Chapada Diamantina National Park: The Complete Guide

A grotto in Chapada Diamantina National Park.
  Priscila Zambotto / Getty Images

With a landscape full of mesas, magnificent rock formations, and quartzite caves, complete with crystal clear lakes and underground rivers, Chapada Diamantina National Park is the perfect setting for some of the wildest eco-adventures in Brazil. This park is known around the world for its scenic beauty and its history steeped deep in a 19th-century diamond boom. When word got out about this boom, the ensuing diamond rush brought in a slew of prospectors, called garimpeiros, who formed the nearby town of Lençóis as a base for exploring this area. Today, Chapada Diamantina National Park (founded in 1985), or Brazil’s Lost World, encompasses 152,000-hectares (587 square miles) and houses several national monuments. The park's mixed terrain and contrasting topography, as well as an underground water system, attracts those looking to explore the desert wilderness by hiking, spelunking, swimming, and rock climbing.  

Things to Do

Before it became a park, the region encompassing Chapada Diamantina National Park was considered off-limits, in an effort to prevent diamond smuggling. But now, the spectacular scenery, which opened the region to tourism, has made it accessible to hikers, bikers, rock climbers, and horseback riders. Combine any one of these activities with a swim in a refreshing waterhole for an adventure-filled day.

This park boasts over 300 kilometers (187 miles) of hiking and horseback riding trails, created by former miners and now maintained by tour guides. The trails take you through the desert, past interesting rock formations and waterfalls, and up and down hills over a varied landscape. Portions of this same trail network can also be accessed by mountain bikers and horseback riders, although an advanced mountain biking skill level is required to tackle them.

Traditional, sport, and bouldering rock climbing routes exist throughout the park on the sandstone rock walls. Some routes even take you up the side of waterfalls. Book a rock climbing excursion with one of the park's hired guides or through a number of different tour agencies. Rappelling and ziplining are also enjoyed activities in this realm.

Highly qualified divers and spelunkers can take advantage of the park's underground caves and lakes. Access to some of these spots is only granted to special groups by environmental protection agencies, however. Still, you can take a plunge in the water at one of the Chapada Diamantina's favored swimming holes, like the Ribeirao do Meio rock slide, the Sossego waterfall, and the Fumaça waterfall (considered Brazil’s highest waterfall until a higher one was discovered in the Amazon).

Extreme adventurists can also engage in the act of free-flying, paragliding, or mountain racing in the park.

Best Hikes & Trails

Chapada Diamantina National Park is a haven for hikers. Explore waterfalls, discover natural rock formations at sunset, and traverse one of the most beautiful valleys in the world. Most hikers hire the service of a local guide, although experienced hikers can tackle most of the trails on their own with a reliable GPS.

  • Morro do Pai Inacio: The hike to this postcard-famous rock outcropping is one of the easiest in the park. It's accessible by the main road, located halfway between Lençois and Capão, and requires a 30-minute hike to the top of the plateau. Go at sunset when the rocky walls reflect the light in a display of mesmerizing orange hues.
  • Cachoeira da Fumaça: This 6.2-mile moderate hike is a must-do for those looking to experience a 420-meter (1,300-foot) high waterfall situated next to an equally tall cliffside. The trail starts at Os Campos in Vale do Capão and takes you on a rugged, sun-exposed climb before plateauing out into a savanna. Most people hire a guide for this hike.
  • Cachoeira do Sossego: This 6.6-mile well-beaten trail can be a dangerous encounter during the rainy season, as it follows a river bed and requires navigating over large rocks and slippery stones. Still, it's a good test of your physical abilities in the dry season—a hike that takes you to a 15-meter (49-foot) canyonside waterfall. On the way back, take the road to Riberão do Meio, where a natural slide cascades into a refreshing pool.
  • Vale do Pati: Considered one of the best hiking trails in Brazil, and often compared to the Inca Trail in Peru, Valedo Pati is a multi-day trek that is often tackled with a guide. It takes you through the jungle, by native villages where the locals may offer you accommodations, and hugs the banks of the river. Sites along the hike include spots like Mirante do Pati (a majestic rainforest valley), Morro do Castelo (a square rock formation), and Cachoeirão por baixo (a box canyon with a waterfall).

Cave Diving

Many spelunkers and divers visit this remote park for its unique underground caves and diving spots. The most famous of the subterranean pools for swimming is Poco Azul, as it can be accessed by regular visitors who hire a guide service. Gruta da Pratinha, approximately 390 feet wide and ranging from 4.5 to 7.5 feet deep, can also be accessed by novice swimmers and divers, as natural stairs descend into a crystal clear lake.

