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Travel in Latin America

An Outdoor Adventure to Chapada Diamantina, Brazil
By:Travel Expert

Whether you come from the National Park of Veadeiros in Goiás or from Salvador de Bahia, it is a long drive to the National Park of Chapada Diamantina; this beautiful region seemingly lies in the middle of nowhere. But we don't mind a six-hour drive from Salvador da Bahia, having heard nothing but enthusiastic stories about the fabulous scenery and outdoor opportunities of one of Brazil's most beautiful national parks.

Outdoor activities in Chapada Diamantina
Chapada means table mountain, and there are many of those in Brazil, such as Chapada dos Veadeiros in Goiás, and Chapada dos Guimarães in Mato Grosso. The table mountains either consist of mountain ranges with vertical walls or are singular rock formations that suddenly rise up from the surface.

At the northern side of Chapada Diamantina we enjoy some of the best views of the park. From the 1129 metres high Morro do Pai Inácio we take in the landscapes of the Serra do Brejão, Serra da Cravada and Serra do Sobrado – the latter being part of National Park Chapada Diamantina. The Pai Inácio Hill is one of the areas protected by GAP, a volunteer organisation from Palmeiras that is focused on protecting the environment.

West of Morro do Pai Inácio are five caves, just north of the national park. Gruto do Lapão is supposedly South America's largest stone cave, while the adjacent Caverna da Torrinha has the largest variety of natural phenomena. The caves are best visited with an organised tour from Lençois since they can't be reached by public transport.

Where to arrange tours to Parque Nacional Chapada Diamantina
Diamantina refers to the area in west Bahia, but it is also the name of the national park which is a part of that region. The savannah-type landscape alternates with rock formations that are home to numerous waterfalls and caves. National Park Chapada Diamantina is known for its extraordinary quantity and variety of orchids and bromeliads; please don't follow the unpleasant habit of tourists who pick the flowers to take them home – the plants are disappearing at a worrying rate.

During the 19th century this region was one of the richest of Brazil, thanks to the mining of gold and diamonds. The mining is gone but nature has remained and the area became a national park in 1985.

The architecture of picturesque towns such Lençóis stands testimony to those rich mining days and they are pleasant to stay for a couple of days. Lençois, and to a lesser extent Palmeiras, are good places to organise day tours to surrounding attractions, or multiple day hikes into the park.

Hiking, biking and trekking in National Park Chapada Diamantina
Inside the park there are various day hikes to impressive waterfalls, such as 422-metre high Cachoeira da Fumaça [6 kilometres] and the Cachoeira do Sossego [7 kilometres], as well as multiple-day trekkings that include backcountry camping.

Trails inside the 1520-square-kilometre park wind along mountain slopes and traverse savannah plains. At regular intervals you can take a dip in brooks, swimming holes or waterfalls. The park is home to monkeys, macaws, deer and capybara as well as the little-sighted tamanduá mirim and almost extinct jaguar.

Although no permit is needed to hike in the park, there is little in terms of infrastructure such as road signs or signposted hiking trails. Guides can be found in Lençois as well as Palmeiras. Camping gear can be rented in Lençois.

Suggested reading about hiking trails, bicycle routs and off-roads for Chapada da Diamantina
Those who like to explore the park independently, and who can read Portuguese, may want to pick up a copy of Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina – Trilhas e Caminhos, circuito do Diamante, by Roberto Sapucaia, 2000, ISBN 85-901506-1-5. Best chances of finding the book are in Salvador da Bahia.

The book gives detailed information about the flora and fauna of the park and comes with a map of the area. It gives directions for 26 trails, suitable to follow by bicycle or car or on foot. Of each trail an indication is given of the distance, the duration to cover it, the degree of difficulty, and a detailed itinerary. There is a separate chapter dedicated to cycling in and around the park.

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