Chapada Diamantina National Park is one of the world’s most stunning natural sites. Millions of years of natural erosion created the area and made it rich in diamonds. Hence its name: Diamantina. Today, the National Park is the center of the region that bears the same name (Chapada Diamantina). Although it’s quite easy to get to Chapada Diamantina from Salvador de Bahia, mass tourism has not ruined the place. In fact, we toured the area on our own. That’s what we call luxury! When it comes to architecture, the area is for sure fascinating. We discovered two little towns: Lençois and Vale do Capão. You have to stay in both to enjoy a quaint atmosphere, gorgeous buildings, and friendly locals.
- 1 How to Get to Chapada Diamantina
- 2 Where to Stay in Chapada Diamantina
- 3 Lençois Accommodation
- 4 Vale do Capão Accommodation
- 5 What to See in Chapada Diamantina National Park
- 6 Be Cautious and Prepare to be Dazzled
- 7 People and Safety
- 8 Tips
- 9 Long Live Brazil
How to Get to Chapada Diamantina
There are two ways of reaching Chapada Diamantina National Park. You can fly from Salvador to Lençois airport. Brazilian low cost Azul operates the route. The airport is located some 25 kilometers away from the city of Lençois. However, most travelers arrive by bus. Buses from Salvador operate three times a day and take 6 hours. These buses are fairly new and quite comfortable. They leave from Salvador’s Terminal Rodoviário and drop you off by the bridge in central Lençois. We took the bus and had a fantastic trip. The magic of nature begins as soon as you exit the urban sprawl of Salvador. You won’t be able to keep your eyes off the window!
Where to Stay in Chapada Diamantina
Considering that the entire area is huge, we strongly recommend staying within the Chapada Diamantina National Park. There are two great options: Lençois and Vale do Capão. Both are located in different sides of the park, have comfortable infrastructure, and offer different tours around the area. Lençois is closer to Salvador and nothing like a typical Brazilian city. Quite the opposite: Lençois is barely a town, and surprisingly beautiful! Conversely, Vale do Capão is a tiny village. While a dense jungle surrounds Lençois, Vale do Capão’s vegetation is shorter allowing for great views.
What is Lençois Like
Lençois is a small town of approximately 4000 citizens. It flourished in the 19th Century when diamonds were discovered in the area. At its peak, Lençois was Bahia’s third largest city. Grand colonial houses line the old town’s cobbled streets. There is also a nice church, Igreja do Senhor dos Passos, and a couple of interesting squares. Additionally, the River Lençois crosses the town creating lovely green areas. Even more, natural pools perfect for an afternoon dip can be found just outside of town. In the evening, Lençois becomes lively, especially along the picturesque Rua das Pedras.
What is Vale do Capão Like
It’s harder to get to Vale do Capão, since it is further away from Salvador. This tiny isolated village has a small square and a church. Most houses have their own private gardens and are painted with pretty cool murals. People socialize around the square. There are only a handful of restaurants and travel agencies. Just a short walk from the village you’ll be able to enjoy beautiful mountain views and a couple of waterfalls. We walked to Riachinho waterfalls. The place was almost empty, with only a couple of people hanging about the natural pools. I was so thrilled that inadvertently slipped and almost fell all the way to the bottom. So please: relax but be cautious!
If You Have Time: Stay in Both Places!
As mentioned above Lençois is closer to Salvador than Vale do Capão. It’s a 6 hours drive versus a 7.5 bus + minivan. Therefore, first stay in Lençois and then move to Capão. Without a doubt Lençois has nicer architecture and more restaurants and bars. Likewise, the number of excursions offered around the area is higher. Conversely, Vale do Capão’s hippy vibe and calm make it a great place to turn off and flow. In all honesty, we weren’t expecting them to be so nice. Though the architecture resembles that of Portuguese towns such as Terceira in the Azores, it is definitively Brazilian and blends perfectly with the lush surroundings.
If You are Short on Time: Stay in Lençois
Our time in Vale do Capão was fantastic: we walked searching for views, had great pizza and dipped in natural waterfalls. Fortunately, Lençois was quite different but equally amazing. There we found beautiful architecture and colonial streets surrounded by lush forests. However, what sets Vale do Capão apart is the atmosphere. It has attracted relaxed, zen, alternative Brazilians, and they, for sure, make you feel welcomed. Consequently, the best option is to stay in both places. However, if you are a bit short on time Lençois may be better.
In spite of its small size, Lençois is packed with nice little hotels and guesthouses. If you prefer family owned small guesthouses stay at Pouso da Trilha. We stayed there and loved everything about it! Located on a cobbled stone street, its rooms are spacious and have an antique feel but modern-day heating and bathrooms. The balcony with hammocks is brilliant to relax after a whole day exploring the Chapada Diamantina National Park. Another great guesthouse is Pousada Vila Serrano, set along a lovely garden. Rooms here are like small bungalows, and have porches with hammocks.
If your thing is proper hotels there are great options. Hotel de Lençois is just 500m from the center and has a lush 4-hectare garden complete with a pool and sauna. The rooms are spacious, and the restaurant is superb. Take note that Hotel de Lençois was the second hotel in Brazil to get the Certificate for Sustainable Tourism Management. Terra dos Diamantes Hotel is a new top-notch property with modern-day facilities, including a pool. Without a doubt, Canto das Aguas is Lençois’ fanciest hotel. The garden and the decor are exquisite, and the location, directly on the river, unbeatable.
