There’s no place quite like the Lençóis Maranhenses (Len-SOYS Mar-un-YEN-sees). If you visit at the height of the dry season – say, in November or December – all you’ll see are dunes upon dunes spreading over 1,500 sq. kilometers (600 sq. miles): a desert if you’ve ever seen one. Only it’s not. Beneath all that sand there is abundant groundwater — the lençol (‘bedsheet’) in Portuguese.
Come rainy season, the underground water level goes higher, eventually turning the dry valleys between the dunes into crystal-clear fresh water lagoons. The desert-like landscape suddenly gets dotted with natural bathing pools that remain cool even under a scorching sun. It’s a cyclical phenomenon: the lagoas appear and disappear every year, so you’ll have to go between June and early September if you want to see them.
There are three villages from where you can tour the lagoons.
Barreirinhas (Bah-hay-REEN-yas) is the unofficial capital of the Lençóis Maranhenses — a rather dull town which works as a tourist hub, one and a half hours away from the national park.
The other two villages sit almost inside the park.
Santo Amaro (Sun-twa-MAH-rew) is far from being a lovely place, but it’s quite authentic, and is close some of the most spectacular lagoons in the park.
Atins (Ah-CHEENGS) feels even more rustic, with sandy streets (no pavement at all!). Its short stretch of seashore attracts kitesurfers during the windy season, from August through December. Other visitors get to Atins just to start the 3-day park trek toward Santo Amaro.
Our fake desert also has a permanent body of water: the winding and mighty Preguiças river, which flows slowly from Barreirinhas to Atins and boasts, on its eastern bank, a huge mangrove forest.
Why Include Lençóis Maranhenses In Your Trip
- A truly unique landscape
- The sooner the better (new roads are increasing tourism)
Keep in mind:
- You’ll need help to book transportation
- Acommodations are quite basic
When To Visit Lençóis Maranhenses
Hopefully it will rain –- not during your trip, of course, but on the months leading to your arrival. On that part of Brazil, there are basically two seasons: rainy and dry. The first half of the year is rainy, especially February, March, and April. The more it rains, the more lagoons you will see. The second half is dry season and the lagoons gradually empty out.
The best time to visit Lençóis Maranhenses is between June and early September, when you’ll be greeted by full lagoons and a beautiful sunny weather (sunlight is essential to fully take in the beauty of the place). Temperatures range from 25°C (77°F) and 30°C (86°F).
By mid-September most lagoas will be empty. Santo Amaro is the last hope for latecomers: in good years, you’ll still be able to find semi-full lagoons until early October. But, as a general rule, from October onward all lagoon hunters will be disappointed.
To make the best out of your trip to Maranhão, come around the second half of June, when São Luís, the state capital, is taken over by the bumba-meu-boi street festival. Start with the festivities and then head on to the Lençóis.
How Many Days at Lençóis Maranhenses?
Minimum: 2-3 days. Choose between Barreirinhas (biggest town, plenty of cheap group tours) or Santo Amaro (closest town to the dunes, fewer group tours available). If you’re on to Parnaíba, Barra Grande do Piauí or Jericoacoara, you’ll have to spend your last night in Barreirinhas.
Ideal: 6 days. Go straight to Santo Amaro and spend 3 nights; then go to Barreirinhas for 1 night and wrap it up with 2 nights in Atins. If you’re on to Parnaíba, Barra Grande do Piauí or Jericoacoara, you’ll have to spend your last night in Barreirinhas.
Adventure mode: 6 days. Stay 1 night at Barreirinhas and 1 night at Atins. Do the 2-day Lençóis Maranhenses guided trek, spending the nights at Baixa Grande and Queimada dos Britos oases. Stay for 1 or 2 nights at Santo Amaro.
Sun & lagoon calendar
Sunny weather and full lagoons: June | July | August
Sunny, lagoons drying out: September
Sunny, almost empty lagoons: October
Sunny, dry lagoons: November | December
Rainy, dry lagoons: January | February
Rainy, early lagoon formation: March | April
Rainy, full lagoons: May
Getting to Lençóis Maranhenses
Where to Fly Into?
The most convenient airport is in São Luís, 260 km (160 miles) west of Barreirinhas, served by daily nonstop flights from Rio, São Paulo, Brasília, Fortaleza, Belém, Belo Horizonte, and Recife. You can go on to Barreirinhas or Santo Amaro by van or taxi right from the airport (see below).
