Hiking in Brazil: getting off the beaten path in Chapada Diamantina

When my boyfriend Fernando first suggested that we visit Chapada Diamantina, I didn’t know what to think since I’d never even heard of the place. A quick Google search later, I was convinced. If you like to be surrounded by nature, want to get off the beaten path and do some hiking in Brazil, then Chapada Diamantina National Park is a no-brainer!

In this article, I’ll share my experience of hiking to two jaw-dropping waterfalls – Cachoeira do Mixila and Cachoeira da Fumacinha. For more things to do in Chapada Diamantina National Park, check out my article on Lençóis, Pratinha and Pai Inacio.

Chapada Diamantina, which translates into Diamond Highlands, is located in the state of Bahia, roughly 400 km from the city of Salvador and is considered one of the best places for hiking in Brazil. And it’s easy to see why – the landscape with the spectacular canyons, high plains, rivers, caves, rock formations and hidden waterfalls is out of this world!

Check out our video below where we take you through our journeys to the stunning Cachoeira do Mixila and Cachoeira da Fumacinha waterfalls, Pai Inacio mountain and Pratinha cave:

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How many days do you need for Chapada Diamantina?

Since the park is enormous (152,000 hectares), you’d need several weeks to visit all the cool spots and hike all the trails. However, after you’ve seen 10 waterfalls, I’d say it becomes a bit repetitive so I wouldn’t recommend trying to see everything the national park has to offer. To do a couple of hikes and visit the main attractions in Chapada Diamantina, I recommend staying for four to eight days.

We spent four full days in the area, during which we did two quite challenging but incredibly beautiful hikes to Cachoeira da Fumacinha and Cachoeira do Mixila waterfalls and short road trips to Pratinha caves and Pai Inacio mountain.

Where to stay in Chapada Diamantina?

There’s a handful of small towns near the park where you can stay between your hikes and find tour agencies offering excursions around the area. The largest town is Lençóis, a charming old mining town with cobblestone streets and colorful colonial architecture.

If you’re planning to hike to Cachoeira do Mixila waterfall and visit Pratinha and Pai Inacio, Lençóis should be your base.

About 140 km south of Lençóis is the smaller Mucugê town, which is the closest town to the Cachoeira da Fumacinha waterfall hike.

Pocao waterfall, a small cascading waterfall in Chapada Diamantina National Park in northeastern Brazil
Poção waterfall (a part of the hike to Cachoeira do Mixila waterfall)

Fun fact: Chapada Diamantina got its name due to the diamonds found in the region which attracted a lot of treasure hunters back in the 1840s. The mining continued all the way until the 1990s when the mines were finally closed by environmental agencies, and tourism became the main source of income for the region.

Do I need a guide for hiking in Chapada Diamantina?

I strongly recommend hiring a guide for the more advanced hikes in Chapada Diamantina. The trails that we hiked had no signs or markings and there was no cell service in most parts of the park so getting lost is highly likely if you’re not familiar with the trail.

The guides know exactly where the best spots for photos or for swimming are, where to find clean water for drinking, which rocks you should step on and which ones not, what to do if there’s a snake in the middle of the trail etc.

Cachoeira do Mixila hike in Chapada Diamantina

The Cachoeira do Mixila waterfall trail takes at least two days and is quite a challenging one but the breathtaking nature you’ll see makes all the hiking and sweating worthwhile!

We hiked this trail in the summer (February) when the temperatures were around 30 degrees Celsius, which was one of the main reasons why we found this hike so strenuous. I imagine that it’s much easier during the winter season with cooler temperatures. However, since winter is also the dry season in that area, there’s a chance the waterfalls have dried up.

a girl looking at Cachoeira do Mixila waterfall in Chapada Diamantina National Park, one of the best places for hiking in Brazil
As the Cachoeira do Mixila waterfall is so hidden and difficult to access, it was only discovered in 2004.

Our guide for this hike was a local guy called Lucas whom we hired through Zen Tur agency. He was very competent, familiar with the trails and knew how to prepare some pretty nice meals while out in nature! The price we paid for the two-day hike including tents and food was 600 Reais (95 euros) per person.

On day 1, we were picked up in the center of Lençóis by a 4×4 car that drove us along some bumpy roads and through small rivers to the starting point of our hike. The first part of the trail consisted of a steep walk up a rocky hill, with very little shade from the blazing Brazilian sun (remember to wear sunscreen!).

