he Diamond Highlands occupy
an area about the size of Holland deep in the interior of the state of Bahia. Dramatic vertical-walled mesas, deep forested valleys, high grasslands and striking rock formations form the landscape in which 90% of Bahia's rivers have their source. They depart the Highlands via some of Brazil's most spectacular waterfalls.

It is hard to imagine that 150 years ago this was the world's principal diamond-producing region – economically important enough for the French to build a consulate in Lencois. This handsome building is still there. The diamond boom started in the 1840s and lasted a few decades until bigger finds were made in South Africa. With the heyday of mining long gone, the main activities in the Diamond Highlands today are hiking, riding, mountain biking and visits to waterfalls, rivers and caves.

The modern visitor is rewarded with a combination rare on any continent: unforgettable two-billion-year-old landscapes, elegant colonial architecture, fascinating history, good food and an absence of crowds. Out walking you will have the Chapada's pristine environment to yourself, and you can drink from completely unpolluted rivers. The climate is tropical but healthy. Lençóis's elevation protects it from the fiercer heat of the lowlands, and there is no malaria in this part of Brazil.

Part of the Diamond Highlands was declared a National Park in 1985. Much of the credit for this belongs to American Roy Funch, who is still a resident of Lençóis and is one of its most knowledgeable guides, as well as the author of a guide-book to the region published in both English and Portuguese.


Of the local settlements it was Lençóis that benefited most from the 19th-century diamond boom, and today it is the best-equipped town in the Diamond Highlands to receive visitors. Its colonial mansions, friendly inhabitants and good restaurants make it an infectiously attractive place. Be careful. Many from both Brazil and abroad who came for a few days have ended up settling down here.



Here is a selection from the dozens of excursions offered by the Diamond Highlands – on foot, by boat or by car, and lasting from one day to a week. Full information is available at Alcino's, and all necessary arrangements will be made for you.

Torrinha Cave – Brazil's most spectacular cave contains among other things rare giant crystals and prehistoric paintings. Allow up to nine hours for the visit.
Lapa Doce Cave – Unusual stalactite and stalagmite formations and gigantic underground halls extending over 800m are the outstanding features of this limestone cave.
Sossego Falls – Two and a half hours' walk from Lençóis lies one of the region's most beautiful waterfalls. The final section involves hopping between stones in the river as you ascend the canyon.
Fumaça Falls – An almost 400m drop turns the water to "fumaça" (smoke), and the spray creates rainbows on the cliffs. The wind sometimes catches the waterfall and lifts it upwards - an amazing sight.

The top of the Fumaça can be visited in a day walk of five hours total, after driving to the Valley of Capão. The hike from Lençóis to the bottom and back takes three days.

Morro do Camelo ("Camel Mount") – This unusual camel-shaped mountain, not far from Pai Inácio, is another of the Highlands' postcard views.
Morro do Pai Inácio ("Father Ignatius's Mount") – Half an hour by car from Lençóis and best visited at sunset, the magnificent 360-degree sweep of flat-topped mountains and deep valleys is the quintessential Diamond Highlands panorama.
Poço do Diabo ("Devil's Pool") – You can abseil and cable slide against the backdrop of these falls and the dark pool of water below them.
Serrano and Salão de Areias ("Hall of Sands") – The dark waters of the Lençóis River contrast with the turquoise, white and pink of the 1.7-billion-year-old conglomerates forming its bed. At the area near town known as the Serrano local children leap into submerged chambers hollowed by the swirling currents. Hidden among the crags above the Serrano lies the Hall of Sands, where the multi-coloured sandstone walls crumble to the touch.
Ribeirão de Meio ("The Middle Ribeirão") – Less than an hour's walk from town a natural water slide on the river Ribeirão catapults its passengers into a large natural swimming pool - a popular local hangout at weekends. Take something to slide on. You can return to town a different way by walking/clambering 20 minutes downstream to where the old Lençóis-Andaraí road fords the Ribeirão.
Marimbus – An area of navigable marshland formed by the river Santo Antonio between Lençóis and Andaraí, with quite distinct flora and fauna. The day-long visit by boat to this extraordinary place is one of the highlights of the region, but is often overlooked by visitors.
Poço Encantado ("Enchanted Pool") – A ray of sunlight penetrates the cave at certain times of day and illuminates crystal-clear waters that appear quite shallow. In fact the lake bottom you see is 40 metres down.
Lapão Cave – The largest quartzite cave in Brazil. As it is not limestone there are no stalactites/stalagmites, but what is remarkable here is the possibility of entering on one side of the mountain and emerging on the other. In between you walk about a kilometer through an underground labyrinth, fording a river and encountering some very strange life forms down there in the darkness. Alcino will ensure you do this trip with a reliable guide.
River Roncador – 18 kilometres along the old mining road to Andarai is one of the region's most beautiful rivers, with many waterfalls, swimming areas and whirlpools where you can get a free water massage. The river opens out into a lake at one point, and there are trails passable by mountain bike.
Paty Valley – The stupendously beautiful Paty Valley forms part of the five-day hike from Lençóis to Andaraí via Capão.
Capivari Falls – 15 kilometres from Lençóis and about 40m high, these falls are popular for canyoning.


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