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Lenҫóis Maranhenses Travel Guide

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Lenҫóis Maranhenses (Maranhão Sheets), the name perfectly describes the dunes here, which look like enormous sheets billowing in the region's powerful wind. Infact, that very wind built these 50-meter (165-foot) dunes, which spread over 100 kilometers (62 miles) of coast and push 50 kilometers inland.

The coastal beaches are wide and long, but the predominant inland terrain is the morraria, high dun es dotted with rainfed lakes. The dunes span two desert areas: Grandes Lenҫóis Maranhenses, west of the Preguiҫas River, and Pequenos Lenҫóis, to the east. Parque Nacional dos Lenҫóis Maranhenses is a 155,000-hectare (383,000-acre) reserve inaugurated in 1981. Its 270-kilometer (168-mile) perimeter encloses the municipalities of Paulino Neves, Tutóia, Barreirinhas, Santo Anuro, Primeira Cruz, and Humberto de Campos.

Barreirinhas, 265 kilometers (162 miles) east of São Luis, possesses the best tourist facilities and the local headquarters of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama), which maintains the park.

The town is also a departure point for trips to the Preguiҫas River and often features as a stop on trips to the Parnaíba River Delta in Piauí and Jericoacoara in Ceará.

After Barreirinhas, the area's most popular destination is Santo Amaro do Maranhão, where the 2005 movie The House of Sand (Casa de Areia) was filmed.

Map of Lencois Maranhenses Maranhao

Map of Lenҫóis Maranhenses Maranhão Brazil

BARREIRINHAS

Founded on the banks of the Preguiҫas River in 1871, Barreirinhas has always been a base for visitors to the region. At first, it was an ideally located trading post for area fishermen and farmers; today, it thrives on tourism, offering hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, and visitor services.

The Ibama headquarters (Rua Principal, Cantinho) hosts lectures, in Portuguese, on biodiversity in Lenҫóis Maranhenses National Park and on ways to enjoy the bounty in an ecological responsible way.

Barreirinhas's main attraction is the dark, clean Preguiҫas River, which placidly winds through the town and the sprawl of disorderly development on its banks. A guide is necessary to explore the region, and the town's numerous agencies offer distinctly different experiences.

The local Secretaria de Turismo provides further information and can recommend agencies and services. Barreirinhas is 265 kilometers (165 miles) from São Luís, a 3-hour trip by the MA-402 highway (also called the Translitoranea).

 PREGUIÇAS RIVER CRUISE

Trips on the Rio Preguiҫas, by motorboat or voadeira (a speedboat with an outboard engine), stop for numerous attractions along part of the area designated a national park covering 70 kilometers (43 miles) of beaches. Among them are the towering, 40-meter (130-foot) dunes in Vassouras, a fishing village 45 minutes from Barreirinhas, where visitors swim in the river or walk along the beach. The next stop, after passing native vegetation and mangroves, Espadarte, Morro do Boi, and Moitas, is Mandacaru village, home to the Preguiҫas lighthouse.

The view of the village from 35 meters high (114 feet) is one of the most beautiful of the whole tour. Climb its 160 steps for the best view of the area. The lunch stop is in Caburé, near the river's mouth. The town's restaurants are its only attractions.

LAKES

After crossing the Preguiҫas River by ferry, get into one of the waiting jeeps and head for the lakes at Lenҫóis Maranhenses National Park. The vehicles travel for 40 minutes on a winding road amid lakes and streams, with some flooded stretches.

From where they stop, it's a 5-minute walk to turquoise Lagoa da Preguiҫa. Lovely Lagoa Azul, as blue as its name suggests, is 10 minutes farther on. The lagoon, surrounded by dunes with very fine sand, is one of the park's most popular spots and is usually crowded. For peace and quiet, walk 10 more minutes to the dark green Lagoa do Peixe, a tranquil lake which has waters darkened by the algae but nevertheless ideal for a refreshing swim, surrounded by vegetation. Lagoa do Peixe is one of the few lakes here that doesn't dry up in the summer; Lagoa Azul simply disappears toward the end of the year. Reaching Lagoa Bonita, surrounded by 40-meter (130-foot) dunes, requires driving along another winding road for about an hour.

