Is seven the charm? Last July, a wedding in the family and my Dad’s new book release brought me back to the part of Brazil where I grew up. It had been about seven years since I had last visited the place I called home for 33 years and my list of people to see and things to do had grown much longer than a couple of weeks could possibly accommodate. But I knew I needed to walk again the plateaus of Chapada dos Guimaraes no matter what. I missed the ample views of its savannas and canyons, its rustic flowers and trees with twisted trunks.

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It felt good to be back and the cool weather was helping so it’s no wonder I have a big smile as I set off with a small group of family and friends on the trail to Caverna do Frances (Frenchman’s Cave) and Blue Lagoon (Lagoa Azul).

On the trail to Caverna do Frances and Lagoa Azul

The soil of Chapada dos Guimarães is very sandy. In these photos the gray matter you see is a thin layer of sand hardened due to oxidation. Underneath this layer, white sand lies  protected from erosion. The gaiters are a requirement as a protection against potential snake bites. On a cool day like this, they added welcome warmth.

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Our guide for the day is Elenice, this lovely and spirited woman whose passion for this region is contagious. Elenice’s English is only basic but her husband, Noah, speaks excellent English as well as several other languages. Elenice was introduced to us by my father, John Coningham, a long-term student of Chapada dos Guimaraes, the Pantanal (Brazilian Wetlands) and the Amazon. If you ever need a guide in the area, just come to the town of Chapada dos Guimaraes and mention either of the three names. You will be in good hands.

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Many speak of Chapada dos Guimarães as a mystic place and I understand why. Its altitude and climate lead to many cool foggy days and nights, which trigger the imagination.

Buritis in the Fog, Chapada dos Guimaraes

Its location, in the geodesic center of South America, attract attention, and the fact that many of the rivers that form the Pantanal (Brazilian Wetlands) are born here, and therefore the source of life for much of the flora and fauna of the region, bring the place a spiritual dimension.

About two hours into our leisurely walk we reach the entrance to Caverna do Frances (Frenchman’s Cave), which you can see in the photo below taken from inside the cave. In the language of the Bororo Indians who used to inhabit the region, the cave was called Aroe Jari (Home of the Souls) and used as a burial site.

Entrance to Caverna do Frances

Walking across the amphitheater it is possible to feel how hollow the ground is from previous excavations in connection with the burials once conducted there. To appreciate the cave, bring flashlights as it gets very dark inside. To preserve the cave and visitors’ health, going much further into the cave than the amphitheater is not allowed.

Chapada dos Guimaraes

After a short lunch break, our walk continues as we hope to get to Lagoa Azul (Blue Lagoon) before 2:00 pm, the time when the sunlight is best to bring out its colors. As usual, though, Dad won’t be rushed. He takes a minute to explain some of the many mysteries of this region to a friend. This is the kind of thing I remember about my father. Long walks with frequent stops to admire plants, bugs, animals, what have you; a constant enchantment with the natural world which is now part of my blood.

John Coningham

Dad’s infectious love of Brazil and its natural environment has obviously also influenced my younger sister:

Jaci Coninham and Wild Flowers in Chapada dos Guimaraes, Brazil

Talking about being rushed, I remember one and only occasion in which my was Dad hurrying up. We were in the city of Sao Paulo, for some reason I cannot recall, and had to catch some transportation – a bus or a train. I am not sure how old I was, maybe 10 or so (Good, now you must be thinking whether I am ever sure of anything..).  I remember his concern and making a big effort to keep pace with his long legs as he strode towards the station. “How far is it?”, I remember asking. “About one kilometer”, Dad said. That was one of the longest kilometers I have ever walked!

Almost two o’clock, and the crew approaches the entrance to Lagoa Azul. But there’s a problem: the clouds aren’t cooperating and the lagoon is looking more like a dark green-gray. We need the clouds to clear just enough for the 2:00 pm sun to hit the water directly.

