The Beauty of Lençóis Maranhenses
White sand dunes sliding down into by crystalline lagoons, a black river, and the thick lush forest. The national park of Lençóis Maranhenses has it all. The park’s unique lunar landscape changes with seasons as the lagoons fill up with rain waters and when shallow they make room for beautiful flowers.
Lecnois is one of Brazil’s hidden gem. Located in the northeast, this national park has remained relatively untouched due to its remote location. The closest airport is Sao Luis but most of you might get there from Jericoacoara. For a 9-days itinerary of these two magical destinations click here.
The closest towns to the national park are Barreirinhas and Santo Amaro, and inside the park there’s a small village called Atins. For information on where to stay and hotels click here.
Tours and Activities
Lencois park offers many day and half-day tours, treks, and ATV rides. The park divides to Grande Lençóis (Big Lencois) and Pequenos Lençóis (Small Lencois). The big park is huge, and tours there are done in a safari vehicle. The Smaller part of the park is where self-driven ATV tours take place. The view is pretty much the same, dunes and lagoons.
One of the best day tours in the ATV tour in which you drive it yourself through Pequenos Lencois. You can fit 2 people on each ATV, and it’s better to have 2 people so you can take turns and admire the view when you’re in the back seat. The dunes there are more golden and easier to drive on, and the color of the lagoons is more transparent (rather than turquoise). The area you’re going to cover is not as vast as Grande Lencois, so it’s somewhat easier.
The main part of the national park, Grande Lencois, is huge, with whiter dunes and bigger lagoons in different shades of blue, green, and turquoise. This part of the park is more suitable for safari vehicles in which you ride in the backbenches.
Some agencies will try to take you there on ATV tours with a driver – I would strongly advise against it. The park is hundreds of thousands of acres and the distances between each interest point are huge. You will spend hours riding on the back of the ATV, hanging on to the metal poles on the side. It’s extremely tiring and at some point becomes boring. You can read more about our experience taking this tour here.
This half a day tour will take you through the national park to 3 beautiful lagoons, with the blue lagoons being the last one. All the lagoons are beautiful so we enjoyed each one.
The car will bring you to the first lagoon and from there you will have a 5-10 min walk to each lagoon. the walk is easy and if it’s too hot you can always dip your feet in the nearest lagoon.
Our day tour was great. It was the first day in Lencois and we just couldn’t’ get enough of the lagoons. but the way there and back was a nightmare because on the way we passed through many mini lagoons (with disgusting brown waters) and on the way back we got stuck with the car and the water flooded into the car.it took me 20 minutes to wash off the dirty water. If we were sitting on top of the safari car it wouldn’t have probably been this bad. but, that’s a risk you have to take into consideration if you’re traveling during or after the rainy season.
Details: Departure from Barreirinhas. The morning tour leaves around 9-10 am and from your hotel. The afternoon tour leaves around 2-3pm from your hotel.
Prices: 85-100 R$
Difficulty: easy, suitable for all, including kids. For people with knee problems- take it easy.
Lagoa Bonita, the beautiful lagoon, is located below a 50-meter high sand dune which makes it the perfect location for sunset. We didn’t take this tour because it was super cloudy the whole time we were there but we would have definitely been up for it.
Details: Departure from Barreirinhas. The morning tour leaves around 9-10 am and from your hotel. The afternoon tour leaves around 2-3pm from your hotel and comes back after sunset
Price: 85-100 R$
Difficulty: easy, suitable for all, including kids. For people with knee problems- going up the lagoon might be difficult.
This was probably my favorite experience in Lencois. A pricy one but totally worth it. This 30 minutes flight over the national park revealed the mesmerizing beautify of this place.
The flight is in a tiny plane that can fit 4 people including the pilot and there are a few flight routs: The first one is only dunes and lagoons, a spectacular view, without doubt, the second one is a more diverse rout of the dunes, lagoons, the meeting point of the river, the river and forest. There are also longer flight routes that but they are more expensive.
We took the second option that included basically everything there is to see and it was amazing. I was terrified I will throw up and be dizzy the entire flight because of my motion sickness but I have to say the flight was super comfortable just like a normal flight. Still, if you’re super sensitive you should take it into consideration.
Check out our flight here: video.
There are only 2 agencies that do these flights:
Voar Fotografia Area- 380 R$
+55 98 8264-2945 / +55 98 9101-4672
AvaTurismo- 400 R$
+55 98 8287-1854
Details: pick up at your hotel. flights are during light time???. 30 min flight.
Prices: 350-400 R$ per person (minimum of 2 people). The plane can fit 3 people.
This tour takes you on a boat on the Preguicas river to different stops. You will stop at Vassouras and hang out with some monkeys, at the village of Mandacaru where you’ll see the Preguicas Lightower and at the beach of Caburé. During the stop for lunch, you can rent an ATV and drive around the area.
Details: pick up at the hotel. Leaving around 8:00 am and coming back before sunsets.
