Brazil's Sahara Desert is South America's Most Underrated Tourist Attraction

Lencois laguna Azul tour, Brazil
Lencois laguna Azul tour, Brazil | © tateyama/Shutterstock
Sarah Brown

Lençóis Maranhenses is like nothing else in Brazil and is relatively unknown in South America, which is a blessing: the natural attraction remains perfectly preserved and balanced, with little human development in the area. Lençóis Maranhenses is a vast national park made up of white sand dunes with deep-blue lakes in between them. In short, it’s stunning. Here’s everything you need to know about this underrated spot.

Natural rainwater pools in Lencois Maranhenses National Park, Maranhao, Brazil

Located in the north of Brazil is Lençóis Maranhenses national park, the main reason for tourists to venture to the lesser-known state of Maranhão. The region was declared a national park in 1981 and spreads across the center of the coastline, totaling an area of 606 square miles (1,570 square kilometers). It is one of the most unusual and striking landscapes in all of Brazil, with its wide, rolling sand dunes that constantly change their appearance every day due to the winds that whip across the park. The area sees heavy rain in the first few months of the year, which leaves behind pools of freshwater in between the dips of the dunes, creating a striking contrast of white against the shades of blue.

The dazzling colors of Lençóis Maranhenses

The best way of getting to Lençóis Maranhenses is from Barreirinhas, which is 155 miles (250 kilometers) from São Luís, the capital of Maranhão state. The city has several great hotels and restaurants to cater for the visitors that come to trek the national park, and it also has a natural attraction of its own: the river Preguiças, so-called due to the wild sloths that live in the area (preguiça being Portuguese for “sloth”). To get to Barreirinhas you can take a direct bus from the Terminal Rodoviário in São Luís.

Lençóis Maranhenses with its crystal clear freshwater lagoons and white dunes

To explore Lençóis Maranhenses, you can take a 4×4 trip into the dunes, which lets you wander around the sandy hills for a couple of hours as well as swim in the freshwater lakes, including some of the most beautiful such as Lagoa Bonita, Lagoa Azul, and Lagoa Paraiso (“Pretty Lake,” “Blue Lake,” and “Paradise Lake”). Alternatively, you can book a 30-minute flight that takes you right over the dunes to give you an aerial view over this extraordinary landscape.

The rolling white sand dunes of Lençois Maranhenses

Lençóis Maranhenses is a paradise of dazzling beauty, and each year, more and more bed and breakfasts pop up to cater for the growing number of tourists coming to the area. What impact this will have is uncertain, yet for now, it remains one of South America’s most underrated and unspoilt destinations.

lencois maranhenses national park

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