If you’re looking for a fantastic travel destination full of natural beauty, look no further than Lençóis Maranhenses in Brazil. This is THE one of the best places to visit in Brazil and still is relatively undiscovered (making it the perfect time to visit!). This area is home to some of the most stunning landscapes in the world, and there are plenty of things to do and see here. In this Lençóis Maranheses travel guide, we will go over the best things to do in Lençóis Maranhenses to make the most of your visit. From hiking and swimming to exploring ancient villages, there is something for everyone in this incredible corner of Brazil!
Lençois Maranheses is no secret to Brazilians (it used to be about 20 years ago when I first visited with my parents), but it is still relatively unknown to international travellers. Located in the state of Maranhão, Lençóis Maranhenses National Park covers an area of 1500 square kilometres and is made up of huge sand dunes, lagoons, and pristine beaches. (And yes, if you’ve had a quick google and seen it pictures and were sat there wondering if you can swim in Lençóis Maranheses, it’s a big fat YES!)
When looking at it from above (and when walking through the thick sand at midday heat), you’d think you could call it a desert, but the region receives way too much rainfall to be called that! Its unique landscape is formed by the strong winds shaping the sand into sand dunes throughout the year, coupled with the heavy, heavy rainfall that creates the lagoons. It’s safe to say there is no other place like it, and it is one of the best places to visit in Brazil.
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The best time to visit Lençóis Maranheses…
As the lagoons are made up of rainfall water, the best time to visit Lençóis Maranheses is when they are at their fullest, which is right after the rain stops, making July, August and the start of September the best time to visit Lençóis Maranheses. Even though it’s technically Winter in the Southern Hemisphere, you should expect hot and dry conditions in the North East (around 28C-34C degrees!).
How to get to Lençóis Maranheses…
Getting to Lençóis Maranheses is a bit of a mission, but it’s not difficult at all. As tourism has developed, it’s made it more accessible and easier to travel to. What are a few rough roads when it comes to visiting one of the best places in Brazil, ey?
If you are worried about how to get to Lençóis Maranheses, read on, as I’ve provided a lot of detail in this blog post!
The closest airport to Lençóis Maranheses is São Luis Airport, in the state of Maranhão. But from the airport, you’re still at least 3.5 hour’s drive from the towns that surround the park. You can either drive yourself by renting a car or booking a transfer.
If you want to rent a car, there are two companies I’d recommend: Localiza or Movida. Both are reliable and efficient and offer a good range of cars to choose from. Top tip: definitely invest in hiring a 4×4 car for this trip!
If you’re flying from Europe, there are no direct flights to São Luis Airport. The closest airport you can get to is Fortaleza Airport in Ceará, and this is on a TAP flight from Lisbon. From there, you could either embark on a bit of a road trip driving up the coast of Fortaleza, Piaui and Maranhao to get to Lençóis Maranheses or get an internal flight to São Luis Airport. Your other option is to fly to either São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro and get on an internal flight.
I’ll be straight with you, flights to Brazil are expensive. Before the pandemic, you could find a few really good deals to fly to São Paulo or Rio, but now, the average price for a direct flight is between £850-£1200 return with either BA or LATAM. One-stop flights are around £700-£900.
Internal flights to São Luis range from £150-£250. To get the best deal, book well in advance as this is a popular destination for local travellers, especially if booking in July, as it’s the school holidays.
Where to stay in Lençóis Maranheses…
As Lençóis Maranheses is a National Park, it’s a protected area, so you can’t actually stay in the sand dunes, but there are three main towns that surround the park where you can base yourself: Barreirinhas, Atins and Santo Amaro.
Barreirinhas is the most developed town and where you’ll find the best selection of accommodation, restaurants and bars. It is one of the best places to stay in Lençois is you’re looking for convenience and accessibility. It’s also where you’ll be able to book any tours or excursions into the park as it’s the main jumping-off point.
Atins is a smaller town but has a more laid-back vibe. There’s a great selection of pousadas (guesthouses), and it’s the best place to stay if you want to explore the dunes by foot or quad bikes as it’s closest to them. It’s also a big kite surfing point, so if you want to learn or already know how-to, this is a good place to choose for your stay.
*Atins is only accessible by boat, so if you’ve rented a car, you’ll need to leave it in a car park in Barreirinhas. As it’s such a small town, you must book accommodation well in advance as it will sell out (trust me).
