Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

A paradise in the middle of the desert.

 By Nádia Nogueira

The undisputed beauty of the dunes at Lençóis Maranhenses N.P. is breathtaking and mesmerizing for the tourists who visit this paradise in the middle of the desert

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park was built in 1981, in a space totalling 155,000 hectares, on the edge of the Preguiças River, in the north eastern region of the state of Maranhão; around 260 km from the capital, São Luís.

You can get there by land, on BR 135; or by sea, through the canal in the Preguiças river, in Atins; or by water way, at Barreirinhas, which also runs through the Preguiças river.

With dunes that reach 40 meters in height and fresh water lagoons, it has already been the backdrop for the film Casa de Areia (House of Sand), starring Fernanda Montenegro and Fernanda Torres. This Brazilian film, directed by Andrucha Waddington, won three awards: Sundance Film Festival, Satellite Award and the Grande Prêmio Cinema Brasil. Also, it was selected by many festivals and one was the Toronto International Film Festival, in 2005.

The best times to visit the Lençóis are between the months of May and October, when the lagoons in the park are full of water. During the dry season, November to January, the lagoons begin their draining process and the water levels decrease. During the period of rain, February to April, water levels return to normal.

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park offers many types of tours, either through the lagoons or beaches in the region. The ideal thing to do is to visit one each day. The Lagoa Azul is considered the most beautiful of them all! The turquoise blue water is breathtaking. It is a two hour drive by jeep – the most common form of transport, to get to the lagoon. Try to do this tour in the afternoon, to see the sun set in the middle of the Brazilian desert.

The Lagoa Bonita, which does justice to the name, is in the same direction as the Lagoa Azul, but in order to get there you need to climb a 40 meter sand dune– there are ropes to help you up. Even though this may be challenging and tiring, this tour is worth the effort! The view from the top of the dune is amazing! Also, schedule a boat trip to the beaches of Ponta do Mangue, Moitas, Vassouras, Morro do Boi, and Barra do Tatu. On many of them you may find animals in the wild, such as the capuchin monkeys, who interact with the visitors.

Caburé beach is recommended for the adventurous types, as this location does not have electrical energy and everything runs on generators that work only during the day. When night falls, gas lanterns are lit and visitors can watch the stars in the sky. The trip by speedboat from Barreirinhas to Caburé takes around 1 ½ hours.

The Preguiças Lighthouse, more commonly known as the Mandacaru Lighthouse, was erected in 1940, in the town of Mandacaru. This tourist spot is a one hour trip through the Preguiças River. There are 160 steps to the top of the tower; 35 meters high. At the top, you will have a panoramic view of the river, the ocean and the Lençóis – it will leave you speechless.

The tour through Rio Preguiças is done in a small aluminum boat – called the “voadeira”, which takes tourists to an environmentally protected area in the small Lençóis, passing by Vassouras, followed by Mandacaru and, finally, in the peninsula that separates the Caburé river, where the Preguiças river meets the Atlantic ocean.

Lastly, enjoy the typical maranhense cuisine! The most famous dish is the cuxá rice, made with vinagreira – a common vegetable in the state – sesame seeds, dried shrimp and hot peppers. Ask for this dish with fried fishand your trip will be even more unforgettable!

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Lençóis Maranhenses