Chapada Diamantina and Lencois
From Salavdor we took a 3 day side trip to Lencois and the national park, the Chapada Diamantina.
After a 7h bus ride we arrived in Lencois, an old diamond mining town and the main gateway to the national park. As we did not reserve a hostel in Lencois, once we arrived, we were lucky to find a great one pretty fast.
We stayed at Hostel Chapada, part of the Hostelling International group. All of the pousadas and hostels we have stayed in have included breakfast (fresh Brazilian fruits, juices, cakes, breads, deli meats, cheese and eggs), which has been great. Hostel Chapada had wooden cabin-style rooms with plenty of hammocks to relax in. The hostel was wonderful and the staff very helpful in booking our daily tours.
We spent the day strolling around the beautiful town of Lencois. The city is very small but very lively. All the streets are made of cobblestone and the buildings are painted in bright vibrant colors. At night, the restaurants take over the streets, by setting up tables right on the cobblestone, blocking cars from passing by. Muscians play right on the cobblestone for everyone to listen, while people congregate with friends over food (mostly Brazilian or Italian) and drinks (caipirinhas or cervejas).
Each day, it rained off and on, a temporary relief to the heat. The rain did not seem to deter anyone from going out and enjoying the streets (unlike San Diego, where drizzle means everyone becomes a shut in). While we where there, a 6 day music/art festival, Ressonar, was happening nearby so there were lot of bohemians and hippies in Lencois. Hanging out on the streets drinking, practicing their fire dancing moves or selling artesian jewelry and crafts.
The next two days we spent exploring the Chapada Diamantina’s natural wonderland in the daylight and spent the evenings in Lencois eating great food, drinking locally made cachaca, and listening to live music while enjoying some great people watching.
Lencois is an old diamond mining town (one of many) in the Chapada Diamantina region. The Chapada Diamantina towns have rich and diverse cultures (mixture of Amerindian, African, and Portuguese), manifested in music, dance, colors, myths, and happiness! The small towns hold many traditional festivals, mostly of a religious nature, with samba music, diamond miner folklore and the rituals of the slaves. The beautiful nature of the Chapada Diamantina was being destroyed by aggressive mining techniques, killing much of the wildlife, until mining was outlawed and it was made into a national park in 1985. The Chapada Diamantina is a 152 thousand hectare natural paradise. Full of deep valleys, flowing waterfalls (more than 300) with swimming holes, caves with crystalline underwater lakes (150+ caves), home to thousands of animals, fauna and flora with endless mountains to climb with fantastic views of the whole wonderland. The Chapada Diamantina is unspoilt in that it lacks the tourist infrastructure of other national parks (there is no public transportation or marked trails so exploring with a guide is a must).
After three straight months of 100 degree, 100% humidity, it had rained hard off and on for the week before we arrived. The rain had been much needed (the waterfalls were almost completely dried up), but not great for us because it made the multi-day camping/treking tour with a guide unavailable (many places were too flooded to go). We were able to spend two amazing days exploring some awesomely beautiful nature in the Chapada Diamantina.
On our first all day tour, a guide met us at our hostel in the morning, we boarded his car and met two other tourists (an Italian guy and an Australian girl). We drove a couple hours on extremely bumpy dirt roads to our first stop, a massive cave.
Gruta da Torrinha. (link)
This cave has one of the greatest diversities of speleothems in the all of Brazil, including stalactites and stalagmites, but most notably gypsum needles up to 65cm long (largest in the world), and an aragonite flower composed of a crystallized sphere surrounded by sharp crystal spikes.
We spent about 2.5hrs in the cave, walked a 1.6km distance inside, visiting two massive rooms. At times, the cave ceiling was extremely low, requiring a lot of crawling on our end, but completely worth it.
Morro Do Pai Inacio
After the cave , we drove to Morro Do Pai Inacio, a mountain in the Sincora mounatin range. We almost did not make it there, as it was raining pretty hard and the only way to the start of the trek was up a dirt road hill, which was washed out. We treked up the dirt road (the car was not going to make it) and right when we reached the base of the mountain, it stopped raining!
We climbed up to the top, the sky cleared, opening up breathtaking views of the valley and Chapala Diamandina.
We saw a moco (a plant eating rodent resembling a large guinea pig) scurying among the rocks, along with lizards, interesting looking insects and many types of birds.
