Imagine yourself trekking through the most amazing landscapes of Brazil and meeting locals whose life depends on mules... Welcome to the Chapada Diamantina
When I started working on the planning of our trip to Brazil, I felt like crying in despair. So many things to see and we only had 2 weeks at our disposal!!! It was torture for us to pick the spots that we wanted to see first and foremost. One thing was sure though – we wanted to visit exceptional places, have the opportunity to see unspoiled nature (or at least preserved nature) so we concluded by putting together a list of 3 geographical areas.
This included the Chapada Diamantina, the Pantanal and the Amazon. Obviously, there are so many other places but we chose these 3 in function of the season (January), ease of access and of course recommendations read in several guides and online. The Pantanal is known for the diversity of its fauna, and notably its jaguars; the Amazon for the Amazon and the Chapada Diamantina for its grandiose landscapes including some of the most beautiful hiking trails in the world.
Finally we chose the Chapada Diamantina and out of 15 days in Brazil, we spent 5 days visiting a part of it, the most well known one and most likely one of the most beautiful, the Vale Do Pati. Why the Chapada Diamantina? Because the Pantanal was harder to access and the rainy season was just about to start so it would have been much more difficult to spot animals. And as far as the Amazon is concerned, we knew that our short trip would have been reduced to a few walks in the jungle and a lot of boat travel. Plus the prices were higher transportation wise as we would have had to get to Manaus, take a bus then a boat…All in all Chapada seemed to be an excellent compromise. Pay attention though that there are no wild animals in the Chapada Diamantina (or there are very few of them), so in case you want to observe the wildlife you are better off choosing the Pantanal!
Everybody was recommending us to do the trek or the hike in the Vale Do Pati, a small protected part of the Chapada Diamantina, where approximately 11 families live. The only way to access the town from the Vale Do Pati is by mule or walking. Environmentally speaking, the place is truly well preserved and after 5 days spent there it was as if time stood still. No internet, no network, nothing else besides you and nature (and a couple more tourists that you would encounter in the pousadas). Apart from the breathtaking scenery, this 4 day break was extremely rejuvenating and soothing. In the beginning, I was desperate…”What no network? What do you mean there is no internet? And how do I reach Periscope?? AAAAHHH”, this amused Denis a lot. But after 5 days I had a tough time getting back in the rhythm of active life. Peeling our eyes off the screens for 5 days was, in hindsight, probably the most relaxing part of our holidays despite the physical effort!
Anyway let’s get back to the trek itself. Several things must be known before going to the state of Bahia (where the Chapada Diamantina is situated).
- You will need a guide that you can find via an agency (we had an English speaking guide). Do not attempt this adventure on your own – you can get lost as there are no road signs in the Vale Do Pati.
- You will have to choose the duration of your hike or trek knowing that you will need approximately a day for transferring from Rio for example and upon return the same. So basically if you come from Rio, take into account 7 days for a trek of 5 days.
- Negotiate!!! The prices are more or less set by the agencies but negotiate anyways as the majority of the time the guide is paid by the agency that retains a commission. It’s obviously worth finding your own guide without going through an agency – this will be less pricey, but we chose the more comfortable way as the agency took care of everything from A to Z, since our arrival in Lençois (the meeting point and the only real town in the Chapada) until our return. For 5 days we paid 1750R$ per person which covered for the guide, food (all the meals), accommodation and transport. Our agency was EcoExtreme Adventures and we chose them due to their competitive pricing and since Julia and Pablo (the managers) are both biologists passionate about nature. We wanted to find a responsible agency that acts to protect the environment.
- The Vale Do Pati is a protected area and there are no garbage truck pick-up services. All the waste is transported on the back of the mules. Take a garbage bag with you since you will have to transport your own waste as soon as you enter the Vale Do Pati. If you purchase products bought in the pousadas, there’s no issue in throwing them there. But your own garbage you will have to take with you until the end of the trip. Therefore, think about this aspect carefully!
- You won’t have to camp. The 11 families living in the Vale Do Pati loved their land so much that they have converted their mining activities in tourist activities and can provide overnight accommodation for tourists under their own roofs. If you prefer camping it’s of course possible but not at all necessary.
- Take sunglasses with you, biodegradable sunscreen and a cap or hat!!! We were lucky enough to have cloudy weather, but when there’s full sun and very few trees the trek becomes difficult!
Before leaving for Brazil, we already had to make a prepayment of 25% of the whole amount – we didn’t know our guide yet but we received the schedule of our trek.
How to get to Chapada Diamantina?
To get to the Chapada Diamantina you will have to stop in Salvador de Bahia where you will take a bus from a company called Rapido Federal that will take you after 6 long hours to Lençois. We chose to spend a night in Salvador before getting back on the road to Lençois the next morning. But it’s possible to save up on time and do the trip from Salvador at night. However pay attention that the night buses are just as long (6h drive) and they don’t have sleeping beds. So you will only sleep a little or very poorly.
