Brazil, Destinations, Travel log

Chapada Diamantina: trekking in the Vale do Pati

The Vale do Pati is a protected area within the Chapada Diamantina National Park. Inhabited by only 13 families, it is a beautiful place of preserved nature. The only access is by foot, everything that goes in and out of the valley is being transported by mules. It is a very photogenic place and the trek through the Vale do Pati is said to be one of the best trek in Brazil. Here is our experience there!

How to organize a trek

Lençóis is full of agencies and guides (as we said in our previous article, tourism is the new commerce) so it is very easy to find out what is being offered! If you are in a hurry you can also organize a tour online before getting there; the price difference did not seem excessive.

The prices seemed quite similar from an agency to the other so the only way to decrease the price would be either to join a group (usually they would advertise on a board or online the trips already planned for the following day) or try to negotiate directly with a guide, without passing by an agency.

We recommend our guide, Marcelo. He has over 25 years of experience in the area, loves hiking, loves the place and knows many different routes so he can also customize a route for you according to your wishes and needs! Also, two important details: he speaks english and he loves cooking! We had some of our best meals in Brazil thanks to him!! You can contact him through Facebook: Marcelo Luz.

If he is not available, we recommend the agency we actually used, Zentur. Everybody was very nice, efficient and accommodating. From A to Z, everything went smoothly.

3 days trekking in the Vale do Pati

Day 1: From Guiné to Cachoeirão

We left Lençóis at 8 am to head first to Palmeiras for our guide to buy some fresh food for the trek. From there the drive is on a dirt route up to the village of Guiné. There we stopped in a small bar to use the toilets (last chance!) and buy a delicious acai smoothie… we would need some energy for the hike! 🙂

Back on the dirt road, we got a bit stuck in a traffic jam: a few horses were heading the same way, carrying goods to bring back to the Vale do Pati. We would meet them again on the trail. Eventually, the car left us in front of a “wall”, a cliff called Beco Hill. That’s the beginning of our trek!

After the climb up hill, we arrived on the Black River Plateau. This is one of the plateau that contributed to give its name to this region (see the article on Chapada Diamantina). It was used for cattle but it is now restricted for the endemic flora to be preserved. Only the horses and donkeys of the natives are allowed; and hikers obviously. Crossing this plateau means there is barely no trees to offer you some shade. Luckily it was still not the warmest hours of the day… We had the opportunity however to refresh a bit when crossing the Black River, that gives its name to the Plateau.

After an hour or so we arrived to the end of this plateau, which is another cliff. This place, called Rampa, offered our first amazing view to the Vale do Pati. From there we could have a glimpse of what to expect in the following days. Exciting.

Now it was time to go down the valley. The trail down was steep, very steep. Nothing crazy but you need to be cautious. Once down the valley though it is again almost flat. We headed to one of the first house, quite far from the other houses of the valley where we would get later. But this compound also had a very cute church! Perfect spot for a little break and refilling the bottles before continuing. Next stop: waterfalls!

After joining the river we followed it down. The trail was a bit tricky. We arrived at a first pretty waterfall where a group was having a picnic. The guide informed us that we could stay here or go to the next one, the main one actually, that also features a pool to swim…we didn’t need any more arguments and continued our way! The Funis Waterfall was indeed an amazing spot to relax! Especially that we managed to be alone for 1 hour there before other tourists showed up, triggering our departure. Anti-social, us? Never!

Since the water level was relatively low, we decided to follow the river instead of the normal trail. That included a few river crossings but the big rocks luckily made it easy. Eventually we arrived at our home for the night! Our guide picked a place with a beautiful view, perfect spot to enjoy the light of the end of the afternoon.

As we said before, Marcelo loves to cook and this first meal was the opportunity for us to discover (and enjoy) those skills! Just watching him cooking was a show!

At night we could enjoy the atmosphere and the peacefulness in the valley, observing fireflies and the starry sky. Unique.

Only natives are allowed to live in this valley. This valley was never really rich but used to be much more populated. Aside from cattle, agriculture and diamonds, people started developing coffee plantations. However, from 1889 to 1930, Brazil had a political system known as “Cafe com Leite” (literally coffee with milk) as the power was being shared alternating between Sao Paulo, who held the economical power mainly thanks to its coffee plantations, and Minas Gerais, mainly thanks to its huge electoral base who were producing mainly milk.

