On a fall day, I stood in awe on a crimson outcrop and got ready to be voluntarily engulfed by Chapada Diamantina, in the heart of Bahia. All around was a quiet sedimentary rock landscape which lay under warm seas about 700 million years ago and has been dramatically transformed by tectonic plate movements and erosion over the last half billion years to yield wonders such as Lapa Doce, the cave below.
To reach this famous and often-visited attraction in Iraquara, known as the City of Caves, our group took a short hike from our tour bus towards a sinkhole through an area of great, rough beauty.
The semi-arid vegetation has trees such as imburana (Commiphora leptophloeos), with its striking bark, and low growth such as small cacti.
A rock cavy (Kerodon rupestris, commonly known as mocó in Portuguese) paid close attention to the passing group.
The descent towards the cave is a bit steep (with steps), and it's important to go slowly for safety reasons as well as to appreciate time's writing on the walls.
The speleothems (cave formations) in Lapa Doce are vulnerable to the impact of tourism; some areas are off-limits to visitors and only so many people can enter the cave on a single day.
According to an article by Rodrigo Alves Santos of Bahia State University, one of the challenges posed by visitation is the accumulation of reddish clay sediments on the speleothems.
Though masks are not mandatory for visitors, I recommend you wear one, like Lapa Doce guides do, because of the silica particles suspended in the air.
Inside the cave, our guide, Edinei, turned off his lantern and we were immersed in complete darkness and silence for a while. Then we walked in the lantern's glow towards the cave opening, back to the sun-soaked surface of Chapada Diamantina.
- Lapa Doce - Iraquara, Bahia
Photos 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 8 by Patricia Ribeiro. Photos 4 and 7 by Joćo Ramos/Bahiatursa.
The writer's visit to Lapa Doce was part of a press trip to Chapada Diamantina with Bahiatursa. About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.