The Lençóis Maranhenses are certainly the natural treasure of the Northeast of Brazil, if not the entire country. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry would certainly have chosen this “desert” for the meeting between the aviator and the Little Prince…
This wonderful white sand desert stretches over nearly 155,000 hectares. It is an infinite and changing landscape of pristine dunes whose particularity is its multitude of freshwater lagoons which can be seen more than half of the year. It is a paradise for trekkers and photographers, an unforgettable destination and an experience that we invite you to discover.
Geography and climate
The Lençóis National Park is located in the state of Maranhão. It covers a wide strip of about 25 km that borders the Nordeste coast for nearly 70 km, west of the picturesque fishing village of Atins, of the Delta of the Americas and roughly 100 km east of São Luís.
With an average temperature close to 30°C year-round, this dune landscape is the sign of an arid environment, subject to a desert climate. Indeed, the thermal amplitude rarely exceeds 10°, which means that it is hot all the time. But rest assured, the geography of the area and the proximity of the ocean favor the persistence of a pleasant wind which makes it possible for everyone to discover these unusual landscapes.
Can we call desert a region that is so irrigated and with so much rainfall? A wadi, the Rio Negro runs through the park from side to side and “nomadic Gueltas” form in different places with each cycle. Rainfall is high, close to that of the Amazonian forest, between 1400 mm and 1700 mm of per year and the rainy season lasts mainly from December to April. During this period, water accumulates in the dunes and creates a multitude of miraculous lagoons. The little vegetation there is mainly found in two oases where some families live from fishing, livestock and tourism.
The convergence of natural phenomena, a perfect blend.
The advantage of this Saharan landscape, which is the result of an unlikely alchemy that only nature can offer, lies in its subsoil but not only. We are here at the convergence point of several phenomena, in a transition zone between the equatorial climate (the Amazon is right around the corner), the tropical climate and the semi-arid climate.
Discover Mother Nature’s secret formula !
Take a deep east-west marine current that has been depositing sediments along the coast for thousands of years, add an exceptional tidal range (7 to 8 meters) revealing very large stretches of sand on the slight slope of this coastline then “braise” all this with abundant sunshine transforming this wet sand into light “rock dust”.
Wait until the strong east-west winds blow everything up into the air to sprinkle the Caatinga (which is similar to the savannah) with thin layers of white sand, which takes on a silvery shine at night.
Finally, you will see the magic happen when the very intense tropical rains fill this arid landscape. Fortunately, these penetrating waters are retained very early on by a layer of clay with very low permeability. Thus the fresh water is exposed and reveals to us the emerged part of these groundwater tables. The Lençóis Maranhenses were born and are constantly being reborn in this way!
Lençóis Maranhenses - Brésil
- Idal > from May to September
- Favorable > the rest of the year
Alternate calendar for photographers:
- Idéal > from February to May
- Suitable > the rest of the year
A few words about Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
The Lençóis Maranhenses National Park was created in 1981 to protect this stunning landscape of dunes, lagoons and oases. The term “lençóis” means “sheets” in Portuguese and it is true that seen from the sky the vastness of this white desert resembles a sheet carelessly thrown over the otherwise green landscape of Maranhão. The term “Lençóis” could also come from the other meaning of the word: “aquifers”, or groundwater.
Under the moonlight, this land becomes a star in the night and captivates us when winds come in dancing, whipping the dunes and giving life to those “sheets” that have waited for the right moment to set themselves in motion, resulting in the most unreal scenery….
The park is closed to tourist vehicles, which has contributed to making it one of South America’s most beautiful trekking destinations. It takes a day to reach it and you can discover it on an excursion or during a longer trek of a few days, staying with inhabitants of the two oases for a few nights. There are 3 main gateways: Barreirinhas, the coastal village of Atins, or Santo Amaro.
The Lençóis Maranhenses seem to be constantly sculpted by the wild elements and to have come from the imagination of a painter who, in search of purity, would have chosen this vast desert of pristine white sand to set his canvas. The lagoons are green and turquoise and the sky is often blue and sometimes dark. A blazing sun hits the dunes which appear white during day and turn yellow when it sets. This painting then gains even more depth, with golden, almost tawny touches covering the dunes.
All this makes the Lençóis Maranhenses one of the most exhilarating masterpieces of nature where it is possible to maintain the balance between body and mind, peace and cheerfulness. A scenic richness that gives the feeling of being in a film setting… It is up to you to be the actor !