Price: R$ 80 for the tour. R$ 50 for the rent of the ATV (can fit 2 people).
Another option is to see all these lagoons, animals, river and villages by doing a 3-4 days trek.
Weather in Lencois- When to go?
Weather in Lencois is super important because it changes the entire landscape. During the rainy season, the lagoons start to fill up, and during the dry seasons, there’s less water, and beautiful flowers start flourishing in the shallow ponds.
Rainy season- January/February- May
Dry season– May – December
Best time to visit Lencois:
So the best time is actually in neither season but between April and September with July and August being the peak season and September the beginning of kitesurf season. During these months, the lagoons are full, but it’s not as rainy, so you can actually enjoy it. During January it starts raining heavily, and then you can see the lagoons while full, but you might not be able to get there because of the rain.
We went there in March, and the lagoons were full and beautiful. The only issue was on our way to and back from the park- we always had to cross some dirty paddles created by the rain, and once we got stuck in one. Plus, it was a bit cloudy and rained for like an hour or two each day. But it didn’t really interrupt our trip.
How to get to Lencois Maranhenses
Lencois is not that easy to get to, and it’s expensive since it includes a domestic flight. On the other hand, the remote location is what helped preserve this destination, so it’s not overly touristic.
The closest airport to Lencois park in São Luis airport in the city of São Luis. It’s a 4-hour ride to and from the airport, and it costs 70R$ in a comfortable van with a food stop.
Many people combine their visit to Lencois with Jericoacoara that’s 7-8 hours away. The ride from Jeri costs 200-250 R$ per person in a 4-6 people jeep. For the best way to combine Lencois and Jericoacoara, click here for the perfect 7 days itinerary.
I would recommend this route combining Lecnois and Jericoacoara:
Fly to Fortaleza –> take a transfer to Jeri (5 hours) and stay there—> take a transfer to Lencois (8 hours to Barreirinhas) and stay there–> take a 4 hours transfer to Sao Luis–> fly from Sao Luis. Or the other way around.
What not to do? Don’t make Jeri your base and then go from there to Lencois and go back to Jeri. That’s the worst. For more about the combination of Jeri and Lencois, click here to read about a 9 days itinerary that includes both places.
An important tip about the transfer rides in this area:
Don’t take these rides at night time. Yes, leaving at night will save you money on accommodation, and you will sleep throughout the ride, but as many travelers have pointed out, it’s scary to drive in these areas at night. The roads are dark, sometimes it rains, and then it becomes even more dangerous (we almost spun out of control on our way to Jeri because we went at night time). Plus, from personal conversations I’ve had with drivers, they do not sleep properly before these long rides and sometimes would drive 20 hours straight (apart from some breaks for food).
Prices and agencies:
Jeri to Lencois: R$ 200-250
Unitur Vigens +55 88 9746-4536
Lencois to sao Luis: 70R$
Faiker +55 98 8884-6587
Where to stay in Lencois:
The two towns close to the park- Santo Amaro and Barreirinhas. Barreirinhas is bigger and tourism there is more evolved, and Santo amaro is less touristic and developed and has less infrastructure or even the internet.
Another option is Atins– a small village inside the national park. This is the choice for many kite surfers. Atins is isolated, so it doesn’t have internet or cellular reception (you would need cash). Water and electricity are scarce as well. But if you’re looking to disconnect, this place is paradise. It’s in the middle of the park, next to the meeting of the river the beach. Animals walk around the area.
We stayed at Barreirinhas at Porto Preguicas Resort, the best resort in the entire area. Read about the hotel here.
Hotels around Lencois
Staying in this resort was the best decision we made because there’s not much to do in the town and sometimes the weather wasn’t great, so it was helpful we had such a great hotel and room.
The hotel is surrounded by nature and actually located at the foot of the river Rio Preguicas, which is simply charming. The rooms are spacious wooden cabanas with hammocks at their entrance. You might find some insects in your shower and see some frogs and lizards., or butterflies. Since the rooms are spread throughout the territory there’s no wifi in the rooms only at the reception area.
The best thing about this hotel is probably the pool, or pools. There is the lagoon pool- with sand at the bottom, the “normal” pool (agh boring hahaha), and the black pool- filled with river water (no thank you). We spent most of our time at the lagoon pool and loved ittttt. and if it rains outside you can check out their games area or the gym, which is kind of basic. Oh, and did I mention there are free ceramic classes?
Make sure you wake up early to take advantage of thee amazing breakfast the hotel had to offer. All the fruit you can think about, natural juices, bread and pastries, tapioca with whatever you want and cakes cakes cakes. Not a lot of vegan options, but I had an artichoke dip I bought, so I used it when I wasn’t feeling like eating jam with bread. After breakfast hours, the hotel opens its restaurants until the evening.
