Hold your breath and take a journey to the heart of Brazil, the most hidden gem, and a paradise for nature and adventure lovers. This itinerary to Jalapão will take you to places rarely visited that offer a vast area of wilderness, mixing waterfalls, sand dunes, freshwater springs, and much more.
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 Brasil.
Exotic, untouched, remote, vast, and curious even in the name: Jalapão
Brasil 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!
Visit the section Information to find all you need to know for this perfect 5-day itinerary to explore this paradise and add Jalapão to your bucket list.
WHY GO TO JALAPÃO
Jalapão is the perfect off-the-beaten-path attraction for nature and adventure lovers. This area offers an incredible array of ecosystems and wildlife, and it is a perfect adventure destination for everyone. It is far from touristy and is a great opportunity to see Brazil in a new light. While Jalapão isn’t for the faint of heart, the people that do make the journey will remember it for the rest of their lives. So, leave your telephone at home and enjoy this immersive experience of untouched nature.
JALAPÃO 5-DAY ITINERARY OVERVIEW
Day 1 - Visit the Cathedral Hill/ Swim at Araras Waterfall/ Start to visit the springwater boilers
Day 2 - Start the day soaking in springwater boilers/ Visit a local community/ Formiga Waterfall
Day 3 - Sunrise at Espirito Santo Hill/ relax by more springwater boilers/ sunset at Jalapão Dunes
Day 4 - Rafting at Velha Waterfall/ Swim at Lajeado Waterfall/ Visit the Sussuapara Canyon/ Sunset at Pedra Furada
Day 5 - Adventure day at Japonês Lagoon
In two full days, you can get to know the basics of Jalapão, but it is ideal to reserve at least 4 days to cover more attractions and be a less tiring trip. The more the better, as there will always be a little bit of paradise to know and time to rest in front of so much soft sand.
Who would love this adventure in Brazil? Lovers of wide-open spaces, ecotourism, waterfalls, clean rivers, bird and other wildlife, and the wilds of the Brazilian interior.
Where is Jalapão
Jalapão State Park covers 159 thousand hectares and is one of the newest travel destinations in Brazil for those who love adventure and nature. The State Park has very rich fauna and flora. In addition, when visiting Jalapão, you will be able to learn more about the local culture with traditional communities and to practice sports such as sandboarding, rafting, trails, and cycling.
This remote and isolated region in Brazil, 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, Jalapão still maintains its original beauty and many Unities of Conservation with sustainable tourism.
First of all - What are Fervedouros?
Fervedouros are freshwater boilers, which are very unique to the Jalapão region and you will have the opportunity to visit and float on many of them, and they are one of the highlights of your trip.
Fervedouros are natural water pools over a powerful spring, and even if you try, you won't sink, all you can do is to float. It happens because of the pressure exerted by the water that flows from the water table is able to keep people in constant fluctuation, without any effort. We could compare the phenomenon to the Dead Sea, for example, but it would not be fair, because of the lightness with which floating in Jalapão is incomparable. Feel at ease and sit in the water, literally, to enjoy the moment.
PRO TIPS: Boilers are very sensitive natural phenomena and that is why there are some rules that must be followed, among them: do not step on the edge of the well and avoid the use of repellent and sunscreen. Currently, the boilers are open to the public and there is no regulation for sustainable tourism in the region.
DAY BY DAY ITINERARY | JALAPÃO NATIONAL PARK, BRAZIL
DAY 1 - Visit the Cathedral Hill/ Swim at Araras Waterfall/ Visit some freshwater boilers
CATHEDRAL HILL - Start day 1 of your amazing itinerary to Jalapão, visiting the Serra da Catedral or Cathedral hill. The hill, as the name implies, is shaped like a cathedral and is completely made of sandstone. There are trails that lead to the top, but it takes time (and a guide) to do the hike. The view from the road alone is worth it. A few minutes for photos and contemplation, all on board to proceed to your second stop of the day.
