This 380,000-acre national park situated in Maranhao State in Northern Brazil is considered a kitesurfers heaven, a dune buggy racer’s dream, and an adventurous vacationer’s perfect getaway, and we know why. With few restrictions and a laid-back vibe, the area is a natural draw to overland travelers.
The park contains the largest sand dunes in South America, but the biggest attraction to the park are the large lagoons and pools formed by the ever-shifting dunes. Yes, lagoons. When the rainy season arrives, the local farmers hang up their machetes and gather their nets and become fisherman for the next few months when the rains pour down and lagoons sometimes reach 9 feet deep when the the Río Negro floods entire dunes. Tannins from the sediment create a stunning blue- or green-tinted lagoon where dormant traíra fish migrate to feed.
Image by MarCreation
In order to visit Parque Nacional de los Lençóis Maranhenses, you can take a local flight to Sao Luis and then a bus to Barreirinhas. From Barreirinhas, it’s easy to either explore the dunes with a rented buggy or Jeep or guided tour. For the more adventurous overlanders willing to explore the far reaches of Brazil, visit in your own vehicle and spend the night or two exploring the dunes. Lagoa Azul (Blue Lagoon) or Lagoa da Gaivota (Seagull Lagoon) are easily accessible from Barreirinhas and are therefore the most popular. You can, however, head deep into the dunes and find your own private pool where you can relax, swim, and explore. Naturally, the ability to drive deep sand confidently is incredibly important.
Image by Tatiana Zanon
Between October and November, the wind is the strongest and kitesurfing and wakeskating is the most popular activity. Unfortunately, when the dry season arrives, the water evaporates at a rate of 3 feet per month, so ensure that your arrival coincides with the wet, cooler season.
There are several accommodation options ranging from entry to mid-level in Barreirinhas or Atins. Several pousadas are able to assist in arranging tours with guides to the park thereby avoiding the hassle of locating a reputable company. If looking at saving a few dollars, check out the other options available on ioverlander.
Visiting the lighthouse in Mandacaru, riding a boat on the Río Preguiças or tubing on the Río Formiga are several activities to enjoy around the surrounding area. Jericoacoara National Park is another amazing park to visit with lazy loungers emerged in clear blue lagoons and there is a little-known hidden route which links the two.
There is so much to see in Northern Brazil and while you’re up there, why not consider a trip along the Amazon from Belém to Macapá and up to the Guyanas?