Even though it is called the Brazilian Sahara – its 155,000 hectare extension is bigger than the city of Sao Paulo -, the Lencois Marahenses National Park is not exactly a desert, yet it has a landscape with those typical characteristics.
It rains 3 times more in here than at the renowned African desert. The rainy season, from November to June, is so powerful that gives birth to huge temporary lagoons of crystalline fresh waters.
Nevertheless, these lagoons are inhabited by fishes that later will be used as food by the migrating birds coming all the way from the North Pole, such as the Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) and the Treinta y tres.
Meadows of white and golden sands, constantly changing their shape according to the creative mood and whim of the winds, extend around these oases as far as the eye can follow. Along 90 km of littoral, beautiful, extended and deserted beaches get linked.
This unique ecological organization is located in the State of Maranhao, in the north-eastern part of Brazil.
Another characteristic that makes this a unique area in Brazil is the superficiality of its subterranean waters. The waters under the earth are so close to the surface that a two metre pipe is enough to make this vital liquid outpour with an impetuous spout.
Some families usually migrate to the savannahs of Marahenses during the rainy season, and build makeshift huts on top of the meadows to make use of the fishing resources in the temporary lagoons. Afterwards they will abandon Lencois during the dry season to make a living out of farming by the riverbanks.
Visitors arriving to this part of Brazil will see white meadows everywhere in the horizon like cloths drying up under the sun. They are conformed by fine and light grains of quartz; some resemble mountains up to 40 m high and they sometimes cluster along 50 m of beaches and inland deserts as well.
The lagoons, whose surfaces undulate with the strong trade winds, have pigments ranging from blue-turquoise to green-emerald, under a sky every now and then blue and sometimes packed with clouds.
The vegetation is limited to a comparatively small area where mangroves can be seen nourishing at the damps and marshes close to the main or secondary river courses and at the borders of the ocean as well.
The red mangrove can reach up to 12 m high. Other well known and popular species are the white mangrove and the so called Siriba mangrove.
Diverse migratory birds nest close to the shore, such is the blue winged Cassin’s auklet (Ptychor amphus aleuticus australis) arriving from territories within the United States between February and April. The woodcutter deer, the Southern Spectacle Caiman (Caiman jacare) and the Paca (Agouti paca) make themselves noted at the mangrove stands.
The climate shows an average temperature of over 18 C though it can climb up to 40 C at day time. There are only two seasons here: the rainy one and the dry one in here.
There are no roads leading to the lagoons spots, therefore the use of a sports utility vehicle is advisable. The most common accesses pass through Barreirinhas, Bella Balsa and Atins, or through Sucuriju in the westernmost tip.
Blue Lagoon – Of transparent waters and 3 m depths, the lagoon is located in the berders of the park. You have to take an almost 30 minute drive coming from Barreirinhas to arrive there.
Boa Esperanca Lagoon – Ideal spot for delightful refreshing bathes and canoe rides. It holds water only during the rainy season. It takes a 40 minutes drive from the centre of the park.
Bonita Lagoon – It is an attractive natural pool that always keeps its waters. It is located in the edge of the park, all along the tracks leading to the Blue Lagoon. It is one of the most popular among tourists.
Santo Amaro Lagoon – It is the biggest in Lencois and it is a big mirror of permanent waters.
Baja Grande – It is a small village much afar than other far away nice small villages. The families living there still keep old simple habits. It is in the middle of the park and in no man’s land. Access is difficult.
Village of Sucuriju – Another cute village located close to the southern limit of the park. A sports utility vehicle is of absolute necessity. Quemada de los Britos – An oasis floating firmly on an ocean of meadows, at the edge of the Rio Negro River. It is placed at approx 4 hours from Sucuriju. Access is only advisable with a four wheel drive vehicle only.
How to get there
By plane – Single engine planes make regular flights from Sao Luis to Barreirinhas. The flight takes about an hour.
- Be in a good physical shape and prepare yourself for long hikes through beaches and meadows.
- Take an expert guide who knows the region well.
- Protect your skin with solar filters before starting the hike. Use sunglasses to minimize the effects of the sun reflecting on the white surface of the sands.
- Never go alone. Learn the basic first aid and orientation techniques.
- Carry enough water for the trek for it is a warm weather region.
- Remember to pick up your garbage and to bring it out with you until finding a place in the city where to dispose of it properly.