ARARAS WATERFALL - It is a scenic stop on the way, the water is amazingly green.
FRESHWATER BOILERS (FERVEDOURO) - On my day 1 at the National park of Jalapão, I did a couple of fervedouros.
PRO TIPS: There are some important rules to follow when visiting Jalapão, including avoid using repellent and sunscreen while diving. So once again: let's be ethical and respect the environment!
Fervedouro Bela Vista is the most popular and supports up to 10 people at the same time and in high season receives up to 300 people per day! Like the other boilers, if there is a queue, there is a time limit to enjoy: 20 minutes. It is beautiful, surrounded by banana trees, just like the others, and it is really big and impressive. The fountain has 8 springs, its center is 75 meters deep.
DAY 2 - SUNRISE AT HOLY SPIRIT / ADVENTURE DAY AT THE FORMIGA WATERFALL
FRESHWATER BOILERS - A perfect start for your day 2 in Jalapão is to start floating on some fervedouros.
VISIT MUMBUCA VILLAGES: It is a small community descended from escaped slaves known for its handicrafts woven from golden grass that only grows in this region – a technique passed down through generations. Make sure to add the local villages in your itinerary, and also, value and respect the Quilombola communities that live there. Quilombola people have been there for hundreds of years, have a lot of history to tell, culture to teach, and places to show. Remember to support the local communities during your travels.
FORMIGA WATERFALL - Continue your adventure on to the Formiga Waterfall, where emerald green waters tumble over smooth rocks, forming a perfect natural swimming pool shaded by forest. This waterfall cannot be left out of your itinerary, as it is considered one of the 5 most beautiful in Brazil. The color of the water is due to the bottom with limestone sand. In addition, the source is approximately 1.5 meters from the fall, which almost makes it impossible for impurities to get there.
Stop for a home-cooked lunch at another turquoise spring and enjoy the nearby golden beaches on the River Formiga.
DAY 3 - Sunrise at Espirito Santo Hill/ Relax by the springwater boilers/ Sunset at Jalapão Dunes
SUNRISE AT ESPIRITO SANTO HILL - The adventure on your day 3 itinerary in Jalpaão starts really early, for a morning hike to see the sunrise from the top of Espírito Santo Hill, 500 meters high, with views over the surrounding landscape. The view is one of the most emblematic in the region, with the combination of green, orange sand, and many sandstone plateaus and in pyramid shapes. The horizon is far away and the visual area is very wide. Taking great pictures is here is irresistible. The hill, located next to the Jalapão Dunes, is a vibrant ecosystem. It offers a stunning 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.
VISIT SOME FRESHWATER BOILERS - Stop to soak and float on some fervedouros on your way.
SUNSET AT JALAPÃO DUNES - 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.
PRO TIPS: Descending certain areas, sliding, or jumping on the dunes is not allowed, a measure recently taken to protect the area. In addition, flying drones is prohibited. 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.
DAY 4 - Rafiting at Velha Waterfall/ Swim at Lajeado Waterfall/ Visit the Sussuapara Canyon/ Watch the sunset at Pedra Furada
VELHA WATERFALL - Day 4 on your Jalapão itinerary starts taking a hike on the Garcês trail, originally used by local indigenous people to reach their fields. Arrive at Cachoeira da Velha, the largest waterfall in the Jalapão National Park, at 100 meters wide and 15 meters high, for a refreshing dip and time to relax. 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 visitors, who can get close by walking on the wooden observation platform. Eat a picnic lunch on one of the golden sandy beaches that line the River Novo. The most exciting thing, get ready for the adrenaline hit of afternoon rafting on Class IV rapids. The Rio Novo rapids are ideal for rafting and canoeing, with rapids that can reach class 4.
LAJEADO WATERFALL - Located in an area of fragile ecological balance, this waterfall is formed by two arms of water springs that emerge from paths, which soon gain strength and fall down several steps, forming the waterfall. There are walls of clay rock, which are disintegrating. The open path turns to loose sand. In the summer, during the rains, you can get stuck in the middle of the humid and sandy field. It is better to walk about 2.5 km, from the road.
