Slow Travel Through Waterfalls

Waterfall at Ponto de Pedra, West Brazil

Waterfall at Ponto de Pedra, West Brazil.

What is the link between slow travel and waterfalls, you may ask? Does seeing the Niagara Waterfalls or Iguazu Waterfalls slow you down in any way? On the contrary, you may argue. These type of destinations we often visit for the destination itself rather than looking for anything interesting along the way.

These well-known waterfalls are in all guidebooks and we want to see them for a reason: for their sheer size, their immensity, the feeling of awe they evoke. The idea of all this water thundering down 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for centuries on end, simply is mind-blowing.

Waterfall Pedra Furada (meaning Stone with a Hole) in North Brazil

Waterfall Pedra Furada (meaning Stone with a Hole) in North Brazil.

And so, yes, we did visit Iguazu Falls (read about it here for Brazil and here for Argentina). You can visit these falls, like the Niagara Falls in Canada and the U.S., from two countries: Brazil and Argentina. On both sides we waited for five days for the weather to clear. In both cases it was worth the wait.

Thankfully we had no plane to catch and spending ten days in hostels for weather to improve generally is no problem in our way of life. We feel privileged.

Foz do Iguaçu from the Brazilian side.

Yet some of the smaller, sometimes even insignificant, waterfalls in South America bring about much stronger memories.

Why?

They are related to people.

Visiting some of these waterfalls were a result of having met local people and having made friends. People who wanted to show us their beautiful surroundings. As we have zillions of photos of waterfalls, I will focus on Brazil for this blog post because in this particular country the link between meeting people and seeing waterfalls has been the strongest.

1. Waterfalls in South Brazil

Aparados National Park, also called Itaimbezinho National Park. The trails weren't the most inspiring but the view over the canyon with numerous waterfalls and flocks of sparrows and parakeets was spectacular.

Aparados National Park, also called Itaimbezinho National Park. The trails weren’t the most inspiring but the view over the canyon with a panoply of waterfalls and flocks of sparrows and parakeets was spectacular.

Serra Geral National Park. To get to this viewpoint we had to cross the stream above the waterfall right before the water thunders down vertically

Serra Geral National Park. As we tore ourselves away from a magnificent view of a cloud-filled canyon, other visitors indicated us to follow a track that led along a sparkling river. The sound of rushing water grew louder with each step until it reached a roar. Just before the river became a waterfall we crossed it by hopping over stones and when we climbed the hill on the other side saw how the water crashed down.

Our exploration of Brazil started with a guidebook, which is how we got to Aparados National Park and Serra Geral National Park, where the deep canyons and waterfalls impressed us. It was a good start of a new country. This blog post will tell you much more about Serra Geral National Park.

We met up with our friend Leo, whom we had met many years earlier in Laos and who now lived in Porto Alegre. With this meeting our guidebook disappeared underneath a lot of other stuff and we continued our journey in Brazil solely through tips and invitations from local people.

One of those first tips was Ferradura National Park. On the photo in this blog post you see why the name Ferradura – horseshoe – is so apt.

Ferradura National Park

Ferradura National Park lies near Canela, a town Leo and his wife Melissa had taken us for a couple of days to stay at their family’s cabin.

In Florianópolis a Dutch guy had stopped us on the road when seeing the Dutch license plate on our car. We chatted for a bit and Paul invited us to stay at his Pousada Tulipane for a couple of days.

As we said goodbyes he gave us the tip to check out Reserva do Sebuí, which we later concluded is one of Brazil’s best eco lodges (read about it here).

Reserva do Sebuí. This part of a primary Atlantic Forest is so vast that Enzo, the owner, had explored only part of it. At the time of our visit he had discovered four waterfalls, but future explorations may reveal many more.

2. Waterfalls around São Paulo & Rio de Janeiro

We drove north and through the Internet we met Milena. We stayed with her in São Paulo and joined her family for the weekend to their sítio in the countryside with a vast terrain of forest, hiking trails and waterfalls. The latter proved an ice-cold bath, a welcome refreshment in the hot climate.

We would have never found this waterfall without having met these wonderful people.

The streams and waterfalls at Ibiuna sitio were extremely cold; nevertheless we couldn't resist and went for a bath. Taking showers under waterfalls in pure nature is one of the most exhilarating experiences on earth at it gives a intense feeling of freedom and you feel so deeply connected with nature.