Our expert opinion
A destination which requires careful planning
This natural site, which seems unlikely in these almost equatorial latitudes, offers a most bewitching sight, a dreamlike scenery with soft and pleasant curves which requires to be respected. The climatic and geological conditions of the area call for us to plan our discovery well. The Lençóis Maranhenses are the meeting point of a multitude of ecosystems in constant evolution, which makes them eternally original and encourages vigilance.
Whether you come for a trekking or a discovery in the form of an excursion, plan your stopover well and allocate the necessary time to fully enjoy it under the best conditions. Your children will be even more excited.
An outdoor destination before anything else
This national park alone deserves a good week of your time, but it can also be considered as part of a journey from São Luís to Jericoacoara. It is probably, over a relatively short distance, one of the most colouful itineraries in Brazil, full of color contrast and discoveries of various ecosystems and emotions. The Brazilians named it “A Rota das Emoções” (The Road of Emotions) for a reason!
However, think of other nearby destinations such as Barra Grande or Jericoacoara for a truly relaxing seaside break.
A year-round destination
Even though the time considered best to visit is when the lagoons are full, years of experience show us that actually, whatever the period, a few lagoons are enough to make your experience unforgettable, as the dune landscape remains a striking spectacle that leaves no one indifferent.
You can trust us and contact us all year round to discover the Lençóis Maranhenses.
Why you should visit the Lençóis Maranhenses
Here are some of the excellent reasons to come to the Lençóis of Maranhão :
- A unique geological phenomenon, an unreal paradise, a moving lunar landscape, one of the jewels of Latin America
- Thousands of freshwater lagoons suitable for swimming that delight young and old alike
- An experience of total immersion in a virgin, wild and preserved environment
- The opportunity to do a 3 to 4-day trek accessible to a large number of hikers
- The discovery of oases, the possibility of staying with the locals for a few nights, in touch with island communities.
- Breathtaking landscapes in all seasons, from sunrise to sunset
- The photographer’s paradise (prefer the end of the rainy season for its light and magnificent contrasts)
- A region with an atmosphere conducive to meditation and yoga.
Some ideas to make your stay in The Lençóis unforgettable
- A trek of a few days from Barreirinhas, Atins, Sucuriu or Santo Amaro
- Climb and then run down the white sand dunes of the Lençóis, some of which are 40 metres high!
- Swimming in the fresh, crystalline and temperate waters of the lagoons
- Watch a flaming sunrise over the dunes
- Walk under the stars in a peaceful and lunar landscape and feel like the Little Prince
- Spend the night in an oasis, where the inhabitants will have you as their guest.
- Eat a delicious galinha caipira (Brazilian speciality of chicken cooked in sauce)…
- … then fall asleep satiated in a comfortable hammock
- Enjoy a boat ride between the Porto de Fora d’Atins and Barreirinhas on the Rio Preguiças
- Go kiteboarding over the beaches of Atins
Information and anecdotes
Brazilian flip flops
The most suitable “shoes” to wear when discovering the Lençois Maranhenses, especially during treks are the Brazilian flip flops! Our team will explain why.
Honoured by the Apple brand
Among all the natural beauties of the world, Apple has chosen a picture of the Lençóis Maranhenses for its official screensaver.
Casa de Areia (House of Sand), the film
This magnificent film, starring the great actresses Fernanda Montengro and her daughter Fernanda Torres, was set in the National Park: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/the_house_of_sand
Moving sands and waters
If you look at the water closely when you cross certain lagoons, you will notice a current… In fact, the lagoons communicate with each other under the dunes. As for the dunes, they advance at high speed on a geological scale, from 5 to 25 meters per year towards the inland. A park in motion that is expanding !
The Lençóis by canoe
During a short period of the year the Rio Negro finds its way between the dunes to reach the ocean Crossing the Lençois by canoe becomes possible! Only a handful of adventurers know this micro-phenomenon.
The Lençóis, a promised land
The indigenous people have settled here fleeing the great droughts of the Sertão Nordestin. Driven out of their territory by the aridity, this “desert”, the Lençois, appeared to them as an oasis…
Except for one detail….
Did you know? Would the Lençóis wind sand not have the characteristic of being composed mainly of quartz (95%) and of having a very low carbonate content, then it would probably not exist in such proportions. Indeed, such grains of sand do not agglomerate and are more easily transported by the wind.
To go further….
Read the description of the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park provided by Jean-Paul Delfino in our “Travel diary” section: terra-nordeste.com/en/lencois-maranhenses-seen-by-jean-paul-delfino/