Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

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Enter a world where nature displays its magic in a spectacle of white dunes and turquoise lagoons. The Lençóis Maranhenses National Park in Brazil is a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered by adventure enthusiasts and nature lovers. In this article, we will unveil the secrets of this natural wonder, providing you with a comprehensive guide to explore this paradise on Earth.

Introduction to Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

Geographical Location and Access

In the state of Maranhão, in northeastern Brazil, lies a unique and astonishing landscape. Lençóis Maranhenses National Park covers an area of 1,500 square kilometers of dunes and lagoons, forming a truly breathtaking panoramic view.
Located in the northeast of the state of Maranhão, Lençóis Maranhenses has its main access point from the town of Barreirinhas, which is nearby. From Barreirinhas, visitors can easily access the park and begin their exploration of the stunning dunes and lagoons.

The geographical coordinates for its location are 2°32’00″S latitude and 43°07’00″W longitude, situated in the subdivision known as Norte Maranhense. This region is famous for hosting one of Brazil’s most stunning landscapes, which attracts tourists and nature enthusiasts from around the world.

History and Designation as a National Park and Meaning of Its Name

Designated as a National Park on June 2, 1981, by Decree No. 86060, issued by the Presidency of the Republic, Lençóis Maranhenses with a protected area of 156,584 hectares, originated from unclaimed lands in the state of Maranhão, Brazil, which were government-owned. At that time, the park’s area encompassed 155,000 hectares.
An interesting curiosity is that this impressive natural landscape has also served as a backdrop for film productions, such as the movie "House of Sand." This natural wonder has drawn the attention of artists and filmmakers due to its unique beauty and grandeur.

Meaning of Its Name

The Lençóis Maranhenses takes its name from the inhabitants of Maranhão, called "Lençóis," which means "sheets" in Portuguese, a reference to the appearance of the vast white sand dunes that resemble a sea of white sheets.

Geographical Features

It is located in the Microrregion of Lençóis Maranhenses, situated on the northeastern coast of the Brazilian state of Maranhão. With a perimeter of 270 km and an area of 156,584 hectares, this park is a natural wonder that is part of the coastal marine biome. Within the park, you can find diverse ecosystems, including mangroves, marshes, and dunes.

Formation of the Dunes and Lagoons

Dunes and lagoons of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
The dunes of Lençóis Maranhenses were formed over thousands of years through the action of wind and rain. During the rainy season, the rains are collected in the depressions between the dunes, forming natural freshwater lagoons, some of which can reach up to three meters in depth. These extend over about 90,000 hectares, creating extensive marshy areas. The Atlantic Ocean coast is also part of this marvelous landscape.

The dunes cover an area from 5 to 25 km inland from the coast, creating a stunning panoramic view. It is in this park that the Preguiças River originates, cutting through the park until it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. This unique feature of the park divides the area and adds a special touch to its natural beauty.

Climate

In the park, the climate is classified as dry sub-humid, with an average annual temperature of around 26 °C. Despite its desert-like appearance, the region experiences two distinct seasons throughout the year. The rainy season spans from January to July, while the dry season extends from August to December.
During the rainy season, which occurs in the early months of the year, the region experiences significant precipitation that contributes to moisture control and the formation of freshwater lagoons. These lagoons, which are one of the main attractions of the park, form thanks to the rains collecting in the depressions between the white sand dunes.

It is important to note that during the transition period between the rainy and dry seasons, which occurs in December and January, and sometimes extending into late February, some of the lagoons may temporarily dry up. However, with the arrival of rains again, these lagoons refill, creating a unique and ever-changing spectacle in the park.

The average annual precipitation in the region is approximately 1600 mm, which contributes to maintaining the richness of the lagoons and the biodiversity of the park. This seasonal variation in climate adds an extra appeal for those wishing to visit and explore this natural wonder at different times of the year.

Biodiversity in Lençóis Maranhenses

Native Flora

The white sand dunes, although seemingly barren, host a variety of hardy plants that adapt to the salty and sandy environment. During the rainy season, lilies and bromeliads bloom, adding a touch of color to the monochromatic landscape.

