Not to be confused with the Lencois Maranhenses (see my entry about that here), the town of Lencois is the gateway to Chapada Diamantina National Park, famous for it’s unusual flat-topped mountains, lush valleys and spectacular waterfalls. There are hundreds of hikes you can do in the Diamantina, named for the diamonds discovered here. Lencois is the original diamond mining town and has character and charm deriving from it’s Portuguese colonial heritage. It has a thriving tourism industry, everything is within walking distance, and the best way to enjoy the town is to hang out at one of the cafes at an outdoor table on the old cobblestone streets. We found ourselves returning over and over to Lanches D’Arte, where you can buy coffee for $R1.50, sandwiches for $R3 and delicious Acai with granola and banana for $R4. This tasty dessert of Acai berries blended in a frozen sorbet-like consistency can be found everywhere in Brazil.
We arrived in Lencois on an election day. Most shops and restaurants were closed and aside from the local school (the polling station) the whole place felt like a ghost town. Most tourists were out hiking for the day. Lanches D’Arte was one of the few places open so we stopped in for lunch and a cold beer, but were informed alcohol was not for sale until the polling booths closed. Once they did close, locals poured out onto the streets and awaited the results, which must have been positive as the street party continued late into the night.
Chapada Diamantina National Park
We had high hopes of being able to hike the Vale do Paty. A 3 to 5 day hike that takes you through jungles, waterfalls, canyons and tiny villages only accessible on foot or by donkey. We only had time for a 3 day trek, due to already having a flight booked to Rio. After some enquiries, we soon discovered that the price for the guided trek was well beyond our budget. The price for two of us for 3 days / 2 nights was $R1800. We asked around and discovered even by including additional people we would only marginally reduce the costs by maybe $R100-200. Also three days is very rushed and we wouldn’t see anything else. For more information on the Vale do Pati, check out this blog entry by Jessica of Curiosity Travels. Our compromise was to book a one day tour that took us to five locations and then take self-guided hikes on the other days to places near Lencois. It is possible to hike the Vale do Paty without a guide. However you need to be an experienced hiker, have good maps, a compass and decent Portuguese (to negotiate food and board in the local villages).
Grutas and Morro do Pai Inácio
We booked the Grutas and Morro do Pai Inácio day tour through Zen Tur, after visiting several agencies they were the best value. $R180 per person (including $R20 discount for paying in cash), a really nice buffet lunch and our guide Pedro was excellent. The tour included a visit to the Rio Mucugezinho waterfalls, Gruta da Lapa Doce (a large cave with impressive stalagmite and stalactite formations) and Fazenda Pratinha, a crystal clear blue lake. Here you can opt for additional activities including a tiny zipline over the lake ($R20) and guided snorkelling tour through the Gruta da Pratinha ($R40). Looking at the cave I felt the tour was probably not worth it. I lent my waterproof camera to an American girl on our tour and she said the guide had no light and the group couldn’t even find him half the time. The guide could only speak Portuguese, even though he said he could also speak Spanish. The fish you see in the cave are the same fish in the lake. A five minute walk away is the Gruta Azul, but as it was cloudy we didn’t have the stream of sunlight coming through the hole, which lights up the cave a brilliant blue. It began raining as we walked back to the van. Our final stop was at Morro do Pai Inacio for the sunset. The rain stopped and the clouds allowed beams of sunlight to shine through and also graced us with a rainbow.
Cachoeira da Primavera
We did this hike from town, following the directions in our Lonely Planet guide (Brazil, June 2016) and using google maps. We found the directions somewhat confusing but our unplanned detours left us stumbling things we might not otherwise find, such as a scenic lookout over the valley, a giant grasshopper, and inquisitive marmosets spying on us through the trees. It’s only a 3km hike so there was plenty of time to get a little lost and make a day of it.
Ribeirao do Meio
On another day we visited Brazil’s ‘natural waterslide’. Only a 4km hike this one is extremely easy to follow. Cachoeira da Primavera and Ribeirao do Meio can be visited in the same day, although we enjoyed spending time just hanging out here, swimming in the natural pools.
Getting from Lencois to Rio de Janiero
To travel south from Lencois either usually requires a bus back to Salvador, however by searching on skyscanner a few weeks ahead I found a flight from Lencois to Rio via Belo Horizonte for about $R200. Booking flights saved us from tortuous multi-day bus rides and if you secure in advance flights are usually cheaper than an equivalent distance by bus. It did limit our flexibility leaving us without enough time to explore more in the Chapada Diamantina. At least a week would have been ideal, leaving us with a few days to spend in Vale do Capao, a smaller town south of Lencois which is also a good base for day hikes.