To really get to grips with Chapada dos Veadeiros you need to head 37km further up a good-quality dirt road to the small village of SÃO JORGE, next to the only entrance to the national park. Looking around São Jorge, you can see the potential that ecotourism has to protect landscapes and generate jobs and income at the same time. Before the creation of the national park in 1980, the main industry hereabouts was the mining of rock crystals. When the practice was eventually made illegal in and around the park, the parks authority, prodded and helped by the World Wildlife Fund, recognized the need to create jobs linked to the park and invested heavily in training local ex-miners to be guides – the perfect choice, since no one picked over every remote nook and cranny of the landscape quite like them. So there is a good reason why IBAMA, the federal parks authority, makes it compulsory for visitors to the park to be accompanied by a guide.
Hikes around São Jorge
Hikes around São Jorge
Hiking options around São Jorge are less strenuous than in the national park, but still spectacular. You could easily spend a week doing a series of rewarding day-hikes without even entering the national park, and for those travelling with children, for whom the long hikes in the park are not realistic, these shorter hikes are a great family outing. All destinations are reached by heading along the road that passes the village, either west or east – that is, towards or away from Alto Paraíso.
The most striking hike around São Jorge leads to Vale da Lua, a forested valley where the river São Miguel has carved a narrow canyon through an extraordinary series of sculptured granite curves. To get there from the village, head to the main road and continue 4km east – in the direction of Alto Paraíso. On your right you come to a signposted trail into the Vale da Lua. There is a nominal entrance fee; you can either follow the trail directly to a swimhole, or else peel left, along a different route towards the swimhole, by walking down the valley, the best route to see its extraordinary geology. Flash floods can be a problem here in the rainy season, given the narrowness of the gorge, so exercise caution.
Back at São Jorge, heading in the opposite direction, away from Alto Paraíso, will take you, in quick succession, to Raizama, a beautiful gorge with a series of swimholes and waterfalls, and Morada do Sol, which has less-spectacular waterfalls, but more spectacular views up and down the valley. Another 5km up the main road will bring you to a private estate, Água Quente, where the owner has channelled a natural warm spring – tepid rather than hot – into a couple of large pools, making this a wonderful place to soak and recover from the walk. All of the above destinations charge a R$2.50–5 entrance fee.