Parque Nacional de Sete Cidades

in Piauí

Sete Cidades is a small 62-sq-km national park with bizarre rock formations that some have claimed are sete cidades (seven cities) left behind by some mysterious long-departed culture (aliens, Vikings etc). The place doesn’t need such fantasies to make it worth visiting, as the rock formations are indeed fantastic – some look like giant turtle shells, others resemble a castle, an elephant, a map of Brazil or the head of emperor Dom Pedro II.

The park offers superb vistas over caatinga (semi-arid land) and cerrado (savanna) vegetation.

There are also some 1500 intriguing rock paintings between 3000 and 5000 years old; wildlife that includes marmosets, small rodents called mocós (cavies) that like to pose for photos, tarantulas and (we’re told) rattlesnakes; and two delectable natural bathing pools. An attractive waterfall bursts into life when it's raining.

The park entrance is 190km northeast of Teresina, 24km northeast of the small town of Piripiri and 8km north by paved road off Hwy BR-222. From the entrance it’s another 5km (unpaved) to the visitors center. Obligatory guides cost R$80 for a three-hour tour of the seven 'cities' by vehicle, R$180 for a full-day walking tour (up to six people), or R$100 to R$180 to explore the park by bicycle (up to 10 people, plus R$10 for each bike you rent). Shorter, cheaper tours of fewer 'cities' are also available and staff at the visitors center will explain the options. Bring insect repellent, water, a hat and sunscreen.

A taxi from Piripiri costs R$80 to or from the park, or R$150 round-trip including a two-hour park driving tour.

From Piripiri bus station there are buses to Fortaleza (R$58 to R$70, seven to nine hours, eight daily via Tianguá), Parnaíba (R$29 to R$59, 2½ to four hours, eight daily), São Luís (R$98 to R$122, 10 to 12 hours, two daily), Teresina (R$34 to R$38, three hours, six daily) and Ubajara (R$16, 2½ hours, 2:30pm).