Lagoa Azul, Chapada dos Guimaraes

Ah, here it is!

Lagoa Azul, Chapada dos Guimaraes

How to get there

There is a regular bus service from the main bus station in Cuiaba to the bus station in the town of Chapada dos Guimaraes. The first bus leaves at 5:45 AM and the last one at 7:00 PM (please re-confirm with the bus company as these things change). The trip lasts between one hour and 90 minutes, depending on the service you choose. Another alternative is to rent a car, which you will need in order to see the surroundings.

Except for the attractions right along the Cuiaba-Chapada road, most places worth visiting are not well indicated at all. I do recommend hiring a good local guide who can not only get you to places but enrich your visit with good information about the region.

Where to stay

There is a variety of places to stay in Chapada dos Guimaraes, an option for every budget. Towards the high end, Pousada Penhasco (www.penhasco.com.br) is a good option. Right in the center of town, Pousada Solar do Ingles (http://www.chapadadosguimaraes.com.br/solardoingles/inicio.htm) is an interesting alternative, for those preferring a smaller, more cozy environment, and the ability to explore the town on foot. And if you are in town, don’t miss on a visit to local artist Miguel Penha’s studio (www.miguelpenha.com).

Beatriz Coningham

Beatriz Coningham

Why write about travel? Travel and exploration have always fascinated me. I marvel at history’s navigators and explorers who expanded the frontiers of the world and of human existence.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Demian says:

    It was a pleasure to be part of this adventure. This place is unique, not only because of the caves, but the nature around it is simply amazing.
    Our party was great! With John and Elenice as our guides, it couldn’t be more informative and enjoyable for the rest of us.
    Em and Bea, thanks for the company! Jaci and I will never forget 🙂

    See you in the next adventure!

  • Jaci Coningham says:

    My last visit to Chapada was about 15 years ago, so it was really nice to go for a hike just like I used to do as a child. Demian had never been to the area, so he got a nice chance of getting to know part of it; unfortunately the excessive fog on that weekend didn’t allow him to really experience the view from such a high altitude, in fact, on our last day over there, the sky was so blue that we thought for a moment that we would have the chance to look down all the way to Cuiabá, but to our surprise all the clouds were bellow us!

    The low temperature made this a very pleasant day for our tour: about 5 or 6 hours walking without a drop of sweat.
    Our guide was really very nice and it was great to see how excited she got when she had a piece of information to share with us that no one else had, especially our father, who has read nothing less than the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and many books about Brazilian flora and fauna, not to mention personal experiences. How nice it is to be surrounded by people who can fully appreciate their surroundings and not just rush towards a couple of set destinations.
    It was a pity that we couldn’t see the Blue Lagoon in all its glory, just a small part of it got some sun, but the rest of the water was so incredibly clear that it was hard to tell where it started, which even caused our father to walk right into it! People now aren’t allowed to swim in it anymore (sunscreen and repellents are real threats to algae), but we did see some tracks from what was probably a tapir enjoying itself inside the water.
    I just wish we could have seen a little bit more fauna, that is, besides the tracks, but, thinking about it, I’m not quite sure I would feel comfortable greeting some caititus (like wild hogs) in our path.
    To end our hike in great style, we had a very nice lunch, nothing fancy, just delicious home-made food.

    Too bad that our day didn’t end that well when one of our cars simply died as we were leaving the area and we had to wait for quite a while for help. It was probably while we were waiting that I got “blessed” with some ticks and ended up with a terrible itch for an entire week (didn’t see the tiny devils until it was too late). Well, I guess every adventure comes with a price!

    • admin admin says:

      And do you know what’s funny? I had so enjoyed that day that I had completely forgotten that the car had broken down at the end -:) You and Demian were wonderful hiking partners, let’s do it again some time.

  • […] If you are interested in this part of Brazil you may also want to check my post on Chapada dos Guimares. […]

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