Brazil has many hidden gems that foreigners often do not know about. One of those gems is Jalapão, a beautiful area in the heart of Brazil. Located in the state of Tocantins, Jalapão belongs to the Cerrado biome, which is a savanna-like region. Jalapão is surprisingly diverse and has a lot to offer. I’ve put together some tips for Jalapão that might be of use!
It’s not obligatory to have a guide when exploring Jalapão, so should you find a tour or go solo? It’s definitely doable to go by yourself – however, you should make sure to get the right car. Many people advise to get a 4×4, but I also know someone who traveled Jalapão with a regular car (albeit a big, strong and slightly higher car). The roads are often dirt roads, and particularly in rainy season they can be quite challenging, so a regular small car wouldn’t be able to cross them easily.
Tourist infrastructure in Jalapão exists, but is not abundant. There are some simple pousadas and restaurants in the cities and towns in the region, such as Mateiros and São Felix. Be aware that most of the locals don’t speak any English.
Most attractions, such as the amazing fervedouros, are located on private property, so you’ll have to pay a small entrance fee (R$20) for each of them.
Join a tour
My advice would actually be to join a tour. Yes, they are quite expensive, but this price often includes everything: transport from Palmas and throughout the tour, meals, water and soft drinks, pousada accommodations, and entrance fees to the private attractions and the official state park. But more importantly, your guide knows exactly where to take you, how to get there quickly and can tell you all about the region. As dinner and hotel is arranged for you, you won’t lose valuable time sorting yourself out. The distances between the attractions in Jalapão can also be quite long, and the roads confusing, so you’ll want to make the most out of your stay.
We traveled with the great guide Bob from Jalabob Turismo. Wherever we went, people wanted to take a photo with him or his car and he turned out to be very well known in the region. What I liked about him was his sense of customers service, something that is not particularly common in Brazil. He would take dozens of photos of us (also when we weren’t looking), changed the programme according to the weather and suggested extra things to do whenever we had time left. We were very lucky being the only customers for this tour, so we had the entire car to ourselves. Plus, his playlist with 90s/00s R&B was a big bonus for the millennial me 😉
When to go to Jalapão
A trip to Jalapão can be made any time of the year, but you’ll have to think about the rainy and dry seasons. Rainy season runs from October till April, and dry season from May till September. Given that the dirt roads can be become challenging after heavy rain showers, the best period to travel is probably right after rainy season (May-June). The area is still lush green but you will keep it dry. That said, we went in rainy season and it wasn’t a big problem for us – we only had to miss the sunset at the pedra furada as a storm was coming, but that was ok.
The summer holidays (December/January and Carnaval) is the period of high season, and the area can get quite crowded. I saw signs that fervedouros only allowed 15 people at once, for 20 minutes only. I guess we were pretty lucky, as we only had to share the pools with two other people! We went between the school holidays and Carnaval, when the area was pretty quiet (there were only two other tour agencies).
Choose the 3am wake-up call to hike the Sierra!
The night hike to the Sierra to watch the sunrise is often an optional choice in the itinerary. Optional because it requires you to wake up at 3am… But it’s totally worth it. We actually left way too early, as our guide wants to give his customers enough time to climb the hill, but it was so easy that we reached the top in less than 30 minutes and then had another to kill in the pitch-dark. What was amazing, however, was the fact that we were all by ourselves. Bob said this was the first time in three years that he didn’t encounter other tourists. Great! As the sun rose, the landscape became visible. A beautiful sight.
Travelling in the small towns of Jalapão is not very difficult, but there is often no phone signal and paying for extra drinks by card is not possible. So make sure you bring enough cash to pay for your caipirinhas.
What to wear and to bring
Hiking in Jalapão doesn’t require special gear or clothes. Bring clothes in which you are comfortable and that dry quickly, as you’ll be swimming quite a lot. The days are hot (30˚ Celsius), but the nights can be cooler (around 20˚). The following can be useful to pack:
Several swim suits, a canga, short that dry quickly
A rain jacket if you go in rainy season
A fleece jacket for very cool nights or the night hike
Teva’s to wander around
Sneakers / running shoes or the like for the night hike
A head lamp for the night hike
Sunscreen and lot’s of mosquito repellent if you have tasty gringo blood like me
I would like to hear from you…
Have you ever even heard of Jalapão? Is it something you would like to visit or have already been to? Let me know in the comments!