Far from the beaches of Copacabana and the Carnival celebrations in downtown Rio, Brazil’s interior offers a completely different view of South America’s largest country. Just six hours by car from the northern beach city of Salvador, Lençóis is a backpacker’s paradise off the radar of most South American travelers, and full of opportunity for the outdoors-inclined. Originally the diamond-mining center of Brazil, Lençóis is now a collection of pousadas (hostel-esque lodges) and local restaurants within easy striking distance of the country’s most spectacular waterfalls, caves, and rock formations. Hikers and adventurers, be on notice, because for anyone trekking through South America, this is one spot you simply can’t miss. Here’s a couple of reasons why.
Water: One of the coolest hikes in the area and accessible right from town, the trek to Cachoeira do Sossego (Sossego Waterfall), is not an easy one, but the payoff is well worth it. Starting on a relatively straightforward path, the trail turns into a river rock scramble for the final half of the four-mile hike in. At the end of the hike jump in the refreshing pool at the base of the falls, or up the ante and leap off the 20 foot cliffs surrounding it.
Rock: Brazil is one of the last places you would expect to see towering mesas and plateaus reminiscent of Utah’s Monument Valley, but Chapada Diamantina National Park is just that—albeit with a twist. Instead of dry desert, the landscape surrounding the sedimentary cliffs is lush and green, creating a surreally beautiful panorama. Hike to the Morro do Pai Inácio for a sweeping view of the valley below, and one mental picture that will stay put for a very, very long time.
Caves: Formed by an ancient underground river, Gruta de Lapa Doce, or Lapa Doce Cave, is the second-largest sandstone cave in Brazil, and only a short drive from downtown. At the mouth, the cave rises to almost 100 feet and dives nearly a mile into the Earth (though the actual mapped cave system is said to include nearly 16 miles of caverns). For the adrenaline junkies, there are also rappel excursions dropping in from the rim of the cave.
Access: Hire a guide—seriously. No activities are particularly straining or dangerous (though they can be if you don’t take proper precautions), but the biggest strike against Lençóis is a lack of infrastructure (read: signage, trail maintenance, parking) around its natural treasures. This is great for the sense of adventure, but having a guide will really help you unlock the area’s potential. We linked up with a guy named Puma (yeah, like the animal) who got us everywhere we wanted to go, but check with your pousada clerk for a list of recommended guides.
How to get there: The bus from the nearest major city, Salvador, to Lençóis leaves three times a day (7:00 a.m., 4:30 p.m., and 11:30 p.m.). It is a relatively smooth 6-hour ride. For those who can handle a heavily air-conditioned night bus, the 11:30 p.m. option is equivalent to a red-eye flight, so you won’t waste a day of travel.
Where to stay: Pousada dos Duendes is a quaint lodge at the top of the hill in town that offers private rooms and large dormitories perfect for backpackers. They offer a decent breakfast (we recommend the guava jam), affordable, comfortable lodging for international guests, and even a packed lunch for excursions. Dorms come as cheap as $22 while a private room will run around $35.
What to bring: Trade your flip-flops for hiking boots or prepare for a long few days of struggle. There are no groomed paths around here, so get ready for some light scrambling and bushwhacking on your hike. Bug spray and closed-container foods are other essentials that we dearly wished we packed, as the area’s rivers, lakes, and wetlands attract insects in droves (who knew, right?).
When to go: Summer in the interior is painfully hot, so do yourself a favor and travel during the winter. Remember, though, that the Northern and Southern Hemispheres experience opposite seasons, so their winter is the North American summer, meaning July and August are prime season for adventuring in Lençóis.
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