In February 2015 I found myself in Brazil. Now, when you say Brazil you think of Rio and that big waterfall at the border with Argentina. These are all cool and nice, but, wait a second… what about the rest of Brazil, which is almost half of the whole South American continent? That vast space on the map can’t all look like Rio and SOMEWHERE in this big country, there must be more than one waterfall.
After one week spent in the chaos of Carnival blocos I was craving for nature. It looked like waterfalls in Brazil belong in the chapada and I had to make my way there. Chapada are vast national parks scattered throughout the country – one more beautiful than another. You need time for such places because you will want to stay and stay…and stay!
I’ve only been to two of the chapada-s, namely Chapada dos Veadeiros and Chapada Diamantina. They are not the same. The first one is like a utopia, a paradise on Earth. It is a hidden gem, far from the usual drama and hassle of Brazil. Chapada Diamantina, on the other hand, is an established eco product, people know about it, it is on the market, it has a different vibe altogether. A national highway crosses Diamantina which makes it buzzier, but given the size of the park there are plenty of remote places where you can indulge to the nature and be surrounded my untouched landscape. Diamantina is more adventurous, rougher and wilder, whereas Chapada dos Veadeiros has the parrots and the toucans, it is calmer, it is like a lullaby – I can’t think of anything more idyllic! But don’t worry, there are hammocks in both chapadas, you’ll lose the sense of time in either of them, only that you’ll have a different feel about these two places.
I’ve been asked once if I’ve been to paradise and it made me smile, because it instantly made me think of Chapada dos Veadeiros . So in case you are looking for a paradise, this one is in the state of Goias, right in the heart of the Brazilian savannah – Cerrado. The best way to get there is to start in Brasília, the capital city. From Brasília you can either drive or take a 5h bus to Alto Paraiso de Goias. Btw, the rodoviaria looks really cool in Brasília. It’s a great architectural piece; I’ve never been to a better bus terminal anywhere else. You feel elevated there! I was quite surprised to hardly find anybody speaking English in Brasilia though. That was a slap into reality – they’re not really into English in Brazil, meu amor! If you wanna survive, you have to learn Portuguese. But even if languages is not your thing, it’s pretty easy in this case – just listen! They talk all the time, them Brazilians:) – you’ll be fluent in a month, I promise.
Once in the Chapada dos Veadeiros, you can stay in Alto Paraiso or Sao Jorge, the last being more intimate and closer to the national park. There are no frequent buses between the two of them, but everyone will stop to offer you a lift, it’s very common there. There are also a few fazendas spread out in the chapada, which can be a very nice experience altogether as you might be one of the few guests only.
In paradise lilies grow everywhere, green and blue pandemonium of parrots fly suddenly in front of your eyes and the sneaky toucan cracks the silence with its smoky voice. There’s no electricity on the streets of Sao Jorge, but it’s perfect like that! It’s a coquette village, lost in the middle of the continent! Pass by the “Cavaleiro”, they organise a lot of cultural nights with indigenous dancing and body painting, they are constantly involved in major heritage events in the area.
Padaria opens at 6am. So if you like bread you have to wake up early because you can’t find bread after lunch – that’s how it is in Brazil, meu irmão! Fancy some pao de queijo or some tapiocas? Great staff to try in Sao Jorge, you’ll get addicted, I promise!
Everybody knows each other and you’ll get to know them too pretty quickly. Many artists come to spend time in here, some of them moved in from different parts of Brazil. Don’t be surprised if similar thoughts might stick to your mind too.
And then you’ll start discovering the paths to the waterfalls. Some of them are quite hidden. I started with Abismo, then Carioquinha, then Cristais then Santa Barbara. I haven’t seen them all – there are too many waterfalls! And you really feel the power of nature, the connection with the environment – there are no queues, no crowds, no consumerism, no vendors trying to sell you anything – you can have as much time as you want and come back later! The annoying truth is that most of the waterfalls are on a private land and there are nominal entrance fees. I guess you have to pay for everything nowadays…
But there is a free entry to the national park in Sao Jorge and it will take you two full days to hike it, so even if you’re broke, here is a place for you in paradise!
Santa Barbara waterfall is a bit further away, a couple of hours drive, close to Cavalcante, but it is the most beautiful one by far! It’s a green waterfall, so clear and pure. This waterfall opened my eyes to an amazing fact: you can dive with your eyes open – it’s a sweet water, you can drink it if you want – no need to make a wry mouth before jumping, there’s no salt, no pain, no salty skin burn. There’s no come back to the sea water, sorry:)
Chapada dos Veadeiros is based on a massive crystal platform. They say you can see it shining from space. Mystical, hey?! It is also a very very old platform on the planet with a special ecosystem. I hope it’s just rumours, but I’ve also heard that they are planning to build a hydroelectric dam in the park and given that most of the land over there is private it won’t be a very difficult thing to do in Brazil. I just wonder, so many lost paradises on the planet, chop chop, done, gone and then you are living in concrete cities and are trying to grow trees on your roof… How did that happen?
P.S. more photos here.