Truly Off the Beaten Path

Why Jalapao Should Be Your Next Destination

If you want an off-the-beaten-path adventure, consider traveling to Jalapão National Park in Brazil. This untouched oasis in northeastern Brazil is a must-see destination for nature lovers and intrepid travelers. From breathtaking dunes, lush vegetation, and crystal-clear rivers, let’s explore why Jalapão should be your next travel destination. For a glimpse, check out my video. For more information, read below!

Natural Wonders of Jalapao National Park

Located in the state of Tocantins, Brazil, Jalapao National Park is an unspoiled reserve that boasts almost 3.1 million acres of untouched natural beauty. Home to a rich and diverse array of species, it’s considered one of the most biodiverse areas on earth and is a popular destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. This park has something for everyone.

A man swimming while gazing up from a fervedouro surrounded by banana trees in Jalapao
Take a dip in the fervedouros of Jalapao.

When Is The Best Time to Go?

Jalapão National Park is an ideal destination no matter the time of year. That said, some pros and cons should be considered depending on when you visit the park.

During the dry season (July to November), temperatures can rise to 100°F during the day and drop to about 50°F at night. Visitors can experience clear skies (amazing sunrises, sunsets, starry night skies) and little to no rain. This is an ideal time of year for activities like trekking or canoeing in the park since navigating its trails and rivers is easier. However, the dry season typically brings very little wildlife activity. Also, certain park areas may feel overcrowded due to the influx of tourists during this time.

Two men under the orange-yellow glow of the sun rising at the top of Sereno mountain
Sunrise from Sereno mountain.

During the wet season (November-July), temperatures are less extreme and sit closer to an average of 80°F throughout the day. Abundant wildlife sightings will welcome visitors as plants and animals emerge in droves to take advantage of their new environment. The rainy weather also creates a lush landscape with vibrant colors and many photo opportunities. Unfortunately, with the wet season comes a higher chance of rain and a higher chance of needing a few backup activity plans. Most of Jalapão’s roads are unpaved, bumpy, and sandy paths that are even harder to navigate when muddied. This season also tends to be more humid, and mosquitoes are plentiful due to standing water collecting in certain parts of the park.

An owl stares at camera from a distance
Owl spotting! This was protecting his young one nearby.

I went to Jalapão in early February and experienced the best of both seasons. Temperatures were less extreme, and it never rained once while we were there! Overall both seasons have advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential to carefully plan your trip based on your preferences to ensure you get the most out of your time at Jalapão National Park.

Recap:

  • Dry Season: Better road navigation, beautiful starry nights, clear blue waters, and a greater selection of activities. More crowded and can be very hot.
  • Wet Season: Greener environments, better wildlife sightings, warm temperate climates, and fewer crowds. More mosquito friends! You will need backup plans in case it rains.

How To Get To Jalapao

The closest airport to Jalapão is Palmas–Brigadeiro Lysias Rodrigues Airport, located in Palmas. Most international flights will likely have a layover in Sāo Paolo or Brasilia before the final leg to Palmas.

Once you’re in Palmas, you likely will spend the night there before starting the journey with your guide early the next day. For overnight lodging, there are plenty of hotel options to choose from. There are many places to eat and drink within walking distance of the city center, and it is very safe here.

From Palmas to Jalapão, plan for about 5 hours of driving, the first half on paved roads and then the second half through rough, sandy, unpaved paths. But trust that the destination is worth the journey.

Lodging in Palmas: There are many reasonably priced options, most within the city center. Here are a few:

  • Ibis Palmas
  • Select Hotel
  • Hplus Premium Palmas*. Where I stayed. They have plenty of amenities and the option to include breakfast, which was delicious!

Pro Tip: Layover in Sao Paolo? You likely won’t have time to leave the airport and explore, as traffic of up to 2 hours each way can eat away at the little time you have. Instead, consider the airport hotel. We spent four hours at Fast Sleep Guarulhos by Slaviero Hotéis, which charges hourly and offers suites with shared or private bathrooms. We stayed in a private suite, and it was quiet, clean, and spacious. The shower was divine after a long day of traveling. We slept comfortably in the Queen-sized bed. Worth every penny!

Choosing Your Guide

Notice the title says “Choosing your guide” and not “Should I get a guide?” I don’t see any information online that explicitly forbids you from doing a self-guided tour, but I will strongly advise you — go with a guide!

Jalapão is extremely hard to navigate due to the rough terrain. Often, the route we chose did not even look possible for a car to drive on! The stops along the way were only sometimes marked. We learned that specific tourist sites were closed only by our guide calling to confirm beforehand.

There are very few options to stop for gas. Often, there is no adequate cell service. We passed a utility truck that had broken down about 1.5 hours from the town they traveled from and where we were headed. They had to wait until we reached town before we had cell service to call their company to help. Don’t let this be you.