Endemic Fauna

Despite the harsh conditions, various species of fish, turtles, and even wild donkeys have found a home in the park. Migratory fish are especially notable as they surprisingly survive in the lagoons during the dry season.

Migratory Species

Lençóis Maranhenses is also an important refuge for North American migratory birds, making it a privileged spot for birdwatching.

Activities and Tourist Attractions

In Barreirinhas

Blue Lagoon Circuit (Circuito Lagoa Azul)

This circuit is one of the most popular attractions in Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. Along 12 km of trails in the restinga (coastal vegetation), visitors can venture into fields of dunes on a trail of approximately 2 km. During the journey, you can visit various lagoons such as Lagoa da Preguiça, Lagoa da Esmeralda, Lagoa Azul, and Lagoa do Peixe, with the latter being the only lagoon that maintains water year-round. For those with mobility difficulties, traditional vehicles are allowed access to the limits of Lagoa da Preguiça, with prior authorization from the park administration.

Beautiful Lagoon Circuit (Circuito Lagoa Bonita)

Located 15 km from Barreirinhas, this attractive circuit requires climbing a steep dune approximately 30 meters high, for which a rope is provided to assist with the ascent. The effort is rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view from the dune field and the restinga vegetation of the park. After the climb, visitors can enjoy Lagoa Bonita. In this circuit, you can also visit Lagoa do Clone, so named because it was the setting for a famous soap opera called "O Clone" in 2001.

Lagoa da Esperança (Laguna de la Esperanza)

This lagoon is formed by the interruption of the course of the Río Negro, caused by its encounter with the dune fields. Because of this, Lagoa da Esperança is perennial and is not located within the dunes but on its margin. It is ideal to visit during the dry months when other lagoons may dry up. It borders the municipalities of Barreirinhas and Santo Amaro.

Atins

The village of Atins is located at the mouth of the Preguiças River, just outside the National Park but very close to it. Here, visitors can enjoy beach walks, restinga, dunes, and fields, as well as engage in sports like kite-surfing, wind-surfing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, cycling, surfing, and more. Atins is sought after by those looking for tranquility, intimate contact with nature, and the local community.

Canto dos Lençóis (Lençóis District)

Located within the National Park, this small village is inhabited by traditional fishermen. It offers a beautiful view of the dune fields and is by the beach. Although it lacks electrical power, there are community restaurants serving typical food and offering simple accommodations. It serves as a starting point for trekking and crossings of the dune fields to the municipality of Santo Amaro.

Rio Negro Mouth Circuit (Circuito Foz do Rio Negro)

The Rio Negro circuit is done along the beach of the National Park, starting from Atins. The main attraction is the place where the Rio Negro meets the sea, where visitors can bathe in the small shore waterfalls. This attraction is only available when the Rio Negro has water, so it is recommended to check with the park administration or local reception beforehand. Additionally, within the circuit, you can visit Lagoa Verde, which is located near the beach and maintains water most of the year, about a 30-minute walk from the dune fields.

In Santo Amaro

Lagoa da Gaivota (Seagull Lagoon)

This is the main attraction in the municipality of Santo Amaro and is considered the most beautiful landscape in Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. Lagoa da Gaivota is a nesting area for seagulls, making it an excellent spot for birdwatching. In the nearby circuits, you can also find Lagoas da Andorinha (Swallow Lagoons), Lagoa do Cajueiro (Cashew Lagoon), and Lagoa do Maçarico (Curlew Lagoon), ideal for kitesurfing. On the way to this attraction, visitors can also enjoy Lago de Santo Amaro. Access can be done via pedestrian trails or in 4×4 vehicles authorized by the park.

Lagoa da Betânia (Betânia Lagoon)

Like Lagoa Esperança, this lagoon is a river course interrupted by the dune fields. It is located in the village of Betânia, which offers some basic services. The variation in water color and the landscape with the dune fields as a backdrop make a visit to this attraction unique.