Parnaíba, 200 km (125 miles) east of Barreirinhas, receives one weekly nonstop flight from São Paulo (Congonhas airport), and can be used to combine Lençóis Maranhenses and Parnaíba River Delta in the same trip.
Jericoacoara, 400 km east of Barreirinhas, has just gotten a brand new airport, with 4 weekly nonstop flights from Recife and one from Campinas (São Paulo). This new option improves the logistics for the Rota das Emoções (Thrilling Route) full itinerary: you can fly into São Luís and out of Jericoacoara, or the other way around, stopping on the way at Parnaíba and/or Barra Grande do Piauí.
That said, most travelers doing the Rota das Emoções (Thrilling Route) will still prefer to fly into São Luís and out of Fortaleza (700 km east of Barreirinhas), or the other way around, due to best connections and cheaper airfares.
From São Luís and Back
Airport taxis charge R$ 350 for the 3.5-hour drive from São Luís Airport and Barreirinhas, up to 4 passengers. It’s not difficult to find other arriving passengers willing to share the ride.
Coopcart, a taxi co-op from Barreirinhas, offer scheduled transfers, both private (R$ 350) and shared (R$ 70 per passenger, 4 passengers minimum). Book through Coopcart’s website.
Taxi drivers won’t take passengers to Santo Amaro, because of poor road conditions.
By Shuttle Van
Pre-scheduled vans or minibuses pick you up at your hotel or the airport and drop you off at your pousada in Barreirinhas or Santo Amaro. The ride from the airport to either town takes 4 hours; allow 60 more minutes if you’re going to be picked up at a hotel.
To Barreirinhas (260 km, or 160 miles) most vans or minibuses leave early in the morning, between 5am and 8am. It’s possible to arrange afternoon departures, but don’t count on it. Have your pousada book their preferred van, or else book online at rotacombo.com or through WhatsApp (Portuguese only) with GiConect (+55-98/992-179-600) or Levatur (+55-98/999-694-544). There are return trips throughout the day. Fares range between R$ 60 and R$ 70 per passenger, one way.
To Santo Amaro (240 km, or 150 miles), the most convenient service is provided by Thylan (pronounced Chee-LUNG), who drives a new van and leaves São Luís around 8am (return time: 1.30pm). He charges R$ 90 per passenger one way; have your pousada book it for you or try directly (Portuguese only) through WhatsApp (+55-98/987-175-357). Older vans leave earlier (starting 4am) and charge less (R$ 60 one way); some of them require a change to a passenger truck (‘Toyota’) roadside at Sangue to cover the last 40 km/25 miles (you’ll want to avoid this).
To Atins (290 km, or 180 miles) there’s no direct service. You’ll have to book a van to Barreirinhas departing very early in the morning (leaving the airport no later than 6am) in order to arrive at Barreirinhas riverside dock in time to catch Seu Arquimedes’s speedboat, which leaves Sunday to Friday between 11am and noon (R$ 25 per passenger). Return time is 6.30am. Have your pousada book both legs.
At Lençóis Maranhenses, Toyota (also carro de linha or jardineira) is the popular name given to pick-up trucks adapted for passengers. Most are the Bandeirante model, made by the Brazilian Toyota subsidiary.
Cisne Branco operates the São Luís-Barreirinhas route in 4.5 hours. It departs 4 times a day (at 6am, 8.45am, 2pm, and 7.30pm); fare is R$ 51. The return trip also takes 4.5 hours (it leaves from Barreirinhas at 6am, 9am, 2pm, and 6.45pm). The São Luís bus station (Rodoviária) is 5 minutes away from the airport by taxi (R$ 30, fixed price). In Barreirinhas, you may have to catch a taxi to get to your pousada (R$ 15). All in all, vans are way more convenient than the bus, for they pick you up at your hotel or at the airport and drop you off at your pousada.
The Rota das Emoções (Thrilling Route)
Covering three states (Maranhão, Piauí and Ceará), this funnily-named coastal itinerary combine Lençóis Maranhenses, Parnaíba (home to the largest open-sea river delta in the Americas), Barra Grande do Piauí (a charming kitesurf village), and Jericoacoara (a beach party town sitting amid dunes). It can be done in either direction.
By Rota Combo
Operating since late 2016, RotaCombo is the first regular air-conditioned bus service connecting all four destinations of the Route. Every leg of the itinerary is offered three times a week (no service on Sundays) and can be booked separately online.