So after a night in Salvador in the vicinity of the bus station (rodaviara), we woke up early to go to the station and there was no other way to reach it except by taking a taxi. Actually, Salvador is not a very safe city and at 5am in the morning there are no other ways to get to the bus stop except by cab (taxis are not that expensive and from our hotel it was a 10 minutes ride).
We purchased the tickets on Busbud.com the day before departure (no time to purchase them at the bus station). This website is very practical as you can pay with credit card without the CPF number (some sort of social security code required in Brazil for the majority of online reservations) and the website is multilingual. They send you vouchers for the bus tickets at the station. There is only one company that goes to Chapada Diamantina (Lençois) and therefore only one type of bus: Rapido Federal. Seats are more or less comfortable; there is air conditioning, no TV nor music on the bus.
You should arrive at least 30 minutes before departure time to change the vouchers (or to purchase a ticket if you haven’t already). You must go to the 1st floor of the station and look for the Rapido Federal office. The employee there will exchange the coupons that Busbud sent you for the tickets and will direct you towards the departures area. Then you will have to look for the right platform. Usually it’s relatively well signaled and our bus to Lençois left from platform 6. We chose the bus leaving at 7am in the morning so that we get there by 13h05, but you have roughly 4 buses per day. The first leaves at 7am and the last one at 11pm.
Once on the platform, you will have to show to the driver your ID and your ticket. The ride takes about 6 hours including 2 or 3 stops depending on the mood of the driver. He also stops for lunch which allows for stretching your legs. Funnily enough, there were recycling bins a bit everywhere, even in the more remote villages.
Arrival in Lençois and visiting the surroundings
Having arrived in Lençois, with around 1h delay (which is normal for Brazilians), we met up with Julia our contact from Extreme Eco Adventures. She took us to the Pouso Da Trilha B&B with her 4X4 (not really environmental friendly). The pousada (the equivalent of B&B in Brazil) was very pleasant and comfortable.
The hike would start the day after, but given that we had a couple of hours to visit Lençois and the surroundings, we asked Julia to do a tour with us for half a day. We paid 100R$ (approximately 20 euros) per person. The walk around Lençois, the few waterfalls, the natural pools with perfect temperatures for swimming and the magnificent viewpoints delighted us!
If you are looking for a place to have dinner, typical or local, you will have a hard time finding such options in Lençois. It’s a place rather touristy. We ate at Absolutu – nothing exceptional though.
After dinner, we walked in the small streets of Lençois which is very safe at night given that it’s very lively during the high season. There was a major power outage in some streets and out of the sudden we were in complete darkness…when I rested this poor barmaid served us a caipirinha made in the dark…ah it was really good, so good that it put us to bed. I guess that these power outages happen frequently as a lot of restaurants and bars lit candles and started the emergency generators. Despite the lack of light, the city was still crowded which was super nice.
- Be aware of the fact that there is only one bank in town that only allows you to take out 500R $ per day per card! However you can pay by card in most restaurants and shops.
- No vegetarian restaurant but there is always an option to order a vegetarian dish
- Several shops in town; even with hiking equipment but very expensive
- It’s best to stay close to the main square, that’s where the nightlife takes place
- If you take the bus to Lençois, do not take the seats under the air conditioning (in the middle of the bus) or the seats in the back (where the toilets are). The best spots are in the front of the bus and in the back in the middle
Day 1: from Pai Inacio to Guiné, a bit of hike, a bit of car travel in the Chapada Diamantina
The 5 day trek includes a day to visit the points of interest in the surrounding areas before starting the “real” hike at Vale Do Pati. This first day is not too tiring; you can also go by car to see the main sights. Take into account 2-3h of hiking max and 2-3h by car.
Regarding the main sights that we visited in the Vale Do Pati in the Chapada Diamantina:
- The caves (Fumaça and Pratinha) were truly impressive, one due to its colors and the other due to its height!
- The view from the Pai Inacio Mountain was unbelievable. Below you can see it for yourselves. All the areas are fairly clean and you will notice signs indicating that these are protected areas relatively often. Pablo, as a good guide that he is, picked up the trash that we encountered on our way there.
- The natural pool Poço Do Diabo was a fantastic stop to freshen up in a superb natural pool the color of coca-cola!
We had lunch with our guide in a restaurant by the Fumaça cave (the meal was included) and at the end of the after-noon he took us to Guiné, our departure point for the hike in the Vale Do Pati.
The Pousada Beco Do Guiné was very good and we recommend it wholeheartedly. The meal was absolutely delicious and the house owner spoke perfect English and French, apparently she had studied in Paris before coming back to Brazil and settling down with her husband in this small village in Guiné!
She told us that the vegetables came from the nearby market. The food was amazing, filling and local.
Day 2: Vale Do Pati: truly getting down to business – 26 km trek
We left around 9am on the 4 days of trekking. The trek was not intense; it is accessible to intermediary hikers. However the first climb from the departure point in Guiné is pretty steep, but short (approximately 30 minutes). Subsequently, there were a lot of flat areas and going downhill to reach the heart of Vale Do Pati.
The agency did not join us, but gave us another guide called Pedro. His English was very good, but he wasn’t too chatty. Suddenly this provided plenty of time to enjoy the scenery!