SUSSUAPARA CANYON - This canyon is literally in the middle of nowhere (it is part of a private farm). The stream cuts all the way to the canyon, which is narrow and has a delicate and imposing formation at the same time. The Sussuapara Canyon is formed by moist walls of about 15 meters high, with many ferns, moss, a small waterfall, and small natural pools. The waterfall is even famous for “making wishes come true”. So, enjoy the energy of the place and focus your mind on everything good you want to attract!
PEDRA FURADA - Pedra Furada shows another greatness of nature in Jalapão. The gigantic sandstone rock formation, which was sculpted by the action of winds and rains, is located in the middle of the cerrado and is a postcard of the region. It is visited a lot during the sunset. But the views are absolutely beautiful at any time of the day. Go around and find a place to admire yet another endless horizon of Jalapão. There is also a small trail that leads to the top of the rock, but you need to go with the guide and be careful. 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.
PRO TIPS: The rafting at the Velha Waterfall 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.
DAY 5 - Visit the Japones Lagoon and explore the underwater cave
JAPONES LAGOON (Lagoa do Japones) - Day 5 on your Jalapão itinerary starts very early, waking up at 4 AM and departing your hotel around 4:45. Depending on the route you take, it can take 4 to 6 hours to reach Lagoa do Japones, which is located almost 155 miles (250 km) from Palmas. The roads are very challenging, and there are points where it is very bad, dirt and it takes skill at the wheel!
This lagoon has crystal clear freshwater, but the big surprise attraction is its beautiful cave. You can go swimming or boating. It is heavenly! The lagoon was named after that owner of the property was Japanese. The color of the water is impressive, a green that can hurt your eyes when the midday sun comes. It is full of logs and stone platforms at the bottom, but which are visible even if you are out of the water, due to its transparency.
After diving from there, visit the cave and get ready to be even more surprised. It is on the right side of the lagoon and is accessible by swimming (not far) or by a small trail between the rocks.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP 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.
I am one of those travelers who ALWAYS prefer to travel independently, but in the case of Jalapão, I just want to reinforce that the most convenient way to travel is using a travel agency. 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. Even for someone like me who loves to travel independently and I am from Brazil.
If you still prefer to travel independently, I am also providing all you need to know.
The best way to travel is to carefully plan the trip to be safe. I recommend starting reading my complete Brazil Travel Guide. Also, I recommend buying the Lonely Planet Brazil travel guidebook to help to plan and organize your trip to Brazil.
ARRIVAL IN JALAPÃO
You will need to take a flight to the city of Palmas (Tocantins State) - arrival at the Lysias Rodrigues Airport (PMW). The airport is the closest to the Jalapão State Park, and it receives daily flights from São Paulo, Goiânia, and Brasília. If you come from another destination, you will certainly have to make a stopover on your route.
Once in Palmas, the Jalapão State Park is a six-hour drive away, around 200 miles to reach it. But upon your arrival in Palmas, you will need to rent a 4x4 and have off-road driving skills.
HOW TO DRIVE IN JALAPÃO
The main support cities for those who want to visit Jalapão are: Ponte Alta do Tocantins, Mateiros and São Félix do Tocantins. The three form a circular route that begins and ends in Palmas. The main attractions of Jalapão are among the three cities, especially on TO-130 (Pedra Furada), TO-255 (Sussuapara Canyon, Lajeado Waterfall, Jalapão Dunes, Serra do Espírito Santo, Cachoeira da Velha and Prainha do Rio Novo ) and TO-110 (Cachoeira do Formiga and boilers).