- Barreirinhas-Parnaíba: Tu, Th, Sa; departure btw 7am and 8am; 4-hour trip (first 40 km/25 miles to Paulino Neves by passenger truck); R$ 100 per passenger
- Parnaíba-Barreirinhas: Tu, Th, Sa; departure btw 5.30am and 6.30am; 4-hour trip (last 40 km/25 miles between Paulino Neves and Barreirinhas by passenger truck); R$ 100 per passenger
- Parnaíba-Barra Grande: Mo, We, Fr; departure btw 5.30am and 6.30am; 1-hour trip; R$ 75 per passenger
- Barra Grande-Parnaíba: Mo, We, Fr; departure btw 1.30pm and 2.30pm; 1-hour trip; R$ 75 per passenger
- Jericoacoara-Parnaíba: Mo, We, Fr; departure btw 8.30am and 9.30am; 40 minutes by passenger truck to Jijoca, then 4-hour trip; R$ 100 per passenger
- Parnaíba-Jericoacoara: Mo, We, Fr; departure btw 5.30am and 6.30am; 4-hour trip to Jijoca, followed by a 4-hour stop at Jijoca lagoon for lunch (not included); then 40 more minutes by passenger truck to Jericoacoara; R$ 100 per passenger
- Barra-Grande-Jericoacoara: Mo, We, Fr; departure at 7.30am; 3-hour trip to Jijoca, followed by a 4-hour stop at Jijoca lagoon for lunch (not included); then 40 more minutes by passenger truck to Jericoacoara; R$ 100 per passenger
- Jericoacoara-Barra Grande: Mo, We, Fr; departure between 8.30am and 9.30am; 40 minutes by passenger truck to Jijoca, then 3-hour trip; R$ 100 per passenger
By private transfer
Private SUV transfers can be arranged through your pousada. Between Barreirinhas and Parnaíba, expect to pay around R$ 700. Between Parnaíba (or Barra Grande do Piauí) and Jericoacoara, R$ 600. All the way between Barreirinhas and Jericoacoara, R$ 1,000-R$ 1,200. All the prices are one-way in either direction, up to 4 passengers.
Between Parnaíba and Barra Grande do Piauí, take a regular taxi; it will cost R$ 150 either direction, up to 4 passengers.
Sharing a SUV transfer
Local agencies both in Barreirinhas and Jericoacoara arrange shared SUV rides for R$ 300 per passenger, one way – provided there’s a minimum of 4 passengers.
By local transportation (Toyota and bus)
If you’re travelling on a really tight budget, or if there’s no Rota Combo transfer scheduled on the day you need it, you might resort to local transportation. But bear in mind that some legs of the trip will be hard to coordinate, requiring some negotiation (in Portuguese) along the way.
- Barreirinhas-Parnaíba: Toyotas heading to Paulino Neves leave Mon-Sat, betwen 8am and 9am, from the main street (point of reference: Dona Dulce restaurant). This first leg takes about 1 hour. In Paulino Neves you’ll be transfered to another Toyota bound to Tutóia (40 min.) Both legs combined cost R$ 30 per person and can be arranged on spot or booked ahead through WhatsApp (Portuguese only): +55-98/996-039-445 or +55-98/984-100-853. Upon arriving in Tutóia, you go on to Parnaíba either by bus (3-hour trip, R$ 20) or shared taxi (1.5-hour trip, R$ 120-R$ 150 split between up to 4 passengers).
- Parnaíba-Barreirinhas: catch the 5am Real Sul bus to Tutóia (R$ 20, 3-hour trip). The Toyotas that go to Paulino Neves will be waiting at Tutóia bus station Mon-Sat. 1.5 hours later you’ll change to another Toyota that will take 1 hour more to Barreirinhas. The combined Toyota trips cost R$ 30 per passenger.
- Parnaíba-Barra Grande: Damasceno buses depart from the Fontenele travel agency in downtown Parnaíba (av. Capitão Claro, 91, close to Senai; tel. 86/994-882-931). From Monday through Friday, buses depart at 10.30am, 2.00 pm, and 4.30 pm (the 2.00 pm stops at the bus station). On Saturdays, there is only one bus which leaves at 2pm (also stops at the bus station). No buses on Sundays or holidays. The 2-hour trip costs R$ 13 one way.
- Barra Grande-Parnaíba: Damasceno buses depart Mon through Friday at 6am, 6.30am and 11.45am; Saturday at 6.30 pm. No buses on Sundays or holidays. The 2-hour trip costs R$ 13 one way.
