Arriving after dark on the 7hr bus ride from Salvador, we were surprised to find Lencois, the normal gateway into the park, a very touristy but pleasant little town with many useful shops including a trekking shop where we could find a couple of topographic trail maps. The town also has some really nice, if pricy restaurants. We stayed in Casa Colonial: it is right in the town square and put on a huge breakfast including beiju – tapioca pancakes – yum!
Day 1: Lencois – Vale do Capao
We were planning a 3 day hike past the base of the famous Fumaca waterfall to Vale do Capao. Unfortunately, the local who we found to show us the start of the trail took us to the start of the northern-most trail, the “conventional” trail (as locals call it) between Lencois to Vale do Capao. We realized this fairly soon but we decided to continue on this lovely path and visit the falls later. However, this turned our planned 3 day trek into a 1 day rush because of our relaxed start! Luckily the trail is well walked, has a gradual climb at the beginning and is quite flat for the rest. Reportedly, the Fumaca trail and the Vinte e Um waterfall trails are both steeper and harder to navigate on your own – we heard it requires scrambling or possibly even rock-climbing in sections.
The scenery on this walk is quite unique – lots of flat sheets of sandstone, sometimes with thin soil supporting short shrubs, cacti and flowers. It’s pretty dry here at the moment, but there are still a few streams if needed to top up water supplies.
We didn’t see so much wildlife apart from the millions of lizards, a few vultures and eagles and humming birds. We were warned its snake season, but we never saw any – they must be very rare, or maybe its just another ploy to try to get us on a guided tour!
The trail goes 18k to reach the 4k dirt track that leads into Capao. We started around 10 am and just managed to finish it before sunset (but that did include a 30 minute detour when we were seduced off the path by some paths around a camping area!). We could have powered through into Capao but instead camped at a lovely spot just outside “town” near a large clear stream. Though not marked on the map, the site has good views of the surrounding rocky terrain and many have camped here before. There are also couple of campsites earlier along the trail including a lovely one near the river which looked perfect for a swim.
Day 2: Capao – Fumaca
It is a 4k hike from where we camped to Capao on a dirt track. There is not much scenery so we hitch hiked half of the way and then based ourselves in a lovely pousada (Cantagalo Eco Adventure) which has nice rooms, camping spots and a good kitchen. It is just 5 mins away from the trail head of Fumaca waterfall and about 20 mins walk to the main town centre.
We chose to take an easy day and hiked to the top of the Fumaca Waterfall which is the second highest in Brazil .Its a lovely and easy walk (about a 4 hour round trip) although the start looked like it may be very slippery in the wet. The waterfall is stunning, even now in the dry season there was some water going over and it is quite amazing to see how it evaporates before reaching the bottom as it falls down the sheer Cliff Drop 340m below.
Day 3: Capao – Gerais Dos Vieira
We decided to take the west-most and highest trail into Vale do Pati. There is a 6k dirt track from Capao to the start of the trail in Bomba and walking it would not reward you with anything much except for dust from passing vehicles, so we decided to spend 15 R$ each for a motorbike taxi. It was terrifying to hare down the very bumpy track at speed with no helmet, our sweaty hands desperately trying to hold on, but the drivers were good and we both survived. XTs driver was feeling especially pleased with himself for overtaking Al’s bike towards the end!
The trail first crossed a few streams, which we imagine might require a paddle in the wet season, then climbed up through forest and eventually opened up into sweeping grassland (actually mostly mini bamboos) dotted with wild flowers and framed by hills. In places you could get a true 360 view of this vast landscape – truly spectacular. We were hoping to swim in a pool near a waterfall, named Purificacao, but either the path to it is very unused, or the map is wrong (not the first time) so we could only admire it from above.
It was only about 9 k to the campground (marked on map and easy to find for a change) which we reached in 3 relaxed hours. The campground was great: there was a small waterfall going into a large pool complete with little fish, a couple of lime trees, and a wattle & daub hut complete with a fireplace. The pool water however was dark dark red like most of the pools in the park we saw. It gave Al the creeps but we both swam and it was nice to swim under the waterfall for a much needed shower! We were visited by a group of very colourful blue/green birds, some tiny marmoset monkeys, a big bat and a tiny blue humming bird which was very sociable and hovered in front of us for a while when we were cooking. And as sun set we were treated to a show by hundreds of glow-worms.
Day 4: View of Vale do Pati – Toca do Gaviao
We continued on the west-most trail, which first climbed the west slope of the valley and then stayed on top of a ridge nearly all the way. The trail starts by the stream that is crossed to get to yesterdays campsite and is a bit of a chaos of eroded paths crossing several wet bits – search around the west side of the stream crossings for the path! We had grassy hills on our right and stunning views of the valley’s table mountains on our left as we travelled south to Vale do Pati. The vegetation and the views constantly changed with wild flowers dotted in the grassland and glorious purple and yellow flowers lighting up the lush green valley. We saw some truly weird plants too – seems it can be both boggy and extremely dry here with extremes from mosses to cacti!
We hiked about 14k and got to our campsite around mid afternoon. Our campsite was a cave where we’ve pitched our tent (again marked on the map and fairly easy to find). It was not as spacious as the night before but offers a view of a range of rocky hills between the vegetation and the company of some cheeky over fed little birds looking for crumbs. We climbed the rocks above the cave, dodging cactus and observing some of the alien plants up close. As the sun set and we watched our view turn red, we used the nice fireplace to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Later, the bright almost-full moon lit up the valley and we joked it was light enough to walk by (and certainly it would have given us a better view than the next day!). It was very peaceful with just a few bird, frog and monkey calls lulling us to sleep.
