Traveling due west from Salvador, after a few hours the dry and dusty landscape of the northeastern Sertão region begins to change. Mountains and strange rock formations appear, and the vegetation turns surprisingly lush, with an abundance of orchids and bromeliads. The transformation signals the beginning of the Chapada Diamantina (Diamond Plateau), a vast and ancient geological region filled with canyons and gorges and crisscrossed by rivers and waterfalls whose spectacular beauty has made it the number-one ecotourist destination in Brazil. Much of this unique and spectacular area is preserved as a national park. If you find yourself in Salvador with three days or more to spare, visiting the Chapada Diamantina is an adventure you won’t regret.
Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina
The Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina is bigger than some countries (Holland, for example) and is one of the most drop-dead gorgeous natural regions in Brazil. Within its borders is the Cachoeira da Fumaça, the highest waterfall (380 meters/1,250 feet) in Brazil and the fifth highest in the world, as well as Pico dos Barbados (2,000 meters/6,560 feet), the highest peak in Bahia. Grottoes hide lagoons whose waters turn to piercing blue when touched by the sun’s fingers. The striking vegetation ranges from giant ferns to the rarest of orchids. And there is always the chance of stumbling on a tiny nugget of gold or a diamond in the rough.
Only one paved road cuts through 152-square-kilometer (59-square-mile) park, and there is no official entrance. There are, however, plenty of trails of varying difficulty—best traveled with a guide or on an excursion—many of which were carved out of the landscape by slaves and gold and diamond miners in the 19th century. One of the main bases for exploring the area is Lençóis, a former diamond-mining town, which is now a lively mix of locals and ecotourists. Other equally enticing diamond towns and their surrounding areas are also worth exploring—namely Mucugê, Andaraí, and Vale do Capão—which offer their own access to several of the park’s natural attractions. The Chapada can be visited all year long, but in the summer, though the sun can be scorchingly hot, periods of rain (sometimes lasting for several days) can put a serious damper on hiking plans. A better time to come is during the winter, when cooler temperatures (which can become downright chilly at night) coincide with the “dry season” that lasts March–October. Be aware, though, that during this time, waterfalls can get thin and even dry up.
Lençóis means “sheets” in Portuguese. The name alludes to the town’s early-19th-century origins as an itinerant camp for hundreds of avid diamond and gold miners who slept beneath makeshift tents of white cotton fabric after long days spent combing the region’s river in search of precious stones. Although many struck it rich, by the end of the 19th century most of the big rocks had been found. Over the next 100 years, the former boomtown was abandoned, and its population shrank significantly. Lençóis’s fortunes only revived in 1985; with the creation of the Chapada Diamantina National Park, it quickly became a cultural and touristic hub. Despite its size and relative isolation, Lençóis possesses a surprisingly cosmopolitan flavor due to the collection of nature lovers, adventure-sports enthusiasts, New Age groupies, and Chapada-holics who linger and loiter in its cobblestoned streets.
Tourism has been a catalyst for the still-ongoing renovation of Lençóis’s 19th-century homes and civic buildings, which number over 200. Among the most splendid traces of its former grandeur are the Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário, the wealthy home of the Sá family, which later became the Prefeitura (city hall), and the Subconsulado Francês, the former French consulate building. Capela de Santa Luzia (Morro Alto da Tomba, tel. 75/3425-4853, 8 a.m.–noon and 2–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Sun.) is an innocuous little chapel whose interior became a minor work of contemporary art when internationally renowned São Paulo graffiti artist, Stephan Doitschinoff, decorated the walls with vivid frescos of saints (look for other “interventions” by the artist around town).
The two biggest events in Lençóis take place in the winter. Throughout most of mid–late June, the town gets into the swing of things with the typically northeastern Festas Juninas, the feverish high point of which is the Festa de São João on June 23–24. Expect lots of corn-based delicacies, homemade fruit liqueurs, smoking bonfires, processions, and forró music. In August, the town resembles a latter-day Woodstock when it hosts the Festival de Inverno de Lençóis, a musical festival that lures some of the biggest names in Brazilian popular music.