- Parnaíba-Jericoacoara: the trip has three legs. First you hop on the 7.15am or 9.30am Expresso Guanabara bus headed to Camocim (2-hour trip; R$ 20). At Camocim take the 11.30am or 12pm Fretcar bus to Jijoca (1.5-hour trip; R$ 15). Once at Jijoca, catch the next jardineira (passenger truck) to Jericoacoara (40-minute trip, R$ 20).
- Jericoacoara-Parnaíba: hop on a jardineira (40-minute trip, R$ 20) in time to catch the 12.30pm Fretcar bus to Camocim (1.5-hour trip; R$ 15). At Camocim board the 3.30 pm Expresso Guanabara bus to Parnaíba (2-hour trip; R$ 20).
- Barra Grande-Jericoacoara and Jericoacoara-Barra Grande: in either direction you’ll have to go first to Parnaíba. See instructions above.
Getting around Lençóis Maranhenses
Between Santo Amaro and Barreirinhas
A private transfer by SUV costs R$ 400 one way, up to 4 passengers. The trip takes 1.30 hours.
The only shared transfer service is provided by Seu Bebé’s passenger truck. The trip takes 2.30 hours and costs R$ 30 one way per passenger. It starts picking up passengers in Santo Amaro around 4am; on the way back it leaves Barreirinhas at noon. Be warned that you’ll travel for 60km (37 miles) on a highway, seated in a doorless vehicle with no seatbelt.
Between Barreirinhas and Atins
Seu Arquimedes’s speedboat (voadeira do seu Arquimedes) operates a regular service between Barreirinhas and Atins from Sunday to Friday. The trip takes 1 hour and costs R$ 25 one way per passenger, including drop-off or pick-up by at your pousada in Atins by Toyota. Departure times: from Barreirinhas, btw 11am and noon; from Atins, 6.30am. Have your pousada book it for you, or try though WhatsApp (Portuguese only): +55-98/992-328-789.
The regular Preguiças River Tour (passeio do Rio Preguiças) can take you to Atins. While the rest of the group have lunch at Caburé (the last stop of the tour), the skipper crosses the river to drop you off at Atins shore. Tours departure everyday btw 8am and 9am and cost R$ 80 per passenger. Some tour companies will take you from Caburé to Atins for free; others will charge R$ 20 to R$ 30 extra per passenger. It’s important to let your pousada at Atins know the time of your arrival beforehand so they can pick you up in an ATV.
Private speedboat transfers (voadeira fretada) can be arranged through your pousada or on spot at Barreirinhas riverside dock. Prices range from R$ 300 to R$ 450 one way, depending on the size of the boat and the number of passengers. The trip takes 1 hour, but if you wish the skipper will stop at the regular Preguiças River tour spots. It’s important to let your pousada at Atins know the time of your arrival beforehand so they can pick you up in an ATV.
Toyotas connect Barreirinhas and Atins through a bumpy 30km (19 mile) sand trail. The trip takes 2.30 hours, including the short Preguiças River crossing by raft, and costs R$ 25 one way per passenger. From Barreirinhas Toyotas depart in the morning (btw 8am and 10am) from Rua Major Galas, in front of Agro-Veterinária Corrêa, and drop off passengers at their pousadas in Atins. On their way back to Barreirinhas, Toyotas start picking up passengers around 5.30am. The leg from Atins to Barreirinhas must be booked through your pousada.
Trekking the Park From Atins to Santo Amaro
Crossing the Lençóis Maranhenses national park on foot is the only way to get to the heart of the park, away from cars and crowds. The guided trek takes three days; you’ll spend two nights in ‘oases’ – as the tiny villages along the way are called – sleeping in hammoks at natives’ huts. It’s best to do the crossing from Atins to Santo Amaro, in order to walk with the sun and the wind behind you. It’s possible to take shortcuts by ATV or Toyota at the beginning and the end of the trek (see below, ‘The less hard way’).
The trek starts everyday in the wee hours, so that by 10am or 11am the walking is done for the day. Sand is mostly hard-packed, easy to walk on, and there will be three or four stops to take a dip in the lagoons. The best way to arrange your trek is through your pousada, either in Atins or Santo Amaro – the sooner the better (4 to 6 weeks ahead of your trip).
The guide’s fee ranges between R$ 200-R$ 250 per day (you’ll pay for 3 days) and can be shared by up to 4 people. A hammock and three meals cost between R$ 105-R$ 120 per person, per day.
- Day 1. You’ll sleep at a pousada in Canto do Atins, a 30 minute’s drive from Atins village. Wake up call will be at 3am, followed by a 8-hour walk to Baixa Grande oasis, where you’ll spend the afternoon and the night.