Expertise in both caving and diving is required to access the park's other underground lakes. Os Impossíveis (named so for its difficult entrance) rewards you with 100-foot vertical walls, white stalagmites, and access to various tunnels. Poço Encantado, a 120-foot deep sunken pool, has water so transparent that rocks and ancient tree trunks are visible to the bottom. When the sun is just right, light comes through a crevice and creates a blue reflection on the water. (Access to this pond is highly controlled for the environmental protection of its rare and delicate ecosystem.) Poço de Milú (the Enchanted Well), is similar to the Poço Encantado but less restricted. Underwater passageways abound.

Where to Camp

Due to the remote nature of this park, most of the private campsites in the area are located in the surrounding towns within a one- or two-hour drive. These campsites make a great resting point if you're tackling the seven-hour drive from Salvador. However, backcountry camping is permitted inside the park, if you organize a trek with a hired guide service.

  • Camping Mucuge: Located in the town of Mucuge (approximately two hours away from Chapada Diamantina), this campground offers the most amenities in the region. The facilities have tent sites, as well as spaces for motorhomes and campers, complete with power, water, and sewage hookups. Hot showers, a communal bathroom and kitchen, a library, and free Wi-Fi are all available on-site.
  • Camping Ganesha: Slightly closer to the park in Capao (within a 1.5-hour drive to the park), Camping Ganesha gets rave reviews. It boasts a common kitchen area and bathrooms, free Wi-Fi, and trees that bear fruit ripe for the picking.

Where to Stay Nearby

There are many lodging options available in the small towns and villages surrounding Chapada Diamantina National Park. Choose from an all-inclusive luxury stay, complete with a guided experience, a modest hotel, or a DIY adventure stay in a fully-equipped chalet—all within a short drive of the park.

  • Pousada Villa Lagoa das Cores: Located 12.9 miles away from the park, Pousada Villa Lagoa das Cores is surrounded by mountains and offers a luxury stay, complete with a holistic spa and a sophisticated restaurant that offers contemporary cuisine. Treat yourself to a room or suite, where no attention to detail is spared. The hotel also offers retreats and experiences with professional guides for a full-service vacation.
  • Chapada Hotel: Chapada Hotel is located 11.5 miles away from Chapada Diamantina and offers a modest stay with luxury apartments, super luxury apartments, and executive apartments, complete with box spring beds, televisions, and air conditioning. This no-frills hotel also features an outdoor pool and an a la carte restaurant with room service.
  • Pousada Bela Vista do Capão: This lodging option is located in Campos, about 13.4 miles away from the park. Here, you can stay in a fully-equipped chalet, complete with a full kitchen, modern bathroom, double and single beds, and a balcony overlooking Capão Valley. This high-altitude retreat receives a gentle breeze year-round and is the perfect option for those who want to be fully independent.

How to Get There

If you're traveling to this park by air, international and domestic airlines fly to Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, and then connect to Salvador, where you can take a local commuter flight to Lençóis. You can also hire a taxi service to take you from Salvador to Lencois on a seven-hour journey. A travel agency can make the arrangements for you, or you can book directly through the Lençóis Taxi Drivers Association. 

If you are traveling from Salvador, you can take one of two daily buses to Andaraí, Mucugê, Ibicoara, Utinga, and Seabra, operated by the Real Expresso line. It's about a seven-hour trip and approximately 267 miles. You can also make the trek by car, which will allow you more freedom on your journey, as well as the convenience of having a car once you arrive.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The climate of Chapada Diamantina makes it an all-season destination, but evening storms provide almost seven feet of rainfall a year.
  • Once the third-largest town in the northeast state of Bahia, Lençóis is now much smaller and is mainly tourist-oriented. You can arrange park tours here yourself, or ask your hotel for help with planning.
  • As the gateway to the Chapada Diamantina National Park, Lençóis has plentiful restaurants and cantinas where you can sip Brazilian beer and trade stories with the locals to learn about the best climbing spots, swimming holes, and cave diving.
  • If you're embarking on a guided trek, make sure to wear proper hiking shoes and pack along a waterproof layer and sunblock.
  • Chapada Diamantina is a remote wilderness area, therefore, some visitors may find it essential to hire a guide who is familiar with the region and trained in first aid. A guide will also enrich your trip with information about the region's fauna, flora, geology, and history.