Lagoa das Emendadas (Emendadas Lagoon)

This lagoon is only accessible by waking up, as it is within the dune fields and is connected to several other lagoons, which can extend for several kilometers. Being an attraction within the dune fields, visitors can get a sense of the impressive size of Lençóis Maranhenses.

Praia da Travosa (Travosa Beach)

Located next to the village of Travosa, a fishing community, Praia da Travosa offers an extensive coastline with the dune field as a backdrop. In April, a regional surf championship is held on this beach, making it an interesting spot for surf enthusiasts.

Primitive Zone

Queimada dos Britos and Baixa Grande

These two restinga vegetation areas are located within the dune field of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. They are true oases and a perfect place to stay overnight if you are planning to cross the park. Both regions are designated as the Primitive Zone of the park, where visits are limited to minimize environmental impact. Therefore, the use of any motorized vehicles for tours or visits in these areas is prohibited.
Approximately 30 families live in these areas and are the only ones authorized to use motorized vehicles for their survival and transportation of people, food, and materials.
This is undoubtedly the best attraction in Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. Hikes can last up to 5 days and are carried out along the beach and dunes, with refreshing swims in the lagoons. During the journey, you stay in local communities, offering a unique experience to interact with the traditional population.

The oases harbor the greatest biodiversity of flora and fauna in the park and feature lagoons where you can swim for most of the year, either within the oasis or in the dune field.

It is mandatory to hire a local guide to enter the Primitive Zone, as it is easy to get lost in the dune fields, and in many places, there is no cell phone coverage. Additionally, in certain areas, you may go days without encountering other people. Visitor safety is their own responsibility, so it is crucial to ensure you have the physical conditions and necessary skills to traverse it safely.

Excursions and Hiking Routes

There are numerous hiking routes and guided excursions to explore the park. Walking through the dunes and swimming in the lagoons is an unforgettable experience.

Boat Tours and Swimming in the Lagoons

The freshwater lagoons are perfect for a refreshing swim. Additionally, you can take boat tours on the Preguiças River, which offers spectacular views of the park and its surroundings.

Lagoon Bathing

The freshwater lagoons formed between the dunes are ideal for a refreshing bath. Take a dip in the crystal-clear waters of the lagoons and relax while enjoying the surrounding landscape.

Water Sports

If you’re a water sports enthusiast, this place has something for you too. You can practice kite-surfing, wind-surfing, kayaking, and stand-up paddle in the lagoons and beaches of the area.

Bicycle Tours

Explore the park’s surroundings by bicycle and admire the natural beauty around you. You can ride on nearby trails and paths to enjoy a nature-immersed experience.

Off-Roading (4×4 Driving)

For those seeking a dose of adventure and excitement, off-roading is allowed in certain authorized areas of the park. Enjoy thrilling rides in 4×4 vehicles to explore this incredible earthly paradise more deeply.

Photographic Tours

Thanks to its unique natural beauty, the park is a paradise for photographers. Don’t forget your camera to capture the majesty of this extraordinary landscape.

Wildlife Observation

The rich biodiversity of the park provides excellent opportunities for wildlife observation, especially during the migratory season.

Local Culture and Cuisine

Local Communities

The surrounding villages largely rely on fishing and tourism. Travelers can learn about local culture and traditions and experience warm Brazilian hospitality.

Barreirinhas

It is the closest city to the park and one of the main starting points for exploring the region. Here, you’ll find a more developed tourist infrastructure with accommodation options, restaurants, and travel agencies.

Atins

Located at the mouth of the Preguiças River, outside the National Park, Atins is a small fishing village that offers a quieter experience in direct contact with nature and the local community. It is sought after by those looking for peace and authenticity.

Canto dos Lençóis (Lençóis Village)

This small village is located within the National Park and is inhabited by traditional fishermen. It offers a stunning view of the dune fields and is next to the beach. Although it lacks electricity, there are community restaurants serving typical food and offering simple accommodation.

