Brazil: Naturally Wonderful Lençois Maranhenses

My second time in Brazil is more amazing than before. My portuguese is pretty much still non-existent and although I went to touristic places, English is barely spoken. Few know Spanish well enough to converse, but in my travel, I met friendly and helpful Brazilians with whom we converse in broken Spanish, English, Portugues, and most commonly, Portunyol (Portuguese and Spanish mixed together). I always came across someone who is always willing to help (with my mobile issue or just translation). They really made my trip in the Lençois Maranhenses dunes.

I decided on the Northern part of Brazil this trip because it is the optimal (rainy) season to visit Lençois Maranhenses when the dunes are filled with rainwater and we can swim. Furthermore, this year Brazil in general has received a lot of rains, one of the most in the last 25 years apparently.

My experience in Lençois Maranhenses is unforgettable and ojalá, can be repeated. I luckily chose a very professional agency, São Paolo Ecoturismo to help me arrange my excursions and transportations (a combination of group and private). It was seamless and my days were filled without being too much. I had great swimming sessions, amazing sunrises, and windblown trips on a 4×4 and boat. Thank you, Wenderson!

Lençois is not the easiest to get to, so I shall start with how to get there and what to do.

How To Get There and How Long To Stay

I flew into São Luis, and preferring to take Latam Airlines resulted in connection in São Paolo Guarulhos in and out of São Luis. Most people stay in Barreirinhas and do daily excursions into Lençois. After a while the ferry crossing over the Rio Preguiças river can be a bit too much. No pain, no gain though, right?

On a barge crossing the Preguiças river. It is obligatory to get off the jeep during the crossing. We waited half an hour in the afternoon to cross.
Once our jeep is onboard (on each trip the barge can fit six jeeps), we follow.

A three and a half day trip may be sufficient (which I did), but I splurged on a private sunrise trip to Lagoa Azul circuit (more on this later). If private tours are not possible, stay for four days minimum because two excursions are done in the afternoon for swim and sunset. However, I recommend staying in laidback Atins for 1-2 days to learn Kitesurfing (not at the open sea, but at the delta where Rio Preguiças meets the Atlantic Ocean), to reduce the bumpy ride frequency and ferry crossing, and of course, to chillax. There would hardly be any group tour starting from Atins, however. So, research well.

What To See

Lagoa Bonita Circuit

Befitting its name which translates as “beautiful lagoon”, it is a must-visit in Lençois. This excursion is usually done in the afternoon until sunset. I went in June which is not a high season. There were people, but it was not crazy busy. Brazilians are very happy and expressive people, and a group or two would be rowdy. So if solitude or peace is what you want, get your own group and guide and walk over to a lagoon with fewer or no people. We arrived late but we also one of the last groups to leave. Though the sunset that day was cloudy, we managed to get amazing photos with few or no people.

First, we swam at Lagoa Clone, where a movie called Clone was filmed.

Lagoa Clone in the Lagoa Bonita Circuit

Then we moved to a section of Lagoa Bonita and everyone had left by that point. We took optical illusion photos with the Sun and sunset photos from up the dunes.

Cloudy sunset over Lagoa Bonita

Lagoa Azul Circuit

A very misleading name because the water of Lagoa Azul is more green (due to algae) than blue. In this circuit, most people swim in Lagoa Esmeralda which has clearer water and Lagoa Toyotero (guess how does this lagoon get its name? … drum roll … and you are right! The name is derived from Toyota). I went there for sunrise on a private tour, instead of the usual afternoon excursion to see the sunset. I was all alone except for my guide (thank you Wenderson of São Paolo Ecoturismo who made this happen at the last minute!!). The sunrise is glorious and on photos, it looks like a piece of fine art.

Sunrise at Lagoa Azul in Lençois Maranhenses

I have this thing of not liking to be the first one or the only one in a body of water (thanks to Jaws and Lake Placid movie). So I only took a ten minute dip in the Lagoa Deus. The water is so clear and a stem-like water creature actually approached me a few times and was attracted to my GoPro.

One of the special things on the trip is actually arriving at Lagoa Bonita in the dark. We had to go through many water crossings. I was lucky the driver that morning is very skillful. He navigated the water beautifully. And how he remembers every turn amazes me! I went through almost the same route to go to Atins that day during daylights with another driver. The second driver always drove the jeep with more force and thus, we got splashed more, so I totally appreciated the first driver’s skills.