Soon we reached Poção waterfall – quite a small but pretty one. We jumped in and swam right under the refreshing waterfall to get a nice hydro massage. You can imagine how great that felt after hiking for a couple of hours in 30+ degrees!

After the dip, we set up our tents on the river bank on top of Poção waterfall and had some lunch before heading to the furthermost point of the hike – Cachoeira do Mixila waterfall. Note that this part of the hike involves swimming through several pools of water, so you’d have to leave your bags to the camp and only carry the essentials like a bottle of water and a waterproof camera (or bring a non-waterproof camera inside a waterproof bag like we did).

Over the next two hours, we walked along the river, jumped from rock to rock, climbed over bigger rocks and crossed places that looked impossible to cross while the canyon around us was getting narrower and the river banks smaller. Finally, we arrived at a section where it was time to drop our shoes since the only way forward was to swim along the river through pools of water!

NB: In order to reach Cachoeira do Mixila waterfall, you must be able to swim at least 50 meters at a time.

Hikers swimming through a river inside a narrow canyon in Brazil
The “trail” along the river

Once we made our way through the pools, we were rewarded with magnificent views of Cachoeira do Mixila waterfall – a seriously goosebump-inducing moment that I’ll never forget. The green moss-covered canyon walls and the bright dreamy waterfall in the middle of it created such a magical scenery. It was easy to see why it’s considered one of the best places for hiking in Brazil. If only our camera could capture the full beauty of it!

Cachoeira do Mixila waterfall in Chapada Diamantina, the best hiking destination in Brazil
A rocky canyon with a waterfall and moss-covered walls in Chapada Diamantina, a top destination for hiking in Brazil

When we were done admiring this surreal place, we hiked back to the camp, where our guide Lucas prepared a delicious Brazilian dinner. We enjoyed our meal on a rocky river bank while gazing at the stars and listening to the sound of the river.

Pots and pans on top of a bonfire in a campsite kitchen at night
Our campsite “kitchen” – the dinner consisted of rice, beans, chicken and pumpkin

On day 2, we packed up the camp and started heading back. On the way, Lucas took us to another waterfall called Capivari (not to be confused with Capivara waterfall).

In order to reach the bottom of Capivari waterfall and go for a refreshing swim, we needed to walk/climb down a very steep and slippery hillside (and climb back up again afterwards). Luckily, there were lots of roots and plants to hold onto while climbing. At the bottom of the waterfall there was a spring water source where we could finally fill our bottles with fresh clean water.

Two more hours of hiking, and we were back at the starting point where a car picked us up and drove us back to Lençóis.

Two people sitting under Capivari waterfall in Chapada Diamantina, the best spot for hiking in Brazil
Capivari waterfall

Packing list for the Cachoeira do Mixila waterfall hike

  • Tent, mat, sleeping bag – bring your own or rent from a tour company
  • Hiking shoes or sneakers
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Waterproof bag
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Toilet paper
  • 1.5 liters of water
  • A bag for your trash
  • Long sleeves & pants for the evening
  • Bikini/swimming shorts
  • Flip flops for the evening (optional)
  • Microfiber towel (optional)
  • Flashlight (optional)
  • The obvious stuff: clean socks/underwear, another set of clothes for day 2, toothbrush+toothpaste, camera

Cachoeira da Fumacinha waterfall hike in Chapada Diamantina

For our next hike, we drove to Mucugê – an old diamond miners’ town and a good place to stay overnight before starting the hike to Cachoeira da Fumacinha waterfall, the highlight of my Brazil trip!

Just as Cachoeira do Mixila, the Cachoeira da Fumacinha waterfall hike is a difficult one and being in good shape is a prerequisite. It is roughly 18 km in total and took us 8.5 hours to complete including several breaks for swimming, snacking and taking photos. It’s a shorter trail than Cachoeira do Mixila but it’s quite technical and requires you to stay alert as you’ll be climbing over rocks in the middle of a river almost throughout the entire hike.

On the trail we met snakes, lizards, and a super friendly dog that hiked with us all the way to the waterfall! According to our guide Luciano (whom you can contact here), this dog lives alone in the jungle on the river bank and always greets the hikers.

a snake relaxing on a rock in a national park in Brazil
In the exact spot that we needed to cross, there was a snake sunbathing on the rocks. Luckily, our guide scared it away to clear the path for us. Another reason to hire a guide!

