When I planned my trip to Brazil I already had most of my destinations presented on a silver tablet: Places like Rio de Janeiro or Foz do Iguacu were obvious choices and of course I didn’t want to miss them. Also, did I knew that Brazil has a lot more to offer: Just like this place, that should take my breath away at the end. A good friend from Sao Luis told me about it and the first moment I saw the pictures of Lencois Maranhenses it was no question for me that I have to see this beautiful place with my own eyes. Therefore, I will not only everything you need to know in this Lencois Maranhenses Guide but also add my personal experience and impressions from one of the most incredible places in whole Brazil. But first…
7 Fun facts about Lencois Maranhenses
- The National Park of Lencois Maranhenses covers an area of 1550 square kilometers (600 square miles) and includes 70 kilometers (43 miles) of coastline.
- It is only possible to enter the National Park with vehicles that have a 4 wheel-drive.
- The dunes in the National park can reach heights of 40 meters (130 feet)
- There are no toilets in the whole National Park
- Despite the area looking like a desert – it isn’t. The region is subject to a regular rain season during the beginning of the year.
- The lagoons in Lencois Maranhenses are filled with rainwater.
- Lencois Maranhenses was part of an Indian science fiction film called “Enthiran”
How to get to Lencois Maranhenses?
Via Sao Luis
Getting to Lencois Maranhenses is definitely the biggest drawback of this beautiful place: It has a totally remote location and is therefore not that easy to reach. However, there are plenty of tour organizers that will make your trip quite comfortable, even though it is not a short way. First of all, you should get Sao Luis, which is the capital of Maranhao, in which Lencois Maranhenses is located as well. To get there, I highly recommend using a flight. There are various options because different national and international airlines arrive and depart from the “Marechal Cunha Machado International Airport” in Sao Luis. From Sao Luis, which is also worth a visit, you can simply book one of the many tours that will bring you to Barreirinhas. This route is around 250 kilometers long and takes 4 to 5 hours with the buses that are provided by the tour operators. You can book these tours at the airport or in every hotel. Another option would be to rent a car, which is quite cheap, but not recommended by locals, especially if you don’t speak Portuguese as it can get dangerous from time to time.
Of course, there is not only this option. I actually met some French travelers that told me about their trip to Lencois Maranhenses. After they arrived at the “Pinto Martins – Fortaleza International Airport” and relaxed for some days in Fortaleza they rent a car and drove to Barreirinhas. The trip takes more than 9 hours and is therefore much less comfortable than from Sao Luis. If you want to combine your trip with a detour to Jericoacoara, which is also lovely, it might be a good idea. Like in Sao Luis you will find many connections from and to Fortaleza’s airport. If you need some tricks to find the good flights be sure to check out my guide for cheap flights.
Barreirinhas to Lencois Maranhenses National Park
Once you are in Barreirinhas you have the biggest part done! Still, the way from the little city, where most tourists stay, to the actual park is another story. It takes around one hour and can only be done with an organized transport. You will get into an offroad-vehicle and even cross a river with a little ferry. But don’t worry too much: Your tour operator will take care about everything. The way from Barreirinhas to Lencois Maranhenses takes around one hour but depends on where exactly you will go.
What to do in Lencois Maranhenses?
Once you made your way to Barreirinhas / Lencois Maranhenses there are almost endless options on what you can do. As I already mentioned, there are several tour operators that offer different tours – most of them are quite similar though. The classic tour will bring you to the famous lagoons, that are filled with rainwater and ready for some swimming. This is by far the most known part of Lencois Maranhenses and a must-do when you are there. The tours usually last for around half a day and will bring you to the lagoons that are in the best conditions and accessible. When I went there we had the choice of 5 different lagoons and hiked a bit around the dunes. They might look small, however, it was quite a challenge. But the reward of getting into the refreshing and crystal clear water was absolutely worth it. Some of the most beautiful lakes are usually the Bonita and Azul lake.
Additionally, you can book another half-day tour to the nearby rivers, where you will explore the region on a boat. Actually, there are many options, one of them being to take a small plane. The aerial view of the National Park of Lencois Maranhenses is incredibly stunning and I still regret I didn’t take this chance. Other great options are individual guided tours with an ATV or even a horse ride. The National Park in Lencois Maranhenses is absolutely stunning and will not disappoint you, no matter what you’ll choose to do at the end.
