Hold your breath, I will inspire you to take this great adventure in the heart of Brazil.
Have you heard of Jalapão - a hidden gem in Brazil? Don't feel bad if you answer no. Most Brazilians have also never heard of this paradise for nature and adventure lovers located in the heart of Brazil
Brazil is a vast and wonderful country with so many natural beauties to be explored. We fall in love with every corner we visit. Besides beaches and bustling cities, there are also places where calm and nature prevail, such as Jalapão.
Here you can find dunes of the finest orange sand, crystal clear rivers, waterfalls, lagoons, mountains with rocky formations, dry land, and even golden grass. Yes, grass with a golden color!
Jalapão is a beautiful blend of the American Grand Canyon, the African Savannas, the Sahara Desert and the Brazilian Northeastern Beaches. A mirage in the desert of Tocantins state!
Embark on this adventure with me and get to know the main highlights of this magical place!
But, where is Jalapão?
The State Park of Jalapão occupies an area of 34,000 km2 and is one of the newest travel destinations in Brazil for those who love adventure and nature.
This remote region in the north-central state of Tocantins is larger than Maryland and virtually empty of humans (it has fewer than one inhabitant per square kilometer). In fact, it's called a desert for this very reason.
Despite difficult access, the Jalapão still maintains its original beauty and many Unities of Conservation with sustainable tourism.
What is Jalapão, and BTW...How do I pronounce it?
As a matter of curiosity, the name Jalapão comes from a native plant found in the region, named jalapa, which has been used for medicinal purposes by the local people since they settled there.
The tuber of this plant was, and is to this day, cut into cubes and tanned in cachaça (the strong Brazilian liquor). The cowboys crossing the region asked for a jalapa (normal dose) or a jalapão (double dose).
Now you can click here to learn how to say Jalapão.
How do I get to Jalapão?
The first step is to decide how to get there, as traveling through Jalapão can be a bit tricky.
The roads that connect the main attractions are rough and require, a skilled driver and a 4×4 vehicle.
For this reason, many people choose to do this itinerary with local agencies, and there are great ones all over the region who organize the expeditions according to your needs. If this is your choice, you will need to take a flight to Palmas, where your local guide will be waiting for you.
My itinerary took 6 days, following a route known as the 360º or the circle.
If you choose to tackle the road on your own, keep in mind that the sandy soil (soft in the dry, muddy in the rain) makes the trip recommended only for 4x4 vehicles.
Now, time to review some of the highlights of this paradise, are you ready?
Japanese Lagoon (Lagoa do Japonês)
This lagoon has crystal clear fresh water, but the big surprise attraction is its beautiful cave. You can go swimming or boating. It is heavenly!
Hole Rock (Pedra Furada)
Near the city of Ponte Alta do Tocantins, known as the gateway to Jalapão, is the entrance to Pedra Furada.
The site has a sandstone massif that was carved by the wind, water and weather thousands of years ago.
The climb is easy and the place is perfect to enjoy every second of the spectacular sunset and the immensity of Jalapão.
Sussuapara Canyon (Canion Sussuapara)
This canyon is formed by a narrow slit of damp walls. The vegetation forms a curtain above, with the water dripping all the time. The various plants, especially ferns and mosses, give the place a wild air.
The floor is made of stones and sand that sometimes form small pools of cold, crystalline water.
Old Lady Waterfall (Cachoeira da Velha)
Old Lady Waterfall is the largest falls in the entire region and is one of the main attractions within Jalapão State Park.
It is formed by the waters of Rio Novo, one of the largest drinking water rivers in the world. It is a real sight for tourists, who can get close by walking on the wooden observation platform.
Swimming is not allowed due to the force of the water. Now, if you want to see it all the way and enjoy it more intensely, I recommend going rafting, which reaches the base of the falls.
The Rio Novo rapids are ideal for rafting and canoeing, with rapids that can reach class 4. The rafting needs to be scheduled with Novaventura, the only company operating in Jalapão. The cost is around $50 and they also offer other options for rafting in Jalapão besides the Rio Novo Waterfall.
