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Wanderlust: Brazil’s Chapada Diamantina

Chapada Diamantina is a Brazilian national park, located in the eastern State of Bahia. Though it appears a small, oval-shaped blemish on a Brazilian map, it occupies around 600 square miles of land, roughly equivalent to the size of London. In 1844, it earned its name, ‘Plateau of Diamonds’, when a fortune’s worth of the precious stone was discovered below ground. An influx of miners then caused the swift construction of several small towns and hamlets. Lençóis is the main colonial town, overflowing with brightly painted houses and lined with cobbled streets. Further south lies Mucugê, a smaller, yet no less picturesque town, known for its endemic dry flower species (Comanthera mucugensis), and its ‘byzantine’ cemetery. Since the time of the plague, the cemetery has been slowly filling with a collection of intricate, miniature churches, each placed atop a grave. These white stone churches have a quiet, ethereal beauty about them, striking a marked contrast with the dark mountains beyond.

The main attractions, however, are not manmade. The park is like a setting from a fairy-tale, with its plethora of table-top mountains, waterfalls, streams, green ravines, and lake-filled caves. Yet, the Gruta Azul (Blue Grotto) needs no fairies; instead, it is the mid-afternoon sun which works magic, each day bathing the grotto in a startling, iridescent blue light. Meanwhile, cracks in the overhead rock concentrate the rays, forming beams of light which dive, like colourless rainbows, into the water’s surface. In contrast, the water in the Gruta da Pritinha is celebrated not for its colour but its clarity, which allows snorkelers to see the aquatic world in glorious detail, particularly its schools of dancing fish. The water then pours from the cave’s mouth, catching the sun as it forms a bright blue pool. Yet, the most impressive cascade is undoubtedly the Fumaça Waterfall, the tallest waterfall in Brazil. Its height, coupled with the strong breeze, means the water is dispersed before it can ever hit the ground, forming the cloud of mist which earns the falls their name, ‘smoke falls’. Brave travellers can lie on the rocks above, extending their torsos over the edge to catch a glimpse of the falls below. The most spectacular view in the park, however, is arguably found atop the Morro do Pai Inacio, a table-shaped mountain which offers a glorious panorama. The mountain’s name, ‘Father Ignatius’, stems from the legend of a slave who fell in love with his master’s wife and threw himself from the cliff top. The slave’s soul remains in the sunset, which paints the mountains gold as each day closes.

A series of footpaths crisscross the ridges, winding their way through the flora, which ranges from cacti, to bromeliads, to wild orchids. The area is also a delight for birdwatchers, hosting 350 species of birds. A particular delight is the Hooded Visorbearer, a type of hummingbird. It has a striking, bright green face and a strip of white around its neck, which has resulted in its Brazilian nickname, ‘gravatinho’ or ‘little necktie’. Though a rare species, it thrives in Bahia, meaning visitors are likely to spot one hovering at head height. Other rare birds in the park include the Chaco eagle, the white-necked hawk, the Bahia spinetail, the Bahia tyrannulet, and the ochre marked parakeet. Meanwhile, mammals such as jaguars, giant armadillos, giant anteaters, cougars, and Barbara Brown’s titis patrol the ground, although they rarely stray near visiting humans. Thus, though it was jewels and riches which first drew humans to Chapada Diamantina, the real treasures are to be found in its geography and wildlife. With hidden gems lying around every corner, it is no wonder the park has been nicknamed ‘Brazil’s lost world’.