- Day 2. Easy: wake up by 5am and walk 3 hours to next oasis, Queimada dos Britos. After lunch, if you’re not tired, your guide can take you to beautiful lagoons nearby.
- Day 3. Wake up by 3am and walk 7-8 hours to Santo Amaro.
The Less Hard Way
On day 1, your guide can arrange an ATV to take you from your comfy pousada in Atins (after breakfast) right to Bonzinho or Caiçara (a 1-hour drive). It will cost between R$ 150-R$ 200. From there the trek to Baixa Grande takes only 3 hours.
On day 3, a Toyota can rescue you at Lagoa das Andorinhas, 6 hours after your departure from Queimada dos Britos (cutting short the trek to Santo Amaro by 2 hours). If the guides combine their groups, the transfer by Toyota will cost R$ 50 per person.
What about the luggage?
Travel as light as you can, carrying nothing bigger than a knapsack. Your guide can arrange for your bag or backpack to be sent to your next pousada through local transportation. Toyotas are used to doing it; you’ll be charged the price of a passenger’s ticket for each leg of the journey.
The unofficial ‘capital’ of Lençóis sits on a bend of the winding Preguiças river. Main street (Av. Joaquim Soeiro de Carvalho), always busy during the day, runs parallel to the riverside dock, one block away, where the night action is. Most restaurants and all tour agencies can be found on this four-block stretch. Not all pousadas, however, are within walking distance from downtown. Taxis (R$ 20-R$ 25) and motorcycle taxis (R$ 5-R$ 8) are available at the stand on main square or by phone (the receptionist will call one for you).
Where To Stay in Barreirinhas
The most comfortable hotel in all Lençóis Maranhenses is Porto Preguiças Resort. ‘Resort’ is a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s got spacious, well-equipped cottages, pleasant common areas and a great swimming pool. The Preguiças river flows on the back of the property. It is less than 10 minutes away from the center, by taxi or motorcycle taxi.
If you’re searching for a charming inn, your best bet is Sossego do Cantinho. Right on the Preguiças river, but on the opposite bank to the village center, it boasts its very own private little beach. To go to town, you’ll have to walk for 10 minutes on a sand trail (the same trail that leads to Atins) and hop on the free passenger boat that crosses the river.
For those on a budget, Pousada d’Areia has it all: great location (on a corner of main street), clean A/C rooms, good breakfast, and reasonable fares. Consider also Pousada São José, a 10-minute walk from riverside: although rooms are on the basic side, breakfast is excellent, and the staff proves extremely helpful.
Raising the price bar a little bit, Encantes do Nordeste is an overgrown pousada offering compact rooms but nice outdoor areas: a decent pool, and a lovely riverside restaurant (Bambaê, also open to non-guests) complete with its own beach lounge. It’s 10 minutes away from the village center by cab or motorcycle taxi.
Finally, Gran Solare Lençóis is comfortable enough, but its six-storey building is an eyesore by the riverside. But if you crave a really big pool, and big city-like accommodations, you might like it.
Where To Eat in Barreirinhas
Most restaurants offer long, comprehensive menus. Best choices: shrimp (a bit larger than elsewhere in Brazil), crab (locally haversted; don’t miss ‘torta de caranguejo’, or crab pie, if you’re offered one) and carne de sol (jerk steak). Everything tend to be a bit overcooked – pasta even more so. Dishes usually serve two people; if you’re not sharing, ask for a half-portion, or meia-porção (MAY-uh por-SOWNG).
In case you’re in Barreirinhas during lunchtime, there’s no better place to eat than Bambaê (tel. 98/3349-0691). It’s on the back of the Encantes do Nordeste pousada and doubles as a riverside beach lounge.
A lunch or dinner reservation at Peppers (tel. 98/3349-6050), at Porto Preguiças Resort, gets you well-prepared food as well as an opportunity to take a peek at the most sophisticated hotel in town.
At night, the riverside dock is the place to be in Barreirinhas. It’s restaurant row along the beautiful wooden boardwalk; all restaurants have cosy outside tables. (There’s also a Subway joint.)
O Jacaré (tel. 98/987-851-965) is the best of the pack, offering a more adventurous menu. The ‘house rice’, with a dash of shoyu, makes for a delicious side dish. Burgers are good, too. Live music also goes beyond the usual voice-and-guitar.