Lençóis is close to many of the Chapada Diamantina’s most popular draws. One great walk is to follow the Rio Lençóis. After 15 minutes you’ll find yourself at the Poço Serrano, a series of freshwater pools where you can dip your toes or entire body and enjoy a panoramic view of the town. Another 15 minutes brings you to the Salão de Areias Coloridas, an area with caves carpeted in multicolored sands sought after by local artists who layer them in bottles and sell them to tourists. Hire a local youth as a guide (your hotel can reserve one for you) to take you to these attractions and to the nearby Cachoeirinha and Cachoeira da Primavera, two small waterfalls where you can swim.
Heading out of town to the southwest (follow the signs), a marked 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) trail leads to the Escorregadeira, a natural rock waterslide that sends you careening down into swimming pools (wear shorts to avoid scraping the skin off your bottom). If you keep going (with a guide, since access is tricky), the trail gets more difficult and involves serious rock climbing. After 8 kilometers (5 miles), however, you’ll reach the impressive Cachoeira do Sossego waterfall, with rock ledges from which you can dive into a deep pool. Another challenging 5-kilometer (3-mile) trek (guide recommended) north from Lençóis brings you to the fantastic Gruta do Lapão, considered to be the largest sandstone cave in South America.
Having a car or being part of an organized excursion is necessary to discover some of the more far-flung and dramatic natural highlights of the Chapada. The Poço do Diabo (Devil’s Well), 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from Lençóis, consists of a series of swimming pools crowned by a majestic 25-meter (82-foot) waterfall. Only 30 kilometers (19 miles) away is Morro do Pai Inácio, a 300-meter-high (980-foot-high) mesa formation that is truly striking. From its cacti-covered summit, you are treated to amazing 360-degree views of the countryside. According to local legend, Inácio was a fugitive slave who scaled the great rock in search of refuge. When cornered by his pursuers, he jumped from the top. Miraculously, he was saved from a fatal fall by the umbrella he opened in midflight. If you can, make the trip in the late afternoon—the sunset viewed from the top is a sight to behold.
Near the town of Iraquara, 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Lençóis, are a number of caverns, including Gruta da Torrinha (Estrada da Bandeira Km 64, 1–2-hour guided tour R$20 pp), Gruta Azul (Estrada da Bandeira Km 75, R$10 pp), Lapa Doce (Estrada da Bandeira Km 68, 45-minute guided tour R$14 pp), and Gruta da Pratinha (Estrada da Bandeira Km 75, R$10 pp), all clustered fairly close together. Torrinha and Lapa Doce boast a stunning collection of stalactites and stalagmites. The Gruta Azul (Blue Cavern) more than lives up to its name: When lit up directly by the sun (2:30–3:30 p.m. daily Apr.–Sept.), its waters turn to an unearthly azure. At adjacent Gruta da Pratinha, you can rent gear and flashlights and go snorkeling (R$15) in an underwater lagoon in the company of 24 varieties of fish.
Lençóis has a wide variety of accommodations to choose from. Given its backpacking ethos, there is no shortage of cheap lodgings. Simple and downright affordable, the small but quaint Hostel Chapada (Rua Boavista 121, tel. 75/3334-1497, R$22–33 pp, R$51–83 d), located in a 19th-century house, has only seven rooms and 27 beds but lots of greenery, swinging hammocks, and laundry facilities—everything a backpacker dreams of. Budget travelers will also feel at home at the welcoming Pousada dos Duendes (Rua do Pires, tel. 75/3334-1229, R$60–80 d). Perched on a hilltop, it offers private and dorm rooms as well as a shady garden for hammock-slinging and camping. Vegetarian and vegan meals and lunch boxes are available on request. Since the British owner also runs a travel agency, she can help arrange guides and excursions. Also very attractive is Alcino Atelier Hostalage (Rua Tomba Surrão 139, tel. 75/3334-1171, R$90–190 d), located in a lovingly restored old house. Although part of the hotel is his atelier, owner and artist Alcino Caetano makes guests feel right at home with cozy guest rooms carefully decorated with antiques, glazed tiles, and shards of ceramic painted by local artists. Verandas with hammocks, a garden replete with fruit trees, and lavish homemade breakfasts complete the picture.
