My Rough Guide’s South America on a Shoestring guidebook names Chapada Diamantina as one of the top 5 highlights of Brazil. For some reason, I never gave it too much though until my Couchsurfing host Lua told me that I really shouldn’t miss it.
I arrived at the little town of Palmeiras at 5:30am after an overnight bus from Salvador. I was starting to really dislike night buses, especially on trips that are not long enough to at least try to get a decent number of hours of sleep. As we got off the bus and waited for a minibus that would take us from Palmeiras to Vale do Capao, I met Bart from South Africa, Vanessa from Australia, and Armand and Tiphane from France. We ended up traveling together for the next three days.
Despite feeling like a zombie, Armand, Tiphane and I hiked from Vale do Capao to Cachoeira da Fumaça, a 340 meter waterfall. It took us about 1.5 hour to reach the top of the waterfall. The sun was very strong as we hiked in the middle of the day. I had no idea what to expect since I had done very little research and had seen very few pictures of the area. When we got to the falls we found out that since it was the dry season, it was limited to only a tiny stream of water that turned into mist after just dropping a few meters from the top. Despite of this, the views of the huge canyons below were truly spectacular. The pictures below cannot capture the vastness of the place.
After about one hour at the top, we made our way back to Vale do Capao, where Bart had already negotiated a tour guide to take us on a 2-day tour starting the following day to Vale do Paty. It cost us R$50 per day per person, which is less than the usual rate charged by the local guide’s association because we were bringing our own food and camping gear.
We met with our guides later in the night to purchase the food for the trip. They guides were two sisters named Rayssa and Luana, both in their early 20s. The pousada I stayed in that night was the worst place I’ve ever stayed in my life. The bed linens looked like they haven’t been washed in years. The bathroom had spiders and other insects. I knew that there was no way I was going to sleep in that bed. It was my fault for not checking carefully before accepting the room. The owner of the place was a guy who smoked weed all day and simply did not give a crap about maintaining the place. I tried sleeping on the floor on my camping sleeping pad but the mosquitoes were killing me. There was a mosquito net for the nasty bed, so I ended up taking the mattress out and putting my sleeping pad on the bed frame. The mosquitoes still managed to get inside. All in all, I think I slept for around 1 hour, and this was after sleeping about 3 hours on the bus the prior night. I was so relieved when the morning came and it was time to leave that horrible room for our hike.
A car took us to the end of a road where the trail to Vale do Paty started. We walked a lot that day, I’d estimate around 25-30 kms. The views got progressively better. This is when I realized why this place was so famous. I’ve been a many national parks in the US, and Chapada Diamantina can rival any of them.
That night we camped under a huge rock serving as our cover. A dinner of pasta with veggies and tuna was cooked. There was a time when I was afraid to sleep in the open for fear for insects and other things, but not anymore. I slept soundly for about 9 hours in my sleeping bag on top of the sleeping pad while wearing earplugs. Rain fell in the middle of the night, but the big rock kept me dry.
The following day we walked to the incredible Mirante do Cachoeirão. The tour guides had us hold hands and close our eyes as we approached it. When I opened my eyes I witnessed one of the most amazing views I have seen in my life.
I don’t have an irrational fear of heights, but I do get that weird feeling in the stomach when I’m on the edge of a tall cliff. For some unknown reason, I felt pretty calm as I sat in the springboard-like rock.
We then made our way back the the spot we camped the previous night to eat lunch. After that we started walking towards the town of Guiné, stopping by a river for a quick swim, and at a spot where we enjoyed an amazing sunset.
We arrived at Guiné where a car was waiting for us to drive us to Palmeiras, where we stayed for the night before taking the early morning bus back to Salvador.
In the end, I wish I had spent more time in Chapada Diamantina, as I have barely scratched its surface. We decided on a 2-day tour because of the others’ time constrains, but now I wish I would have stayed behind many more days. I guess this gives me a reason to return to this amazing place in the future.