O Bambu (tel. 98/987-883-602) is like a food plaza shrunk into a single restaurant. You’ll find from sushi to pizza to seafood to pasta to…
Wherever you choose to dine, skip the dessert – go instead to Frutos de Goiás, an ice-cream parlor where you’ll find exquisite local flavors, such as tapioca, açaí and murici, both as popsicles or in cones. (Insider tip: try the avocado or corn popsicles: they’re unashamedly sweet – and delicious.)
Things To Do In Barreirinhas
Barreirinhas is Lençóis Maranhenses’ group tour central. Several local operators offer daily tours to the main attractions, all of which can be easily booked on the previous day (sometimes on the same day). You may shop around the agencies downtown or book through your pousada – it will problably offer the tours right in your reservation confirmation email.
The downside of all this convenience is that Barreirinhas lagoons are considerably more crowded than elsewhere in the Lençóis. It must be noted, though, that vehicles stay hidden behind the dunes and don’t spoil the landscape (as they usually do around Santo Amaro).
Lagoa Bonita circuit
This might be the most beautiful tour to be done in all Lençóis. Your 12-passenger Toyota will cross the Preguiças river on a raft and go on a 40-minute sand trail through the bushes leading to the tallest of the dunes (40-meters/131 feet high). By climbing it (there’s a rope available) you’ll get to an incredible vantage point that covers a breathtaking group of 6 to 8 lagoons. It’s the closest thing to boarding a panoramic flight. After recovering your breath you’ll have 90 to 120 minutes to trek the area, with your group or on your own, with ample time to take dips into the lagoons. Afternoon tours stay up to sunset (viewed from the top of the tall dune). The 4-hour tours departure by 8am and 2pm, thus avoiding midday sun; average price is R$ 80. The earlier in season (June-July) you do this tour, the better: this circuit’s lagoons are rather shallow, and most may be dry by the end of August.
The Lagoa Azul circuit
12-passenger Toyotas cross the Preguiças on a raft and go on for 30 minutes on a sand trail up to the drop-off point. Then the groups leave for a trek of six lagoons, with three stops to take dips. Because the trek is less demanding and the lagoons are usually deeper, Lagoa Azul circuit is more popular than Lagoa Bonita one – so expect more fellow travelers dotting your pictures. The 4-hour tours departure by 8am and 2pm, thus avoiding midday sun; average price is R$ 80.
Preguiças River tour
Small speedboats (the voadeiras) go down the winding Preguiças river toward the sea. The landscape begins with very tall mangrove on both margins; little by little, the dunes begin to appear. The tour has three stops: Vassouras, where at the foot of a dune there’s a thatched roundhouse where marmosets roam; you can snack, buy handicrafts or try out the esquibunda (sandboard) down the dune. Next stop is at Mandacaru village, where you can climb up the lighthouse. The third stop is at Caburé: almost at the mouth of the river, a strip of sand with beaches facing both the river and the sea. You can have lunch (there are three or four restaurants) or rent an ATV (there’s a kind of race track on sand). The trip lasts a whole day and costs from R$ 80 to R$ 90 (lunch, sandboard or ATV not included in the price). You can negotiate to be taken from Caburé to Atins with your luggage (some operators will do it for free; other will charge R$ 20-R$ 30 per passenger).
Tubing down Formigas River
Known as ‘bóia-cross’ in Portuguese, this tour is offered throughout the year. A 60-minute Toyota drive take you to the Cardosas village, where you board your floating tube. The river is slow-moving – just relax. Afterwards there’s a lunch stop at the village (not included in the price). Tours departure by 8am and usually cost R$ 70 (lunch not included).
Flying over the National Park
So far there are no flights into Barreirinhas, so the Ava panoramic flights on biplanes are the only way of seeing the Lençóis from above. If money is not a problem (and you’re not afraid of flying on little aircraft), it’s worth every real (R$ 350 per person). The flight lasts 25 minutes. Have your pousada book for you or go the Ava office downtown (tel. 98/982-871-854).
Day-trip to Santo Amaro
This 8-hour tour takes you to the lagoons close to Santo Amaro village. Be warned that it may take two hours just to get to Santo Amaro. After touring the dunes (2 to 3 hours) there’s a lunch stop, usually at Rancho das Dunas pousada (not included in the price). The tour costs R$ 160; departures require a minimum of passengers.
The new partially-paved road is bringing in the crowds. But access is still tricky. Only 4×4 vehicles can cover the last 2-km (3.5 mile) strech of the road (which remains a sand trail) and then cross the (shallow) waters of Alegre river to get into town. Regular cars stay at two parking lots by the end of the paved road; passengers continue on a Toyota to their pousadas. Downtown Santo Amaro is compact; its cobblestone streets lead to the main square, where is the humble church, the transport co-op and, most important of all, the popsicle shop.
