Chapada dos Guimarães national park
There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of the Chapada dos Guimarães. I’d been to Brazil several times before anyone told me about this national park. But it’s worth visiting, especially if you plan to visit the Pantanal from the north.
The Pantanal? OK, let’s back up.
You’ve no doubt heard of the Florida Everglades. This is a seasonal wetlands area. OK, it’s actually an extremely slow-flowing river originating at Lake Okeechobee, but let’s not get technical.
But Brazil’s Pantanal is much larger – the world’s largest seasonal wetland in the world, at 54,000-75,000 square miles / 140,000-195,000 YY square kilometers. If by chance you’ve read John Grisham’s novel The Testament, then you have read about the Pantanal, some portions of which are still relatively unexplored, as they are so darn difficult to get to.
The Pantanal is generally accessed either through the town of Bonito in the south (in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul), or the city of Cuiabá in the north (in the state of Mato Grosso). The Chapadas lie near Cuiaba, so if you plan to enter the Pantanal from the north, you should add a day or two in the Chapadas to your itinerary.
In future posts I’ll tell you more about the Pantanal itself. In this post, let’s investigate the Chapadas themselves.
First, chapadas are tablelands, lands of mesas and sheer cliffs. It speaks to the diversity of Brazil’s geography that you can find tablelands like these so close to the Pantanal. Brazil probably conjures up visions of beaches or maybe rainforest (which it of course possesses), but there is a huge amount of geographic and topological diversity in this 5th-largest country on Earth.
I visited the Chapada dos Guimarães just once, and it’s been almost 10 years ago, so I will be a little sketchy on the details. But here is what I recall:
Chapada dos Guimarães happens to be located pretty much smack dab in the middle of South America, equidistant from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It’s located only about 40 miles/65 kilometers from Cuiabá, which has a large airport and is therefore the natural umping-off point. In Cuiabá, you can arrange a tour with a guide; a guide is required to explore the park. You can go ahead and book a tour from the U.S. or wherever you call home, but likely you’ll pay a bit more than if you do so once you’re in Brazil.
Once in the park, be prepared for a lot of walking. Pack light, but be sure to carry a hat, sunscreen, and lots of water. Ask your tour company about food.
Tramping around the Chapada is a bit reminiscent of tramping around the American Southwest, although the Chapada sports many more trees. Still, you feel a bit like a cowboy. In fact, horseback tours are available, if you really want to channel John Wayne.
What I remember most about my day in the Chapadas was entering a huge cave. Doing a quick search online, I believe this was the Aroe Jari cave. Your tour company can surely organize a visit there. The mouth of the cave is quite large, but once inside a little way, no light from outside reaches you. Your guide will probably tease you, as ours did, by extinguishing the light for several seconds. The local indigenous people used to enter the caves and left paintings on the walls.
Although the area is fairly arid, there are many waterfalls in the park, and we stopped for a break at a natural pool below one. It was a welcome refresher after hiking about.
Sorry that I’m sketchy on the details, but the Chapada is well worth the visit if you are a nature-lover and not averse to pulling on a pair of hiking boots. (Actually, sturdy tennis will probably do.) Magnificent vistas. Birds everywhere. You can easily add a loop there onto a visit into the north end of the Pantanal. If you visit the two, you will definitely leave impressed by the range of flora, fauna, and topography in Brazil.
If you’ve visited the Chapada dos Guimarães, please add your comments below to augment my remembrances.
Até mais, guys.