Lencois Itinerary and Costs
I visited Lencois with my younger sister who was doing her backpacking trip across South America. We spent 4 nights and 3 days at an amazing resort at Barreirinhas Porto Preguicas. Here’s our itinerary and costs:
Our transfer from Jericoacoara left at noon, and we got to the hotel around 8 pm. During the ride, we stopped for lunch and to get cash since there is no ATM fat Jeri, and we had to pay for the transfer. It was R$ 210 for each one, and we were 6 people in the jeep. Our luggage was strapped to the roof of the vehicle, and we insisted covering it since our friends got their backpacked socked on their drive there a few days earlier.
We got to the resort around 8 pm and just relaxed in the lobby until we called it a night.
We woke up early to take advantage of the amazing breakfast the hotel had to offer. It was raining on and off, so we took the day to relax since my body was shuttered from the buggy trip we took at Jeri and the van ride up to Lencois. We decided to take a free ceramic “class” at the ceramic shot of the hotel, and when it stopped raining, we just enjoyed the pools of the hotel.
At night, we took a taxi to town and had an Italian dinner at La Terrazza Pizzaria. They didn’t have many vegan options but a Pizza marinara (basically a pizza with no cheese) but many vegetarian options, including an excellent pesto pasta.
We took a half-day tour to Lagoa Azul and loved it. We visited 3 beautiful lagoons and got back before lunchtime. The only problem we had was the way back. Since it was the rainy season, our safari car got stuck in a huge “lake” with dirty brown water, and water entered the car where we were sitting. It was disgusting and difficult to wash off the dirt afterward. Alas, we survived and still loved the tour.
We spent the rest of the day at the pool, and in the evening, we went to the town again and had a great acai bowl at Eco Açai.
Since my back was much better, we’ve decided to go on an ATV ride (in which we drive) at Pequenos Lencois. Unfortunately, I’ve made the worst decision and decided to take a customized tour at Grande Lencois. What we didn’t know is that we don’t drive the ATV (since it’s dangerous at this part of the park) and that there will be a driver taking us, which meant we would be riding 3 people on one ATV. It was a nightmare.
To make a long story short- we paid R$ 400 for 2 people, spent hours riding on the ATV suffering and swam in only one lagoon and had lunch at the village of Atins. Here’s the long story that will show you why you should never do this:
The ride to the park was long… about an hour in which we were hanging on to our dear life to the metal poles on the sides of the ATV. Since Grande Lencois is where Safari cars drive, we had to follow their tire marks… buttttt of course, the ATV is smaller, so we were always riding on one lane the tires left and hanging diagonally on the ATV.
This might have been fine for a few minutes, but we were hanging on to the ATV for hours!!! I felt I could barely move my neck after the first 40 minutes since we were leaning to the right the whole time.
We eventually made it to the park and saw the beautiful sand dunes and lagoons, which made us forget our sorrows. We swam in one of the lagoons for a while and then got back on the ATV for what seemed to be forever. We were heading to the village of Atins, which is next to the beach, but we couldn’t find the flags that mark the way there. Both my sister and I were sure that we were lost. No cars on-site, but some tire marks on the dunes we were trying to follow. Finally, we found the road marks and followed the flags for about an hour until we got to Atins.
By the time we got there, we were exhausted. Our bodies were shuttered, and we chose to have lunch before going to see the encounter point of the river and the sea. But, of course, the guide forgot to make sure we could go there at this time of the day and by the time we finished our lunch the water rose, and we couldn’t get there with the ATV. We were supposed to visit a waterfall as well, but that wasn’t possible.
Thinking we had to go through the same nightmare in order to get back to town, I just decided to cut our losses and go back. The way back was awful, and at one point, I asked the driver to pull over next to one of the safari car, so I can get back with them. We had to wait 30 minutes till the car leaves and our driver said it would only be 40 minutes, and I decided to continue. It was the wrong decision because on the way back, we encounter huge black paddles with bubble and stench, and I had a panic attack thinking we won’t be able to pass with our small ATV. In the last 10 minutes of the ride, I saw another safari car behind us and just got on it because I just couldn’t take it anymore.
We finally got to the hotel around 7 and just relaxed in our room. The next day my back and neck were killing me.
We got up early, and after consulting the flight agency, we decided to take a 30 minutes flight over the park. It was the best way to end our trip. Here’s what you’ll see during your flight.
We then checked out and took a transfer van to Sao Luis that was 4 hours away. It was R$70 per person. Our flight from Sao Luis was at 6am the next day, so we spend the night there.
How much does it cost to visit Lençóis Maranhenses
The main thing that is expensive is the domestic flight you’ll have to take. Other than that, pousadas and food are much more affordable in this area.
Here are the costs of our trip (per person)
- Transfer Jeri-Barreirinhas: R$ 210
- Accommodation: R$ 600 (4 nights)
- Food: R$ 400
- Transfer Sao Luis airport (volta): R$ 70
- Flight Sao Luis- Manaus: R$ 500 per person
Total costs for 3 days, 4 nights= R$ 1800 per person