DOWN THE CARDOSA RIVER

The Rio Cardosa is 90 minutes by car from the center of Barreirinhas. Its calm, crystal-clear waters are perfect for kayabng or floating down in an inner tube (bóia-cross). Take a snorkel mask to watch the fish. A trip down the river takes about 2 hours.

FLYING OVER THE PARK

A twin-engine plane flies visitors over Lenҫóis Maranhenses National Park, taking off from Barreirinhas and traveling to the mouth of the Preguiҫas River in Atins. The 30-nlinute trip over th e endl ess dunes and lakes is unforgettable.

ATINS

The Preguiҫas River empties into the sea at Atins. The village marks the beginning of the Praia do Grandes Lenҫóis, a stretch of coast that ends 100 kilometers (62 miles) away in Travosa, at the other end of the national park.

Arrange trips to Atins through the agencies in Barreirinhas. Electricity came to this small fishing village only recently, and the people here still earn their living from the sea. The sandy streets carry no cars, and one public telephone is the only connection to the rest of the world.

The privileged location, between the river and the sea, accentuate Atins's magical atmosphere. The village abuts the park's dunes and its beach is dotted with natural pools at low tide.

Attractions in town include Poҫo das Pedras, a turquoise pool anlid the vast sands, and Lagoa do Mario, a dark lake decorated with floating white flowers, Dona Luzia serves incomparable shrimp at her kiosk next to the lake.

TUTÓIA

Though it is surrounded by natural beauty, Tutóia, 400 kilometers (250 miles) northeast of Barreirinhas, has no attractions of its own.

Barreirinhas has limited restaurants and guesthouses condemnl it to be just a stop between Lenҫóis Maranhenses and the Parnaíba River Delta in Piauí, which can be seen in the distance from the port.

No rentable motorboats are available for the crossing; regularly scheduled passenger boats depart every other day for the 8-hour trip. You can reach Parnaiba by car from Tutóia, via BR-402 east, but some stretches of the road are in poor condition.

SANTO AMARO DO MARANHÃO

Few visitors come to Santo Amaro do Maranhão, 232 kilometers (144 miles) east of São Luís, because reaching it is difficult. The trip here requires driving on a sandy, unpaved road for 35 of the 96 kilometers (60 miles) from Barreirinhas. During winter, heavy rains make a 4X4 vehicle the only possible means of arrival - and even then, you risk getting stuck.

The 10,000-residen town sits on the banks of the yellow Rio Alegre and provides an alternative gateway to Lenҫóis Maranhenses National Park. This half-time desert, intersept with shape-changing lakes and dunes, has an etherial beauty that takes many visitors by surprise. Unlike Barreirinhas, which is an hour away from the dunes, Santo Amaro is tucked among them. Be ca reful, the dunes are surprising desorienting and lot of people gets lost just wandering around.

The sun and the heat - up to 40 C (104 F) - are always present in the region. Access to the town is by the MA-402 state llighway, west to Vila de Sangue, but due to poor road conditions, it is best to hire a jeep and guide in Barreirinhas.

 LAKES

Santa Anuro sits on the banks of the Alegre River and is surrounded by lakes, pools, and rive rs that run through the vast, white dunes. One attraction is Lago Santo Amaro, a lake fed by a branch of the river.

Teeming with fish, the lake provides a livelihood for many town residents. Rent a boat in the village and ride down the shallow river to the lake, passing small fishing communities on the way. Santo Amaro's postcard attraction is Lagoa da Gaivota, 6 kilometers (4 miles) from the town center. It takes an hour to get there on foot or half an hour by 4X4 ve hicl e. The lake's turquoise wa ters, kissed by snow-white dunes, are ar their fullest during winter but never dry up even during the summer. The lake's edges are shallow and the center up to 2.5 meters (8 feet) deep, making the site irresistible to swimmers.