Where To Stay in Santo Amaro
The pousada with the best facilities in Santo Amaro is a 10-minute drive out of town, across the river: Rancho das Dunas has new, roomy cottages scattered around the well-kept garden. There is a small pool and a big restaurant (tour groups usually make their lunch stop here). Downtown is a R$ 30-R$ 50 round trip by ATV taxi or 4×4 taxi.
Right in the village, the two nicest options are located on the riverbank: Água Doce and Cajueiro. Both offer basic A/C rooms but lovely common areas.
Água Doce was the first good pousada to open in town, and is among the best to this day. You can choose between the apartments at the main house and cootages in the garden.
Pousada Cajueiro is the only pousada that looks out toward the river; its thatched-roof restaurant has a beautiful river view. Avoid staying here on a Friday or a Saturday, because of a noisy nightclub across the street.
Pousada Isabela is a new addition, close to the main square. The compact, A/C rooms face the small pool in the courtyard.
Where To Eat in Santo Amaro
The top pousadas in Santo Amaro have good restaurants also open to non-guests. At Pousada Cajueiro (tel. 98/3369-1119), ask for the sautéed shrimp served with cuxá rice (cooked with dry shrimp and vinagreira, a local herb), a typical side dish in Maranhão state. At Água Doce (tel. 98/3369-1105) you’ll find a great camaroada, another typical recipe – a stew-like concotion of shrimps and coconut milk. Rancho das Dunas has a long, comprehensive menu, including salads; avoid the overcooked pasta but do try the bacuri or graviola mousses.
On a side street one block away from main square, the Restaurante do Gordo (tel. 98/988-202-417) is the place to go for a good but inexpensive ‘PF’ (prato feito, the whole meal in one plate: fish or chicken or beef sided with rice, beans and farofa), or else try the best sautéed shrimps with cuxá rice in town.
At Sol de Amaro (tel. 98/3369-1282), right beside Pousada Água Doce, enjoy the homemade-tasting food (the seafood rice is very good) but skip pizza or pasta.
After dinner, it’s mandatory to walk up to main square and cap the night with a tropical fruit popsicle at Casa do Picolé.
Things To Do in Santo Amaro
Santo Amaro is the gateway to the largest park area allowed to accredited vehicles. There are three certified routes that lead to several postcard-perfect lagoons with a minimum of walking.
On the other hand though, Santo Amaro is the only Lençóis town within walking distance to lagoons worth going on foot: to get to those, all you need is a guide.
Local guides and accredited park transport providers are teamed up at Santo Amaro Coop (tel. 98/989-088-493), offering both private and group tours. SUV’s and pick up trucks are more used than Toyotas, even for the group tours. Your pousada can book any tour for you; if you don’t want to pay for the whole SUV/truck, insist on being assigned to a coletivo (col-eh-CHEE-vo), or group departure.
Lagoa das Andorinhas circuit
This is the standard 3-hour Santo Amaro lagoon tour, covering a bunch of lagoons with the majestic Lagoa das Andorinha as the grand finale. Private tour (up to 5 passengers) costs R$ 250; group tour costs R$ 60 per person (minimum: 5 passengers).
Lagoa da Gaivota circuit
Also a 3-hour tour, but covers less lagoons (and don’t go up to Andorinhas). Private tour (up to 5 passengers), R$ 200; group tour, R$ 50 per person (minimum: 5 passengers).
Lagoa da Betânia circuit
This 6-hour tour take you to the Betânia oasis (a tiny village settled by a permanent river), passing by several lagoons (including Andorinhas). Lunch stop is at a native’s hut in Betânia; ask for the chicken stew, or galinha caipira (ga-LEEN-ya ky-PEE-ra). Private tour (up to 5 passengers), R$ 400; group tour, R$ 80 per person (minimum: 5 passengers). Lunch is not included in the price.
Lagoa da América circuit
This is a nice 3-hour tour with no car involved. A 20-minute speedboat ride down Alegre river get you close to América lagoon. Some walking is required. Private tour, R$ 150; group tour, R$ 45 per person.
Trekking the lagoons close to the village
Some lagoons are less than one hour away from town on foot, such as Tinoca and da Serra. A certified guide will charge between R$ 50-R$ 80 to lead up to four people on a 3-hour trek. Leave early in the morning or after lunch to avoid midday sun.
