In the border between the States of Bahia and Alagoas, in the Northeast region of Brazil, there is a small, but very important, city: Paulo Afonso. Officially, the city is located at the State of Bahia, but just crossing the river that surrounds the city, you can reach the State of Alagoas. Despite its small size, with a population of 117 thousand inhabitants, Paulo Afonso is a significant city for the whole region, due to its huge Hydroelectric Complex, which supplies with water a good part of the Northeast region.
But Paulo Afonso goes beyond the hydroelectric facilities. The city also has excellent touristic potential. With rugged geography, including canyons and waterfalls, it is a perfect landscape for an adventure...not to mention the São Francisco River, one of the most important ones in Brazil.
The whole region can be visited on a day trip. You usually can hire guides at the tourist information center (in Portuguese, Serviço de Atendimento ao Turista) at the city center - they even accompany you in your car. Of course, if you do not have a car, you can search for companies that offer shuttle service around the region, already with a guide included (several options are departing from all capitals nearby, like Recife, Maceió, and Aracaju). The visit typically includes lakes, the waterfall, canyons, native vegetation, bridges, tunnels, and the entire structure of the hydroelectric plant. In this article, I will cover some of the best destinations in the region.
During this trip, you will understand the culture of the Northeast region of Brazil, its tales, and superstitions.
In 1948, the Brazilian Federal Government created the Hydroelectric Company of São Francisco, to harness the energy of the Paulo Afonso Waterfall. The construction camp brought workers, money, modernization, and in 1958, the independence and the official creation of the municipality of Paulo Afonso.
The Hydroelectric is built upon the São Francisco River in the central-western part of the State of Minas Gerais: it runs northward into the northeast region of Brazil, and it ends in the Atlantic Ocean. It is the longest river entirely located in the Brazilian territory (the Amazon River is the longest, but also expands to other countries of South America). The Hydroelectric Complex is a set of five plants located in the city of Paulo Afonso. It produces 4,279.6 megawatts of energy, generated from the strength of the waters of the Waterfall Paulo Afonso, a natural drop of 80 meters from the São Francisco River.
The Complex can be visited in an hour. To enter the hydroelectric plant, you need to be accompanied by an official guide, whom you can hire individually at the tourist information center or through a tour company. With the guide, you will be able to enter the plant's facilities and see a small internal museum, where the history of the construction and operation of the hydroelectric plant is explained. You will also have access to a part of the cave in the plant. The cost is approximately 80 reais per car (or so, 15 euros).
The Dom Pedro II Bridge, also known as the Metallic Bridge, is a steel structure built at the decade of 1950 when the Hydreletric complex started to be constructed by the Federal Government. The bridge was needed to connect the State of Alagoas with Bahia since the nearest bridge was very far from Paulo Afonso. The bridge was also necessary to facilitate locomotion for workers who came from the village of Delmiro Gouveia, on the opposite bank.
Nowadays, the bridge is also used for bungee jumping. With a span of 86 meters, it is a perfect place for spectacular jumps towards the river, with a beautiful view of the Canyon.
Another highly recommended tourist attraction is the boat trip through the Canyons of São Francisco. There you can enjoy the most beautiful landscapes and even swim in a reserved place (in some points, the river can be more than 15 meters deep). The tour is approximately 3 hours long, with 1 hour for bathing. Some of these tours have a guide, explaining through all the path the history and myths about the river. At some point, they also play music from local artists who sing about São Francisco.
The São Francisco River's Canyon is formed by a deep valley, carved in the rock. This part of the river has 65 kilometers of canyons, with natural granite walls of an over 110 meters height: it begins in Paulo Afonso and goes till another hydroelectric construction, called Xingó. The slopes are formed differently by the erosive action of water and winds. It is a fantastic experience.
Several companies offer this service. Keep in mind that in case of adverse weather conditions, the boats may not depart, so before you plan your trip, contact your tour operator. My tip for this attraction is to wear a swimsuit under light and comfortable clothes and flipflops. Wear a hat as well. In your backpack, do not forget to bring water, something light to eat, and sunscreen. If you forget, do not worry, you usually can buy food and drinks on the boats (it can be overpriced, though).
The trip to Paulo Afonso was unforgettable! It is definitely among my top five trips in the Northeast region, mainly because of the chance to enjoy incredible views and swim in the São Francisco river. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!!
Did you like the travel story?
Get more! Subscribe to our monthly inspiration newsletter.