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Discovering the treasures of Brazil’s ‘Plateau of Diamonds’

Chapada-Diamantina

A lucky tourist, whilst exploring Brazil’s Chapada Diamantina, found among the rocks a diamond so large that it made him fabulously rich overnight. It’s a story that local guides never tire of relating to visitors of this stunning national park in the Bahia region of northeast Brazil.

Of course, repeated telling over time means that answers to the inevitable questions that the story raises – which tourist? Which year? How rich? And where exactly was this diamond found? – have been conveniently forgotten, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the tale is apocryphal.

In any case, the dream of discovering a potentially priceless gem only makes visiting the beautiful Chapada Diamantina (‘plateau of diamonds’) even more compelling.

In the mid-nineteenth century this mineral rich and landlocked region of Brazil was prized for the elusive diamonds that could be found within the limestone cliffs, mountains and cave systems that define the landscape. The subsequent rise in South Africa’s diamond-mining industry and the increasing scarcity of those found in Brazil saw the abandonment of the Chapada Diamantina by the diamond prospectors who had combed the land in search of fortunes over the previous century and a half.

Today, a popular starting point for adventures in the national park is the pretty and beautifully-preserved nineteenth-century town of Lençóis. The diamond miners may be long gone but Lençóis retains a wonderfully colonial ambience, and among its cobbled streets visitors will find plentiful accommodation to suit all budgets and a handful of excellent al fresco restaurants and bars.

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One of the most agreeable introductions to the spectacular Chapada Diamantina begins at the river village of Remanso, a forty-minute drive from Lençóis. Here, it’s possible to canoe along a stretch of the mirror-like Rio San Antonio which courses through the dense, lush vegetation of a thirty-kilometre-square area of freshwater swampland. The Marimbus Wetland, as it’s known, has been favourably described as a ‘mini-Pantanal’; a comparison to Brazil’s famously wildlife-rich UNESCO listed wetland region. Among the creatures you may spot as you paddle amid Marimbus’ reeds and water-lilies are cranes, moorhens and host of other exotic birds. Escaping the Brazilian heat, however, by plunging into the river is inadvisable; the wetlands are also home to caiman and anaconda.

A better option is to stop where the Rio San Antonio meets the Rio Roncador, where the sound of an interconnected series of waterfalls earns the latter its nickname, the ‘snoring river’. Whilst the sand that must be crossed to reach this beautiful oasis might scorch bare feet, the waterfalls and deep pools between them are perfect for swimming, diving and generally freshening up in. Excitingly, they are also situated in the midst of the historic diamond fields. Scrambling over the rocky escarpments that lead to the vast, scrub-covered ‘plateau of diamonds’ whilst scrutinising every rock and crevice in the process is a fun –if generally fruitless –activity, but in an area renowned for its diamonds there’s no harm in a little optimism.

From here, this region of unparalleled Brazilian beauty offers the opportunity to indulge in countless other exhilarating outdoor activities including climbing, trekking, cave exploration and snorkelling, potholing, bird and wildlife spotting and even traversing a lake by zip-wire.

Like the diamonds that may still lurk hidden in the ancient rock strata beneath its surface, Brazil’s Chapada Diamantina is just itching waiting to be discovered and the unique experiences and memories it offers are treasures worth more than any precious stone.

When to go

There is never a truly bad time to visit the Chapada Diamantina, although rainfall –in the form of heavy rain showers – is most common from November to early March. From April to July things become gradually drier and warmer and this is possibly the best time to visit unless you can tolerate the potentially blistering heat that may arrive in August to December’s ‘dry season’.

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