For a gap year adventure that enables you to try exciting activities and take in exotic scenery, Brazil is a destination that's hard to beat. However, as there are so many wonderful places to go it can be tricky to decide where to go first. Head to the north-east state of Bahia though, and you can be sure of having a wonderful getaway.
If you're planning on taking an active holiday to Latin America, the region is certain to be the place for you, with its diverse terrain incorporating tropical islands, desolate plains, high mountain ranges and so much more.
Hiking is one of the best ways to explore the area, with the Chapada Diamantina National Park a particularly popular spot for the activity. Coming here gives you the opportunity to climb up a number of table-top mountains, among them the Morro de Pai Inacio.
Standing 1,240 m above sea level, the peak can be ascended in around 15 minutes. However, there are some steep challenging sections to tackle, with one stretch requiring the use of all four limbs to navigate. As you reach the summit your efforts will be rewarded with fantastic views all around, with the western landscape looking particularly beautiful at sunset.
If you have a real head for heights, it's worth walking up to the Cachoeira da Fumaca, which is one of the tallest waterfalls in all of South America. Follow the trail leading out from the nearby village of Vale do Capao and you'll soon reach the falls' summit. From here, you'll get to stand at the top of the precipice and see the water tumble down rocks into the lake below, as well as soak up the breathtaking mountain scenery.
Although many people visit the Chapada Diamantina National Park in the hopes of connecting with nature, the reserve also has an exciting history of human occupation that you ought to explore.
The pretty town of Andarai hosts a fascinating weekly market each Monday, giving you the perfect chance to pick up some souvenirs of your South American gap year. However, what might really pique your interest is the fact it's at the heart of the local diamond mining industry and you will see evidence of dynamite blasts and aqueducts as you explore.
From here, get a car to the Poco Azul, where you descend down some wooden steps into a cave. You'll discover a tranquil blue pool in which you can go swimming while bathing in the sunlight that comes through a hole in the cavern's ceiling. Among the other nearby attractions are the River Garapa and Bocorio waterfall, which you can also bathe in, so there should always be something new to catch your attention.
Just off the mainland is the pretty island of Boipeba, which - in a similar manner to the rest of Bahia - contains a diverse array of terrain. This includes sand dunes and dense rainforest, while its crystal-blue seas make it the ideal place for water sports like kayaking and snorkelling.
Of course, you may be inclined to rest on one of the golden beaches for a while and just soak up the famous Brazilian sunshine. From your position on the sand you can see fishermen haul in their catch and watch locals practising capoeira, a traditional martial art that incorporates elements of dance and music.