The Best Secret Waterfalls in Brazil And How to Get to Them

Cachoeira Almécegas
Cachoeira Almécegas | Hugo Camelo / FLickr
Euan Marshall

Brazil is well-known for its beaches, whether it be the sands of Copacabana and Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro, the idyllic spots on the country’s northeast coast, or the countless beaches on the banks of the Amazon River. However, while Brazil is synonymous with beach, you might not think of it as being a particularly good destination for visiting waterfalls, at least not beyond the famous Iguaçu Falls on the Argentinian and Paraguayan border. In actual fact, the rivers of inland Brazil are full of incredible waterfalls, many of them unknown to the average tourist. Here is a selection of some of the best waterfalls Brazil has to offer.

Cachoeira do Macaquinho, Chapada dos Veadeiros

Hidden away in the center-west state of Goiás, the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park is Brazil’s waterfall capital. An ancient plateau reckoned to be almost two billion years old, the park has some mindblowing landscapes and is intersected by the beautiful Preto River, which has countless incredible waterfalls along its course.

One such waterfall is the Cachoeira do Macaquinho, located 30 miles (50km) from the city of Alto Paraíso de Goiás. The route to Macaquinho runs alongside the river, and most of it can be done by car, although it may be treacherous during wetter seasons, and the final half-mile (0.8km) of the trail should be done on foot.

It is definitely worth the effort, however, as upon arrival you will encounter some of the region’s most beautiful waterfalls. Macaquinho is, in fact, a series of waterfalls and pools, each with its own unique characteristics. At the Cachoeira do Encontro you can swim under the falls and into a beautiful cave, shaped over tens of millions of years. At Poço do Jump, as the name suggests, you can jump into the crystal clear pool below from a height of 30 feet (9m).

Cachoeira do Macaquinho, Chapada dos Veadeiros

Cachoeira Santa Barbara, Chapada dos Veadeiros

To the north of the park is one of Chapada dos Veadeiros most-loved waterfalls, Cachoeira Santa Barbara. The route to the waterfall is not the most straightforward, as from Alto Paraíso de Goiás you need to drive some 75 miles (120km) to the village of Engenho II, where the trail begins. If you’re coming to the region just to see Santa Barbara, it may be worth finding accommodation in the town of Cavalcante, a much shorter 15 miles (24km) from the waterfall.

The best way to visit Santa Barbara is by hiring a guide from Engenho II, as the trail is challenging for regular vehicles. Usually, the guides are teenagers from the nearby Kalunga quilombo, which are communities descended from Afro-Brazilian slaves who escaped from their masters in the 19th century.

Cachoeira Santa Barbara is a breathtaking 100-foot (30m) waterfall, where the water cascades into a vivid turquoise pool surrounded by beautiful vegetation. Truly, it is a hidden piece of paradise.

Cachoeira Santa Barbara, Chapada dos Veadeiros

Cachoeira Almécegas, Alto Paraíso de Goiás

Located just to the south of the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park is the Almécegas waterfall, part of the nearby city of Alto Paraíso de Goiás. Unlike some of the falls in the Chapada dos Veadeiros, Almécegas is easy to access. A short drive southwest from Alto Paraíso will take you to the São Bento farm, where the trail to Almécegas starts. A visitation fee of R$30 (US$9) is required, which allows access to the Almécegas, Almécegas II, and São Bento waterfalls.

The walk to Almécegas is fairly steep but short. After a short time, the trail takes you to a lookout spot, allowing for some excellent photos of the waterfall, before continuing around to Almécegas itself. The pool below the falls allows you to swim right underneath the cascade.

The other waterfalls in the area, Almécegas II and São Bento, are pretty and worth a visit, but the original Almécegas is the real attraction.