Some parts of the hike are rather tricky as you need to climb along very narrow cliffs on the side of the river which form the canyon. One wrong step and you’ll fall off the cliff! This wouldn’t be too big of a deal though since you’d fall into the river just a meter below you. 😉 This happened to one of the people in our group and nothing serious happened, he just got soaked.

A narrow canyon surrounding the Cachoeira da Fumacinha waterfall in Chapada Diamantina National Park

Once you reach the end of the trail, you’ll be left speechless and understand why it’s one of the best areas for hiking in Brazil.

This place is like a scene from a fantasy movie. Between its mysterious mossy walls, the narrow canyon hides a 100-meter waterfall gently shimmering in the sunlight and a huge natural pool where you can cool down after the hike. A surreal experience!

To get under the waterfall, you’d need to swim roughly 50 meters. The water is a bit chilly and there are a lot of bats (and bat shit) at the very end of the canyon but I still recommend swimming all the way there to see the canyon from a different perspective.

Cachoeira da Fumacinha waterfall in Chapada Diamantina, a must-visit destination if you want to do some hiking in Brazil
a piece of paradise in this hidden canyon
Three people standing next to Cachoeira da Fumacinha waterfall surrounded by a dark canyon

After having lunch in the ridiculously picturesque surroundings, we started heading back. On the way, we made a pit stop at another smaller waterfall suitable for cliff jumping. Our hike ended with a visit to our guide’s neighbor’s place who made us fresh sugarcane juice which tasted awesome!

Since our guide Luciano also offered accommodation at his cozy countryside house we spent the night there. We had a really nice stay at his place and got to enjoy delicious home-cooked Brazilian dishes made by his wife while their two adorable kids kept us entertained.

a plate full of classic Brazilian food such as rice, beans, farofa and escondidinho
Rice, beans, farofa, kale, salad and escondidinho – tasted amazing!

This was one of the coolest hikes I’ve ever done and it’s surely one of the best trails for hiking in Brazil. What made the experience even more special was the fact that we didn’t meet a single person during the hike. I guess the difficulty of reaching Cachoeira da Fumacinha waterfall is the reason only a few people go there.

Also, I was really impressed by the fact that I didn’t see a single piece of trash on the trail or any sign of human presence whatsoever. Let’s try to keep it this way! This means that you should bring all your trash from the hike with you (including used toilet paper).

Tips for hiking in Brazil’s Chapada Diamantina National Park

  • Hiking shoes are recommended but we did these hikes in sneakers without any problems.
  • For the Cachoeira do Mixila waterfall hike, you need to carry your own tent, mat, sleeping bag (which you can rent from the tour company), and minimum 1.5 liters of water per person, so bring a large enough backpack (or a boyfriend/girlfriend who’s willing to carry some of your stuff).
  • Cachoeira do Mixila and Cachoeira da Fumacinha are advanced level hikes so in order to be able to enjoy them and not injure yourself, I recommend training for it. Running, uphill walking, squats, ankle and hip mobility exercises all are a good idea!
  • There are no shops or restaurants on these trails so you won’t be able to buy any fresh water. The guides say that the water in the rivers is safe to drink and I saw several people doing it. However, I also saw some tiny insects/worms/microorganisms floating in there, so I was quite reluctant to drink it. (At one point though, I ran out of fresh water, so I had no other option to drink the water from the river but I decided to boil it first.)
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses to prevent bugs, branches, leaves and dust from getting into your eyes or hair, and to protect you from the merciless sun.
  • If you choose to wear shorts, your legs will be scratched by plants, branches and rocks. If you choose long pants, you’ll be safe from the scratches but probably feel really hot (unless you visit the park in the colder season). Choose whatever is more tolerable for you.
  • If the idea of sleeping in the nature with no toilet or shower nearby makes you anxious, read this super useful article on how to stay clean while camping.

Hiking in Brazil’s Chapada Diamantina – final thoughts

If you’re wondering where to go hiking in Brazil, Chapada Diamantina National Park with its dozens of trails through mind-blowing landscapes is the ideal place for that. There are options with varying difficulty levels, but if you’re an avid hiker, I can highly recommend Cachoeira do Mixila and Cachoeira da Fumacinha hikes. I still get goosebumps by thinking back at these spectacular waterfalls!

Have you ever done any hiking in Brazil? Which other areas can you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

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A Pinterest pin with images of waterfalls and a text overlay stating 'Chapada Diamantina National Park, Brazil'.


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