Hiking Lencois Maranhenses National Park; Our Way
There are few words that can describe the beauty of Lencois Maranhenses National Park. Hidden away on the coast of Maranhao state in the Northeast of Brazil. At first sight, it appears to be a dry barren desert. However, this is no desert. It is in fact located on the edge of the Amazon basin and receives plenty of rainfall each year. Most of the rain here falls during the rainy season from January to June which gives Lencois Maranheses it’s uniqueness. Freshwater floods the desert leaving an array of oases stretching far past the horizon. July offers the best viewing dates for this rare occurrence. I do not know if this natural phenomenon occurs anywhere else in the world (let us know if it does) but once I saw pictures of this place, I knew we had to go.
Getting to Lencois Maranhenses; Our Way
We arrived in the town of Barreirinhas, but wanted to see Lencois Maranhenses on our own to get a sense of it’s serenity. So we headed down to the port to see a man about a boat. He was willing to take us to Atins for $60 BR. Swaying palm trees shrouded the river as we snaked our way through them. The ever rowdy primates jumped from tree to tree excited by our arrival. Atins sits on the edge of Lencois Maranhenses or so we were told. We found out the hard way when we began our hike to the park.
We began by following the coast to avoid getting lost until a lack of beach forced us inland. After an hour of walking we hit the first flooded plains. We waded our way through precariously under the watchful eye of the raging bulls who didn’t seem happy to share their land. We made it out unscathed and had reached the first signs that Lencois Maranhenses was near so we marched on enthusiastically. Another hour had passed under the ever present sun but still no flooded dunes that we were now craving. Instead just an overwhelming thirst and a big red nose that would put Rudolf to shame.
Out of nowhere a figure appeared in the distance. I squinted my eyes to try and see past the heat waves. Was it a bird? Was it a plane? NO, it was a crazy Brazilian man on a quad bike. We explained that we could not speak Portuguese but like all Brazilians, he saw that as an invitation to spark a conversation…in Portuguese! As always we looked to our Spanish skills to get the gist and after 10 minutes we figured he was offering a lift to a restaurant minutes from Lencois Maranhenses. Fortunately we had spoken to a Brazilian guy the day before about this restaurant so we gratefully accepted. We both sat on the back of his quad, clinging on for dear life as his driving was as crazy as he was but it was good fun bouncing up and down the dunes. Shaded hammocks gave us a welcomed break for a while. Rested and refueled, and with new directions from the owner. We got back on our way. One last surge!
By now white sweeping dunes were in true form, just missing that oasis we were now longing for. A flag stood at the top top of the tallest dune so we scrambled our way to the top. We had made it. It was there. Never ending beauty where forever begins. Smooth creamy waves of sand littered the horizon with blue and green lagoons filling the void of each dune. Not a single person in sight.
I dropped my rucksack and began running for the closest lagoon. As I began my descent I noticed that somebody had already beat me to it. There before me was an older couple playing ‘sink the sausage’. I rubbed my eyes (yes my eyes) to see if it was a mirage. But no I was not seeing things. That was an actual pair of 50 year old testicles slapping his wife’s arse right in front of me. This was not the serenity I had just floundered for four hours across the desert for! Nevertheless my presence didn’t seem to deter them from bumping uglies so we found ourselves walking again.
Only ten minutes later and we were back to solitude. Finally we were able to relax and soak in the lukewarm lagoons surrounded by paradise. We decided to stay and watch the sunset as I think we had earned it. Our footprints in the sand paved the way towards the sinking sun that had now turned the flooded dunes a fiery red. We had left our mark on Lencois Maranhenses but the nights wind would make sure that no trace remained.
We now had the daunting task of making our way back to Atins with no flashlight. This time we were taking no prisoners and marched as fast as possible but the sand only hindered our tracks. By now night had fallen and the situation was looking a bit moody. Out in the distance headlights were moving slowly. We began sprinting and shouting, waving our arms frantically like crazed cheerleaders. The white lights changed red and a passenger came running to our aid obviously thinking the worst. We explained all we wanted was a ride back to Atins. The lady kindly obliged but would not take a single cent from us for her kind deed. Thank you Miss for reminding us the world is a good place.
Getting To Lencois Maranhenses; The Practical Way
The best way to get to Lencois Maranhenses National Park is from the town of Barreirinhas. The town offers very little for tourism but has enough to get you by. 4×4 tours to the dunes run twice daily from Barreirinhas. However, they only visit Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Bonita located on the edge of the park. Though both are affordable and beautiful, you will have to share the lagoons with a lot of other tourists. Hence why we decided to explore on our own.
If, like us you want to experience the flooded sand dunes of Lencois Maranhenses for yourself, firstly, follow our route to Atins. Atins is pure tranquility by the ocean with very few inhabitants and even less tourists, perfect for off the beaten track tourism in Brazil. It’s location, however, offers convenient tours to to the national park either by quad bike or 4×4. To get to Atins, you can take a boat from the port in Barreirinhas for $30 BR per person ($60 BR min) which is a scenic one hour ride. Alternatively you can take a cheaper ($25 BR) yet uncomfortable 4×4 car ride from Barreirinhas to Atins.
How to Get To Barreirinhas
Sao Luis to Barreirinhas is the most accessible route. Official buses run from the Sao Luis rodoviario main bus terminal for $50 BR. You can also find alternative private minibus shuttles for the same price waiting outside the terminal. They normally don’t leave until they fill most of their seats but they will get you to Barreirinhas quicker than the official coaches.
People were also arriving from the small brazilian beach town of Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas. This was only possible through private minibus service but ask your hostel in Jericoacoara to sort that out for you.
Where to stay in Barreirinhas
There are a few choices of hostels in Barreirinhas. We don’t normally recommend hostels but Casa Do Professor is an old school hostel with cheap options, plus he let us pitch our tent in the back. Always a winner with us. The Professor is an eccentric man with perfect English and full of information about the surrounding areas. Don’t miss out on the street food up the road from his hostel too. Recommended by the Professor, it is the best 7 Reais you can spend in Brazil!