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 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.
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.
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.
Where would you go in South America if you had all the money in the world?