The streams and waterfalls at Ibiuna sítio were extremely cold; nevertheless we couldn’t resist and braved ourselves. Taking showers under waterfalls in unspoiled nature is one of the most exhilarating experiences on earth as it gives an overwhelming feeling of freedom and we feel so intensely connected with nature.

Other Paulistas (inhabitants of São Paulo) told us to check out Bocaina National Park, which lies between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Along the way stopped at Vale das Cachoeiras when searching for a place to sleep.

“No problem, you can camp here if you like, and why don’t you join us for lunch?” the owners suggested. We stayed for two nights and explored their terrain –– including a waterfall.

Vale das Cachoeiras.

Vale das Cachoeiras: short waterfalls flowed down the stream.

Bocaina National Park. The dip in this waterfall gave us a respite from a tough off-road trip through the park.

Bocaina National Park. The dip in this waterfall gave us a respite from a tough off-road trip through the park.

Our initial plan to just drive into Brazil to visit Leo and then return to Argentina had grown into a five-month exploration of south, southeast, and southwest Brazil. Our visa were running out but the country had captured our hearts and we knew we would be back.

3. Waterfalls in West Brazil

About a year later we returned, this time entering the country from Paraguay. I looked at the map of West Brazil and felt drawn there although I couldn’t say why. The guidebook had nothing to say about the region, and again our guidebook for Brazil turned out pretty useless.

We decided to check out the province of Mato Grosso. We ended up traveling in just this province for five months and the photos below are a minimal selection of the dozens of waterfalls people took us to – after all, how many waterfalls can a person see, in life or on photos, before becoming tired of them?

Guimarães National Park. The 86-meter-high, free-falling Véu da Noiva waterfall plunges into a river that cuts through the rainforest which fills up the canyon. Besides this spectacular waterfall there are dozens of smaller ones in the park, many of them suited for a dip.

A man in Cuiabá gave us instructions to his son's place. As we arrived in Bom Jardim, nobody wanted to give us directions to his place. It was confusion and it took a long time for all parties to figure out who was who. It turned out that Raul lived on a property with a protected waterfall, this one, which you can't visit without a guide... We felt privileged to be his guest and to spend time snorkeling and swimming at this beautiful place.

A man in Cuiabá suggested us to visit his son, who lived in the countryside. However, when we arrived in Bom Jardim, nobody wanted to give us directions to his place. It was confusing and it took a long time for all parties to figure out who was who. It turned out that Raul lived on a property with a protected waterfall called Serra Azul, which you can’t visit without a guide. We felt privileged to be Raul’s guest, and to snorkel and swim at this beautiful place.

Mato Grosso has no significant tourist infrastructure so it was a struggle to find our way around as our Portuguese was still very limited and hardly anybody spoke English. But we shared a language of wanting to see and experience beautiful places with the local people. Many took us to waterfalls.

In Campo Novo do Parecis we were approached by people who after a chat suggested to show us around. "We have waterfalls nearby," they said. A 100 kms in Brazil is nearby (not so in the Netherlands) and Toco took us to the protected Indigenous Reserve of Utiariti, where we admired this Utiariti Waterfall (which somebody used as a challenge to canoe down!).

In Campo Novo do Parecis a man approached us who, after a chat, suggested to show us around. “We have waterfalls nearby,” he said. 100 kms in Brazil is nearby (not so in the Netherlands) and Toco took us to the Indigenous Reserve of Utiariti, where we admired this Utiariti Waterfall (which somebody used as a challenge to canoe down!).

Ponte de Pedra (Bridge of Stone) lies in an indigenous reserve as well. The Paresi Indigenous people live here and believe that they originate from a mythical world below a hole in this bridge above the Sucuruína River. According to their legend this hole is the connection between the mythical world and planet earth. From this waterfall I have a view of that bridge.

Ponte de Pedra (Bridge of Stone) lies in an indigenous reserve as well. The Paresi Indigenous people live here and believe that they originate from a mythical world below a hole in this bridge above the Sucuruína River. According to their legend this hole is the connection between the mythical world and planet earth. From this waterfall I have a view of that bridge.

Brazilians not only love to show their country to visitors, they specifically love water: the sea, rivers with white-sand beaches, and waterfalls. Anything to go for a dip and to share family time with a BBQ and a beer.