Continue up and down the dunes for 20 minutes to reach the simple beauty of Cajueiro, a small house surrounded by leafy mango trees and the eponymous cashew trees (cajueiros). Some of the trees here are centuries old.

The owner carches his lunch in the dark lake next to the house. Near Santo Amaro is also Barreira das Pacas pool.

QUEIMADA DOS BRITOS

One hundred people, their 5,000 goats, lovely dunes, and refreshing lakes characte rize this village inside Lenҫóis Maranhenses National Park. Queimada dos Britos is a green oasis amid the surrounding sand, but its modest houses have thatched roofs and no electricity. You can reach the village in 2 hours by 4X4 ve hicle or by a difficult 8-hour walk across the sand from the park's entrance. Near Queimada dos Britos is Baixa Grande, a luxuriant green patch among the dunes. The Rio Negro, which crosses the park from end to end, waters this oasis. At the river's mouth is lovely Lagoa Esperanҫa lake.

SIMPLE PLEASURES IN LENÇÓIS

The size and impressiveness ofLenyois Maranhenses is difficult to express in words. To understand it, you need to be there, to let your soul soar with the wind, to take in the relentless motion of sand carried inland from the beaches to form the dunes.

The landscape here offers unique natural gifts: sunsets over the river and the sea, flocks of scarlet ibises taking wing, long walks on deserted beaches, blue lakes punctuating the vast whiteness. Above all, Lenyois Maranhenses reminds us of simple pleasures lost: running, playing, swinuning, sailing a canoe with improvised sails, breathing deeply, listening to the silence.

And when the generators shut off at 10pm, just lie beneath the pitch-black sky streaked with shooting stars. The dunes are divided into Pequenos Lenҫóis and Grandes Lenҫóis (Lesser and Greater Lenyois) by the charming, slow-flowing Preguiyas River. The river's banks are dotted with small villages - Vassouras, Cabur´r, Mandacaru - that are quiet, undeveloped places, places very different from major tourist destinations.

Barreirinhas, a base for trips around the region, is beginning to organize services for visitors. In high season, cars and j eeps take over the town's humble streets before shuttling visitors to the dunes around Lagoa Azul and Lagoa do Peixe, which are the area's most accessible lakes. If you are up for a little more walking, you will be rewarded with discovery of other lakes, deserted lakes. Any dune you climb may reveal another dune, a long stretch of white sand, or a warm, crystal-clear lake.

Paradoxically, there is an almost static quality to this ever-changing landscape, which plays stage to the perpetual dance of wind and sand. Its stasis is this: The landscape shows no trace of the 21st century, nor even the 20th. It has been shifting and reforming continually, and yet it has been the same for hundreds of years.

From Barreirinhas, you can take a trip along the Preguiҫaas River, passing the villages that dot its banks. Its waters zigzag among sandy hills and flow into marshlands. Near the river's mouth, Caburé sits on a sandy peninsula. On one side lies the river, on the other, the ocean.

Between them are a few simple buildings, some modest guesthouses, and you. Stand between river and sea, between the salt water and the fresh, and feel the wind on your face. From here you can see that Lenҫóis is not homogeneous. To the east, the dunes are yellowish, the lakes darker. From Caburé, you can take a voadeira (speedboat) to tiny Atins, and from there walk to Poҫo das Pedras, a deep, emerald pool. On your way, ask around for Luzia's shrimp, a taste of which will make for a most memorable trip.

In a world where even the most secluded spots often offer sophisticated hotels and impeccable service, Lenҫóis Maranhenses is a rare exception, a place of rustic charm. But with its rugged, unspoiled beauty, its modest facilities, and its friendly residents, it is nevertheless one of Brazil's most attractive destinations. If you know how to enjoy the experience, Lenҫóis Maranhenses can be the ultimate in luxury.

Maranhão travel guide and tourism information such as accommodation, festivals, transport, maps, activities and attractions in Brazil - Brazil Travel Guide

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