How to explore Brazil’s Diamond Plateau

This blogpost is a part of a series of articles written by Kaja Knutsdotter Fjørtoft and Michael Øseth. They are participants in HI Norway and HI Brazil’s exchange project funded by FK Norway, and are working in Brazil for one year. You can explore the project further here and at the project’s social media channel.

 

400 kilometres west of Brazil’s famous and fantastic coastline, lays a hidden treasure: Chapada Diamantina – the Diamond Plateau. Miners on their search for gold and precious stones frequented this area more than a century ago. Now the plateau is a national park that offers great ecotourism opportunities. Here, we will take you along on the most famous hike in the region, and to hostels from which you can explore wonderful waterfalls and excellent rock climbing.

 

Lençóis and Palmeiras: beautiful gateways to explore the national park

Around the plateau you can find the small former ”diamond towns” that both then and now function as nice gateways to Chapada Diamantina. We stayed a week in both Lençóis and Palmeiras in the more than 100 years old, beautiful HI hostels, and enjoyed their calm and charming atmospheres. Both towns are easy to recognize because of their colonial style cobbled streets with small, colourful houses and friendly public squares.

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A typical house in Lencoís to the left, and traces of history at the square in Palmeiras to the right.

A river runs through the charming, little town of Lençoís that offers nice natural swimming pools and wonderful waterfalls all in walking distance. If you enjoy longer hikes, the surrounding nature also offers many other options of waterfalls, rivers, peaks, plateaus, and natural pools, reachable by foot within full day trips. The more kilometres you like to walk, the more waterfalls you can explore. In the evening, we enjoyed live music to beer brewed in Lençoís and regional food that we have never seen on a dinner plate before, such as cactus!

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Kaja is enjoying the great view from the top of Fumaça (smoke) waterfall. This is the second highest waterfall in Brazil, dropping 340 meters.

Where to stay in Lençoís

One can meet travellers from all over the world at HI Chapada Hostel – a charming house from 1870 with cosy, clean rooms, an amazing breakfast, and a beautiful house cat with a young and super friendly staff. Even though this building was once used to house slaves during the gold and diamond rush, it is today giving space to around 40 guests and it is full of sustainable solutions.

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Natural lights showcasing the local art in the living room of the hostel in Lencoís.

Look up to see how natural lighting eliminates the use of electrical lamps during daytime, and look down to see the pretty, redesigned floor that is made of broken pieces of tiles. You can also take a rest in a comfy chair made of car tires while you enjoy the local cultural art on the walls are decorated by local artists. We were also lucky to join a churrasco (barbeque) night at the hostel, initiated by the owner Juan.

 

Where to stay in Palmeiras

Caminhos da Chapada hostel in Palmeiras is a spacious house with 35 beds, and includes local art, a nice, naturally air-conditioned eating hall, several chill out zones with comfortable furniture made by local wood and pallets, and there is full recycling. The hostel has its own restaurant that serves delicious meals based on organic, local produce. Set aside enough time to enjoy their amazing breakfast full of options, coffee grown in Chapada and freshly baked bread that is delivered on the hostel’s door every morning. The atmosphere in the hostel is so friendly and the staff so caring that we felt as if we were visiting our grandparents.

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Ena is the owner of HI Caminhos da Chapada hostel in Palmeiras and dedicated to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Full recycling is already in place, but there was no composting system, thus, Michael helped building one while we stayed there.

From Palmeiras you can do several nice hikes to caves, waterfalls and hills with magnificent views. A 40 minutes drive take you to Vale do Capão, that offers a relaxed village vibe as well as numerous treks such as the Vale do Pati.

 

Waterfalls and panoramic views in diamond miners’ footsteps

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On top of Morro de Castelo – “the Castle Peak” that offers great views from an altitude of 1400 meters. The altitude in the park varies between 1000 and 1600 meters.

During my holidays, I (Kaja) checked out the most famous hike in Chapada Diamantina: Vale do Pati. This calm, lush and beautiful valley reaches some 70 kilometres from Vale do Capão on the northeast of the plateau, crossing over to Andaraí on the east side. It has a network of trails visiting caves, rivers, waterfalls from both top and bottom, some ruins, a few old houses and numerous peaks offering breath-taking views. The joy of hiking along these beautiful trails was accompanied by an intimidating historical vibe:

Slaves and miners created these pathways as they walked there 140 years ago in search for gold and diamonds.

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There are many rivers and natural swimming pools in which one can cool down. Fun fact: they all have the colour of Coca cola!

Some highlights from the trip:

  • Camping on top of a big, flat rock in the middle of a river
  • Spectacular 360° views of the valley from Morro do Castelo, reaching 1400 meters into the air
  • The Tarzan feeling when swinging from lianas on the adventurous trails in the riverside jungle
  • Numerous baths in waterfalls with comfortably tempered water
  • Drinking ice cold beer that had been brought to the valley by a mule
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Kaja enjoying an ice cold beer in a very local “bar” in the middle of the valley.

On my trip, I stayed two nights in a tent and one night in the house of Mister Wilson, a very friendly man in his 70’s. Even though this area is a national park and far from roads, some people still live there. For 110 reais (40 euros) I had a comfortable bed, a shower, an amazing buffet breakfast with fruit juice and coffee from the garden, freshly baked bread and homemade cheese and cakes, as well as an amazing buffet dinner of typical Brazilian food. One cannot help but feel humble when thinking about that all these things – from butter to furniture and mattresses – have naturally been brought there on mules.

 

Written by Kaja Knutsdotter Fjørtoft and Michael Øseth.

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