The first inhabitants of these mountains were the indigenous Brazilians. There were no permanent European settlements in this region until the early 1700’s. The Portuguese crown was aware of gold in the northern area of Chapada Diamantina. By 1720 the government “legalized” gold mining, and this era lasted almost 200 years.
By 1732 the Portuguese knew there were diamonds to be found, but mining for them was prohibited as they were afraid of Spanish intervention. In 1844 a rich gravel of diamonds was discovered near the town of Mucugê. The diamonds attracted a lot of adventurers, cowboys and criminals. Lençóis, Mucugê and Andaraí were the most important booming diamond cities. A french consulate was even built in Lençóis. But by the late 1800’s the diamond boom had lost most of its steam. As a result most of these towns fell into decay.
In the early 1980’s the area was invaded by a new wave of mining operators who used big diesel-pumps to dredge river channels at the foot of the hills. Fortunately, officials from various federal and state environmental agencies closed down these mines in 1996.
In 1985 the National park was founded with the help of Roy Funch, an American biologist, who arrived in the area in 1978 and still lives here. At that time Lençóis was a sleepy, rundown little village and the last big mine ( with 300 workers) had been shut down. Most of the town’s young people migrated to big cities like Rio de Janeiro, Salvador or São Paulo.
Nowadays there are still a small number of individual miners trying their luck prospecting for diamonds the traditional way.
In the 1990’s Lençóis gained popularity each year with national and international tourists who were overwhelmed by its natural beauty. Some foreigners stayed and became part of the small town community of Lençóis. Nearby Vale Do Capão became the place to be for “hippies” and people choosing for an alternative lifestyle.
Today the town has great infrastructure with luxury hotels and less expensive comfortable pousadas, as well as dozens of restaurants and shops.