In a region of outstanding natural beauty, the small town of Lençóis was once known as the Diamond Capital thanks to the frenzy that took hold in 1822 after the discovery of the precious gems in riverbeds around the town of Mucugê. Hordes of people hoping to make their fortune flooded the region, and the town earned its name—Lençóis means "bedsheet" in Portuguese—thanks to the hundreds of makeshift tents of white cotton fabric built by garimperos (gold and precious-stoneseekers). While the heady golden age of quick fortunes came to a halt toward the end of the 19th century, diamond prospecting by local garimperos continued right up until 1993, when it was deemed illegal due to environmental concerns. Some say that only 40% of the area’s diamonds have actually been recovered.
What could have spelled the rapid decline of this historic town, as was the case with Ilhéus and the end of the cacao industry, turned out to be its savior: in 1985 Lençóis and the surrounding area was designated a national park, now known as the Parque Nacional de Chapada Diamantina. Tourism really took off in 1992 when the area was used as the location for filming the Brazilian soap opera Pedra por Pedra. Chapada Diamantina’s stunning natural splendor captivated the nation and visitors flocked to explore the nascent adventure capital’s verdant hills and waterfalls, while former miners found work building new hotels, restoring historic buildings, and training as local guides. While far from perfect, Lençóis has evolved into one of Brazil’s most charming small towns, where nature-lovers from across the world settle and locals still tell tales of those heady diamond days.