Cachoeira Almécegas

Cachoeira do Abade, Pirenópolis

A lesser known waterfall hotspot in Brazil is the small colonial city of Pirenópolis in the state of Goiás. Easily accessible from the nearby major cities of Goiânia and the country’s capital Brasília, the old mining town of Pirenópolis is an excellent location for a weekend break. Among its several waterfalls is the enchanting Cachoeira do Abade, a cluster of falls and pools located 10 miles (16km) to the east of the town center.

There are two routes to Abade: one is via a short, paved road which will have you arriving at the falls in no time; there is also another trail which is longer and slightly more treacherous, but will take you past some beautiful lookout spots and across a suspension bridge, which allows for some incredible photo opportunities. The waterfall itself is one of the largest in the region, surrounded by beautiful vegetation and a crystal clear (and rather cold) pool.

Cachoeira do Abade

Cachoeira dos Dragões, Pirenópolis

The other main attraction in the Pirenópolis region is the more secluded Cachoeira dos Dragões, a gorgeous spot with eight waterfalls and a wonderful Buddhist temple. Getting there requires a bit more effort, with a longer drive to the north of Pirenópolis and a two-hour hike through the region’s tropical savannah, known as cerrado.

Cachoeira dos Dragões is part of the Zen Eisho-ji Buddhist monastery and the entire region is maintained by Buddhist monks, who offer advice and guided tours of all eight waterfalls. Each one has its own specific mythology, and a visit to Dragões is a truly unforgettable spiritual experience.

Cachoeira do Tororó, Brasília

Staying in Brazil’s center-west region, the Cachoeira do Tororó is a rare example of an idyllic and secluded waterfall which is located close to a major urban city. A short drive south of Brazil’s capital of Brasília takes you to the administrative region of Santa Maria, from where you can set off on a short mile-long (1.6km) trail to Tororó.

Tororó is an indigenous word meaning “small waterfall,” so it is unlikely to bowl you over by its scale. The waterfall does not form a large pool for swimming and a visit here is not terribly time-consuming. However, what it lacks in size, Tororó certainly makes up for in beauty. Located in a small clearing, its gorgeous white waters flow through a naturally-formed rocky cliff and create some beautiful landscapes and a lovely, calming atmosphere.

Tororó is also popular with thrill seekers, and there are plenty of opportunities for abseiling or cliff jumping.

Cachoeira do Tororó

Poço da Usina, Paraty

Paraty, a colonial port city on the Rio de Janeiro coast, is one of the region’s most popular attractions for Brazilian and foreign tourists alike. With its stunning beaches, gorgeous waterfalls, delightful architecture and amazing food and drink, it is somewhere you will want to visit again and again. However, despite having lots of things to do and places to see, there are so many hidden parts of Paraty which are almost never visited by tourists, particularly beaches, pools and waterfalls.

To the west of the town, on the breathtaking Paraty-Cunha road (drive down this road at least once in your life, seriously), there are a number of idyllic spots on the Perequê-Áçu River, which flows down from the mountains, through Paraty and spills into the Carioca Bay. One such location is the Poço da Usina, a gorgeous natural pool with still, relaxing waters and a small waterfall. As far as falls go, this is certainly less of an Iguaçu and more of a babbling brook, but it is a beautifully tranquil spot which is perfect for relaxing.

Poço da Jamaica, Paraty

Close by the Poço da Usina is another charming and rarely-visited spot on the Paraty-Cunha road. Easily accessible, only a couple of miles outside of Paraty, the Poço da Jamaica is a lovely place to spend a sunny afternoon. With fresh, rushing water and wide, smooth rocks, it is excellent for a spot of sunbathing and a quick swim, surrounded by the natural Atlantic rainforest which covers the region.

Cachoeira Véu da Noiva, Petrópolis

More inland in the state of Rio de Janeiro is the tourist city of Petrópolis, with its grand palaces that hark back to Brazil’s Imperial past. There is plenty to see in Petrópolis itself, but a short drive to the east of the town will take you to the gorgeous Serra dos Órgãos National Park with its mountains, forests, rivers, and waterfalls.

