EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW: THE DUNES OF LENÇÓIS MARANHENSES AND ATINS

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW: THE DUNES OF LENÇÓIS MARANHENSES AND ATINS

Let me start off by saying Lençóis Maranhenses National Park and Atins have been my favourite destinations in Brazil so far. I will go into more detail about why, but just know that I love feeling like I’ve ventured into far corners of the world, and this is for sure one of the furthest corners that I have been to!

We traveled from Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas, then onto Atins in order to access the stunning Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. Was the 10-hour trip (with 2 of those hours spent in a truck that must have had some kind of amphibious capabilities) worth it? Well…

I’d say yes. Yes it was.

We accessed Lençóis Maranhenses from both Atins, a tiny village stuck between the Rio Pregucias and Atlantic Ocean, and Barreirinhas, a gritty yet functional town and had completely different experiences, both positive!

So if you want to see a natural wonder of the world – just go. We had never seen another landscape like it before and probably never will again. I’m sure that Lençóis Maranhenses’ remoteness and relative inaccessibility have prevented the selfie-stick toting Instagram hordes from trashing it…so far. But few things stay out of reach to the masses forever, so do try and go if you are in Brazil!

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park (Parque Nacional Lencois Maranhenses)

This incredible preserve consists of a staggering 1,550 km² area of sand dunes. A stunning sight in the dry season, things get even more amazing during and after the wet season, when hundreds of dreamy freshwater pools form in the spaces between the dunes. These lagoons (or ‘lagoas’ in Portuguese) last for around five months of the year, eventually evaporating, only for the whole process to begin again the next year.

Lençóis Maranhenses (which translates to bedsheets of Maranhão – the state where it is located) was only discovered in the 1970s according to our guide, which we found incredible, given its size.

Few live within the park’s boundaries, although nomadic groups still reside there, changing their location and subsistence changing according to the season.

How to get to Lençóis Maranhenses

To get to Lencois Lençóis Maranhenses National Park you’ll first have to get to one of the towns that serve as access points to the park: Atins, Barreirinhas or Santa Amaro.

Where to stay – Atins, Barreirinhas or Santa Amaro?

For a trip to Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, you have a choice of three places to stay as a base: Barreirinhas, Atins or Santa Amaro. We didn’t have time to check out Santo Amaro, so I’ll stick to the first two.

Atins

Finding up to date information on Atins (pronounced A-chins) was a pain, so if you plan on going there I hope this helps. Atins is a tiny village located right on the Eastern edge of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. This gorgeous sleepy town is remote and has a minimal tourist infrastructure, especially if you are a backpacker (I’ve got no idea how you would cook meals here – no mini-market in sight!). But it is extremely quiet and charming, quite the opposite of Barreirinhas. If you’re up for the extra travel, Atins makes a rather lovely place to stay, but just be aware that it is super quiet. If you’re happy with that vibe, definitely check it out.

Note: There is NO ATM in Atins, and many of the accommodation providers only accept cash. Make sure you have enough.

How to get to Atins

To get to Atins (which must be accessed from Barreirinhas) there are two options: Truck (Jardineira) or Speed boat (Lancha).

On the way in we took the truck, which was easy to find- we simply headed to the street parallel to the main street of Barreirinhas (where Banco Do Brazil is located) and walked a few metres, before we heard someone shouting ‘Atins!’. We were bundled onto the truck with the boxes of sugar and toilet paper and that was that. The price of the truck was 30 reais each ($12 AUD/$10 USD), and the journey takes about 2 hours.

And oh what a journey it was! It hadn’t occurred to us that the wet season meant we were about to drive through puddles, rivers, lakes, and every other body of water that you can imagine. At times the water was ankle high – even while we were sitting on the 1.5-2m high platform of the back of the truck! I spent the whole time enjoying the hair-raising experience, but also secretly dreading the moment that they ordered us off the truck to push it when it got stuck. Luckily, that never happened. But be aware, this is two hours of intense 4WD driving, so be prepared for that if you choose this route!

On the way out of Atins, we chose the speed boat so that we could get back to Barreirinhas in time for an afternoon tour to Lagoa Bonita. This was a much easier and less bone rattling affair, that cost 50 reais each ($20 AUD/ $16 USD) and only took an hour. The catch was the boats leave at 6:30am – ugh. But worth it to not potentially have to push a 4WD out of deep, dark, scary water. A truck will pick you up from your pousada to drop you to the boat.