Everything becomes more complicated without speaking Portuguese, as most people do not speak English or Spanish. This leads to my most important point about choosing the right guide:

Try to find a guide who is comfortable speaking English. While you likely can navigate just fine with a language barrier, the experience is much more enjoyable when they can give you in-depth information throughout the trip.

That said, there are many guides and tour packages to choose from. Google “Jalapão Tour” and you will find many options through TripAdvisor and Viator. I chose my guide Vitor (check him out here!) after a friend referred me; he was amazing! He is one of the few bilingual guides with years of experience offering Jalapão tours. He knows so much about the park and has close relationships with the people that live and work there. And, he is more reasonably priced than most tour companies you will find. Check him out!

A man smiling at camera
The one, the only, Vitor! The best guide you could ask for.

What’s Included and How Much Does It Cost?

Each tour package includes a 4×4 vehicle, breakfast, lunch, dinner, lodging, and all excursions. You can choose between 4-6 days (or even longer). You may be able to fit up to 6 people in one vehicle.

Pricing varies based on the company or guide you choose, your party size, the length of the trip, and any add-ons. Add-ons can include sunrise hikes, ziplining, whitewater rafting, and more.

For me, the base price for two was $877 per person for five days and four nights. The price would drop to $471 per person for a group of six people.

Be sure to discuss the pricing with your guide to see exactly how much it would cost for you.

4x4 vehicle going uphill on rocky terrain
This 4×4 took us through the roughest terrain I’ve ever driven on.

Activities In Jalapao

With your guide, most of the trip is laid out for you, but sometimes you can choose your adventure. Here are some of the top attractions and activities to consider:

Cathedral Mountain

Serra da Catedral is located between São Félix do Tocantins and Novo accord and is also part of the incredible attractions of the Jalapão and is a natural beauty. This rock formation is thousands of years old and resembles a large church facade.

View of Cathedral Mountain in Jalapao
Do you think it looks like a Cathedral too?

Cachoeira das Araras (Macaw Waterfall)

This was our second stop in Jalapão. As with most of the trip, we were lucky to be the only ones there. We spent a couple of hours swimming, wading, and relaxing. What a great start to the journey.

Tip: Bring some water shoes. It is pretty rocky, and I can’t tell you how many times I stubbed a toe.

A view of Macaw Waterfall
Selfie of two men with Cachoeira das Araras waterfall cascading from above

Fervedouros (LOTS of them)

Fervedouros are quintessential to Jalapão. Prepare to visit over fifteen fervedouros on your trip. Each fervedouro feels like a calm, refreshing oasis surrounded by a lush emerald blanket of banana trees and other foliage. They are karst springs – cool, pressurized water bubbles up from a rupture in the earth, making you feel like you’re floating effortlessly.

A man raising his hands while swimming at an ervedouro in Jalapao with cool water and beautiful surrounding greenery
These cool springs bubble up from the ground.

Before entering a fervedouro, you are asked to wash off all products like sunscreen and mosquito repellent. There is a limit to how many people can be in a fervedouro simultaneously. If there is a line, you are allotted 20 minutes. Luckily when I went, there was no wait and no limit to how long we could stay, as it was significantly less crowded than it could be.

A view of a fervedouro in Jalapao

Sereno Mountain 

Sereno Mountain is beautiful! It’s even better if you opt for a sunrise hike. You are up super early, but I promise you – it’s worth it! 

Once you’re done taking in the beautiful landscape, you can hike back down or zipline down. We chose to zipline for the fun thrill and the rush of wind to cool us down.

Zipline in Jalapao above a green field

White Water Rafting

There is also the option of rafting! I did not raft on this trip, but this was a potential add-on option. If you’re interested, inquire with your guide.

A group of people riding a raft down a waterfall
Does this excite or scare you?

Formiga Waterfall

This waterfall is simply stunning. Go for a swim or wade through more shallow areas. Dip your feet in the cool water and watch the beautiful cascading waters from the falls.

Jalapão Dunes

Trek along the famous orange dunes of Jalapão. They are a natural wonder over 390,000 acres in size, the largest in Brazil. They are formed by the wind, which blows the sand from the riverbeds and into the hills. The dunes are constantly changing shape and can be as tall as 40 meters. This is a great place to hike, sandboard, or camp.

Sand dunes of Jalapao
The dunes are beautiful and expansive. Bring water!
A body of water with a palm tree in the middle of it

Rio Novo Beach

A large river beach. It is great to look at, but I didn’t dare to swim in this water. Instead, I took refuge under the shade.

A beautiful beach along river in Jalapao

Sussuapara Canyon

This tranquil canyon descends 15 meters and is about 60 meters long—water carved through sandstone to form this deep, narrow gorge. The water has receded, and now the canyon is full of moss and ferns and offers an easy 15-minute walking path.