One of the main attractions in the Serra dos Órgãos is the Véu da Noiva (“Bridal Veil”) waterfall, a 100-foot (30m) cascade of water reachable at the end of a straightforward two-mile hike. There is an additional trail to take you to the top of the waterfall, where there are also two natural pools for swimming.

Cachoeira Lagoa Azul, Capitólio

People from the southeast state of Minas Gerais typically love going to the beach. As they have no coastline of their own, fleets of buses descend from the state capital of Belo Horizonte every weekend in search of the sun and sand of the Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo coast. However, in the town of Capitólio, to the southwest of Minas, the massive Furnas reservoir creates a gorgeous setting often known as the “Minas Sea,” for its beaches, waterfalls and breathtaking landscapes.

One such waterfall is the Cachoeira Lagoa Azul, famous for its incredibly clear waters (see below). You can get there on foot via a trail, but there are also boat trips which will take you around the area in comfort.

Cachoeira do Formiga, Mateiros

The Brazilian state of Tocantins is often overlooked as a tourist destination, despite its rich variety of landscapes and wildlife. The highlight of a visit to Tocantins is the Jalapão State Park, an incredibly diverse micro-region with vast sand dunes, ancient plateaus, cerrado, and beautiful rivers. Accessing the park is not particularly easy, requiring a journey through some poorly maintained roads from the nearby town of Mateiros, or the further away state capital of Palmas, but a visit is certainly worth the trouble.

One of the biggest attractions of Jalapão is the Cachoeira do Formiga, a small but breathtaking waterfall with gorgeous emerald waters. Surrounded by palm trees and other indigenous vegetation, this is an unmissable spot in the middle of the Brazilian desert.

Cachoeira de Macambira, Macambira

The Macambira waterfall, in the northeastern Brazilian agreste region (the strip of land separating the desert from the tropical coastal forest), is a beautifully secluded attraction. Located around an hour and thirty minutes from the nearest major city of Aracaju, the waterfall can be quite tricky to find due to a lack of signage or any proper tourist infrastructure. It is recommended to ask the locals the best route to take upon arriving in the nearby town of Macambira.

The trail first takes you to the top of the waterfall, where you can get a sense of how deceptively high it is, before gradually making your way down, passing the falls’ several natural pools.

Cachoeira do Santuário, Presidente Figueiredo

Just north of Manaus in the state of Amazonas is the town of Presidente Figueiredo, nicknamed the “Land of Waterfalls”. With over 100 waterfalls registered in Presidente Figueiredo alone, this town could not be left off this list.

One of the best waterfalls in the region is the so-called Cachoeira do Santuário, located inside a large ecological reserve which has its own hotels and other tourist infrastructure. Accessing the waterfall is a piece of cake from inside the reserve, requiring only a short 15-minute walk.

Cachoeira do Santuário

Cachoeira do Buração, Chapada Diamantina

The Chapada Diamantina National Park in the northeastern state of Bahia is a must-see for any trip to this region of the country. Made up of jaw-dropping canyons and rivers formed hundreds of millions of years ago, it is home to some of the most unforgettable landscapes on the continent.

The Cachoeira do Buracão is arguably the most beautiful part of the expansive area. A gorgeous waterfall in the middle of a narrow canyon (pictured below), shaped over countless years of erosion. Getting to the waterfall itself can be a bit tricky, but there are plenty of guides willing to show you the correct paths.

Cachoeira do Buracão

Poço Azul, Riachão

Poço Azul, near the town of Riachão in the northeastern state of Maranhão, is an excellent idea for a weekend detour while visiting the state’s coastal attractions of São Luis and Lençóis Maranhenses. This complex of waterfalls and pools has some truly unforgettable sights and the bluest water imaginable.

Leaving from the nearby tourist town of Carolina, the waterfalls are accessible by car, though the final stretch of the journey should probably be done on foot or with a guide.

It is recommended to visit Poço Azul in the dry season (May to September), as the rains during the rest of the year can dampen the exuberant colors of the pools.

Poço Azul, Riachão
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