Day 5: Toca Gaviao – Cachoeirao – Vale do Pati (Ponte)
We woke up around 5:30 a.m. to a mist that concealed the chirping birds 5 meters away. This persisted as we set off to the waterfall marked on the map as “Cachoeirao”. The layered sandstone terrain and the strange vegetation surrounded by the fog made it seem very alien! Luckily there were some chalk arrows on the rocks to follow as there were no landmarks. In some places the arrows were pointing in multiple directions but we followed the thickest, clearest arrow, which consistently gave the right direction.
As there was not much information we could find about the park except about the Fumaca waterfall, we had no expectations about Cachoeirao and even thought it could be a small dried up waterfall we walked past as we headed on to find the trail that should lead us back into the valley according to the map. So we were stunned when our path abruptly dropped vertically away more than 100m beneath us! When we arrived the mist filled the valley so we were happy just admiring the four waterfalls dotted around the high cliffs dropping down into the valley. Then slowly, the valley opened up in front of our eyes as the sunrays hit it through the thinning mist and we could see more of the high cliff faces in the distance and the awe-inspiring narrow gorge around us – it was purely magical!
We were still high on this serendipitous dose of the wonder of nature when we set off to find our way down into the valley (marked as trail No. 15 on the map). But after an hour going to and fro following various conflicting and increasingly indistinct arrows in this landscape of countless natural paths of bare rock interspersed with shrubby vegetation, we could not find the trail. So, before we got lost completely, we were forced to retrace our steps about 4k and then get down to the valley from the west end of the park. Though long, this was a beautiful hike and led us onto some trails that offered views of both the west and east end of the valley and the table mountains. The vegetation in the valley is more lush and we saw a variety of vegetation distinctly different from in the high ground. There were also more exotic birds and butterflies including many groups of beautiful green parrots that fled in mass making very loud noises when they detected us getting close. Here there are a few local homes that take in tourists, but they all seemed very packed so we powered through to the north-end of the valley all the way to a bridge (ponte) that marked the start of the trail that exits the valley to Andarai.
We had walked 8 hours in total (including the hour trying to find the elusive no. 15 trail) and about 25 km. But our very tiring but scenery-charged day ended well when we found a nice camp spot just past the bridge (marked on the wrong side of the river on the map but easy to spot as you trek past the bridge towards the southeast). We went for a sunset swim in the cooling water of Rio Paty with the beautiful cliffs either side of the valley as our backdrop. No one was travelling past, so we cooked and ate our dinner on the bridge as we dangled our feet over the large river rushing past. We then laid on the sunray soaked surface of the bridge as the full moon rose up to light up the whole valley and dim the stars.
Day 6: Vale do Pati – Andarai – Lencois
This was a 14k hike with the first 4k climbing gradually 400 m to a pass. It was a great way to appreciate the changing vegetation between the valley and the hills: Lush tropical forest gradually becomes shorter and drier and it gets easier to get the last glimpses of the beautiful valley from different angles. Beyond the pass exiting the valley towards Andarai, the landscape gently drops away to the flatlands in the distance and we could see patches of wetlands between Andarai and Lencois. It almost seemed surreal that those deep gorges, high cliffs and lush valleys existed just few km west of here! The terrain became increasingly dry with lizards whooshing around cactus and bromeliads covered rocks. And close to Andarai, we entered a landscape of gigantic conglomerate rock formations, made up from naturally cemented pebbles and where the diamonds of the park’s name had been found, making us feel we were walking on a different planet!
According to locals in Andarai (an interesting former diamond mining town), there is one daily bus departing from Andarai to Lencois and the departure time varies between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm. We missed it of course but luckily met another 2 travellers and shared a taxi back to Lencois, which cost 160 R in total. Though it is possible to hike along a dirt track (about 25k) back to Lencois it did not sound worth it based on information in Lonely Planet.
Notes for trekkers
Multiple day hikes in the park are completely possible without a guide. Lonely Planet gives very limited and out-dated information in this regard. However, local guide agencies in Lencois are hostile towards independent hikers and wouldn’t give us any information. With the trail maps we purchased in Lencois (“Trilhas e Caminhos” and “Trilhacerta”) and a compass, we enjoyed a six day trek around the more easily accessible North end of the park starting in Lencois and ending in Andarai. The scenery was amazing on all the trails and full of contrasts: from rolling grasslands to tropical jungle, high cliffs and alien looking cactus covered rocks. We hardly met anyone on the trails and always had the beautiful camping spots to ourselves.
The Trilhas e Caminhos map is probably the best you can find and gives the basic information you need to navigate but it isn’t very accurate or detailed and does not mark all the points of interest or camping spots in the park. Some of the campsites are marked in the wrong places and some of the trails marked can be very hard to find on your own (if they even exist any more!?). Also, beware that the map isn’t quite aligned North up! Compared to the other one, the Trilhacerta map has more detailed contour lines, marked couple of trails more accurately. However, it has very little other information and is missing many of the trails marked on the other map. The trails though mostly well walked, are generally not well-marked and it’s easy to miss junctions if you’re not looking out for them. A few more difficult parts of some trails are marked with chalk arrows on the rock and the occasional cairn. These are mostly helpful, but sometimes confusing so beware – at one point we encountered arrows of various styles pointing north, south and west!
We trekked in the park from March 30th to April 5th and there were still loads of other trails, waterfalls, wetlands and caves we didn’t have time to explore. It was very very hot and mostly dry, but it did rain heavily in the night a couple of times and we were lucky to avoid the thunderstorms in the valley on the afternoon of our last day.
In addition to your usual trekking gear – don’t forget to take; trail map & compass, water purification, waterproofs and mosquito spray!
We had a really fantastic time in this amazing and unique park and highly recommend it to anyone who likes hiking. Also, do go without a guide if you prefer, but be prepared to use your navigation skills and keep your plans flexible!
For a brief intro to the park click here.