Atins and Canto do Atins

Atins and Canto do Atins is a full day excursion. It takes two hours each way of off-roading along the vegetations, along the dunes, or a combination of the two.

Canto do Atins beach is dirty and there is nothing special about it. Lunch is special though. We went to a place (one of two places there) that has special family recipe of grilled prawns. They were delicious. Food in Brazil is usually for two people. Ask for half-portion or what we did was we ordered two dishes (one prawn and one fish) for four people. We chose rice and beans for the side dishes.

Grilled prawns and fish at Canto do Lençois restaurant aka Restaurante do Sr. Antonio

Atins beach is also so-so for a swim, but Atins is so laidback that I think staying 1-2 days to learn kitesurfing and to just chill is worth doing.

View from Atins Beach towards the Rio Preguiças

Excursion to Atins and Canto do Atins is about the journey and not the destinations. It was fun to drive up and down the dunes in 4×4. We also made a couple stops to swim. On the way, we swam at Lagoa Bode. Our group of 11 was the only ones there.

Arriving on Lagoa Bode on our Toyota jeep.

On the way back, we swam at Lagoa Mulher where after five minutes two jeeps arrived. There goes peace and quiet :).

There was a funny story on this trip. In combination of the wind, the rocking movement of the 4×4, and three hour sleep the night before for sunrise, I kept on dozing off. Luckily João, our guide, sat right behind me. He had to keep a hand ready on my side so I didn’t fall out of the jeep. I kept on insisting that I was fine. I clearly was not. And thank you, Fernanda, who sat beside me, for her patience after having me bumping into her a few times. How embarrassing, but we had a good laugh.

Vassouras, Mandacaru, and Caburé

Caburé is the best of all three stops. Caburé is a narrow piece of a peninsula where one side is the river Preguiças and 7 minute walk across is the open sea. It was interesting to rent an ATV in Caburé and visit the delta where the Rio Preguiças and the open sea meet. I saw a few fishermen cleaning their catches of the day. I tried to talk to them, but it was not easy due to my lack of Portuguese language skills. Caburé is across from Atins beach where we were the day before.

A few fishermen at Caburé cleaning their catches of the day.

It was also interesting to go the other direction of the beach where a private a company has installed windmills. The same windmills can be seen from Vassouras lagoons.

Privately Owned Windmills on Caburé

I had to take a guide on the ATV, although he let me drive. He made me detour to the beach where a dead catfish (bagri in Portuguese) was being devoured by black vultures (urbu in Portuguese). Nature at work.

In the beginning I was not willing to rent an ATV due to noise pollution, etc, but I just had time to kill and I love speed and the feeling of wind on my face.

Mandacaru has a functioning lighthouse (which can be seen in my sunrise timelapse video). We were not allowed to climb up, however, so we elected for more time in Caburé and only a 15-min photo opportunity at Mandacaru.

Mandacaru Lighthouse – I saw it functioning from afar while waiting for the sunrise at Lagoa Azul.

All I remembered about Mandacaru, honestly, was buying homemade sorbet in two flavors that I had no clue of: Bacuri and Cupuaçu. Luckily they both tasted delicious. There was a bit of coconut and pineapple flavor in Cupuaçu, and coconut and soursop in Bacuri. They are both local fruits indigenous to Brazil and the neighboring South American countries.

Vassouras is full of menacing monkeys. One latched itself on my backpack because I was putting something in and the wet tissue plastic packaging inside made sound similar to a bag of chips. I pushed it off.

Vassouras has two nice lagoons that is accessible during an hour stop. One has to climb a bit of sand dunes from the riverbank before reaching the first lagoon, which has kayaking option and hammocks in the lagoon. The water is a bit green. The other one is a further climb up. Here, one can see the windmills. The water here is clearer. Vassouras is also referred to as Pequeñas Lençois (small Lençois). There were nothing small about the lagoons we saw, however. The first lagoon does get crowded. It is worthwhile to keep climbing to the second lagoon.

Petite Lençois (aka Vassouras) Second Lagoon

I hope I have convinced you to put Lençois Maranhenses on your bucket list, despite the effort needed to arrive there.

For more images, please visit my Instagram page, @roaminjuliet.

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