Chapada Do Veiradeiros

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Why Chapada Do Veiradeiros? 

I had 4 days between the end of a friend´s wedding near Rio and the start of my grandfather´s 100th birthday party in Florida. Rather than go back to Los Angeles, I figured it would make the most sense to stay in Brazil. When looking for the cheapest way to get between Brazil and Florida, I discovered a direct flight from Brasilia to Miami on Gol for under $300. 

Based on research in my Lonely Planet guidebook and conversations with Brazilian friends, I decided to spend the 4 days in the Brasilia area: 3 in to visit Chapada dos Veiradeiros, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its magnificent waterfalls and 1 to see the city of Brasilia. While there are buses in the region, I decided to rent a car for flexibility. 

July 31, 2023: The Sedona of Brazil

My flight from Rio de Janeiro arrived at Brasilia International Airport at 00:30. After too long, I was able to get a shuttle to the rental car. The lady at the counter did not speak any English so we communicated using Google Translate. She would type in a short phrase like “Insurance”, and I would respond accordingly. 

At 1:30, I finally picked up the car and drove through the city to reach my hotel. The roads were empty, but due to the crazy number of speed cameras and very slow speed limits it was a stressful ride. Fun fact: Brazil has the second most speed cameras (17,000) of any country in the world. Russia (18,000) takes first place. 

Another annoying part of driving in Brasilia is the road design is not always logical. I remember having to merge left just to immediately have the lane split into two. To make a left turn when getting off the freeway, I had to turn right go forward more than 1km and then U turn through a roundabout. In another instance, I had to U-turn on the freeway into 4 lanes of traffic. I arrived at the hotel at 2:00. The receptionist was asleep but woke up and let me into my room. 

The next morning, I immediately hit the road. Since I had already driven through the city, there was no traffic and very quickly I was in the wilderness. 

After pulling off the freeway, I headed north on Route 010. The landscape was flat farmland that felt like a mix of Kansas and South Africa due to the plants and orange tint to the soil. 

The road was one lane in each direction and had a huge variety of vehicles. On one end of the spectrum were huge trucks spewing noxious gases going no more than 20 km/hr. On the other end were insane drivers going 150 km/hr and passing into the oncoming traffic with no fear. The combination of these wildly two different types of drivers plus the occasional speed bump and speed camera made the driving stressful. I was always on my toes. 

3 hours into the drive, I passed under a gigantic UFO road sign meaning I had reached the town of Alto Paraiso (High Paradise).

Alto Paraiso is the gateway to the Chapada dos Veiradeiros region. It is also the UFO capital of Brazil and is populated by alien-fearing hippies, making this place a Brazilian combination of Sedona and Roswell. 

After eating a vegan lunch, I wandered the town and its many crystal shops. 

Despite all the hype, Alto Paraiso is not a bustling place. The streets were completely devoid of people like a dusty Australian outback town, although perhaps this was because the school holiday period had just ended. 

While Alto Paraiso is the most populous town in the region (and the only one with a gas station), the main sights are west. So, I headed west. 45 minutes west to be exact where I reached a dirt road. I took the dirt road for 8 kilometers to reach a parking lot for the Vale da Lua. 

After paying the 40 real entrance fee, I hiked 1 kilometer through the chaparral to reach the main attraction: the Ribeirao Sao Miguel. The river cuts through ancient volcanic rock creating a sculpted lava rock slot canyon.

At the bottom of the canyon were two swimming areas. I dipped my toes in, but it was too cold for me. Still, the area was stunning and well worth the excursion. 

I then drove into the village of Sao Jorge, my final destination for the day. The streets in Sao Jorge were proudly unpaved. After checking in to my hostel (which had triple-decker bunks!!), I wandered around the village. I don´t say this lightly, but the vibes in Sao Jorge are impeccable. It is hippie and backpacker-y and full of alien-merch, but it doesn´t feel obnoxious or a caricature of itself, as in similar type of places like Sedona or Nimbin.  

It turns out that there was one other person staying at the hostel, a Swiss man in his mid-40´s named Walther. He was on a 1-month vacation to natural places around Brazil (Chapada Diamantina, Pantanal, Lençois Maranheses). Today he did a day hike in the national park, but was planning on going on the famous 2-day hike tomorrow.  We decided to get dinner together and stumbled on a Brazilian restaurant (one of the only non-pizza places in town). Walther is the type of traveler I dream to be, and it was inspiring chatting with him. We then headed back and go to sleep early as we both had long hikes the next day. 

August 1, 2023: Chapada Dos Veiradeiros

Today was the marquee day of the trip: hiking in Chapada Dos Veiradeiros National Park, the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park contains some of the oldest rocks in the world – over 1.5 billion years old. Additionally, there are numerous waterfalls and swimming holes to explore. 