Vale do Capão Accommodation
In the Village
Hotels in Vale do Capão are smaller, but most have a garden and even views. Since we wanted to stay in the village, we chose the lovely Pousada Pé no Mato, by the church. Set amongst gardens, the pousada proved the perfect place to chill and connect with nature. For the best views from your personal hammock, ask for a top floor room. Another nice option in the village is Pousada Zazen, a new property set in a lush garden with steam and massage rooms. The whole atmosphere is quite zen and relaxed.
Near the Village
We are talking here about hotels within one hour walk from the village. No worries if you don’t feel like or want to walk. Both can arrange inexpensive fast transport to the village. Some 3 km south of the village you’ll find Pousada Rosa dos Ventos, the best choice with the nicest views in the area. They have a great traditional oven pizzeria in the hotel. Continuing to the south, you’ll find Pousada do Capão Chapada Diamantina. The views are gorgeous and they offer a sauna and hot springs!
What to See in Chapada Diamantina National Park
Morro do Pai Inácio
The best way to discover this wonderful park is with a car and a driver. Our driver drove carefully and was very pleasant to talk to. He knew the area by hand and took us everywhere. The main highlight of Chapada Diamantina National Park is Morro do Pai Inácio, a spectacular high plateau that towers over endless green valleys. Located just north of Road 242 it offers killer views of the area. Rocks, different species of plants, and a very cute rodent, the Mocó, populate the top of the hill. Once up, we sat in silence and admired our gorgeous planet!
Chapada Diamantina National Park offers much more than just gigantic hills and the chapadas – plateaus. The park is famous due to its numerous cachoeiras – waterfalls. With 380m of free fall, Cachoeira da Fumaça is one of Brazil’s tallest waterfalls. The waterfall is approximately 6 kilometers from Vale do Capão. To get there, you can walk for an hour and a half or take an inexpensive taxi from the town. On the other hand, the Cachoeira do Sossego is just a 20-minute walk from Lençois. On your way there, stop in Ribeirão do Meio, a beautiful waterfall with a bathing area. Further up north, you will find Mosquito Waterfall, an hour and a half drive from Lençois. Finally, you have to arrange transportation to and from the Cachoeira do Buracão, some 180 kilometers from Vale do Capão.
Additionally, loads of beautiful caves dot the park. An hour north of Lençois, you will find Lapa Doce, a massive cave full of columns, stalagmites, and stalactites. You have to go into the cave with a guide, included in the entrance ticket. One kilometer to the east is Gruta da Fumaça (Cave of Smoke), another out of this world place. Poço Azul is 98 kilometers to the south of Lençois. This is both a cave and a lake, with the most beautiful shades of blue (Azul is blue in Portuguese). There is a restaurant on-site, so you won’t go hungry. An hour from the latter one is Poço Encantado. As its name says, an enchanted cave with a transparent lake.
Chapada Diamantina: Treks and Hikes
Those of you into hikes will be in heaven. There are literally countless options, from super easy to super tough. In fact, by walking around the Vale do Capão, you are actually trekking through Chapada Diamantina’s fantastic nature. As mentioned above, you can walk to a couple of waterfalls from Vale do Capão. Likewise, the vicinity of Lençois offers easy walks admiring the landscape. That said, for more professional longer treks, we recommend this tour.
Be Cautious and Prepare to be Dazzled
Chapada Diamantina National Park is an extensive area of some 152 000 Hectares. Most of the central part between Lençois and Vale do Capão is dense jungle and it’s easy to get lost. Therefore if you are planning a longer hike you have to hire a guide. We kid you not: people do get lost! All important sites including Morro do Pai Inácio, waterfalls and caves are far from both Lençois and Vale do Capão so to visit them you have to hire a car with a driver or take an organized tour. Ask in your hotel or around the town how to get to and around Chapada Diamantina, so you can get the best deal possible. You can always talk to fellow travelers and reduce your ecological footprint while sharing the ride.
People and Safety
In our opinion, Brazil doesn’t have the reputation it deserves. For starters, this is the 5th largest country on earth. Thus, when it comes to Brazil, you simply cannot generalize. We found people to be nice, friendly, and honest all around the country. What we believe is different is safety. Once we got out of the big cities, we felt safe. Not that we had a problem in any big city. But we have to honest: we were a bit apprehensive. Quite a different story in the Chapada Diamantina, in both Lençois and Vale do Capão. We walked till late everywhere without a glitch. In fact, one day, walking back from a waterfall, a lovely Brazilian lady gave us a lift and shared loads of stories with us. Obrigado pra voce!
The Chapada Diamantina National Park in Brazil is humongous. Besides, the terrain means you have to loop around the chapadas, so moving around takes time. Be sure to bring a recycled water container. Likewise, whatever you bring to the park, you have to get out of the park. Both in winter and summer bring sunscreen, a hat, and at least a light coat. Since the temperature can drop in the afternoon, you can feel chilly after a day under the sun. For the caves and waterfalls, bring proper shoes. It can be slippery. Though there are a couple of places to buy snacks on the roads, we strongly recommend taking with you some delicious Brazilian bread. Less pollution and better quality!
Long Live Brazil
Fortunately, the Chapada Diamantina National Park is in Brazil and not in the US or Europe. That means there aren’t thousands of roads, trains, airports, malls, hotels, Starbucks, and any of the nonsense the west calls development. Actually, when you are in the area, you kind of feel the absurdity of it all. The so-called developed world destroys places in Brazil to build more and more cars, boats, and all the things we can’t stop buying. What’s more, paying peanuts. Brazilians have done a fantastic job preserving and loving the place. The infrastructure is the minimum needed for us to enjoy the park in all its glory, everything is clean, and Brazilians love for the environment is contagious. Run fast to the Chapada Diamantina National Park and Brazil before the development virus kills it all!
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