Rio Mucugezinho and Poco do Diabo
We concluded our first tour with a short stop at a swimming hole, Poco do Diabo (devil’s well) reserve, but the current was too much to jump in.
On the second all day tour, we visited two caves with underground pools with crystalline waters (Azul and Encantado pools). During certain time of year, rays of sunlight penetrate into the lakes, forming electric blue shafts of light in the water, accentuating the vibrant colors and formations of the caverns and lakes.
After a long drive due to the road inside the park not being paved and being partially flooded, we arrived at the first stop, a grotto with a crystalline lake, the Enchanted Pool.
We crawled and hiked down to the lake inside the cave. The underground lake was so beautiful and amazing. At 60m deep with pristine water, it was so clear you couldn’t see where it ends. The water has no outlet, so to keep the water clean and pure, no one is allowed to swim and taint the lake. We sat on the rocks inside the cave and stared into the bright blue waters. It was so beautiful, incredibly relaxing and peaceful.
We drove another 1h30 to arrive at Poco Azul, another grotto with a crystalline lake.
Due to the rain in the last couple days, the road was block by the overflowing river so we hopped on a little bark to cross the flowing water.
We walked a bit to the entrance of Poco Azul. We had a buffet-style lunch of typical Bahian cuisine while we waited for our turn to go into the grotto.
Equipped with life jacket and snorkelling gear we made our way down. It was a breathtaking view of crystal clear water inside a cave. The Azul Pool is the biggest submerged paleontological site in Brazil. The fossils of four giant sloths (giant sloths lived 10,000 years ago and weighted 5 tons), were discovered in the 1950’s. The underwater lake was 20m deep, but only Technical divers with special permission are allowed to dive here, so we swam and snorkeled. The cool water felt refreshing with the extreme heat and the water’s colors were so vibrant it looked like we were swimming through electric blue kool-aid.
Even though most of the sites to visit are not close by, there are a few swimming holes 4km from Lencois that do not require a guide. Some with waterfalls and a natural rock slide to propel you into the water.
All three nights, after exploring the great outdoors, we ate dinner al fresco in Lencois out on the cobblestone, in the open air. The first night, we had the most amazing Brazilian BBQ. We were brought two large portions of each meat (steak, pork with belly, sausage, and chicken), accompanied by salad, rice and beans for $7.50US each! Regrettably, we forgot to bring a camera with us, so this beautiful image will remain only in our minds. The second dinner we had a half pesto, half calabressa pizza accompanied by caipirinhas and grilled vegetables. Pizza is very popular in Bahia. They use manioc flour (cassava) for the dough and the crust is extremely thin and crunchy. In Bahia, pizza is cooked in a cast iron BBQ, until the dough is crispy and the cheese is melted to perfection. It was delicious! On the third night, we ate pumpkin and catpiry (a typical Bahian? cheese) soup and filet mignon with a mushroom red wine sauce over creamy polenta. We were lucky enough to enjoy live music at all three dinners and tried each type of caipirinhas offered in Lencois (lime, strawberry, pineapple, passionfruit, mango, kiwi, acerola, pitanga (cherry like), guava, and capuacu. We found a cachaca tasting room for a local cachaca distillery, Fazendinha. We were unable to tour the Fazendinha distillery because we ran out of days, but the distillery is more of a farm you can spend an entire day on with activities such as horeback riding, swimming, treks to waterfalls, fishing, and of course, cachaca tasting. The tasting room had 50 types of their infused cachacas. Each tasting (1/2 shot) was only $0.50US, so each day we chose 6 different cachacas ranging from fruity sweet flavors to bitter and dry ones. They had an English translation of their infusions, but some portuguese flavors translate better than others. We tried pineapple, coconut, along with monkey ladder, breaking knife, and stink of pig (I cannot describe these flavors!). They were all good, though some tasted smoother than others.
Lencois and Chapada Diamantina was one of our favorite places We have been to, between the breathtaking nature and the beautiful culture rich town. We would recommend spending at least 4 days here exploring (our 3 days was wonderful, but felt too short), but if you have time, they offer a 7 day trip (weather permitting of course!) with a guide, where you will get to see so many breathtaking places.
We hope you enjoy reading our blog. Don’t forget to follow us on instagram (nolimitwanderlust). Please visit our Flickr Gallery to see more of our photography from the Chapada Diamantina and Lencois. If you have any questions for us, please comment on the post as we will repond as soon as we have an internet connection:)