Jalapão Dunes is an oasis in the middle of the savannah and has intense golden sand formations.
The set of dunes, which are 15 to 20 meters high, is formed due to the erosion of sandstone rocks that form the Serra do Espírito Santo, which together with the action of the wind and other factors always deposit in the same place, giving rise the only dune formation in the Brazilian Cerrado.
It is very important to respect the rules of the State Park. There are inspectors at the top of the dunes and they can fine visitors who, for example, throw themselves down the dune wall where access is not allowed.
Enjoy the beauty of the place, but also remember to be ethical and preserve it.
Holy Spirit Mountain (Serra do Espírito Santo)
The mountain, located next to the Jalapão Dunes, is a vibrant ecosystem.
It offers a stunning and privileged view to those who meet the challenge of climbing the trail and reaching the top. The trail takes an average of 50 minutes to the first lookout and another 30 minutes to the second. The best time to go up is around 4 am to watch the sunrise.
Also, in this region you can find many other mountains and hills that offer low-to-high intensity trails. Don't miss the opportunity to go trekking in the midst of such beauty.
The Boiler (Fervedouro)
Everyone's reaction when they first enter this boiler is always the same: LOL... it happens because you might even try but you won't sink, which causes the visitors to feel incredulous.
Formed by transparent water springs resurfacing from the water table that give rise to a natural pool with a few meters in diameter of bubbling waters, sparkling on the fine white sand of the bottom. In Jalapão there are about 20 boilers of various sizes, shapes, water colors and fluctuation intensity.
Each boiler has a specific capacity for visitors, allowing between four and ten people to swim at the same time. Because visitation capacity is low, it is best to escape peak hours from agencies with large groups. The ideal is to arrive early or late afternoon.
There are some important rules to follow when visiting, including: Do not step on the edge of the well and avoid using repellent and sunscreen while diving. So once again: let's be ethical and respect the environment!
Essentials of what to pack for Jalapão
- Camera and underwater camera (with accessories)
- Water shoes
- Hiking shoes
- Diving mask (to see bottom and fish from the boilers and waterfalls)
- Sunscreen & Insect repellent
- Waterproof jacket
- Backpack (avoid wheeled bags or rigid bags)
- Light clothes – shorts, t-shirts, tank top, summer dress…
- Hat and sunglasses
- External battery charger
- Waterproof bag
Where to stay
The inns of Jalapão are usually near the main cities, such as Ponte Alta do Tocantins, Mateiros and São Félix do Tocantins.
For those traveling with a travel agency, there is not much to choose from. The package will already be assembled and the inns already contracted.
To visit the main attractions of Jalapão, the ideal is to divide the lodging between the base cities mentioned above and make the circular route. This way you will be closer to the attractions and will not waste unnecessary hours traveling and will spend too much time on the difficult roads of Jalapão.
Best time of the year to visit
There is a rainy season, which occurs in January, February and March, however, as it is a region located in the north of Brazil, usually only rain showers occur.
Jalapão is a warm region all year round. In the morning, the temperature varies from 85ºF to 95ºF and the nights are cold, the temperature varies from 55 to 25ºF
In summary, Jalapão is one of the most inhospitable places in Brazil, and also one of the most beautiful.
It is a unique destination for ecotourism lovers, ready to reveal stunning experiences. As you travel along the dirt roads, you can't imagine the beauties lurking around the corner. The dry and unbearably hot savannah gives way to the verdant green pastures, mysterious boils, dunes and hills, waterfalls and crystalline rivers.
This destination is ideal for those who enjoy contact with nature and for those who are ready to face all the richness that this region has to offer.
If you are a nature lover and are looking for a perfect destination away from the crowds, include Jalapão on your list before more people find this hidden gem in Brazil!
Planning a trip to Brazil? Check out my complete Brazil Travel Guide
Paula wants to know
What questions do you have about Brazil? What have you heard? If you have been to Brazil, I would love to hear your experience.