The main purpose of my trip had been to go the Pantanal and see some animals, but given I was bussing it back to Rio de Janeiro, I’d looked into places to stop by on the way, as I had a few weeks to burn. Chapada dos Veadeiros, located in the state of Goiás, about three hours from Brasilia and famous for its abundance of waterfalls, had cropped up rather frequently, and when I’d asked other travelling Brazilians what they thought of it, those that had been wholeheartedly recommended it. It is allegedly located above sacred earth, hence why lots of people make spiritual trips to the region to find peace within themselves.
So, after a whirlwind tour of Brasilia, I jumped on a late bus to Alto Paraíso de Goiás which took three hours and cost me 50 Reais. I arrived at around 12.30am at the small bus station and set off in search of the hostel I’d booked. Unfortunately, due to the fact the town is located in the mountains, I wasn’t getting much phone signal to GPS my way there, and when I did get some, it sent me on something of a trek far away from where I needed to be, constantly crossing paths with stray barking dogs and a circles of chanting hippies.
After asking a few people, I eventually found my way to Buddy’s Hostel, woke the owner up and settled down to sleep shortly after. The hostel is quite charming, with lots of outdoor space, including hammocks and huts, and costs 48 Reais per night. Although breakfast isn’t included, on the days I was there the owners decided to put it on because it was a bank holiday weekend. Talking of whom, they were very welcoming, smiley and chatty and create a nice environment at their establishment. On my first morning there, I’d slept a little late- 8 o’clock, but Aldemar, one of the owners, arranged for two couples from Brasilia and I to car-share to the waterfalls, something that worked out exceptionally well.
We had a good chat in the car on the way there and once again, despite the obvious questions about me and my background popping up, I was able to have everyday conversations and they treated me like one of their own, so I felt rather at ease. They were all avid travellers, and as you do, I picked up some travel trips from there and have now added a few places to my to-do list in Brazil.
After an hour’s drive we got to Rio dos Couros, which is free to enter and has three waterfalls. To get to the first one you need to walk about half an hour down a dusty path, and from there you can follow the river down and see the others. In order to see the second I had to climb down a kind of precarious rock face but it was nothing too risky. I saw the third from above and no one was down below so I figured that much as I crave adventure, I’d not attempt to descend any more. I later heard that you needed a guide to get there. Whether the point at which I’d arrived was the furthest you can go, and is a spot from where you merely see the third waterfall, rather than bathe in it, I don’t know.
The waterfalls are indeed spectacular to look at and refreshing to bathe in, and if you get right under the water, it’s an amazing massage experience for your back and shoulders. Though be careful not to put your body under the water too close to the surface, as the water can beat down really heavily and smash your hand or head against the rocks if you are in shallow water. We then went further upstream to have a dip in what could be described as a natural swimming pool, with a weak current running through. The water is crystal clear, and I borrowed some snorkel goggles to get a good look underwater, and was surprised that at various points it gets rather deep.
After spending time at the waterfalls, we went for lunch and paid 25 Reais for all-you-can-eat lunch, which was simple, but hearty, and I particularly enjoyed the stewed pumpkin. Back at the hostel and I learned how to properly slice a pineapple and had an interesting English-Portuguese-Spanish conversation with the Aldemar, who’d spent some time living in both the UK and Spain and also loved languages.
In the region there is not much to do apart from see waterfalls, so the next day we went to see another set, namely Almécegas 1 and 2 and São Bento. On this occasion we paid 20 Reais to enter, but only after the Brazilians had blagged the price down from 30. The first waterfall wasn’t as spectacular as Couros from the previous day, but there was more of a space to swim in and the setting was greener and more enclosed.
As it happened I got what I was wishing for, as a man sitting on the edge of the water shouted at a man to stop in his tracks. The reasons being the presence of what everyone seemed to reckon was a very poisonous snake, about a metre long, 10cm thick, all black with a white belly. I couldn’t tell you what species it was, certainly not an anaconda, but it seemed rather irked and had its head raised and bobbing about. I got close enough to have a look before it suddenly slunk into the water.
Unfortunately where I was there was no way of climbing out of the pool, and so I had to swim past where the snake had jumped in. I figured it was best to do this as soon as possible while the snake might still be near the edge, and I stayed as far to the opposite as possible, which was about five metres away. Needless to say, I made it back to land unscathed and happy that I could say I’ve swum with snakes.
At Almécegas 2, it was possible to swim intmo a cavern and crawl your way around the back of the cascading water and sit behind it, hidden away from view. I stayed in the hole for a while before sitting directly under the water and letting it lash my back. The São Bento waterfall was the most aesthetic of the three waterfalls to look at and I spent some time floating around on my back in the natural pool.
After the aquatics, we went to another restaurant at which we paid 35 Reais for a huge amount of food and unlimited access to a range of home-brewed cachaça, Brazil’s national liquor made from sugar cane rum. There were passion fruit, berry and pineapple flavours which were pleasurable and took the alcoholic sting out of the drink, though one called Rabo do Tatu (Armadillo’s Tail) was particularly strong, and I later found out that it was literally that, and not just a creative name. Many cachaças are fermented with animals’ tails it seems.
To finish up we went to Vale da Lua (Moon Valley) where the main attractions weren’t the waterfalls, but the lunar appearance of the rocks in the vicinity. I spent a while sunbathing and wearing off the Tatu Tail before borrowing goggles again and swimming under a waterfall. Unexpectedly, once the water hits the surface, it loses its force and doesn’t push water under the surface, so you get under the waterfall and look up the water smashing against the surface above you. A rather surreal experience.
We checked out some apparent natural thermal spas, but as the prices were steep (20 Reais) and we would only have about an hour to stay there, what with a falling temperature, we sent the girls to investigate how hot the water actually was. They said it was lukewarm so we decided not to enter and headed back to the hostel.
There I went out with a younger crowd from the dorm room I was staying in and we had a few beers and a good chat and banter. I’ve learned from this trip that I can get on with a range of Brazilians, from young backpackers to people on the fringes of the middle classes, and not just people from a working class background, as many of my Rio friends are.
The following day I was going to rent a bike and go for a ride around Alto Paraíso, but I ended up not doing so, as I was offered a lift back with one of the couples who were setting off before midday. I thus forewent the return ticket I’d bought back to Brasilia and headed back with them instead.
From there I took an 18-hour, 250 Reais bus ride back to Rio de Janeiro. The only incident of note was the police coming on board, and checking everyone’s bags and documents. Seeing my foreign passport, one official asked what I was doing and where I’d been, to which I replied ‘Chapada dos Veadeiros’. ‘Oh, in Mato Grosso?’ he said. I corrected him and told him it was in Goiás, which caused a few giggles among passengers. Luckily the police officer smiled and no harm was done.
In conclusion, Alto Paraíso is an excellent base from which to explore the endless number of waterfalls in Chapada dos Veadeiros, though you definitely need a car to get around. I’d recommend staying at Buddy’s as it has a nice atmosphere and is useful for meeting other people to tour with and share petrol costs. One might argue that you could get tired of waterfalls, but I’d have been happy to spend the whole week there exploring every single one of them.
Somewhat off the tourist trail still, so get on it while you can!