Waterfall dos Namorados (Waterfall of Sweethearts) lies in a forest and you need a guide to find it. This was dry season and little water came down from the stream above the vertical wall. It was one of the most peaceful and silent places around a waterfall.

Waterfall dos Namorados (Waterfall of Sweethearts) lies in a forest and you need a guide to find it. This was dry season and little water came down from the stream above the vertical wall. It was one of the most peaceful and silent places around a waterfall.

From the Sweetheart Waterfall we hiked for hours to get to this Waterfall do Jatobá. That we got a guide (no way you can otherwise find this place) was thanks to Janny and Guus, a Dutch missionary couple we met in the streets of Vila Bela da Santíssima and with whom we stayed for a couple of days.

By the way, West Brazil impressed us for many more reasons than just its sheer number of waterfalls. I wrote about it on Matador Network, you can read it here.

4. Waterfalls in Central Brazil

We left the country as our visa ran out and another eight months passed before we returned. Our hunger for seeing more of the country had returned as well and this time we crossed central Brazil. This time it was a tip from other overlanders to stop at a place we otherwise might have skipped: we checked out Alta Paraíso and stayed at Spazenda where we visited a waterfall in the surroundings.

The second was a result of a meeting in Brasília, where a man had invited to stay with him at his sítio near Alta Paraíso, which is how we discovered Waterfall dos Couros.

Contrary to the Moinha waterfall we would never have found this place without our friend who owns a sitio here.

Contrary to the Moinho Waterfall we would never have found this place without our friend who owns a sítio here.

Janet and Xavier, of Spazenda, recommended us this place. It brought us a lovely day of hiking and swimming just outside Veadeiros National Park.

Janet and Xavier, of Spazenda, recommended us this place. It brought us a lovely day of hiking and swimming just outside Veadeiros National Park.

5. Waterfalls in North Brazil

Again we left Brazil, stayed in the Guianas for about 1.5 years, and re-entered Brazil via Roraima, in the north. Our friends in Boa Vista emphasized not to miss the waterfalls around Presidente Figueiredo.

“We’ve seen our share of waterfalls,” we responded, convinced they wouldn’t be able to entice us anymore after all we had seen.

However, as we drove through the area we decided to check them out anyway. Wouldn’t want to miss a possibly great place, right? Which showed, once more, how valuable local contacts can be.

We hiked numerous hiking trails through forests where Coen had the time of his life photographing minuscule frogs and we took dips in various waterfalls.

One of the places we visited independently as it is well signed on the main road north of Presidente Fiqueiredo. There were enough trails and waterfalls to keep us enchanted for a couple of days.

One of the places we visited independently as it is well signed on the main road north of Presidente Figueiredo. There were enough trails and waterfalls to keep us enchanted for a couple of days.

What Makes a Good Memory?

Each time we find ourselves in stunning natural surroundings we take photos, in awe as we are of that mountain, volcano, view, or waterfall. Interestingly enough, when looking back at those photos years later we often can’t recall where we took them. Was that the Himalayas or the Andes? Was that in north India or in Chile? Nature turns out to be similar in many ways throughout the world.

It becomes different when that particular place is connected with people. Suddenly that view, or in the above-mentioned cases, waterfalls, are related to a story. To a meeting, to a get-together, to spending time with somebody, to having fun.

Cipo National Park.

Cipo National Park and there it was, finally after the umpteenth bend: the waterfall gushing among rocks into a pool.

Slow travel is one of the tools to maximize the opportunities to meet people. Of course traveling slowly is not enough. You need an open mind as well. But rushing through places hardly ever helps, that’s for sure. And meeting people can bring you to extraordinary places.

That’s what I wanted to show through a photo series of just waterfalls in just one country. I hope you enjoyed them.

 

Additional Reading

All photos by Coen Wubbels. Follow him on Instagram here and here.

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2 thoughts on “Slow Travel Through Waterfalls

  1. I’m lucky to have the gift of walking up to strangers and making them friends….sometimes! Once when we were moving to a new place many states away from “home” and because some people noticed the plates on the car started a conversation with us (you mentioned this above) we came to find out they were friends of my husbands parents. I thought what a small world, so far away from home and we make a connection. For you it must of really felt like that, we were in our home country and you very far away from yours. It’s all about some common ground I guess. Like the waterfalls, I bet there is people everywhere who enjoy them, in all countries big and small. My husband and I really enjoy reading about your travels and wish you both well. Safe Travels, Barbi and Joel, USA

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