After 2 hours of trekking, we took a lunch break, the meal being prepared by the pousada Beco Do Guiné beforehand. Frugal but tasty. We continued our journey towards Cachoeirao, the highest waterfall in Vale Do Pati and the 2nd highest in Brazil after Cachoeira Do Fumaça. It was very impressive! We were able to bathe in a natural pool nearby…It was so very welcomed after the long trekking hours!
After the visit and the break, we went back to the first pousada. What a joy the bed was after a long day of hiking!
The accommodation in the pousadas provides access to minimum comfort: beds, showers with cold water only and toilets. Very nice after a long day of trekking.
Day 3: The serious stuff – 10 km only but 2h of steep climbing
Departure 9am the next day to reach the peak of the Chateau Mountain (Morro do Castello). The climb took us approximately 1h30/2h and the descent approximately 1h/1h30. The climb is tough; go at your own pace and take some breaks; after all you are not there to win a competition! I was all red and sweaty at the end of this climb but what a joy it was to reach the top! And what a view!
Afterwards we came back to the pousada to have lunch with Pedro who prepared a very basic meal (consisting of bread and tomatoes), and we continued our journey towards the next pousada called Prefeitura. It takes about 2h to reach and the walk was rather pleasant inside the forest of the Chapada Diamantina with a couple of small climbs and descents. The Prefeitura pousada is superb; it has a direct view over the Chateau Mountain and also hammocks. The spot is less frequented than the previous pousada. Most tourists only do 2 days of trekking in the Vale Do Pati so they don’t come all the way to the Prefeitura. We slept very well and Denis stayed in the hammock all night – one of his knees hurt a bit due to the morning descent.
Day 4: Tranquility and rest, only 10km of flat trek
We rested very well at the pousada. The plan would have been to go see a small waterfall not too far but since Denis had hurt his knee it was impossible to walk for too long. We stayed in the house, enjoying the breathtaking view of the mountain and the beautiful river nearby. Denis in his hammock was resting and I took a walk in the surroundings, bathed in the river and took advantage of the peace and serenity to read.
We left around 14h and walked for about 2h, before arriving to the next and final pousada: Casa Da Joia. This pousada is the least visited by tourists and the smallest one also, very traditional, with basic comfort but a very welcoming family and beautiful ambiance. The food was excellent and above all cultivated in the area, with the exception of the rice and beans.
Day 5: a new challenge: 25km in 4h30 including a climb of a dozen km
Since Denis couldn’t walk anymore because of his knee problem and because the last day was also the most difficult physically – a steep climb of around 1h30 followed by a 3h descent – we decided to ask the family from the pousada to borrow a mule to take Denis to the village. The hike was way too tough to be done on foot with a knee injury.
We paid an additional amount of 150R$ / 35 euros (which is rather cheap, knowing that for the people in the village it meant a return journey of 8 hours, including the fact that they accompany you and they need to take 2 additional mules for transporting your luggage as well). But we didn’t have any more money on us, therefore they helped us for this price, which was very nice of them as this would normally cost 250 R$. It was a high sensation experience from what Denis told me. It must be known that the paths are very steep and slippery and it’s incredible that the mules can do this! It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, I was myself terrified for Denis!
Since I didn’t take a mule – my two legs functioning well – I walked with the guide (who said that women are the weaker sex, huh ?). I left with our guide 1h earlier (the mule was faster than us) around 7h20 to arrive at 11h20. We hiked for 4 hours non-stop. This hike was marvelous but long! I describe myself as a beginner-intermediate hiker and this trek was for me a challenge, but a surmountable one in the end.
Once we arrived in the village, and after a well-deserved break to come back to our senses, we took the car to visit Poço Azul (the blue hole literally).
I had specifically asked the agency to take us there as I wanted to see this beautiful cave with unbelievable colors. We dived there (your skin is not supposed to be covered in chemical products as this can damage the cave’s ecosystem – regardless, showering is mandatory). Poço Azul is magnificent, yet fragile. The water is extremely transparent and if you have never seen a cenote (a deep natural well found in Mexico for example), you will be surprised by the lights and the visibility in the water. We don’t have pictures as we didn’t have any more battery power left in any of our devices!!
We decided to return by bus to Salvador on the same night of the last day in order not to lose one night in Lençois. After a shower in the pousada Da Trilha (20R $ for a shower if you are not a client), we went to eat before taking the 6 hours bus to Salvador. We had purchased our tickets in advance so the only thing left was to show them to the driver. We left at 23h50 from Lençois and we arrived at 6am in the morning in Salvador. Obviously we slept poorly and we were cold (due to the air conditioning). We wanted to gain a day which was practical but at the expense of our sleep. I was really happy to have thought to bring earplugs and a sleeping mask – my travel kit was incredibly helpful!
Our only regret was the lack of time to visit other places in the Chapada Diamantina such as the Cachoaira Do Fumaça (the highest waterfall in Brazil 300m high). The trek that goes there takes about 2 days apparently and it’s rather heavy physically but less varied than the trek to Vale Do Pati. Next time we will opt for this particular hike for sure.