Only an hour from Cuiabá, the Chapada dos Guimarães is a stunningly beautiful mountainous region situated on one of the planet’s oldest tectonic plates. While the tiny eponymous town is pretty—and the nexus for Brazilian New Age types—the surrounding region, with its rugged cliffs, plunging canyons, and abundant waterfalls, is the real draw. Arid scrubland and coppery red rock formations reminiscent of the Grand Canyon alternate with lush patches of tropical foliage that sprout around the many rivers and natural pools.
Much of the area is preserved within the Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Guimarães, a park with breathtakingly scenic (though often unmarked) hiking trails and numerous waterfalls that you can swim in. Take note that in the winter months (July–August), temperatures can go down to freezing at night. Summer months are better for bathing and for taking advantage of the marvelous vistas (in the winter, mist is common), but there are also more crowds and frequent rains.
The Chapada’s geodesic centrality and the positive energies associated with this fact are partially responsible for a certain mystical, neo-hippie aura that permeates the charming little town of Chapada dos Guimarães. The pretty main square, Praça Dom Wunibaldo, conserves the baroque Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Santana do Sacramento, Mato Grosso’s oldest church, dating to 1779. If you visit in late June–early July, take advantage of the Festival de Inverno, a lively arts and music festival with an interesting alternative edge. The town is also a good place to pick up locally produced art and handicrafts. Several good shops are located on Praça Dom Wunibaldo; one of the most interesting and least touristy is ipiaío, featuring original and clever pieces such as embroidered saints’ altars made from sardine tins made by owner and local artist Vany Pinheiro.