The Bucket List: Brazilian Swimming Holes

Outside of the quaint, still untrammeled Brazilian town of Lencois (pronounced LEN-soys), the rivers and streams run a dark, reddish brown—a byproduct of the tannins in the lush forest that surround them. And after hundreds of thousands of years, this tea-colored water has carved into the sandstone that underlays most of the region, creating natural features that, said plainly, just flat out beat today's mega-water parks: all-natural swimming holes, waterfalls, slides, shoots, dives and jumps.


Just a short bus ride outside of town brings you to a stream—and the amazing au naturale rock formations that it's created. Drop into a waterlogged hole in the rock and pop out the other side where you can squeeze into—and shower under—a waterfall-filled slot. Next, climb up and take a head-first dive off of a cliff into the deep, dark water below (take a pencil jump if your nerves win out, but there's no excuse to not make the jump).

Or, go a little farther from civilization. A dayhike outside of Lencois brings you to the Rio Mucugezinho (also known as the Well of the Devil), with higher jumps, bigger falls and deeper pools. It looks intimidating, but go ahead—take the leap across a double waterfall. While you probably won't find the devil, you might end up possesed by gods similar to those of the double rainbow.

When you finally pry yourself away from the adrenaline-pumping jumps and return to town, stop by the long, sloping slabs of sandstone that run into pools below and ride the slide. A hint for the unapologetic: you'll go faster if you drop your drawers—skin provides less friction than your suit. Keep an eye out for the local kids, usually middle-school aged boys, who slip down the slab standing, balancing like surfers before they dive into the cool pool at the last possible second. As tempting as it seems, if you want to keep your teeth, leave this technique to the locals.

Your Turn: Fly into Salvador, Brazil and then make your way to Lencois in the Chapada Diamantina (Diamond Highlands) National Park via a 5- to 6-hour bus ride or seasonal flights. Contact Brazil Ecotravel for a variety of itineraries within the park and around Brazil.