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Lençóis Maranhenses National Park in Brazil

Some lone wanderers might eventually get lost in this deserted area stretching for 1500 square kilometres. Thankfully, turquoise lagoons scattered among sand dunes provide plenty of water to survive

Best time: February–August

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

Nothing but sand dunes dotted with lagoons—such landscape extends for over 1500 square kilometres. But these turquoise lagoons aren't observed here year-round, just during the rainy season, from February to August. Right, it rains in this particular desert. Moreover, the rainy season stretches over a half of year. That's why the area can't be called a typical desert. Thanks to the rock layers found beneath the sands, the rainwater is collected into turquoise lagoons which are scattered over the entire "desert".

Besides the plain scientific explanation, there is a piquant legend about a settlement of Caeté Indians. It's said, one fateful day the tribe woke up to find their town entirely covered in sand. By the way, nowadays there are a few people still residing within the national park. Their primary role is to protect the ecology of the natural site. To make a living in such fruitless environment, in the dry season they work in the neighbouring towns, but the wet season offers great opportunities for fishing.

In fact, water literally brings life to the deserted national park. Some fish get there from the neighbouring rivers through lagoon channels, whereas species like wolfish, or tigerfish burrow themselves in the mud when lagoons dry up and wait dormant until the next season. It's supposed that fish is attracted to lagoons with blooming water lilies and other vegetation that thrives in these waters. Along with prevailing turquoise lakes, you may also come across brown-stained water-basins, that dark colour is also produced by certain plants growing in lagoons.

You probably want to know whether these pretty lagoons are appropriate for swimming—30°C—that must be a dream for whoever dislikes diving into cool sea water. The largest lagoons are Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Bonita.

If you'd like to explore the desert, it's advisable to hire a guide, but also possible to do on your own—if you get lost, there is a plenty of fresh water to sustain you while you find your way out of the dunes.

The easiest way to get to Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is from the town of Barreirinhas, located next to the park. Mind that private vehicles aren't allowed to the park, except authorised jeeps.

Practical info

When is a suitable time to go to Lencois Maranhenses National Park?

Lencois Maranhenses National Park is best explored during the rainy season from February to August when turquoise lagoons dotting the sand dunes can be appreciated. These lagoons arise from rock formations underground, where they store rainwater. Note that there's rainfall in this desert region. Show more

Which are the two biggest lagoons in Lencois Maranhenses National Park?

Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Bonita are the two largest lagoons in Lencois Maranhenses National Park, both inviting for a swimming session. The temperature of the water inside these lagoons hits an average of 30°C, making it a perfect option for people who do not favour diving into chilled seawater. Other lagoons in the park, however, have brownish water stained by plants growing inside. Show more

What is the story behind the settlement of Caeté Indians in Lencois Maranhenses National Park?

A legend says that the settlement of Caeté Indians who inhabited Lencois Maranhenses National Park found the whole town covered in sand when they woke up. Despite this story, some people still reside inside the national park, and their primary role is preserving the ecological environment. During the dry seasons, they go to work in neighbouring towns, while the wet season is for fishing. Show more

What kind of fish live in Lencois Maranhenses National Park's lagoons?

Lencois Maranhenses National Park's lagoons are home to wolfish and tigerfish species, and other types of fish that come from the neighbouring rivers. The fishes seem to be attracted by blooming water lilies and other vegetation that thrive in the lagoon waters. Occasionally, some fish species such as the wolfish or tigerfish burrow into the muds and remain passive until the next rainy season when the lagoons fill up. Show more

Is it safe to navigate Lencois Maranhenses National Park alone, or should one consider employing a guide?

Although exploring Lencois Maranhenses National Park alone is an option, it's best to consider hiring a guide. Wandering alone in the deserted site might cause one to get lost temporarily. Moreover, through hiring a guide, one can understand better the natural ecology of the site. Private vehicles are prohibited from the site except for authorized jeeps. Access to the site can be done from Barreirinhas town, situated adjacent to the park. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin