Existing Member?

xEurasia Odyssey

Impressions of Lençóis and Chapada Diamantina, Bahia, Brazil

BRAZIL | Friday, 1 September 2023 | Views [34]

Lençóis and Chapada Diamantina, Bahia, Brazil 

I arrived in the late afternoon on the prop plane from Bel Horizonte. The airport is quite small, but the staff were efficient, and the luggage arrived almost by the time we had deplaned. I had arranged for an airport pickup as I’d been warned that there wouldn’t be taxis available at the airport. Roberta was there with the sign for the guesthouse and when we got outside by her car, she introduced me to a friend of hers from Argentina, Guillermo, who now lives in Lençóis. I don’t speak any Portuguese, and my Spanish is rather limited, but somehow we managed to communicate in that language. After dropping off the bags at the room, Roberta asked me whether I would be interested in accompanying them to the weekly Sunday market; naturally I jumped at the chance. The market is at the end of town near the entrance to the Parque Natural Municipal da Muritiba and was filled with stalls covered with fresh fruits and vegetables from the local area.  There were a number of fruits that I hadn’t seen before and some that would cost a small fortune in Salzburg, but cost only a few cents here, such as ocra, papayas, guavas, maracujas, lots of different kinds of bananas etc. They also had fresh coffee beans, which surprised me as almost everywhere I’ve been on this trip they only sell instant Nescafe. We then went to Roberta’s shop in town where she sells coffee, pastries, and ice cream.  We had a good coffee and a chocolate vanilla sponge cake from a recipe she created as the sun set and night fell.  I had a long conversation with the Argentinian writer, and I think I understood about 60+ % of what he was saying. He is very knowledgeable about the region and made good suggestions on where I should go. He also described a five-part novel that he is working on, which sounded like it would be interesting, as well as adjusting northern hemisphere Feng Shui to the needs of the southern hemisphere. He’s using ideas he gathered from Australian authors but is adapting them for South America. As I was tired due to not sleeping the night before because the first of the three flights left at 2am, I excused myself and tried to find my way back through the labyrinthian streets and alleyways of town.  I managed to get totally lost but did find my way back to Roberta’s store where she gave me some simpler directions.  I did finally find the guesthouse.

The next morning, I decided to stay in town and do the hikes right here that could be done alone and without a guide.  There are two main ones: Parque do Ribeirão and the previously mentioned Muritiba. They are on opposite sides of the town. The first was near the guesthouse, so I decided to start there. It was luckily easy to find as it was basically a straight walk down a main road out of town behind a school. At the end of the hike, which takes about 35-40 minutes from the entrance to the park, there is a series of cascades and lots of little pools of water in the rock formations.  There were probably 10 -12 people in the various pools dunking themselves in the refreshing waters. A couple of the pools were large enough to swim in, but most were for sitting and relaxing. The area is in the middle of the forest and there isn’t a house in sight. The air was filled with bird songs and small lizards scampered on the trail which made an entertaining and peaceful walk. The trail is an in and out, so when I walked back through town across the bridge with the river to where the market had been the previous evening. At the entrance to Muritiba, there is a check-in place and the park costs R$20 (US$4) to enter and one can only pay by credit card. The park consists of more cascading springs with pools in the rock formations. I boulder hopped up to the top of the park where there is a sign that says entry is only permitted with a guide. At the top, I noticed a couple of groups with guides coming down and taking a path on the opposite side from the one I had come up, so I decided to see if I could do a loop.  I could and found that the entrance from this side is, again, near my guesthouse. It was a nice surprise.

Lençóis is a delightful small town. It used to be the center of the diamond trade and, according to the Argentinian, was the hub for French diamond traders in the mid-1800s.  The oldest church, Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário, was built between 1855-1860 in the middle of this boom and houses a sacred image of the patroness of the town. Today the streets and alleys have colorful houses and shops and at night, the town comes alive with everyone outside in the street cafes and restaurants with lots of music coming from different quarters. As elsewhere in Brazil, however, there are a number of for sale signs and boarded up buildings on the side streets.

There are many day trips available from Lençóis through the innumerable tour agencies in town. I only did a few, but they were quite interesting.  On Tuesday, I sprang for a private tour as I couldn’t find a group, to Poço do Diabo, Morro do Pai Inácio, Gruta and Rio Pratinha  and Gruta Azul. The first is a waterfall and one goes over boulders and a wooden bridge with no hand holds to get to the lookout sites. On a ledge above a cliff where there is one of the lookout spots, local guides have placed hooks in the rock so that tourists can rappel down to the waters below. I can’t say it looked very safe. The setting with the waterfall and cascading springs is beautiful. From there, we drove to Pai Inácio, which is a rocky plateau sticking out above the surrounding landscape.  When the guide was talking about it, I kept understanding Parnassus, and was getting very confused. It wasn’t until I saw a sign with the actual spelling that I could understand where the confusion lay. As it turns out, the mountain is kind of like the Greek one in that the spirits are said to live there.  What does live on the top of the rocks are a variety of cacti and other plants that can withstand the heat, lack of rainwater, and wind that beats down on the summit. There are 157 different species of plant life on the plateau. They receive their moisture from the clouds that surround the summit at night and in the morning but dissipate by mid-day. The view from the top is reminiscent of the area around the Grand Canyon, only green and not orangey brown. Pai Inácio itself looks like a green Castle Rock from Sedona when coming in from the Lençóis side.  From the other side, a large media tower disturbs the view, but provides communication to the entire region. The walk up to the top is again over boulders, but only takes about 15 minutes, which surprised me as it looked longer from the road. It was cloudy and windy on top, so we didn’t stay too long, but headed back down and onto the swimming hole, Rio Pratinha.  This place is a real tourist amusement park complete with zipline, which they call a Tyrolese. The highlight is the cave with clear turquoise waters. For an extra fee, one can go snorkeling, or have their picture taken in the water, or take a paddle boat shaped like a swan for a spin. I chose to simply go swimming. The water was refreshing as the temperature after mid-day had risen considerably. A little after 2pm, we walked over to the Gruta Azul at the opposite side of the complex.  This was a real disappointment as there was nothing to do there other than get a picture taken by the sunlit turquoise waters in the cave.

All in all, it was an interesting day. My guide spoke broken Spanish and Portuguese, so I had to use my lousy Spanish to communicate, which was a good exercise. From him, I learned that the main road we were on most of the time was the one road connecting Salvador and Brasilia and the hordes of trucks going in either direction were bringing produce and industrial materials from one place to another. In the easterly direction, the trucks were filled with local fruits, soy, and local vegetables going to the docks where the produce would be loaded onto boats going to Europe, while in the westerly, they were filled with industrial material going to central Bahia province. The trucks were huge. Many had signs on them saying they were 26m long and the guide saw one that was 30m. Some had 36 + tires on them. Passing the trucks on the two lane ‘highway’ required skill and patience. I was glad I had chosen not to rent a car this trip.

The next day, I did a group tour to Poço Encantada amd Poço Azul about 100km south of Lençóis. Both locations were caves. In the first, one could only go down into the cave to see how the light reflected a magnificent blue on the waters below. The water was so clear that it was possible to see the bottom, which I was told was 61m below the water’s surface. The cave height was 55m.  The guide, Marcel Luis, who spoke English, (though the others in the group were Brazilian and only spoke Portuguese) told me that when he was a child they were allowed to swim there, but since 1996 there has been a law prohibiting it. He also said that the area was owned by a Belgian, which confused me as I didn’t understand why the government would give property to non-Portuguese Europeans.  I was told that between WWI & II and after the second, the government offered land to Europeans willing to immigrate. They didn’t offer the land to the local Brazilians.  In any case, most of the other Belgians in the area wanted flat land for agriculture and couldn’t understand why this one fellow insisted he wanted ‘the hole’. They thought he was crazy. This hole now supports 30 families in the area through tourism. He wasn’t so crazy after all.

The final stop was for swimming in Poço Azul, another turquoise lake in the middle of a cave. They only let a set number of people in at a time, and a shower before donning a lifejacket with mask and snorkel is mandatory.  The mask is helpful as it allows for much better visibility of the blind white fish that live in these waters. Both places required a fairly steep climb, and neither would be appropriate for anyone with mobility issues.

This tour entails a lengthy drive. Along the way we passed large stretches of seemingly dead and brittle vegetation. I asked if there were often wildfires and was told that what looked like dead plants weren’t dead at all. They were caatinga pioma shrubs that turn grey and black when they don’t have water, but when the rains come within two days new leaves sprout and the plant rejuvenates. I’ve not noticed this plant anywhere else.  The drive also crosses the Parparaguaçu River, the largest in the province. The wood plank bridge is a bit unstable for the cars, and we had to get out and individually walk across before the car followed us. The river is fairly wide and this is where they do Marimbus Pantanal tours. As I hadn’t seen any wildlife in Amazonas, and only an occasional marmoset in Chapada Diamantina, I asked if the Mini-Pantanal tour provided more opportunity to see something other than caimans. I was told that there weren’t many wild animals left in the region as they had been hunted out. I find it incredibly disappointing that even acquaintances who were on a four-day Manaus to Belem boat tour didn’t see any wildlife. The most I’ve seen so far have been the vultures – they are everywhere. 

On Friday, I went to Serra dos Paridas and Cachoeira do Mosquito. The first is the petroglyph archeological site.  Not all of the petroglyphs can be accessed by tourists, but the ones that are visible are very similar to those that I saw in Columbia.  There is no accepted scientific data regarding the age of the paintings, but archeologists from regional universities have dated the images to at least 6,500 BCE. A fire site inside one of the caves has been radiocarbon dated at 80,000 years old. I find this fairly amazing and am not sure I trust the dates, but regardless, the petroglyphs are ancient, and they are similar in style to others across the globe from pre-historic times. After viewing the images, we had lunch at a farmhouse, whose owner is also the owner of the land on which the Mosquito waterfall lies. There is a relatively recent dirt road connecting the farm to the trailhead for the waterfalls.  The name comes from the shape of a small diamond that was found in the area about a 100 years ago and has nothing to do with the insect. Luckily, there weren’t any of those bothering us on our time at the falls or on the trail to them.  The falls start out by a series of stepped pools, then an underground river merges with the steps to form the basis of what will become the impressive wall of falling water. We walked down to the bottom and the guide, again Marcel Luis, insisted that I needed to go into a new dimension by going through the falls to the rocks behind.  Naturally, I slipped and went under, but was able to grab Marcel Luis’ hand and scramble back up behind the cascade.  While the experience didn’t take me to a new dimension, it was pretty cool. This was a good tour day, filled with interesting history, art, a nature hike, and a very refreshing waterfall shower.

On my last full day in Chapada Diamantina and Lençóis, I went for a 9km horseback ride that was a definite highlight of the trip as I finally saw a monkey and a few marmosets in the wild. The ride went through the forest directly outside of Lençóis following near the river until we came to a spot where the Rio Lençóis meets the Rio Capivara. The name of the second river comes from the animals that were once prevalent in the area, but who have now been hunted so often that they have fled the region. Along the way, we came to a large wooden cross that is the starting point for the local Dia de Finados parade. This event is the Brazilian version of Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, celebrated for All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2nd. Instead of a raucous celebration, though, it is a quiet time for family to honor those who have passed. In Lençóis, the faithful gather by the cross laden with flowers. They then proceed by foot to the town cemetery, a ca 3-4 km venture. Those in the procession give flowers to those who reach for them along the way and then decorate their ancestors’ graves. We also passed by a church dedicated to Iemanjá, the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé Goddess of the Sea. Her festival is on February 2nd, when the faithful, dressed all in white, leave the church in the forest to walk into the center of Lençóis where they have a celebration by the main bridge over the river. It was a delightful and educational ride. The one thing that I did find a bit strange, however, was that my horse didn’t like apples and also didn’t want to drink until near the end of the ride. I’ve never known a horse to turn down an apple before. There are unusual creatures in Brazil.


Tomorrow it’s on to Salvador and the coast.

Tags: diamond town, hiking, rainforest

Add your comments

(If you have a travel question, get your Answers here)

In order to avoid spam on these blogs, please enter the code you see in the image. Comments identified as spam will be deleted.

About krodin

Follow Me

Where I've been


Photo Galleries

My trip journals

See all my tags 



Travel Answers about Brazil

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.