Situated in the heart of Brazil, Chapada dos Guimares offers the visitor a variety of wildlife, including maned wolf, pampas deer, anteater and crowned caiman.
The red sandstone cliffs at the edge of the plateau give the landscape its characteristic appearance with canyons, caves and waterfalls. The topography indicates that at some time in the past the entire area was ocean floor. The typical vegetation of the savannah (known in Brazil as cerrado) comprises colourful flowers, low and twisted trees, and gallery forest which contains many diverse plant species. Among the mammals found here are maned wolf, pampas deer, anteater, and gato-palheiro (a type of wild cat); bird species include the gavião-uiraçu, eagle, several species of hummingbird, and socó-boi. Reptiles include jacaré-coroa (crowned caiman).
In addition to wildlife, the park has more than 40 archaeological sites, with cave paintings and fossils, and it is thought that dinosaurs once roamed the region. Some people consider the park to be a magical place, and claim to have seen UFOs, gnomes and fairies. However, there is no guarantee of such sightings! The dry season lasts from May until September, during which time tracks into the chapada are open. Between December and April rainfall is high and the tracks become inaccessible or even dangerous.
The mountain range after which Cuiaba was named, consists of various table mountains, the highest of which is São Jerônimo, rising 836 metres. The chapada divides the state of Mato Grosso into a southern area of flat wetland – the Pantanal – and the central upland region of high plateau. Further north lays the southernmost extent of Amazon rainforest.
The region’s first inhabitants were various indigenous groups such as the Caiapós, Guaicurus, Bororós and Paiaguás. In the 18th century explorers (known as bandeirantes) arrived in search of natural riches such as gold and diamonds. With the arrival of Jesuit missionaries in 1751 the town of Chapada dos Guimarães was founded and the church of Nossa Senhora de Santana built. With the war against Paraguay (1864-1870), the region fell into decline, but the fortunes of the town improved with the advent of mechanised farming and the expansion of cattle ranching in the 20th century. Nowadays the town has a population of around 12,000 inhabitants.
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