Santo Amaro is on the other side of the park and takes around 45 minutes to drive to from Barreirinhas. Santo Amaro is the least developed out of all three as it’s the most difficult to access (only accessible by 4×4 accredited tours and transfers). Still, it’s also the park part that is less “touristy” and feels more authentic. Well worth a visit if you want to avoid the crowds and access the more untouched parts of the park.
The best option, in my opinion, is to stay in all three! It’s a little more effort and moving around, but worth it and doable! This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so you’ll want to do it right and enjoy it to the max.
If you had to choose to be based somewhere though, then Barrieirinhas is your best option as it is the biggest town and where most tour companies are based. They even offer day trips or overnight trips to Atins and Santo Amaro so that you can experience them to some extent.
Without further ado, here are the best things to do in Lençóis Maranheses!
The best things to do in Lençóis Maranheses, Brazil...
1. Take a tour to visit the National Park
This is naturally the main attraction of the region: actually going into the National Park and exploring the lagoons and the dunes. And there are SO many tours to choose from! Most tours are named after the lagoons you visit, and they differ in length and size depending on how far into the park you go.
The most popular tour is the one closest to Barreirinhas, as this is where you can access the biggest lagoons in the park: Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Bonita. Both lagoons are breathtaking and one of the best things to do in Lençóis Maranheses.
Even though this is the most touristy and crowded tour you can take in Lençóis Maranheses, it is still well worth your time. Especially when you get to watch the sunset from Lagoa Bonita at one of the highest peaks of the park. The colours are truly magical (especially when it turns into blue hour!) and make for some of the best sunset views in all of Brazil!
With the park being so vast, there are almost countless lagoons you could visit, in addition to Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Bonita. I’ve made a list of the other noteworthy lagoons to visit based off what town you’ll be based in:
Lagoons to visit in Atins:
Lagoa das Sete Mulheres: This is a 3hr 4×4 group tour and costs R$80 per person. You’ll visit other lagoons along the way. Best booked as an afternoon tour to catch the sunset.
Lagoa Tropical: This is a 3hr 4×4 group tour costs R$70 per person. Best booked as an afternoon tour to catch the sunset.
Lagoons to visit Santo Amaro:
Lagoa da Gaivota & Andorinhas: This is a half day 4×4 group tour and costs range from R$70 – R$90. It can also be done as a full-day tour starting from the town of Barreirinhas, and the price would start from R$200 per person.
Lagoa Americas: this is a half-day boat tour as the lagoon is only accessible by water. Tour prices for a group tour cost R$45 per person and R$160 for a private tour.
Lagoa Betania: This is a full-day 4×4 group tour, stopping at various lagoons. Tour prices range from R$100-R$130 per person. Private tours are available, and prices start at R$600.
Lagoa Emendadas: This is a half-day tour, partly on a 4×4 and partly by foot (circa 2hrs walking each way, so some level of fitness is required). The tour costs R$60 per person.
2. Flight over Lençóis Maranheses (sobrevoo)
No Lençóis Maranheses travel guide would be complete without this one. A flight over Lençóis Maranhenses is one of the best things to do in Brazil and definitely the best way to see the lagoons in their entirety.
There are two companies that operate flights over Lençois Maranhenses: AVA Sobrevoos and Voar Fotografia Area, but the easiest way to book is through a tour company, like G.I Connect and Sunrise Tour.
All flights depart from the airport in Barreirinhas. Both companies offer similar services, with prices for a flight starting at R$450 for a 30min flight. These flights take place in small planes that seat four or six people, so it’s best to book early to avoid disappointment.
There are four routes you can take on this tour:
A 30min flight over the Grande Lençóis (i.e. Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Bonita)
A 30min flight over the Pequenos Lençóis, flying over Mandacaru, Caburé, Atins as well as Lagoa Azul.
A 45min flight where you combine routes 1+2.
A 60min flight over the Grandes Lençóis, Pequenos Lençóis as well as the region of Santo Amaro.
Adrenaline junkies and fear-of-flying travellers have all said this is by far one of the best things to do in Lençóis Maranheses.
3. Go on a Quad tour in Pequenos Lençóis Maranheses
Quad tours are always a good idea! As the Grandes Lençóis is a National Park, quads are not allowed in the main park, but they are allowed in the neighbouring area of the Pequenos Lençóis!
The Pequenos Lençóis is made up of smaller lagoons and stretches from the small village of Caburé all the way down to the town of Tutóia.
Quad tours are a great way to explore the off-the-beaten-path lagoons in the area, as well as get some amazing views of the dunes.
