Lençóis Maranhenses is the most beautiful place I have ever been to. Situated on the northeastern coast of Brazil, the national park is composed of immense, white, sweeping sand dunes with pockets of crystal clear lagoons. These lagoons begin to form during the rainy season in Brazil, and are at their highest during the month of July.
I visited Lençóis with a group of friends while studying abroad in Rio de Janeiro. We spent a full two days exploring the park, running around the “sea” of sand dunes, and swimming in warm lagoons. The experience was truly unforgettable, and is a must-do for anyone who is adventurous and wants to see one of the most unique landscapes in the world.
When to go:
The exquisite, turquoise lagoons are not there all year around! The best times to visit the park are June through September, after the rainy season and before the water dries up.
How to get there:
Lençóis is a little tricky to get to, so I definitely recommend planning before your arrival. Sao Luis is the easiest and closest airport to fly into. From there, you have a couple of options:
1. Option 1: Take a bus from Sao Luis to Barreirinhas, the closest town to Lençóis Maranheses. The bus does not need to be reserved in advance, it is cheap and easy, but the rides takes about 4-5 hours depending on stops. If you go this route, I would recommend staying the night in Barreirinhas and visiting the national park the next day.
2. Option 2: Take a taxi or other kind of private transport to Barreirinhas. My friends and I were a group of seven people, so we booked private transportation, which ended up being around $27USD per person. We left the Sao Luis airport around 3 AM and arrived at our hostel in Barreirinhas around 7 am. We explored the national park that day, and afterwards stayed the night Barreirinhas.
3. Option 3: If you would rather stay in Sao Luis, which is a much bigger city and has many more accommodation options than Barreirinhas, you can book a day trip to Lençóis through a number of different tour companies. The tour company will arrange to have you collected at your accommodation in Sao Luis and will take you by coach to Barreirinhas where you will then be transferred to a 4x4 to explore the national park. From pick up to drop off, this full day tour usually takes around 17 hours.
Note that Barreirinhas is not IN the national park and access to the park is made exclusive by 4-wheel drive trucks. I highly recommend booking a 4x4 guided tour, which will pick you up and drop you off at your accommodation. Additionally, give yourself two days to explore the region. Walking up and down the sand dunes in the hot heat is exhausting, and it is better not to be rushed so you can truly enjoy your trip.
What To Do:
Take a tour of Lagoa Bonita and Lagoa Azul. This tour is probably the most popular, and rightfully so, as both lagoons are swimmable and the high sand dunes that form around them give a sense of infinity. My friends and I spent hours running down the steep dunes into the water below. It felt like we were exploring a different planet. I recommend booking a private tour, so you can explore the lagoon on your own time and escape the groups of tourists. This tour takes up almost the entire day so do not try to book any outdoor activities afterwards.
Take a boat trip to Vassouras, Mandacarú and Caburé. On our second day, my friends and I took a 7.5 hour boat ride (round trip) to Caburé beach. On the way, the boat stops along the mini sand dunes in Vassouras where you can relax and enjoy some fresh coconut water. Next, the boat takes you to a light house in Mandacarú where you can walk up and enjoy the beautiful views of the beach and ocean. Finally, the boat drops you off at Caburé beach where you can enjoy a fresh seafood lunch, and take a nap on the huge white sand beach. I personally loved this day trip. Although quite long, all the stops were worth it and at the end I was able to soak up the rays and drink a cold one on the beach.
Where to Stay:
I would recommend staying in Barreirinhas if you are going to visit Lençóis Marenheses. Staying close to the national park gives you maximum exploration time because you do not have to carve out time during your day for the 8 hour round trip drive from Sao Luis.
Barreirinhas offers an extensive list of accommodations although most are hostels or very basic hotels. We stayed at Pousada Santos, which was clean, had free wifi and was close to the town center so we were very happy with it. Do not expect to stay at any luxury, boutique hotels here.