Top 10 Tips Chapada Diamantina: Recommendations and Places to Visit
1. Rent a car
It can take up to 20 hours to get from Ilheus or Itacaré to Chapada by bus since there are no direct buses from here. Meanwhile, I was told that renting a car would actually be much cheaper because the main sites are so spread out from each other that I would end up paying a lot more for guided tours than a car rental. Therefore, we decided to rent a car from Ilheus (it was much cheaper to rent from the airport) and we began our journey the next day from Itacaré.
According to Google maps, it looked as if it would be much faster to go through Taboquinas and hit the Southern part of Chapada first. However, we ended up on dirt roads that were a disaster and it took us well over 8 hours to finally arrive into Mucugê (when Google maps suggested it would only take about 5 ½ to 6 hours). If you go this route you will need to take at least one dirt road, but our second dirt road was a mistake as a local recommended it as a “short cut”. If we had a 4wd vehicle the trip would have been much faster, but we had to go very slow as the roads were really tough on our little rental.
2. Get a car with Air Conditioning and preferably 4wd
I was so thankful that we had air conditioning because not only was it very hot (especially as we were hardly moving on some of those dirt roads), but as the trucks and other vehicles rode past us on the dirt roads, clouds of dust got so thick that at times we could hardly see more than a few feet in front of us. Being able to close the windows and turn on the a/c to recycle the air inside the car (and not have to breath in all of that dust and dirt) was such a blessing! Meanwhile, there are massive potholes throughout Chapada Diamantina, and despite driving as carefully as possible; we still blew out a tire at one point.
3. If you are coming from the South Eastern part of Brazil, spend the night in Itaete first.
We made the mistake of going all the way to Mucugê to settle down into a hotel, but then we had to drive back towards Itaete to visit Poço Encantado and Poço Azul. Both are very worthy of a visit and you will find more information about them below. If you spend the night in Itaete, then you can hit both Poço Encantado and Poço Azul the next morning and still make it to Mucugê well before sundown.
4. Visit Poço Encantado
Poço Encantado is a deep underground lake inside of a cave with transparent aqua blue waters. You will take a short trek down a long stairway built into the hillside that leads to the entrance of the cave. There are many plants, animals and cliffs on the way down, and we even spotted a beautiful green iguana just before getting to the cave. Visitors are not allowed to swim here because the water does not have a proper spring to keep it fresh, but it is definitely beautiful to look at. The best times to visit are between April and September from 10am to 1:30 pm when sunlight enters the cave and creates an electric blue arch as the light penetrates into the pool of water. It is truly stunning. We paid $R20 per person to enter and this included helmets with headlamps to get us through the cave.
5. Also visit Poço Azul
Poço Azul is another cave with deep, clear turquoise waters, but here visitors ARE allowed swim! It is also an awesome paleontological site where the fossils of 4 giant sloths were found as well as the bone structure of an animal that weighed almost 5 tons and lived on earth about 10,000 years ago! Sadly, all of these fossils were removed. The site would be even more amazing if they could at least create replicas of some of these fossils and place them back into the cave and under the water to really give visitors a better sense of what was discovered here. But either way, it is definitely still worth the visit.
The Chapada Diamantina travel guide says that it only costs R$15 per person to enter, but that price is outdated and they charged us double that when I visited in March 2016. The travel guide also says that the best time to visit Poço Azul is between April and October, because that is also when sunlight is able to enter into the cave and “an incredible electric blue beam of sunlight” penetrates into the pool. However, I think they must have confused Poço Encantado with Poço Azul, because Poço Encantado is the one that has this amazing beam of light happening – see photos above.
Have lunch at the AYCE restaurant at Poço Azul
I highly recommend eating lunch at the first restaurant you see after crossing the river to get to Poço Azul, called AYCE. They had an incredible spread of food, it was all you can eat for a very affordable price, plus they brought us our own bowl of fresh apim (fried yucca), which turned out to be the best apim I ‘ve ever had! Our meals were only R$18 per person and that included the bowl of apim! It was truly delicious and the people that worked there were so friendly and helpful.
6. Spend at least a night or two in Mucugê
Mucugê is a wonderful little town next to large cliffs and table mesas where the first diamonds were discovered, contributing to the name for the entire park and region, Chapada Diamantina (the diamond cliffs). Mucugê is famous for its fantastic, neo-gothic style cemetery that is painted all white and made up of tombs that are built like small chapels. The cemetery sits at the foot of a big cliff on the edge of town and remains opened and lit up all night long.
Where to stay in Mucuge – We stayed at Pousada Recanto do Chapada, very close to the cemetery and the cliffs on the edge of town, and it was a really nice place that I highly recommend. It was a little cheaper and just past Pousada Monte Azul, that is currently one of the highest rated pousadas in town. However, our pousada seemed nicer as we had beautiful gardens, a little back patio and more space and tranquility at the Recanto. However, try to avoid traveling on holidays, as they will charge you about 50% more the normal price on holiday. We paid R$120 per night for 2 people and that included a fantastic breakfast.