The park is located 1 kilometer from Sao Jorge, so I walked over from my hostel and eventually reached the visitor center. Before entering the park, I had to sign a form and watch a safety video. 

I was then given the option of two hiking trails. The yellow trail went to Saltos (Portuguese for waterfall) and was 12.5 kilometers roundtrip, while the red went to Cachoerias (another Portuguese word for waterfall) and was 10.5 kilometers roundtrip. For no good reason, I opted for the yellow trail and decided to also do the red trail if I had the time. 

The route started with an hour of downhill hiking through the chapparal landscape. As I neared the Rio Preto, the landscape got lusher. Eventually, I headed down a long series of stairs to reach the granddaddy of them all: the 120-meter-tall Salto 120 (super creative names here). Despite the boring name, the twin falls plunging into the green canyon were spectacular. 

Slightly upriver, I reached the 80-meter-tall Salto 80. I was able to swim in the pool beneath this one. The falls were so powerful that they created a mist around the base. 

Continuing up the river, I reached a windy waterfall/rapids combo called Carrossel. After walking down a steep series of staircases, I was able to swim in a pool in the middle of this chaos. 

Finally, I reached a calm section of the river called Corredeiras. Here, I was able to swim with hundreds of tiny fish while staring out into the untouched wilderness. This was my favorite swimming spot of the day because you really got a feel for the remoteness of the park. 

By the time I returned to the visitor center, it was approximately 12:30. Since the park was open until 17:00 and I had nothing better to do today, I decided to also hike the red trail. But first, I refilled my 1.5L bottle of water. 

The red trail was much flatter than the yellow, which I welcomed because it was 29 C out. 2 kilometers in, I had to cross a rickety bridge.

4 kilometers in, the trail split with a waterfall 800 meters away both right and left. I started with the right, which turned out to be a dud. However, the falls to the left were the most spectacular. It was really an 11-in-1 waterfall!

The waterfall continued around the rock to the right

By the time I returned to visitor center, my legs were shot. I had walked over 25 kilometers! 

Back in town, I stopped for an açai bowl. The place also to combine the açai with crème de cupuaçu, another tropical fruit! 

For dinner, I ate a moqueca, a Bahian stew with roots in Angola. This particular one was made with a tiny kumquat-like fruit called pequi, which has strong significance for the indigenous people. This was a unique dish, and I really enjoyed it.

The combination of the heavy dinner and the exercise put me to sleep very quickly. 

August 2, 2023: The Final Sites

Today was my travel day back to Brasilia. But before leaving, I had a couple more waterfalls to visit outside the park. 

My main stop in the morning was Cachoeira de São Bento. The owners of this tiny waterfall also own two larger ones but to reach them I had to drive 15 minutes down a dirt road. The best one, Cachoeria Almecegas I, involved a 10-minute hike. Despite having seen many other waterfalls on this trip, Cachoeria Almecegas was worth the effort, because this waterfall was both huge and beautiful with its many sub-falls. 

I also was able to walk to the bottom. 

My final stop in the region was for lunch. The options on the road back to Brasilia were thin, but I was able to find a place specializing in pamonhas, which are basically Brazilian tamales. Paired with a tropical juice, it was the perfect light lunch. 

Eventually, I crossed back into the Federal District, and I was ready to explore Brasilia. 

Final Thoughts:

Chapada Dos Veiradeiros is constantly ranked as one of Brazil´s top ecotourism destinations and I concur. While not the tropical jungle most foreigners expect to see, the Chapada has beautiful waterfalls, swimming holes and rock formations. The wide-open remoteness adds to the allure.  The place reminded me of Havasupai in Arizona, USA: 

The towns of Alto Paraiso and especially Sao Jorge have an enchanting atmosphere yet did not feel tacky. Sao Jorge still had the “village” feel despite the numerous vibe-y pousadas and AirBNBs.  

3 days in the perfect amount of time to spend in the Chapada. This is mainly because you cannot enter the National Park after 12:00, meaning you can´t visit the day you arrive from Brasilia and you probably don´t want to drive all the way back to Brasilia after hiking in the park because you will likely have to drive in the dark. 

That said, the surrounding waterfalls and swimming holes are also beautiful and worth visiting during the transit days. Any more time than 3-4 days and I think you will get bored (unless you are doing some crystal magic), as one can only visit so many waterfalls. 

I believe that Chapada dos Veiradeiros is worthy of its UNESCO designation and worthy of your visit. 


2 responses to “Chapada Do Veiradeiros”

  1. […] 3 days of exploring the waterfalls of Chapada dos Veiradeiros National Park in the state of Goias, I returned to the Distrito Federal to wrap up my trip in […]

  2. […] that the cheapest flight was from Brasilia. Rather than spend 4 days in the city, I embarked on a 3-day road trip to Chapada Dos Veiradeiros and on the way back visited the Vale do Amanhecer […]

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