Brazil’s Lençóis Maranhenses

This item appears on page 29 of the July 2012 issue.

Our 6-week trip to Brazil, Jan. 26-March 8, 2011, was flawlessly organized by Clara Tort of (Seattle, WA; 800/747-4540,

We spent three or four days each in Belém, São Luís, Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Natal, Olinda/Recife, Salvador, Brasília, Ouro Preto/Mariana/Tiradentes, Rio de Janeiro, Paraty and São Paulo.

For accommodations (top quality), breakfasts, airport transfers, car-and-driver service in some areas and English-speaking guides in some cities, we paid $17,454, which we considered very reasonable. Meals were on our own. Eight internal flights in Brazil via TAM cost another $1,820 for the two of us, and international air for two from/to Phoenix added $2,219.

While in northeastern Brazil, our excellent guide was Juan Pitacco (

Swirls of white sand flow across the dunes, dwarfing hikers in Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. Photo: Maurice Black

The terrain in Lençóis Maran­henses National Park is unique — shifting dunes of white sand, deep pools of turquoise water (the area gets 60 inches of rain between December and June), and year-round greenery, such as cashew trees and flowering shrubs, growing in the “desert.”

The name Lençóis Maranhenses means “Bedsheets of Maranhão,” for the state where the park is located. How we got to the “bedsheets” (dunes) was unique. From Barreirinhas, 12 travelers squashed into open-air 4-wheel-drive vehicles meant for nine people. We crossed the Rio Preguiças on a basic but efficient ferry. Then it was a 5½-mile rough ride through soft desert sand to the park, itself, which can be entered only on foot.

Once at the park, we hiked barefoot for several kilometers to Lago Azul (Blue Lake). The winds and rains have hardened the smooth sand surface to a crust that we could walk on without sinking in at every step.

We went for a dip in Lago Azul. It was quite the experience to be swimming in a “desert”!

When we descended the steep slopes of the dunes, hundreds of feet high, to avoid falling on our faces we dug in our heels and leaned backward as we took huge steps.

Clouds canceled out our hopes of seeing a sunset over the crests of the dunes, so we all piled back into the 4-wheel-drive conveyances for the return ride.

While waiting for our ferry crossing back to town, we watched entrepreneurial ladies who had set up makeshift kitchen stoves so they could cook a local delicacy: tapioca pancakes filled with bananas and cheese, ham and cheese or “whatever” and cheese.

Thunder Bay, Ont., Canada