Lençóis Maranhenses National Park: The Complete Guide

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

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Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses

Barreirinhas - MA, 65590-000, Brazil
Phone +55 98 3349-1267

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, in Maranhão State, is one of Brazil's top natural attractions. It is an ecosystem formed of white dunes which cover 383,000 acres and look like bedsheets (lençóis in Portuguese) spread out on the Northeastern coast. The dunes have been formed over thousands of years, as the sand from riverbeds is deposited at the mouth of the rivers and brought back to the continent by winds and sea currents.

The dunes advance as far as 31 miles inland and stretch along 27 miles of coastline, mostly deserted beaches. The seasonal lagoons fill up with rainwater, mostly during the first six months of the year, giving Lençóis Maranhenses its unique landscape. Mangroves, deserted beaches, bursitis—a graceful kind of palm tree—and the Preguiças River also contribute to the park's biodiversity.

Young man walking on the sand dunes of Lençois Maranhenses
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Things to Do

The best way to explore the park is to hop on a buggy or jeep with an experienced guide, who can take you to all the beautiful swimming lagoons. Some of the lagoons at Lençóis Maranhenses National Park are huge. Lagoa Bonita and Lagoa Azul are near the town of Barreirinhas. Lagoa Tropical, also worth a visit, is closer to the village of Atins. Lagoa da Gaivota (Seagull Lagoon), one of the park's largest and most beautiful, is near Santo Amaro do Maranhão, a village located about 60 miles from Barreirinhas.

When you've finished with the dunes, you can take a boat ride on the Preguiças River with a stop at Pequenos Lençóis to visit the lighthouse in Mandacaru or go tubing on the Formiga River in Cardosa. For the best view of the park, you can arrange a fly-over tour in a small airplane from Barreirinhas and if you feel like exploring more dunes, you can book a day-trip to Pequenos Lençóis, also known as Little Lençóis, which has the same kind of landscape but is much smaller.

Lagoon in the Desert

Patriiick / Wikimedia Commons

Where to Stay

There are no campgrounds or amenities in the park, so visitors spend the night in Barreirinhas and nearby towns. In this region, you can find basic accommodation like pousadas as well as more upscale hotels and resorts.

  • La Ferme de Georges: In the small village of Atins, this design hotel is made up of luxury chalets that look out over the dunes and has a high-quality restaurant that specializes in locally sourced ingredients and regional cuisine.
  • Porto Preguiças Resort: This highly-acclaimed resort has approximately 100 rooms on the property and offers a pool, room service, and complimentary breakfast.
  • Pousada do Riacho: Within walking distance of town, this affordable hotel made of small family-friendly chalets is very well-reviewed.
  • Pousada Boa Vista: Promising good views in its name, this basic budget-friendly hotel is quiet and clean, but sits on the edge of town overlooking the Preguiça River.

How to Get There

The park is about 156 miles from São Luís, the state capital, and access to the park is controlled by the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBIO), meaning only certified agencies can take travelers into the park. The gateway to the park is Barreirinhas, a town located about 156 miles from São Luís. Buses run between São Luis ad Barreirrinhas, but you could also take a charter flight from the São Luís International Airport.

If you rent a car, the drive from São Luis takes approximately four hours. First, you'll drive south on BR-135 until you can go east on BR-402. Eventually, you will get on MA-255 and can follow signs for Barreirinhas. From Jericoacoara National Park, another beautiful and protected dune area, the drive takes approximately seven hours, following BR-402 all the west until the road changes to the MA-325.

The trip along the coast from Lençóis Maranhenses National Park to Jericoacoara, Ceará covers beautiful and still pristine shores, including the short coast of Piauí and the spectacular Parnaíba Delta. Some longer tours, lasting about eight days, might include a stop at Seven Cities National Park, a fascinating archaeological site with unique rock formations. Some of the hotels in Barreirinhas offer transfers to Jericoacoara or you can sign up for a guided tour with adventure travel operators that specialize in the area's attractions.

Tips for Your Visit

  • It's possible to book tours in advance online, but you can also wait until you arrive in Barreirinhas to compare the prices and itineraries of different excursions. When traveling in Brazil, booking tours in person is standard practice.
  • Although there are guides who speak many languages, not all guides will speak English, so booking in person will also help you confirm that your tour will be in your desired language.
  • The best time to visit the park is roughly from May to September, when it's sunny, yet the lagoons are still full. Always assume it will be hot in Lençóis Maranhenses. Temperatures often reach the high 90s, even during the Brazilian winter (June through September).
  • Protect yourself with sunblock and a hat while visiting. The wind is a major cooling factor in Lençóis Maranhenses, and so are the park's lagoons, but the UV rays are strong.
  • Expect to find great fresh seafood at local restaurants. In Barreirinhas, one of the most famous places serving regional food is Restaurante do Carlão. You'll also find treats such as diverse as pizza, tapioca, and ice cream made from native fruit at restaurants around the city.
  • Sandboarding is another rare sport you might see in the park, but if you don't have your own board, you will need to ask around Barreirinhas to find a tour operator who specifically runs these types of excursions.
  • The park's sandy banks and lagoons make it a perfect playground for the niche sport of wakeskating, which is similar to wakeboarding. Like sandboarding, you may need to ask around in-person to find a guide that can offer this service as it can be difficult to get a boat out into the dunes.
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Lençóis Maranhenses National Park: The Complete Guide