If you spend your days roughing it in the wilds, come sundown you might feel entitled to some pampering. Portal Lençóis (Rua Altina Alves 33, tel. 75/3334-1233) is a five-star hotel dedicated to spoiling guests with lots of creature comforts, including a pool, sauna, and massage therapy. Its apartments (R$370) and chalets (R$550), which sleep four, are sophisticatedly rustic (or vice versa) with lots of wood and stonework that blend into the surrounding vegetation. Its privileged hilltop location involves a bit of a climb but offers wonderful views.
Also ingeniously integrated into its natural surroundings is the Canto das Águas (Av. Senhor dos Passos 1, tel. 75/3334-1154, R$340–430 d). A river literally runs right through it, providing the gardens, pool, and restaurant (breakfast is out of this world) with a constantly soothing soundtrack of cascading water. More intimate and affordable, not to mention holistic and harmonious, is the lovely Pousada Vila Serrano Pousada (Alto do Bomfim 8, tel. 75/3334-1486, R$165–210 d). Its nine apartments, designed according to the rules of feng shui, emphasize soothing colors, natural textures, soft lighting, and a fusion between indoor and outdoor environments.
Considering the global tribes that pass through and settle down in Lençóis, the astonishing mix of good eating options is hardly surprising. The traditional Neco’s Bar (Praça Clarim Pacheco 15, tel. 75/3334-1179, noon–9 p.m. daily, R$12–18) is reputed for regional specialties such as roasted goat, godó (a stew of green bananas and sun-dried beef), cortado de palma (diced cactus with ground beef), and a salad of batata-da-serra, a local potato found only in the Chapada. Reserving your meal in advance is necessary. Also great for regional fare is O Bode (Praça Horácio de Matos, tel. 75/3334-1600, noon–5 p.m. and 7–10:30 p.m. daily, R$15–25), where you’ll find a buffet of local dishes bubbling over a hot wood stove as well as many options featuring the house specialty, bode (goat).
To stock up on proteins, head for the lively Picanha na Praça (Praça Otaviano Alves 62, tel. 75/3334-1080, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, R$15–20), where the prime cuts of beef and chicken served on sizzling grills will satisfy the most carnivorous urges. Vegetarians also have several options, among them Gaia Lanchonete Natural (Praça Horácio de Matos 114, tel. 75/9119-2869, open daily, R$6–12), which is great for invigorating juices, copious sandwiches, and kit lanches, highly nutritious box lunches that will give you an energy boost when you’re out on the trail.
If you’re in the mood for pizza, Oxente Menina Pizza (Av. Senhor dos Passos 20, tel. 75/3334-1475, 7–11 p.m. Wed.–Mon. June–Apr., R$15–25) serves up a crisp, thin-crust version. Toppings include Chilean mushrooms, palma (cactus), and semi-sun-dried tomatoes. The freshly made pastas and gnocchis at Os Artistas da Massa (Rua da Baderna 49, tel. 75/3334-1886, noon–10 p.m. daily Dec.–Sept., R$18–30) are as addictive as the cozy ambiance, with jazz wafting through the air. More eclectic is Cozinha Aberta Slow Food (Rua da Baderna 111, tel. 75/3334-1066, 12:30–11 p.m. daily, R$20–30), where an open kitchen allows diners to watch the preparation of colorful dishes made from organic local produce that draw on Thai, Indian, and Mediterranean cuisines.
