Published October 2019
A unique landscape in Brazil, Lençóis Maranhenses is a national park with 155,000 hectares of dunes and lakes – viewed from above, it looks like a wrinkled bed sheet. Even though it’s similar to a desert dotted with oases, it’s not one: the rainy season extends from January to July, forming lakes that can be seen all year round and others that disappear in the dry season, from August to December.
The park can be visited any time of year, with alternatives to explore it. Discover which itinerary is perfect for you:
Most visitors stay in the city of Barreirinhas, three hours and a half from the capital of Maranhão, São Luís. It has more hotels, inns, and travel agencies than the other cities in the surroundings of the reserve. To get to the park from there, you need to cross the Preguiças River by ferry and take a 40-minute car ride.
The two most famous circuits are: Lagoa Azul, which passes by Lagoa da Preguiça, Lagoa da Esmeralda, and Lagoa do Peixe; and Lagoa Bonita, with stops at Lagoa do Descanso, Lagoa do Maçarico, and Lagoa do Clone. It’s possible to take the two routes on the same day, but it’s recommended to take them on different days, as they are covered on foot (vehicles are not allowed inside the park).
It’s advisable to hire a guide to help you situate yourself in the homogeneous landscape. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, water, and food – some dunes can be as tall as 165 feet [50 m], requiring a lot of physical energy. The tip is to book afternoon tours, when the sun is more lenient and you can watch a limpid sunset among the sand dunes.
Where to eat: There are two restaurants in the area. Few feet separate Restaurante da Luzia and Restaurante do Antônio, which serve, among other homemade recipes, great shrimp portions.
This is the more, let’s say, personal way to explore Lençóis Maranhenses. The itinerary consists of walking between three and five days to cover the whole park, stopping in the villages of Baixa Grande and Queimada dos Britos. It offers a closer contact with nature and exchanges with the local communities, since you spend the nights in hammock areas in the houses of local families.
Where to eat: The hosts usually cook everyday Maranhão recipes: country-style chicken, fresh fish, and goat meat with coconut milk.
The lovely Santo Amaro do Maranhão is a closer option for anyone coming from the airport in São Luís – 144 miles [232 km] away. As it’s smaller than Barreirinhas, the municipality still maintains a charming atmosphere. There, the itinerary starts on different circuits, like Lagoa da Gaivota (20 minutes from the city) or Lagoa da Bethânia.
In addition, there are several small beaches along the Alegre River, which cuts through the city. Rent a kayak or canoe to explore them!
Where to eat: Most of the gastronomic options are offered by the inns, but there are restaurants in the city with simple menus.