Best time to visit Lencois Maranhenses?
Usually, when you think about Brazil, you will think about Summer and sun. That is definitely the case for Lencois Maranhenses, still, the area is not a good choice for every season of the year. If you decide to go in the wrong months you could even get a horrible experience as the lagoons are not filled with water the whole year. The huge dunes are filled with rainwater during the rainy season and then turn into this fairytale place when the rain stops. You might wonder how the dunes can even get filled with that much water – and the answer is simple: There are impermeable rocks under the sand, which don’t percolate. Due to this, the clear rainwater stays in the dunes. It is generally possible to visit Lencois Maranhenses from May to September, however, the first and the last month are quite a risk. In May the rainy season is not fully over and if you’re unlucky you could witness heavy rainfalls. On the other hand, the dunes can already be completely dried out in September, depending on many factors. From what I’ve heard in my research and locals you have the best chances to experience Lencois Maranhenses in its whole beauty in the months of July and August. I was there in the middle of July and experienced the full lagoons and could enjoy swimming in them – which I will never forget. What you don’t have to think about is the temperature in Maranhao: It is hot the whole year.
How long to stay in Lencois Maranhenses?
This is a good question – and I can’t fully answer it. I only spent one day in Lencois Maranhenses and probably saw the most impressive part of it – the impressive dunes of the National Park with its beautiful lagoons. To be honest, I could’ve stayed there for a week. The place is just so beautiful, that the time flies. If you decide to take the long way to Lencois Maranhenses I highly recommend staying there longer than I did. Not only because there is more to see in the huge national park but also because a one-day-trip from Sao Luis is a rush – not something you’d want on your vacations. Therefore I’d recommend staying in Lencois Maranhenses for a couple of days – at least two days to do some different tours and enjoy the beautiful piece of nature.
Are you wondering how it feels to be in Brazil as a foreigner? I wrote down all my impressions and how I felt when I’ve arrived for the first time in Brazil. Some things were definitely not like I expected them. Find out everything right here.
Accommodation in Lencois Maranhenses
Because you obviously can’t sleep in the national park itself your best option is to stay in Barreirinhas. If you’re looking for a one-day trip you can also stay in Sao Luis, however, I would recommend you the first option. Here is a little selection for you, which I made based on ratings from various sites:
- Pousada Paraiso dos Lencois Lovely guest house. Best-rated for value. (40$/night)
- Porto Preguicas Resort High-class resort with an outdoor pool and free private parking. (110$/night)
- Chale Marinas Ideal location for couples with included Wi-Fi (40$/night)
Other tips and tricks for Lencois Maranhenses
Be sure to bring some cash before you head to Barreirinhas! While I was there I didn’t see any ATM’s and many hotels, tour operators and markets require cash to pay for their services and products. So you might want to be safe and just bring a little bit of cash with you.
The sunsets in the National Park of Lencois Maranhenses are absolutely breathtaking – avoid to miss it once you made it there! If you are a photographer you also should bring some of your photography gear. But be sure to not pack too much as the conditions inside the National Park are quite challenging. The sand is also not the best friend of an expensive camera. Still, a sunset in Lencois Maranhenses is something unforgettable.
Protection from the sun
While walking around the beautiful national park it’s easy to forget about the danger of the sun. The sun in Maranhao is incredibly strong and in the national park, you will not find any shadow that protects you a bit from the rays of sunlight. Be sure to bring enough water, use suncream and even wear a hat and face protection if needed, especially if you are not used to this sun. The local guide that showed us everything even used a scarf and long pants + a shirt with long sleeves. You don’t want to ruin your amazing trip because of this.
I hope this Lencois Maranhenses guide covered everything you wanted to know – and I’m sure you will love this place as much as I do once you made it there. It is a long way to go – but absolutely worth it in my eyes. Lencois Maranhenses should be part of every South America travel itinerary. If you have any questions or want to share your own experiences don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact me. I always appreciate your feedback!