One of the best things about quad tours is that they can be tailored to your group’s needs and interests. So, whether you want to focus on dune riding, visiting lagoons or both, just let your guide know, and they’ll make it happen.
Most tour companies offer a half-day tour (circa four hours) for around R$480 per person. This price includes the quad rental, a guide and all safety gear. I’d recommend booking with Taguatour company if you want to book directly with the agency. Still, you can always simply speak to your hotel, and they organise it for you or put you in touch with other local agencies that aren’t online.
4. Take a boat tour down Rio Preguiça and visit the small villages of Caburé and Mandacaru
One of the best things to do in Lençóis Maranhenses is to take a boat tour down the Rio Preguiça, stopping at the small fishing villages of Caburé and Mandacaru along the way. Each village has its own unique charm, and there are plenty of activities to keep you busy such as visiting the lighthouse and shopping for local handicrafts in Mandacaru or swimming and relaxing by the beach in Caburé.
Taking this boat tour is a great way to see another side of the region, as well as get a glimpse into the lives of the local residents and the animals that live in the mangroves.
Most boat tours will last around four hours and cost R$180-200 per person. This includes pick up and drop off from your hotel, as well as a stop for lunch and a swim.
5. Tube down the Formiga River
Another fun river activity to take part in is tubing! Tubing down the Formiga River is a great way to cool off on a hot day, and enjoy a water-based activity after days of trodding through thick sand.
Most tours will last around two hours and cost R$60-70 per person. This includes pick up and drop off from your hotel, as well as a stop for a swim in the river.
6. Learn to Kitesurf in Atins
Atins has become a more popular destination among international travellers due to its growing kitesurfing scene. Kitesurfing is a great activity to do in Lençóis Maranhenses as it combines two of the best things about the region: wind and water!
Kitesurfing in the North East is one of the best things to do in Brazil as the region is known for its strong winds, and the season can last up to 6 months! So if you’re already big on Kitesurfing, this trip will be a dream come true.
If you’re not already a kitesurfer, don’t worry! There are plenty of schools in Atins that offer beginner’s lessons starting from R$200 per lesson. Most schools will also offer accommodation and board rental as part of their package deals.
Most kitesurfing schools will offer group or private lessons, with prices starting at around R$200 per person for a group lesson. Private lessons are slightly more expensive, starting at R$350 per person. Some schools require a minimum booking of 6 hours of lessons for beginners as three of those hours are spent practising on land to learn the technique.
All equipment is included in the price of the lesson, so all you need to bring is your swimwear and a sense of adventure!
Even though I didn’t have time for lessons, there is one Kitesurfing school I came across that I can recommend: Vila Guara
7. Take a Plankton Night Tour in Atins
This is a rogue one, but it needs to be included in this Lençóis Maranheses travel guide!
One of the best things to do in Lençóis Maranhenses is to go on a plankton night tour. This is only available in Atins, as the tour operators are located there.
A plankton night tour is an unforgettable experience where you hop on a boat and head out into the dark night, only to be surrounded by a bioluminescent plankton light show!
The best time to see the plankton is from May to November, but this can vary depending on the weather conditions. It’s also extra special if you get to take the tour on the night of a full moon as this is when they are closest to the surface water as they are attracted by the light.
The tour usually lasts around two hours and costs R$60-70 per person. Most tours will provide you with all the necessary equipment, but it is recommended to bring your own mosquito repellent as there are a lot of mosquitoes in the area.
8. Have a sunset horse rise in the sand dunes
Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it? Taking a horse ride through the dunes at sunset is one of the best things to do in Lençóis Maranhenses. It’s a great way to see the landscape from another perspective and really soak up the tranquility of the region.
Only one tour company offers this in Atins, and they’re called Sempre Atins. They don’t only offer sunset tours, they offer half-day tours, night tours and even 3-5 day tours! But the sunset tour holds a special place in my heart.
The sunset tour sets out between 3-3:30 pm and costs R$540 per person. But if you ask me, you can’t put a price on a feeling! As someone who has done quite a few horse riding tours and holidays, I can confidently say this is one of the best I’ve been on and needs to be included in this Lençóis Maranheses travel guide.
So there you have it: my Lençóis Maranhenses travel guide with all the best things to do in the region! I hope this has inspired you to add this magical place to your Brazil bucket list.
What are you waiting for? Pack your bags and head to Lençóis Maranhenses for an unforgettable experience!
Have you been to Lençóis Maranhenses?
What are your top things to do in Lençóis Maranhenses? Anything you’d add to this Brazil bucket list?
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