By Alexandra Alden, Contributing Reporter
LENÇOIS – Brazil’s thriving cities, striking coastline and lush, green landscapes ensure that the average visitor wants for nothing, but after kicking back on white sand beaches under a beating sun, the fresh cool air of the mountains can become an irresistible draw.
Chapada Diamantina Park sits in the center of Bahia State and gives visitors the chance to hike through a truly unique landscape. The green mesas that rise out of the earth are enough to stop the visitor in their tracks but closer inspection reveals numerous caves and waterfalls to also be explored.
The Chapada Diamantina, meaning diamond highlands, is a former mining region that was transformed into a 1520 km² park in 1985 to save it from over-exploitation. By then much damage had already been done and vast portions of fauna were destroyed, but fire is also an ever-present risk. When the park was first enclosed and the farmers banned from mining their response was, and continues to be, to periodically set fire to the park. This and the fact that the trails are completely unmarked mean it is always important to take a guide with you.
The guides can be hired either through the numerous agencies located in Lençois, the city which acts as the gateway to the park, or through the Associação de Condutores de Visitantes de Lençois (ACLV), the Visitor Guide Association. If money is no object the agencies tend to include extras such as transport and an English speaker, whilst the ACLV provides a guide and upon request food but is more intrepid than the agencies. The main difference remains the price, with the agencies charging virtually double the Agency’s prices.
There are two principal treks into the park and a plethora of day trips to its caves. The trek to the Fumaça Waterfall, the highest in Brazil gushing water into a 380m free-fall, takes three days. On the first you will visit three smaller waterfalls, the second sees you arrive at the bottom of Fumaça and on the third day you reach the top. The hike is considered technical with many steep slippery ups and downs, and only the caves serve as accommodation, with the hikers carrying their own food.
The second trek to the Vale of Patí can be done in as little as three days or as many as eight. More open to personalization, the first day covers 22km across a vast plain flanked by enchanting mesas. The last day will be virtually the same, but in between it is possible to trek further and further into the valley as your timetable allows, visiting waterfalls, or climbing O Castello mountain, whose summit offers incredible panoramic views of the valley.
Here there are varied accommodation options. Native families live in the valley and run hostels where trekkers can stay, or it is possible to camp on their land for a smaller fee. For the really wild experience, hikers can just pitch a tent in the middle of nowhere, but undoubtedly both treks provide a truly different introduction to an aspect of Brazil that is all too often overlooked.