Where to stay in Atins

There is a surprisingly large amount of accommodation in Atins given its tiny size! We stayed at Pousada Villa de Pescador which we really liked. The rooms seem to be brand new and are very clean with super cute bathrooms. They also had AC and were completely bug-proofed which I appreciated. You can also book tours and transfers there which is handy.

Check out Booking.com or Airbnb for other options.

What to do in Atins

Tours of Lençóis Maranhenses can be organised by your pousada for about 70 reais ($25 AUD/ $22 USD). The driver will pick out the best lagoons at the time that you visit. During our tour we saw Lagoa Capybara and Lagoa Siete Mulheres, and also a waterfall that flowed onto the beach!

Most tours include a lunch stop at one of the restaurants inside the park – Catino do Atins and Shrimp de Luzia. They essentially serve the same things – the story goes that they were a brother and sister that used to work together but has a falling out. Senor Antonio went off and started up a competing restaurant against his sister, so don’t worry which you end up at – they’re both good! Try the Shrimp Grelhado (Grilled Shrimp) washed down with icy cold beer.

It’s also possible to walk to the edge of the park from town. We did this and while it was hot and exhausting it was very scenic. Take lots of water and don’t wander into the dunes alone.

There are a few small bars in Atins – try checking out the tiniest bar ever, run by a cute old couple ‘Bar Estress Zero’. Follow the main road until just after Pousada Tia Rita and just before Eco Pousada Filhos do Vento you will see a pedestrian path to your left. Walk down it until you see the sign for the bar and turn right just after it. Get there about 45 minutes before sunset, sit on the tiny wooden table at the top of the dune with a caipirinha, and soak up the view.

Restaurants in Atins

We were only in Atin for two nights, so one involved a cheese toastie dinner from Villa de Pescador (sometimes mustering up the energy for a restaurant is too much!)

But the other night we ate some grilled fish at Pousada Dois Irmaos, which was delicious! Plus look at these cute fish cutlery things. Awww.

How to get to Barreirinhas

Barreirinhas is located about four hours east of São Luís or about 7 hours west of Jericoacoara. The easiest option is to fly to São Luís, then grab a mini-bus from the airport.

We came from Jericoacoara in the west, which was surprisingly challenging to organise. The 220 reais (82 AUD/98 USD) mini-bus we had planned on taking only runs on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and includes a mandatory overnight stop in Parnaíba, which no offense to Parnaíba, we weren’t too keen on.

So after schlepping the street of Jeri for too long, about to give up, we finally found a lady who hooked us up with 250 reais (93 AUD/ 103 USD) per person private transfer, which took only seven hours direct to Barreirinhas! Yay! If you’re looking to do the same route, check out the small travel agency opposite the Hostels on Rua Sao Fransisco in Jeri. The lady at the travel agency only spoke Portuguese, so make sure you know a few key words to explain what you want.

Where to stay in Barreirinhas

Barrerinhas has a whole lot of places to stay. If you don’t need to stay right in the centre, I would recommend staying at one of the places located on the Rio Preguica. We stayed in two places, Pousada Igarape and Pousada Villas Boas which were very basic and nothing to write home about but in a good location.

What to do in Barreirinhas

Err…get out of there and visit the dunes! We visited the Lagoa Bonita circuit which was absolutely stunning. Do keep in mind that there is a steep sand climb to enter the park, although there is a rope to assist you in the final ascent. The view from the top is truly jaw-dropping. The Lagoa Bonita tour is 70 (25 AUD/20 USD) reais and any travel agent in town or your pousada can organise it for you.

There is also the option to visit Lagoa Azul, which I am sure would also be excellent. The tour there is 60 (22 AUD/ 19 USD) reais.

Restaurants in Barreirinhas

There a quite a few restaurants in Barreirinhas, I would suggest strolling down Avenida Beira Rio where there are lots of riverfront restaurants and live musicians. We ate at A Canoa (pizza, sometimes you just need one) which was quite good and had a nice setting.


Overall this was probably the highlight of my time in Brazil. In fact, I am dead set on returning one day, this time to hike across the park, which takes about 3 days in total. It’s a breathtaking place, and I think despite the effort to get there it is truly unforgettable, and therefore worth the epic journey!

More photos to come…with a decent wifi connection!

Have you been to this unbelievable place? Would love to hear your thoughts!

 

I’m Stephanie and this year I’m taking a break from life in Australia. I’m traveling South, Central and North America, learning Spanish, eating tacos and seeking out amazing swimming spots. When I’m taking time out from that hectic schedule I like to write, read and relax – and pat cute street animals that I really shouldn’t. I probably wrote most of what you’re reading from my hammock and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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