Information and Services
There is a tourist information center in the old market on Praça dos Nagôs (tel. 75/3334-1112), and you can visit the Associação dos Condutores de Visitantes de Lençóis (Rua 10 de Dezembro 22, tel. 75/3334-1425, 7:30 a.m.–10 p.m. daily) for information and hiring guides. You can also check out the bilingual website www.guialencois.com as well as www.guiachapadadiamantina.com.br (Portuguese only), which offers information about the entire Chapada region along with useful maps.
Lençóis is brimming with ecotourism agencies that organize excursions and hire out guides. Aside from trekking, Adrenalina Trekk (Rua das Pedras 112, tel. 75/3334-1896) specializes in activities such as mountain climbing, cave jumping, and rappelling. Marimbus Ecoturismo (Praça Otaviano Alves, tel. 75/3334-1292) and Lentur (Av. Sete de Setembro 10, tel. 75/3334-1271) are two ecotourism agencies with solid reputations and plenty of excursions and activities. To rent mountain bikes, obtain biking routes, or take a biking excursion, consult Velozia Cicloturismo (Rua do Lagedo 68, tel. 75/3334-1700).
There’s a Banco do Brasil at Praça Horácio de Matos. In the same square, Café.com has Internet access.
Getting There and Around
You can fly from Salvador to Aeroporto Coronel Horácio de Matos (tel. 75/3625-8100), 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from Lençóis, although flights, with the airline Trip, are only on Saturday. From Salvador’s Rodoviária Central, two buses, at 7:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. daily, depart with the Real Expresso (tel. 71/3450-9310) bus company. The six-hour trip costs R$52. Extra buses are added during high season. If you’re driving, take BR-324 until Feira de Santana, where you can choose between taking BR-116 until it meets BR-242 or taking BA-052 until Ipirá, following BA-488 until Itaberaba. From this point on, both ways follow BR-242. Whichever route you choose, driving to Lençóis is not for the faint of heart. The roads are often full of potholes and slow-moving trucks.
Smaller and less touristy than Lençóis, Mucugê (named after a native fruit that’s used to make a knockout local liqueur) is another pretty colonial diamond-mining town with its share of nearby natural attractions.
Sights and Recreation
Aside from pretty 19th-century buildings such as the Prefeitura (city hall) and the Igreja de Santa Isabel, Mucugê possesses the extremely unusual Cimitério Bizantino. Built in 1855, following an outbreak of cholera, the Byzantine style of the snow-white gravestones and monuments of this windswept hillside cemetery is explained by the presence of Turkish diamond traders who lived here. The ensemble is particularly haunting when illuminated at night.
Situated in the heart of the Chapada, Mucugê is at close proximity to numerous natural attractions. Only 5 kilometers (3 miles) away is the Parque Municipal do Mucugê (access via BA-142 toward Andaraí, tel. 75/3338-2156, 8:30 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, R$3), a research and cultivation center that doubles as a wildlife reserve. One of the park’s main activities is the Projeto Sempre-Viva. The sempre-viva (“forever alive”) is a delicate local f lower that became a cash cow for locals after the gold rush. Threatened with extinction, commercialization of this delicate blossom was prohibited in 1985; you’ll see many growing in the park along with a Museu Vivo do Garimpo, which traces the history of diamond mining in the region. Within the park, short and easy trails lead to the waterfalls of Piabinhas, Tiburtino, and Andorinhas (the furthest away at one hour), all with natural pools for bathing. Also within 15 kilometers (9 miles) of Mucugê are more waterfalls—Cardoso, Córrego de Pedra (which only flows during the rainy season), Sibéria, and Martinha—all worthy of whiling away a few hours.
Festivals and Events
Mucugê is reputed for its vibrant Festa de São João (June 23–24) festivities, which include smoky bonfires in the streets, neighbors serving homemade fruit liqueurs from their homes, lots of forró music, and dancing from dusk till dawn. Book accommodations in advance, and bundle up, since the longest night of the year can get chilly.