So when the coffee culture started to expand in the Vale do Pati, bringing good and cheap coffee on the market, the rich producers of the South (Sao Paulo mainly) started to be unhappy. Having the power they simply decided that the coffee plantations had to be stopped and the trees cut down in order to “preserve the flora” (we acknowledge that this is a good argument but at that time it was also very hypocrite as environmental protection was far from being of any interest). Farmers were given some money in exchange and the large majority of them left the Vale, with only a few families staying. There was some hard times for them but tourism has now brought them a new source of income and almost all the families of the valley now have rooms to welcome hikers.

You can still see some coffee trees lost in the jungle.

Day 2: taming the Castle Mountain

After a wonderful (and huge) breakfast, we hit the road around 9am. The official name of this mountain in Morro da Lapinha. However its nickname of Castle Mountain refers to the shape of its northeastern side: a rock tower offering a wonderful view over the valley.

The climb starts easily but gets steeper and steeper and rockier and rockier. Again nothing impossible but it is a demanding hike up. However you are rewarded by a first “classic” view (as our guide called them because of all the pictures available online!). Truly beautiful.

Another incredible experience is the presence of caves on top of the mountain. Don’t forget to bring a light in order to explore them! The most impressive in those caves is that the floor is made of scrambled ceilings; if you jump on it, especially towards the main entrance, you can fill the vibrations that shows you that… it is empty underneath!!

Another interesting point is that the cave, and the full rocky formation, is made out of clear visible layers. Sometimes you can even see a full block of the same layer fallen on the ground.

On the other side on the biggest cave, you will discover another astonishing view. One of our favorite during that trek. This was on the opposite side of the mountain from where we were sleeping and it was a completely preserved, untouched valley unfolded under our eyes.

On our left we could also see the famous rocky tower that gave its nickname to the mountain.

Another little climb over the rocks, during which I hit my head on a big rock (clumsy me as always, yes I am OK… I mean I am still a weirdo :-)), led us to this famous rock tower. Again, once on top, an amazing view was offered to us. From there we could see the Rampa and the trail we took the previous day. We also had a glimpse at the waterfalls we went, hidden among the trees.

With no surprises, the hike back down was hard on the knees! It felt like a much longer way than on the way up! Luckily once down the mountain we could relax by the river and refresh our over-heated feet! Another reward followed: fresh sugar cane juice and fresh home-made bread! 🙂

Once back at our sleeping home, we had time to relax, enjoy the view and play with the friendly cat. By “play” I meant “please its royal wishes of being scratched over and over”! 😀

Dinner time? A delicious feijoada!

Day 3: the long way back

The day 3 was actually the longest day of hiking. We left earlier, aiming to one of the most famous spots of the valley: Cachoeirão.

To get there we had to get back to the Black River Plateau, luckily through another trail, much less steep that the one we used to get down in the valley! It was hard to say goodbye to the Vale do Pati and all its beauty…

After finding our way through the bushes, we arrived on a rocky platform and discover the famous Cachoeirão! This is kind of a canyon formation with cliffs 340m high and waterfalls about 300m high. We knew that the waterfalls would be very tiny because of the season but it was still truly impressive to be standing/lying there! There is another platform a few meters away with a scary/ impressive rock to stand on!

The most famous waterfall is called Cachoeira da Fumaça, the Smoke Waterfall. Second highest in Brazil, it earns its name because of the wind that pushes away the water, thus giving the impression that the end of the waterfall is just smoke. The water was so little that we could not see that phenomena but still, the wind would make drops fly across like snowflakes. Magical.

From there we needed to go back and cross the Black River Plateau in the other direction. The hike was mostly flat but the absence of shade made it very warm on this sunny beginning of the afternoon! And we were not at the warmest period of the year yet! Luckily after and hour or so we were able to stop by the Black River to refresh a bit ourselves. Under Siviu’s advice I wet my cap to refresh my head and I believe it really helped!

All along our trek we have been amazed by the beautiful flora!

Finally we arrived back on the other side of the Plateau. Again no shade to protect us from the sun but this time we were through the warmest time of the day. Despite sunscreen we burnt a bit (not too bad luckily, it was gone the next day!).

Another tiring and extremely warm hike down and we were back in the car!

55km in 3 days under warm temperature was quite challenging but we loved every minute of this beautiful trek! OK OK, I did get grumpy on some of the hikes downhill, but they were exhausting! 🙂

Goodbye Vale do Pati and thank you for the welcoming! As Marcelo alway says: Chapada Diamantina 100%!

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