Beyond the city and Federal District of Brasília, the hill-studded, surprisingly green cerrado of Goiás state extends towards another modern, planned city, Goiânia, and the historic old towns of Pirenópolis and Goiás Velho, the latter in particular worth going out of your way for. Although gold mining started there in a small way during the seventeenth century, the first genuine settlement didn’t appear until 1725. These days agriculture is the main activity: ranching is important but it is soybean production that is booming, driving the conversion of the dwindling remnants of cerrado into enormous farms. The small rural towns are all increasingly prosperous as a result, the state road system is excellent by Brazilian standards, and it’s easy to imagine most of Goiás looking like the interior of São Paulo a generation from now. Indeed, the main cities of Goiânia and Anápolis, with their rising affluence and acres of new high-rises, already look very much like the cities of the paulista interior – and are about as interesting to visit, which is not very.
In the north of Goiás is the heart of the planalto, a jumble of cliffs, spectacular valleys and mountain ranges in and around the national park of Chapada dos Veadeiros, excellent for hiking and a thoroughly worthwhile excursion from Brasília, although you’ll need a few days to do it justice. In the south, the thermal springs of Caldas Novas and Rio Quente bubble up into giant hotel complexes, while, over on the western border with Mato Grosso, the Parque Nacional Emas has less spectacular landscapes than Chapada dos Veadeiros but is wilder, a little more inaccessible (although still easily reached from Brasília), and a better place to see wildlife, in particular the large American rhea.
The Rio Araguaia with its many beautiful sandy beaches, forms the 1200-kilometre-long western frontier of both Goiás and Tocantins states. The latter, created for political rather than geographic or economic reasons in 1989, contains the huge river island, Ilha do Bananal, and its Parque Nacional do Araguaia. The main and central section (BR-153) of the 2000-kilometre-long highway from Goiânia and Brasília to Belém also runs through Tocantins. The only town of any significance is Araguaína, a flyblown settlement in the middle of a largely converted savanna.