Accommodations and Food
The nicest place to stay in Mucugê is the Pousada Mucugê (Rua Dr. Rodrigues Lima 30, tel. 75/3338-2210, R$80–120 d). Well-equipped guest rooms occupy a restored 19th-century mansion in the center of town. The respected restaurant serves local specialties such as godó, a stew made with green bananas and sundried beef, and cortado de palma, in which ground beef is mixed with chunks of cactus. Cheaper and more rustic with lots of original stonework is the Pousada Pé de Serra (Rua José Alves Campos 33, tel. 75/3338-2066, R$50–80). For delicious homecooking and regional specialties, try Dona Nena (Rua Direita 140, tel. 75/3338-2143, 11:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m. daily, R$10–18) and Pé de Salsa (Rua Cel. Propércio, tel. 75/3338-2290, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 6–10:30 p.m. daily, R$8–15).
Information and Services
To book tour guides, visit the Associação dos Condutores de Visitantes de Mucugê (Praça Cel. Propércio, tel. 75/3338-2414, 8 a.m.–noon and 2–9 p.m. daily), whose building also houses the tourist information center (tel. 75/3338-2255). Km Viagens e Turismo (Rua Cel. Douca Medrado 126, tel. 75/3338-2152, 8 a.m.–8 p.m. daily) offers guides as well as taxis and rental cars and motorcycles. Terra Chapada (Rua Dr. Rodrigues Lima, tel. 75/3338-2284, 8 a.m.–noon and 3–9 p.m. daily) is a travel agent that can put you in touch with guides and arrange excursions.
Getting There and Around
From Salvador, Águia Branca (tel. 71/4004-1010) provides direct bus service (8 hours, R$60) to Mucugê on weekends; otherwise you have to change in Itaberaba. Driving from Salvador, take BR-324 to Feira de Santana, then BR-242 to the town of Itaberaba, where BA-142 leads to Andaraí and then continues another 50 kilometers (31 miles) to Mucugê.
Between Lençóis and Mucugê, pastel-hued Andaraí is scruffier and more dilapidated than the other two diamond towns, but it is surrounded by its share of fantastic natural sights and is the easiest way to get to Igatu, a formerly grandiose diamond mining town now reduced to a tiny but terribly charming mountain village, only 5 kilometers (3 miles) away.
Sights and Recreation
Andaraí is a great point of departure for many of the Chapada Diamantina’s star attractions. On the eastern edge of the Sincorá mountain chain, it is perfectly situated for those who want to go trekking through the Vale do Paty. It is also less than 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Marimbus, a swamp-like ecosystem created by the Rio Santo Antônio, brimming with exotic birds and wildlife such as anteaters, pacas, and giant sucuri snakes that measure up to 10 meters (33 feet). The best way to get around the area is by hiring a guide with a canoe and then gliding through the waters adorned with oversized Victoria amazonica lily pads and giant water ferns. A few kilometers outside of town is the Cachoeira de Ramalho, a medium-to-difficult trek along an ancient miners trail, surrounded by natural pools. Farther afield (20 kilometers/12.5 miles) is the Cachoeira do Roncador, featuring pools sculpted out of rose quartz, reached after an easy hike. Those with a penchant for the color blue should visit Poço Encantado. When illuminated by sunlight (11 a.m.–noon daily Apr.–Aug.), this subterranean lake, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Andaraí, lives up to its name; the intense cobalt hue of its waters are truly “enchanting.” The added advantage of Poço Azul (R$5)—whose waters turn dazzling blue when hit by the sun’s rays (1:30–2:30 p.m. daily Apr.–Aug.)—is that you can swim or snorkel (R$10) in it. Before you take the plunge, make sure to reserve a delicious home-cooked meal prepared by Dona Alice (tel. 75/8163-8292), whose home lies at the entrance to the property. Poço Azul is around 90 kilometers (56 miles) From Andaraí.