Trekking the park from Santo Amaro to Atins
It’s possible, but not recommended: from Santo Amaro to Atins you walk into the sun and the wind. It’s best to arrange your trek the other way around, starting in Atins bound to Santo Amaro. Read more.
Atin’s main street is a soft sand path that starts near the boats’ docking point, then runs parallel to the beach. Pousadas and restaurants are scattered around. If you arrive by Toyota or Seu Arquimedes’s voadeira, you’ll be dropped off at your pousada. Should you come by private speedboat or with a tour, your pousada will send an ATV or SUV to pick you up at the shore.
Where To Stay in Atins
Atins offers hands down the most charming accomodations in all Lençóis (most of them owned by foreigners). The nicest ones don’t have A/C, though.
Oceano Atins is right at the beach and has stylish thatched-roofed white cottages.
On main street, Convento Arcadia has just added four new sustainable bungalows, built with recycled wood from train tracks and boats, and decorated with vintage pieces gathered at São Luís antiques shops.
Pousada Cajueiro is on the way to the beach; all of its rooms have a cozy balcony with a hammock. There’s a pleasant lounge in the backyard and a good bar.
If you do need air-conditioning, consider Pousada Jurará, which has two locations right off main street, featuring comfortable enough rooms.
A little further away, Rancho do Buna occupies a large lot complete with a little lake. It has compact A/C apartments and ampler fan cottages.
Where To Eat in Atins
At the beach
Cabana da Isabel is right on the kitesurf point and serves crab, fresh fish and seafood dishes. Cold beer, caipirinhas and hammocks make a perfect excuse for staying in Atins longer than the necessary to tour the lagoons.
Sitting atop a sand bank facing the sea, Bar.co is a cool beach lounge. The menu is varied: ceviche, quiches and escabeches. On occasion there’s live music at sunset and night parties.
Going out at night to eat is quite an experience: you’ll wander through sand streets illuminated just by the moon and stars.
Don’t miss the authentic Neapolitan pizza at Maresia (tel. 98/988-167-265), served in a very pleasant garden. But do arrive early (around 7pm), because they make the dough once a day and it’s usually finished by 9pm.
The restaurant at Pousada Cajueiro (tel. 98/992-040-222) makes good pizza too (also prepared by an Italian); the menu include pasta, fish, and seafood dishes.
For local food, try Céu Aberto (tel. 98/988-317-087), whose menu features some not-so-obvious dishes, such as moqueca de arraia (stingray and coconut milk stew) and crab pie.
At Canto do Atins
Restaurante da Luzia serves a barbecued shrimp you won’t find anywhere else in Brazil. It’s marinated and briefly charcoal-roasted to perfection, resulting al dente (firm to the bite) but still juicy, coming easily off the shell. The delicacy is served with simple sides – rice, beans, coarse yucca flour, tomato salad. For dessert, homemade sweets. If you eat at lunchtime, you can use the hammocks to take a rest.
Nearby is Restaurante do Antônio, a spin-off from Luzia’s that opened due to a family feud. Antônio is Luzia’s brother-in-law and they used to work together. They are not on speaking terms and the guides love gossiping about it.
Things To Do In Atins
Although Atins is virtually inside the national park, there are no lagoons worth going within walking distance. Private and group tours by SUV or Toyota can be arranged through your pousada or directly at the little tour agencies on main street. You can also visit nearby lagoons on horseback. Additionally there’s a sunset boat tour that you shouldn’t miss.
Lagoons + Canto do Atins
The standard Atins tour takes you whatever lagoons might offer the best conditions at the moment, capped with a stop at a Canto do Atins restaurant for a shrimp lunch (or early dinner). A private tour should cost between R$ 300 (3 hours) and R$ 400 (5 hours) up to 5 passengers. Group tours cost from R$ 65 (3 hours) to R$ 80 (5 hours), with a 5-passenger minimum. Lunch is not included in the price.
Sunset boat tour
A speedboat crosses the mouth of Preguiças river and takes you to the spot where a flock of guarás (red ibises) fly over the mangroves and land on the trees where they’ll spend the night. It’s spectacular bird watching made easy. You’ll catch the sunset on your way back to Atins. It costs R$ 25-R$ 30 per passengers. Sailboats can also be arranged.
Beach and kitesurfing
During kitesurfing season (from August to December), the sun shines nonstop and the kites fly high at Atins beach. You can join the action or just relax and appreciate the ballet of the kites from a shaded vantage point. Cabana da Isabel is right on beach, complete with hammocks; Bar.co has a lounge-y vibe.
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