The Chapada Diamantina is one of Brazil’s (indeed South America’s) top hiking and outdoor activities destinations. The 1500 square mile National Park is a beautiful region comprising of Lost World style table top mountains, gorges, waterfalls, huge caves and crystalline lakes and bathing pools. Lencois is the main access point to the Chapada Diamantina, and the principal tourism hub, however there’s much more scenic alternative bases to explore the Park, as I’ll explain.
Visited: June 6 - 8, 2008.
There’s much better alternatives to Lencois
Lencois is the most common base to explore the Chapada Diamantina for just one reason that is apparent to me - it’s the quickest place to get to from Salvador (about 6 hours drive). There are much more scenic, beautifully set alternatives. Staying in Lencois itself, you’ve no idea you’re near the Chapada Diamantina - you can’t see any mountains, let alone any dramatic scenery. For me, Lencois is a tourist trap compared to the amazing alternatives. Both Mucuge and Vale do Capao are far better, more tranquil, scenic bases to explore the Chapada Diamantina. Both have a range of pousadas and restaurants, and guides can easily be arranged. When I go back to the Chapada Diamantina, I’ll be staying is the beautifully located Vale do Capao. It’s a better base than Lencois in almost every way, with the exception of the fact that it rains a little more often. Vale do Capao has a range of pousadas for all types of budget.
Both Mucuge and Vale Do Capao are about an hours travel beyond Lencois - there’s a daily morning bus to Mucuge from Lencois, and to travel to Vale do Capao there’s buses from Lencois to Palmeiras, from where you’ll need to pick up a taxi, or hitch a ride, which is quite easy in this part of Brazil. With a hire car, as we had, it’s all very easy with a map.
Lencois, a (semi) colonial old mining town with a population of about 10,000, has over 50 pousadas and a wide range of restaurants and local tour operators. I was expecting a beautiful setting for the town but was very disappointed - you’ve really no idea you’re near the Chapada Diamantina National Park when staying in Lencois.
In Lencois we stayed at Pousada Dos Duendes - a good hostel, though it’s rather overpriced. Pousada Dos Duendes is an English owned pousada, and it was great to find English speaking staff. The pousada’s associated tour operator offers extensive treks of one to ten days duration in the Park with English speaking guides for R$100 per person per day, based on a group of three or more.
Tours from Lencois
The (plethora of) local tour operators will encourage you to book tours with them, of course. This is often completely unneccesary, especially if you have a hire car. For long, overnight treks into the Park it is of course highly advisable to go with a guide, but otherewise many of the sites can be visited without a guide. Seek advice from the official tourist information office in Lencois who’ll provide honest advice compared to the tour operators and local guides who invariably will play up the difficulty of finding your own way around. With a hire car, exploring the caves and natural swimming pools is quite easy if you have a map and a bit of honest, local advice - many of the cave entrances, and scenic bathing spots are privately owned (and charge an entrance fee), and are well signposted and on the edges of the Park itself. The official Chapada Diamantina booklet guide has a good map.
We saw the highlights of the region when we visited. With a hire car it easy to get a map and go, without a hire car try hitch hiking, or book a tour with one of Lencois’ many tour operators. An English speaking guide usually costs R$100 a day. We went to the amazing caves at Torrinha, walking underground for three hours seeing all types of amazing underground rock and crystal formations - highly recommended. Obviously you need a guide here - you’re provided with a local one when you pay the entrance fee. Nearby, Lapa Doce is another huge cave, and a little easier to get about in. Also in this area, which is just to the North of the Chapada Diamantina Park itself, is Pratinha, a beautiful, though heavily visited, crystalline lake, whose amazing snorkelling has a visibility of up to 60 metres. Nearer Lencois, Pai Inacio look out point involves a 15 minute climb to one of the Chapada’s most famous, stunning views. A must see in the area is the Fumaca waterfall, Brazil’s highest waterfall at 384 metres - quite stunning, and involving a beautiful 2 hour hike from Vale do Capao (no guide necessary). When it hasn’t rained, there’s hardly a trickle to see, but when it has, the smoke like affect created is beautiful. The views from the top are truely astounding:
View from atop the Fumaca waterfall.
All these places are the basis of the typical tours offered by tour operators in Lencois. With a hire car, all, and many more, can be easily visited independently. Without a car, you can hitch a lift to many, or arrange for an organised tour. Note that there’s many, many other places too see in addition to these Chapada Diamantina travel highlights.
You could comfortably spend over two weeks exploring this stunning region of Brazil. Just remember that there’s better bases to do so than Lencois.
Getting to Lencois
Lencois is a five to six hour drive from Salvador - there’s currently three buses a day - buses depart early in the morning, at lunch time, plus there’s an overnight bus at about 11pm - 2008 cost is R$47 (about $30). Lencois has an airport, which is only used for charter flights.