Accommodations and Food
The Pousada Sincorá (Av. Paraguassu 120, tel. 75/3335-2210, www.sincora.com.br, R$60–115 d) is a warm and appealingly decorated old house that is rightly proud of its hearty “colonial” breakfasts. The owners also have a farm in the Marimbus wetland where guests can camp or go on guided canoes tours. For light food and especially the delicious homemade ice cream featuring rare flavors such as jenipapo, cachaça, and rapadura (caramelized sugar cane), visit the Sorveteria Apollo (Praça Raul Dantas 1, tel. 75/3335-2256).
For guides and tourist information, contact the Associação dos Condutores de Visitantes de Andaraí (Rua Dr. José Gonçalves Cincorá, tel. 75/3335-2225, 8 a.m.–noon and 2–5 p.m. daily).
Andaraí is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Lençóis (to the north, via BR-242 and BA-142) and around 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Mucugê (to the south along BR-142). From Salvador, Águia Branca (tel. 71/4004-1010) provides direct bus service (7 hours, R$54) to Andaraí on weekends; otherwise you have to change in Itaberaba. Driving from Salvador, take BR-324 to Feira de Santana, then BR-242 to the town of Itaberaba, where BA-142 leads to Andaraí.
During the height of its 19th-century diamond rush, thriving Igatu had a population of 3,000. These days it’s a small village of 350 where Flintstones-like stone houses alternate with pretty pastel villas, all of which are surrounded by the lush fruit and vegetable gardens that supply much of the local produce. As for the splendor of its past, it has been reduced to a bewitchingly haunted area of ruined stone mansions overgrown with mango trees and wild orchids, where, from time to time, an uncovered shard of fine European porcelain evokes the grandeur that was Igatu in its heyday.
Amid Igatu’s ruins, the Galeria Arte & Memória (Rua Luís dos Santos, tel. 75/3335-2510, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. daily) exhibits found objects and equipment used by the diamond miners as well as contemporary artwork by regional artists inside a beautiful space, built on the ruins of a stone house and surrounded by a garden that shelters local flora, contemporary sculptures, and an enticing café where you can linger over crepes and cappuccino. For more insight into the town’s diamond legacy, tour the nearby Mina Brejo-Verruga (7 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, R$3), the biggest mine in the region, where, helmeted and armed with a flashlight, you can snake your way through a hand-dug tunnel stretching 400 meters (1,300 feet) into the side of a mountain. In the main chamber, 20 clay markers, each with a candle, pays homage to the miners who died here. The return to daylight will be a shock, which you can alleviate with a swim in the Poço do Brejo. Back in town, visit Ponto do Amarildo (Rua Sete de Setembro, tel. 75/3335-7017, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily), an eccentric emporium that local character Amarildo dos Santos has created in the living room of his house. The shelves are crammed with everything from homemade doces and licores to odd bits of local memorabilia and Amarildo’s own hand-painted books recounting tales of Igatu.
Accommodations and Food
If you decide to stay overnight in Igatu, the best pousada is the lovely and very comfortable Pousada Pedras de Igatu (Rua São Sebastião, tel. 75/3335-2281, R$120–170), which has a swimming pool and a sauna (but miraculously no TV) and terrific views of the surrounding countryside. Cheaper but also very charming is Hospedagem Flor de Açucena (Rua Nova, tel. 75/3335-7003, R$60–100), located in a rustic stone house whose guest rooms overlook a verdant garden with a pool. A kitchen and bathrooms are available for those who want to camp in the garden. Also ask around for rooms to rent with locals; many will also cook local specialties for you on their wood stoves, using the produce grown in their gardens.
Igatu can only be reached by a rocky trail that turns off BA-142 from Mucugê or from Andaraí. In either case, you’ll need a 4WD vehicle or the stamina required for a couple of hours of uphill hiking. However, when you arrive at this remote town suspended in the mountains, you’ll be more than compensated for the hardships of the journey.
