Around 500 years ago, pioneers in search of riches began to explore the deep interior of the biggest country in South America and escaped slaves founded their free communities here too. Nowadays the routes they plotted lead us to stunning landscapes.
The history of the highland plateau known as Chapada dos Veadeiros is one of trails; the routes taken by the bandeirantes, the fortune-hunting explorers of the Brazilian interior between the 16th and 17th centuries, by the black kalungas who formed Brazil’s largest quilombola community (slaves who escaped and founded their own communities) and by quartz prospectors. More recently, in the mid-1950s, a wave of spiritualism would attract esoterics, hippies and ufologists.
However, that was when this destination 220 kilometres north of Brasília was a second home only to those travellers willing to brave wild camping with icy baths, improvised meals and too many mosquitoes. In recent years the region has gained boutique hotels, elaborate cuisine and adventure activities within the reach of everyone. “The Chapada has already seen several phases with different visitor profiles and until the 2000s it was focussed on mysticism. But it soon began to move into ecotourism and adventure tourism thanks to its irregular geography”, explains Ion David Zarantonelli, owner of Travessia, a pioneering agency for adventure tourism in the Chapada since 1997. The mysticism of therapeutic experiences has made way for feet-on-the ground tourism in a state which, according to the research of the Brazilian Ministry of Tourism, is amongst the most sought after.
This journey takes place on high plateaus with 180-metre high waterfalls and new trails leading to forgotten natural attractions, in a tourist region consisting of five municipalities: Alto Paraíso de Goiás, Cavalcante, Teresina de Goiás, São João d’Aliança and Colinas do Sul.
When Marcello Clacino, owner of Bellatriz (a Private Natural Heritage Reserve), accompanied the team that made the official measurement of Cachoeira do Label, it was believed to be a 120-metre waterfall. But when they abseiled down, the ropes weren’t long enough to reach the bottom. Reopened to the public in 2019, Label is considered one of the six biggest waterfalls you can visit in Brazil: 187 metres high, inside the Bellatriz Canyon. “Because it’s hidden at a strategic point in the Serra Geral do Paranã, the area was preserved, remaining practically untouched”, explains Marcello. Nowadays, a 1.8-kilometre trail leads you to the foot of the waterfall, passing by five wells for bathing, centuries-old trees and experimental lychee and coconut plantations. The cerrado, which neighbours Amazónia at Planalto Central, is known as the “cradle of water”, because its underground reserves supply the continent’s river basins. Considered the Brazilian savannah and one of the planet’s most biodiverse regions, this biome reveals itself in valleys, fields and clearwater rivers. But it also hides itself.
The Couros Waterfalls have already made a name for themselves and the most well-known trek follows the Couros river in Alto Paraíso de Goiás, the capital of Chapada do Veadeiros. New, however, is a 1.2-kilometre trail with several hidden stretches, from which you can enjoy exclusive views of this monumental series of waterfalls. Getting there is no easy task. 53 kilometres from Alto Paraíso, 32 of which are on dirt roads, in addition to a demanding walk to this viewpoint which is still only visited by the few intrepid explorers prepared to walk through rocky, cliff-edge terrain.
The journey through north-eastern Goiás continues via old prospectors’ routes, whose mineral exploration reached a peak in the 1940s. They say that the region sits on top of a quartz plate of around four thousand square metres. The most sought-after area of this destination became massive.
Surprises and surprises
Last year, the Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Veadeiros was extended so that it grew to almost four times its original size. Today this protected area consists of more than 240 thousand hectares. “Before the Park was created, more quartz was extracted here than anywhere else on the Chapada dos Veadeiros and there were more than one thousand prospectors searching for crystals”, explains the guide Manuel Pacheco, in Baixa dos Veadeiros. For him the region was something of a Serra Pelada, the historical region in Pará that became known as the biggest open-air mine in the world due to its abundance of precious metals. A UNESCO Natural Heritage site, this national park established in 1961 at the edge of Vila de São Jorge is famous for Saltos I and II on the Preto river, two powerful waterfalls measuring 120 and 80 metres which can be seen by making a tough 10-kilometre round trip. And just when we thought there was no more chapada to see (a chapada is a flat-topped ridge on an elevation) Veadeiros manages to come up with another attraction.
Since last year the national park has had wooden viewpoints which blend into the rocky backdrop of the Preto river, where suspended walkways allow us to float above the edges of a canyon of choppy waters. It’s all rustic trails, with enclosed paths and security for visitors. Known as the Carousel Trail, this 4.5-kilometre walk got its name due to the circular route of the watercourses that form the waterfalls. From certain viewpoints, the waterfalls seem to veer to one of the sides of the river, giving the impression of being crooked.
So that visitors can watch the daybreak or witness an orangey sky turning into a sea of stars in the evening, the park is also home to observation points looking out over an opening which splits the Serra da Baleia, with panoramic views of the Morro do Buração, in front of the Jardim de Maytrea. On a plateau on the Morro da Baleia, the chapada can be seen, silent, above the short scrub and moriche palms of the cerrado.
On the road
Whatever the pace of your trip, the road which connects Vila de São Jorge to Alto Paraíso de Goiás (the main city of Chapada do Veadeiros) will become one of the most familiar backdrops. With a bike path and situated on the edge of the national park, it provides access to some of the most sought-after attractions in the region, such as: Vale da Lua, whose scenery of strange rock formations needs no explanation; the Fazenda São Bento, location of the waterfalls Almécegas I and II, as well as being the starting point of the exhilarating 850-metre-long zipline over Chapada dos Veadeiros, 100 metres up in the air; and the popular sunset in the Jardim de Maytrea, the much-visited mystical portal. But it’s Waldomiro’s roadside food that takes us to other dimensions. His ranch became famous for its matula, a series of hearty dishes with rice, bean tutu, cassava, salad and the traditional carne de lata (tinned meat), the food-preserving technique from pre-electricity days. This tender meat, as his day Hortênsia tells us, is the result of four hours of cooking.
90 kilometres from Alto Paraíso, in former quilombolas land, is another popular Chapada destination: the municipality of Cavalcante. It’s one of those more discreet places, which is less trendy and ideal for couples and families, and far from the mysticism of other parts of the Chapada. Just over 60 kilometres from the urban area of the city lies the Complexo do Prata, a series of wells and waterfalls. It’s difficult to believe your eyes: there’s Rei do Prata, a powerful waterfall that passes through a canyon before arriving at a natural, crystal-clear pool, and Rainha do Prata which falls in steps and forms a well which is difficult to reach. “Just on the Prata river, about 12 waterfalls are catalogued, of which seven are accessible, from about 14 kilometres of trails”, guide Rodrigo Batista Neves informs us. The others are like everything tends to be in Chapada dos Veadeiros: beautiful and contemplative.
text and photos Eduardo Vessoni
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