Where to eat/where not to eat in Mucugê – We went out to eat at the local Quilo place (you fill your plate and pay by the kilo) called Sabor e Arte. While the name makes it sound so nice, the food really wasn’t very good and sadly, there really aren’t many options in Mucugê. However, there is a fabulous little açaí place in town called Toca da Acai and we shared the upgraded acai option that included a a scoop of vanilla ice cream, some banana slices, a bit of granola and a little chocolate syrup on top of the açaí. Wow – it was by far the unhealthiest, yet most delicious acai I’ve ever eaten. Since we were usually eating big lunches, we ended up going back here for dinner the next day since it was so delicious.
7. What to see in Mucugê
Definitely visit the cemetery, and I recommend visiting it at night as it has a different, kind of eerie feeling in the evening. We ended up going there on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) and there was a small group of women wrapped in all white cloth sitting in the dark. They lined both sides of the passageway just before the main front door entrance to the cemetery and they were singing, chanting a hitting music sticks together; probably to commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross and death in Calvary. This was a very profound and impactful ceremony to witness- especially there at the entrance of this magnificent cemetery which sits at the foot of a massive cliff.
Also visit Sempre Vive, a museum, non-profit and protected park in Mucugê, just a few minutes outside of the center. They are working to conserve the environment and a special type of dry flower that is native to the area and very rare these days. You can spend hours hiking, swimming and taking beautiful photographs in their large outdoor reserve area that includes a river, some small waterfalls, several pools of water for swimming, amazing rock formations and all types of incredible plants and animals. They also have conserved some mining barracks and included information about what the miners lives were like, how they lived, what they ate and even a list of natural medicines that they used.
8 Go see the Buracão Waterfalls
The Buracão waterfall is absolutely magnificent and it is known as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the whole region. You have to pay for a local guide and it is best to get one in Ibicora. We made the mistake of driving to the entrance of the park, where we then had to wait for a guide to arrive. We ended up being taken advantage of, overcharged and on a tour with a very bad guide. Never less, the trip was still worth it and the waterfalls were so incredible! They are are located in a massive canyon in the Espalhado Municipal Natural Park, and you will hike through the beautiful park for about an hour or so to arrive at a spot where you will leave your bags and jump into the water. You will be given a lifejacket that you have to wear since the waters are so dark from all the minerals and then you will need to swim about a half a kilometer or so through a long thin portion of the canyon to arrive at the bottom of the stunningly beautiful 85meter high waterfall. It is truly incredible and one of the highlights of our trip! On the way back we also got to see the view from the top of the waterfall, and there were also several smaller waterfalls and pools we got to play in as well. This is definitely a fantastic experience that you don’t want to miss if you are in the southern part of Chapada.
We also wanted to visit Fumacinha waterfall, which is also supposed to be absolutely magnificent, although it is a much tougher/longer hike and we simply ran out of time to do it all. For those with tents, I did read that there is a great place to camp very close to Fumacinha, and this could be a great place to stay for visiting both Fumacinha and Buracão.
9. Visit Morro do Pai Inácio & Poço do Diablo
It was really important for us to find a place to spend the night someplace close to Morro do Pai Ignacio, because we really wanted to go there to watch the sunset, while taking in some of the stunning views for which Chapada Diamantina is famous. We found an amazing place called Pousada Oasis, which is built into some cave-like rock formations on the other side of the River Mucugezinho. If you are heading North from Southern Chapada, you will find a turn off for it after Morro do Pai Inácio and just before the Artezanato/Restaurante place. If you arrived at the artezanato place, you have gone too far but are very close. If you ask the people there about the Pousada Oasis they may lie to you (like they did to us) because they sometimes charge people just to park there to get to the river and to the Poço Diablo and nearby waterfalls. Don’t listen to their lies! All you need to do is to head back towards Pai Inácio and it will be the first turn on your right (on the same side as the artezanato/restaurante) and just a kilometer or so away.
We haggled a bit and paid R$100 a night to stay in a cave room at Pousada Oasis, it included a great breakfast and we loved it here. It is very rustic (they advertise it by saying something like “sleep in a cave!” and the side-walls were built out of the same rock that surrounds the whole area, while the ceiling and the back wall was the natural cave. The bed was quite comfortable, the electricity was all via a generator so they turned it off at about 11pm, and the bathroom was a bit odd because the cave ceiling came down low so you really needed to sit on the toilet to go comfortably. Although it is not an ideal place to charge electronics (there are no outlets), the cave room was awesome and it stayed nice and cool when it was hot out and warmer at night after it cooled down.
Meanwhile, just outside our front door was the river which was outlined by big beautiful slabs of rocks where we could practice yoga in the morning and then have breakfast, while there were also various pools of water everywhere for swimming and bathing. From our pousada it was just about a 25 minute hike down the river to the gorgeous Poço do Diablo and we spent almost the whole day hiking around, taking photos and swimming and relaxing in the various pools and waterfalls.
About 3:30pm we got washed up and hopped in our rental car to head over to Morro Pai Inácio. We arrived about 4pm, which was perfect because we wanted to have plenty of time to take pictures, relax and watch the sunset over the hills. Also, we were really hoping to see the Mocó that live there. These are wonderful, fairly large rodent type animals that are quite a bit bigger than guinea pigs. They spend most of their time hiding, but come out around sunset and in the evenings to roam around and gather food. We got lucky and they were adorable! Morro do Pai Inácio was definitely an unforgettable experience and our pictures do not even do it justice. Just be careful during your hike because we also ran into this gnarly big boy on our hike back down!