Hugging the northwest edge of the Parque Nactional da Chapada Diamantina, Caeté-Açu (commonly refered to merely as Capão after the valley in which it sits) is a tranquil village plunged into the midst of nature that in recent years has attracted a mellow expat community of New Agers, esoterics, artists, hippies, and gringos who live in harmony with the spectacular surroundings. Aside from its bucolic air, it’s a starting point for treks to some of the park’s most impressive natural attractions, including the Cachoeira da Fumaça.
Sights and Recreation
One of the indisputable highlights of the Chapada, the Cachoeira da Fumaça is a waterfall so high that most of its water evaporates to mist before hitting the ground (hence its name, “Smoke Waterfall”). Looking down on the cascading water from above involves a long but scenic 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) hike from Capão. Getting right beneath it is even more arduous, involving a three-day trek (with a guide, supplies, and camping gear) through the breathtakingly beautiful Vale do Capão. An easier outing is to Poço Angélica, a natural pool surrounded by lush vegetation that’s only a 15-minute walk from Vila do Bomba, a village 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Capão (whose narrow road can be difficult to navigate). Closer to town is the Cachoeira do Rio Preto, a small cascade with a pool, located 4 kilometers (1.5 miles) from the center of town.
Accommodations and Food
There are a handful of pleasantly rustic places to stay in Capão. Pousada Vila Esperança (Rua dos Gatos, tel. 75/3344-1384, R$70–130 d) is an appealing choice set amid an orchard of fruit trees with a small creek in back. Tatami mats and the presence of yakkissoba on the menu betray the owner’s Japanese origins. Pousada Candombá (Rua das Mangas, tel. 75/3344-1102, R$120–145 d) is a friendly place with accommodations for 2, 3, and 4 people in individual chalets surrounded by abundant greenery. It’s popular with foreign backpackers who’ve heard tales of the organic meals made with garden produce and the hot-stone sauna. By far the most luxurious option is Pousada Vila Lagoa das Cores (Rua da Lagoa, tel. 75/3344-1114, R$190–280 d), located 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) outside of town in an idyllic natural setting offset by views of Morro Branco mountain. Service is as personalized as the charmingly decorated bungalows, whose soaps and pillows (and teas served in the afternoon) are made with aromatic herbs grown on the premises, as is the organic produce that finds its way into the restaurant’s superb dishes. To ensure you relax, the holistic spa offers a multitude of therapeutic baths, massages, and saunas.
Capão’s famed culinary specialty is the pastel de palmito de jaca, a pastry stuffed with “green” (i.e. unripe) jackfruit cooked and seasoned with herbs. You’ll find it all over town, but the woman who invented it is Dona Dalva (Praça São Sebastião, tel. 75/3344-1140, noon–9 p.m. daily). Also famous is the healthy whole wheat–crust pizza served at Pizza Integral do Capão (Praça São Sebastião, tel. 75/3344-1138, 4–10 p.m. Tues.–Fri., noon–11 p.m. Sat.–Sun., R$12–20). For a tasty home-cooked meal, head to the welcoming house of Dona Beli (Rua do Folga 140, tel. 75/3338-1085, noon–8 p.m. daily, R$10–18), where dishes of the day are accompanied by local exotica such as sautéed palma (cactus) and jaca. Expect lineups on holidays.
Information and Services
To book tour guides, visit the Associação dos Condutores de Visitantes do Vale do Capão (Rua Campos, 75/3344-1087) or contact Tatu na Trilha (Rua da Vila, tel. 75/3344-1124), which also organizes trekking expeditions. There are no banks with ATMs in Capão; for cash withdrawals you’ll need to go to Palmeiras.
Getting There and Around
From Salvador, Real Expresso (tel. 71/3450-2991) provides bus service to Palmeiras (7 hours, R$58). Buses also leave from Lençóis (1 hour, R$6). From Palmeiras, local vans for Capão cost R$10 pp. Driving from Salvador, take BR-324 to Feira de Santana, then BR-242 to Palmeiras (passing Itaberaba and Lençóis), from which a 21-kilometer (12-mile) dirt road leads to Capão.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Brazil.