Santo Amaro

Another community near the park, Santo Amaro offers a more authentic and less touristy experience. It serves as a starting point for those wishing to embark on multi-day hikes through the oases and dune fields of the park.
These local communities provide travelers with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the life and culture of the region, adding special value to the experience of exploring Lençóis Maranhenses National Park.

Festivals and Events

The Bumba-meu-boi festival, a folk celebration that takes place in June, is an opportunity to experience the vibrant local culture and its unique music and dance.

Regional Dishes

The region is famous for its cuisine, with dishes such as arroz de cuxá (a local rice dish), shrimp dishes, and jambu, a local plant with a distinctive flavor.

Sustainability and Conservation

Importance of Conservation

The park plays a crucial role in conserving the biodiversity of the region and is an important refuge for many species. Its preservation is essential for the ecological balance of the area.

Challenges in Conservation

Conserving the park faces various challenges, including tourist pressure and climate change. It is crucial for visitors to follow established guidelines to minimize their impact.

Conservation Initiatives and Programs

There are various initiatives and programs aimed at the conservation of the park, including scientific research, environmental education, and sustainable tourism management.

Practical Information for Visitors

How to Get to Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

The park is accessible through the city of Barreirinhas, which can be reached by bus or plane from São Luís. Within the park, the best way to get around is on foot or in 4×4 vehicles. You can consider the following options:

By Plane

The nearest commercial airports to the park are in São Luiz/MA (code SLZ) and Parnaíba/PI (code PHB). From either of these airports, you can take land transport to the cities that provide access to the park.

From Barreirinhas

This is one of the main cities that provide access to the park. To get to Barreirinhas, you can use the MA-402 highway, which is paved and in good driving condition. In Barreirinhas, you will find hotel infrastructure, dining options, and numerous tour agencies that offer trips to Lençóis Maranhenses National Park and other nearby attractions.

From Santo Amaro do Maranhão

Another city that allows you to access the park is Santo Amaro. To get there, you should use the MA-402 highway. Santo Amaro has hostels and restaurants and is only 2 km from Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, which you can reach on foot or by traditional vehicles.

Other Access Options

There is also access to the park from the cities of Humberto de Campos and Primeira Cruz. For those looking for an adventure experience, another access option is through Paulino Neves/MA, which is part of the Rota da Emoção (Route of Emotion), a tourist itinerary that covers several states and federal conservation units.
It’s important to mention that once you arrive in Barreirinhas or Santo Amaro, access to the interior of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is done by crossing the Preguiças River by ferry, and from this point on, only 4×4 vehicles equipped with snorkels are allowed due to the terrain conditions.

Accommodation and Services

Barreirinhas and nearby towns offer a variety of accommodation options, from hostels to luxury resorts. Services include restaurants, shops, and travel agencies. Check the nearby communities for accommodation.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, if you want to avoid rain and enjoy more pleasant temperatures, is during the dry season, which extends from August to December. During these months, rainfall is lower, and the likelihood of significant rain decreases considerably.
The rainy season, from January to July, can be a good time as well since the rains contribute to the formation of the lagoons. However, you are more likely to encounter frequent precipitation and a more humid environment, which can hinder outdoor activities.

Basic Kit for the Visit

Remember to bring sunscreen, a hat, water, and comfortable walking shoes. It is also advisable to hire local guides for a safer and more enriching experience.

Entrance Fees

Currently, there is no specific entrance fee to enter Lençóis Maranhenses National Park by ICMBio (Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation). However, accredited agencies and tour operators may charge fees for the services they provide to visitors.
It’s important to note that while the entrance to the park itself may be free, some activities and guided tours within the park may have an additional cost. These fees can vary depending on the agency or tour operator you choose, as well as the type of activity you wish to undertake.

Contact Information

  • Address: Barreirinhas – State of Maranhão, 65590-000, Brazil.
  • Phone: +55 98 3349-1267.

Visitor Rules and Regulations

Visitors must respect the park’s rules, which include not littering, not making fires, and not disturbing wildlife. Respect for the environment is essential for the conservation of this extraordinary place.