Picture of the staircase going down to canyon in Jalapao
The steps leading you down to the base of Sussuapara Canyon.
Sussuapara Canyon in Jalapao
Mosses, ferns galore in this tranquil place. An itinerary must!
A man posing in a forest
Feeling one with nature.

Pedra Furada (Holed Stone)

Take the short hike to the top to learn why Holed Stone is so aptly named. Do you see an elephant and its trunk, or am I the only one? Either way, this is an excellent stop for a selfie or to bask in the sunset. Enjoy!

Pedra Furada in Jalapao
Do you see an elephant and its trunk too?
A man posing at Pedra Furada in Jalapao

Lagoa do Japonês (Japanese Lagoon)

This attraction is technically just outside of Jalapão but is usually included on any itinerary that is five days or longer. It is expansive and peaceful. Here you can swim or hire a kayak or canoe to visit the caves within a short distance. There are several options for food and a self-serve Acai station for a tasty treat.

A view of Lagoa do Japones (Japanese Lagoon) in Jalapao
Beautiful blue-green waters. You can swim or take a boat to the nearby caves.

Learn About Quilombos

Quilombos are communities founded by people of African origin in Brazil. They were established by escaped slaves who fled the plantations and created self-sufficient communities. Quilombos were a place of refuge for enslaved people and played an essential role in the fight for freedom.

The first quilombos were established in the 16th century and continued to exist even after slavery was abolished in 1888. Quilombos are often located in remote areas, and they have their own unique culture and traditions. The people who live in quilombos are called quilombolas, and they often speak distinct languages and may have unique religious practices.

Quilombo community signpost

There are at least five recognized Quilombos in Jalapão. They have a traditional way of life-based on agriculture, fishing, and hunting. They live in small communities that are made up of extended families.

A woman holding a traditional stringed instrument
A Quilombola holding a traditional instrument. We ate with her in her restaurant.

You will have the privilege of roaming through their communities, having lunch in their restaurants or private homes, and getting a taste of their daily lives. And if you are lucky, you may be serenaded too (see video above)! This part of the trip is a beautiful experience that you’ll be sure to enjoy too.

A Quilombola woman sitting inside her shop
Quilombola woman sits inside of her shop filled with crafts made from golden grass.

Essential Things To Know:

Food in Jalapao​: This is generally covered by your guide. Your meals will take place at restaurants at certain attractions, in the homes in Quilombos, or at your hotel. Prepare for certain staple dishes, such as seasoned chicken or pork, rice, beans, and farofa. There are churrascaria (Brazilian barbecue), burger, and seafood options. Chat with your guide!

Food in Jalapao

Lodging in Jalapao: 

Lodging will also be covered by your guide. Take your pick between campgrounds or hotels.

I stayed at three hotels during the trip. Each hotel was quiet, with a pool, hot tub, and bar for late-night drinks to enjoy while stargazing. Each room contained air-conditioning, hot showers with good water pressure, and large comfortable beds.

A pool with a table, chairs, and men talking next to it

Packing Guide:

  • Sunscreen, Shades, Sunhat
  • Travel Towel
  • Mosquito Repellent
  • Water shoes
  • Clothing for chilly nights and scorching days
  • Waterproof camera gear for those memorable photos

Thinking about adding a leg to your Brazil trip?

Why not check out Rio de Janeiro?

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: JALAPAO, BRAZIL

What is the meaning of Jalapao in Brazil?

Jalapao is a region in Brazil known for its stunning natural landscapes, including golden sand dunes, clear rivers, waterfalls, and unique rock formations.

How do I get to Jalapao Brazil?

To get to Jalapao, you can usually fly to Palmas, the capital of the Tocantins state in Brazil. From Palmas, you’ll need to arrange transportation, either by renting a car or joining a guided tour, to reach the remote and beautiful Jalapao region.

How to visit Jalapao Brazil?

Visiting Jalapao typically involves planning ahead. You can join a guided tour that offers transportation, accommodations, and guided activities. Alternatively, you can rent a 4×4 vehicle and explore the region on your own, but this option requires careful preparation due to the remote and rugged nature of the area.

Get Ready for An Unforgettable Experience

If you want an unforgettable travel experience with plenty of adventure activities combined with breathtaking landscapes then consider visiting Jalapao National Park in Brazil! From its natural wonders such as sand dunes and crystal clear rivers to its wildlife encounters with monkeys and jaguars – this place has it all! Plus if you’re looking for something truly unique then this is definitely worth checking out – after all how often do get the chance to explore an untouched paradise like this? So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip today!

Aerial view of a ferverdouro in Jalapao, Brazil

Jalapao, Brazil: A Hidden Paradise

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