Travel with a travel agency: If you decide to visit Jalapão with a travel agency or private guide you do not have to worry about the location of the attractions since the entire route will be carried out by a private guide and driver
Travel Independently: If you are planning to drive, you will need to rent a 4x4 vehicle in Palmas. Make sure to book in advance, because the rental offer in the city is low and during holidays and weekends, 4x4 vehicles may be sold out. And as the agencies know that driving in Jalapão is not easy, it can happen that the reservation is denied. Remember that traveling on a sand and dirt road takes much longer compared to pavement roads. The distances that would be short on a regular road, may take up to three times more time just in commuting. Be careful not to be late to places, especially those that require time, such as the sunset in the Dunes of the Jalapão State Park.
WHERE TO STAY IN JALAPÃO
Traveling with a travel agency: 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.
Travel Independently: To visit the main attractions of Jalapão, the ideal is to divide the accommodation between the main base cities and make the circular route, with departure and arrival in Palmas. This way you will be closer to the attractions and will not waste unnecessary hours commuting: Palmas, São Felix, Mateiros, Ponte Alta, and Palmas. The inns of Jalapão are usually near the main cities. 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.
TRANSPORTATION IN JALAPÃO
Traveling with a travel agency: You don't need to worry about any bookings, as the package includes pick up from the airport and all the transportation is included.
Traveling independently: There is no public transportation in Jalapão, you will need to rent a 4x4 car. All roads, without exception, are dirt or sand. During the drought, from May to September, the roads are even more challenging. With soft sand, the chances of bogging the vehicle are even greater.
BOOK BEFORE YOU GO
If you decide to visit Jalapão with a group tour, take into account that the groups are small and, on holidays and vacations, fill up in advance. It is important to know that the packages include practically everything from the trip: transfer, accommodation, food, guide, and entrance to attractions. It is up to you to have drinks, separate meals, and one or another tour (like rafting, for example, which is optional).
Services usually include transfers in 4x4 vehicles from Palmas - 152 kilometers from Ponte Alta do the Tocantins, considered the gateway to the park and accessible by a paved road - in addition to walks towards the main attractions, such as the old waterfall, Fervedouro, the Dunes and the Serra do Espírito Santo Viewpoint, all distant from each other and close to the municipality of Mateiros. The packages also include overnight stays in camps with hot baths and meals.
GET TRAVEL INSURANCE
Whatever you go or do during your traveling, don't travel anywhere in the world without travel insurance; the unexpected can, and often does, go wrong.
Be it sickness, losing your bag, theft, or even worse, having an accident, travel insurance is your best way of mitigating the issues and saving yourself thousands of dollars down the track. I recommend reliable travel insurance through World Nomads before your trip to Jalapão, Brazil.
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
BEST TIME TO VISIT JALAPÃO, BRAZIL
Jalapão can be visited all year round. Between May and September, it hardly rains and the sky will be very blue (at least until the burning of the Cerrado begins in mid-September).
To see golden grass in its golden state, visit in September. During the dry season, the days are hot (the closer to September, the hotter) and the nights are cool. In the rainy season, it is less hot during the day, but at night it does not cool.
MORE TIPS BEFORE YOU VISIT JALAPÃO
- Fill up: There is no town, people, or any point between Ponte Alta and Mateiros and between Novo Acordo and São Félix. In other words, you can't get water, food, gasoline, anything. So it is necessary to go carefully and with an extra gallon of fuel.
- Don't drive at night: Avoid driving at night. Due to the degree of difficulty and long distances.
- Distances: Know that the distances between attractions can take 3 times longer than if you were on a paved road.
- Isolation: The Jalapão has one of the lowest population densities in Brazil: less than one inhabitant per square kilometer
- NO SUNSCREEN: Do not use sunscreen and tanning lotion before entering the springwater boilers. The water is pure, it comes from the earth and we can even drink it. If you use products there, in addition to contaminating the well, it spoils the beauty of the place.
- No Cell phone: There is no phone reception or public phones in the region.
- Have money in hand: in Mateiros and São Félix, they practically do not accept credit cards! There is also no ATM available.
- What does Jalapão mean: 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.
- Sunset: Try to watch the sunset every-single-day you are at Jalapão.