts with the nearby semi-arid Sertão, ravaged by drought. This topography is the cake-shaped layers of sediment that were once collected on a primitive ocean floor and pushed upward to be carved by wind and water into mesa, canyons, and caverns.

How to get to Chapada Diamantina National Park

By air, through international or national airlines, it flies to Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, then it connects to Salvador, then it connects again to Lençóis. Use Kayak’s ‘Travel Reservations’ feature to check flights from your area to Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo.

By road, from Salvador: take one of the two daily buses operated by the Real Expresso line. It is about a six hour drive and approximately 267 miles.

About Sheets

The Chapada Diamantina’s climate makes it an all-season destination, but nightly storms provide nearly seven feet of rain a year.

Once the third largest city in the northeastern state of Bahia, Lençóis is now much smaller and primarily a tourism-oriented city. You can organize the tours yourself or ask your hotel to help you plan tours with groups of six to 10 people. English speaking guides are available.

Lençóis is easily navigated, and its cobbled streets, pastel-colored colonial buildings, and small churches are a reminder of its wild past. As the gateway to the Chapada Diamantina National Park, it has a good selection of accommodations and abundant restaurants and cantinas where you can enjoy Brazilian beer and exchange stories with the locals and learn about the best places for rock climbing, pools, and cave diving.

Things to do and see

The area was forbidden and secret for many years to prevent diamond smuggling, but the spectacular scenery opened the region to tourism.

On the spot, you can organize a tour of the park by bike, off-road, by canoe and on foot, as well as on mules and horses. Combine these activities with a dip in a cool water hole and you can experience the park in many ways.

Some of the favorite wells for swimming:

  • Ribeirao do Meio rock slide, a half-hour walk west of Lençóis, with a 100-foot natural waterfall
  • Sossego waterfall
  • Cascada de Fumaça, named for the water that falls 1100 feet creating a misty “smoke” as the water evaporates. This was considered the highest waterfall in Brazil until a longer one was discovered in the Amazon.

What attracts many visitors to the area are the fabulous underground caves and diving spots. Access to some of these is granted to special groups by environmental protection agencies and some are open only to highly qualified divers and cavers.

Some of the best diving spots:

  • Gruta da Pratinha: approximately 390 feet wide and 4.5 to 7.5 feet deep. Descend by natural stairs to a crystal clear lake.
  • Os Impossíveis – called Impossible for a difficult entry, but once in the crater-shaped area at the bottom of a 100-foot shaft with vertical walls, you will be rewarded with white stalagmites and access to various tunnels. The Northwest Main Passage offers an unforgettable snorkeling experience.
  • Poço de Milú – called Pozo Encantado, this group is similar to Poço Encantado but less restricted. Underwater passageways abound.
  • Poço Encantado: This giant sunken pool is 120 feet deep, but the water is so clear that rocks and old tree trunks are visible at the bottom. When the sun is fair, light enters through a crevice and creates a blue reflection in the water. Access to this pond is highly controlled for the environmental protection of its rare and delicate ecosystem.

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