Iraquara, a town in the Northern portion of Chapada Diamantina in Bahia, has over 100 registered caves. The Lapa Doce system stands out as a tourist attraction in this land of karst and sinkholes.
Lapa is a Portuguese word for a cave without an exit, as in a shelter in the rock. Intentionally or not, the name of the attraction evokes the name of the city to which it belongs: Iraquara is a tupi guarani term meaning "honey cave".
The system is outside the borders of the Chapada Diamantina National Park. It is part of APA Marimbus/Iraquara, an environmental protection area which includes Marimbus, the Chapada Diamantina wetlands.
Over 16 miles of the Lapa Doce system have been mapped, but less than 1 mile is open to tourism. Consisting of large galleries which can be nearly 200 feet wide and 90 feet tall, the cave known as Lapa Doce I is rich in speleothems - formations such as stalactites, stalagmites and columns - sculpted by water circulation, dripping, condensation and other processes into shapes which have been named the Nativity Scene, Angel, Sugarloaf, Dog, and so on.
The cave is located inside a property with a snack bar, restrooms and a parking area. Access - with the assigned guides only - is through the sinkhole which separates Lapa Doce I from Lapa Doce II, open exclusively to research.
From the property entrance, a trail meanders through native semi-arid vegetation - with plants as velame, of the Croton genus, and licuri (Syagrus coronata) to the sinkhole. Keep your eyes peeled for mocós (or rock cavies, Kerodon rupestris). The path includes a descent of about 230 feet. The cave tour lasts about one hour and a half.
Part of the galleries is roped off for protection of the surfaces; no more than 12 people at a time can take the tour, which moves away from the broad cave entrance towards the back at a leisurely pace.
At one point on the tour, the guide asks the group if it's OK to turn off the lantern so you can experience complete darkness. At our group's request, he did it twice - a memorable experience in the depths of Chapada Diamantina.
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.
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