The desert that once a year becomes an otherworldly paradise complete with crystal-clear lagoons
Rainy season in Brazil’s Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is a relentless affair: from January to June each year, the storms are intense and torrential.
But the pay-off is certainly worth it.
Visitors to the vast desert-like scene, in Maranhão State just outside the Amazon basin in northern Brazil, are drawn to the area between July and September each year, when heavy rainfalls subside and leave in their wake thousands of turquoise lagoons in the valleys of the sand dunes.
Lençóis Maranhenses literally means ‘bedsheets of Maranhão’ – it refers to the blanket effect of rolling planes of dazzling white sand.
The area is akin to a desert, spanning as it does over 1000 square kilometres of sand, however, because of the 47 inches of rainfall it receives each year it is not classed as such.
Given these lagoons boast clear waters – up to ten feet deep and in pools as long as 300 metres – and often extremely warm with temperatures reaching 30 degrees Celcius, it’s no surprise that swimming is a major draw.
Some of the lagoons at Lençóis Maranhenses are huge.
Lagoa Bonita and Lagoa Azul are near the town of Barreirinhas and are two of the most popular lagoons.
Lagoa Tropical is closer to the village of Atins while Lagoa da Gaivota (Seagull Lagoon) is one of the park’s largest and most beautiful pools.
But human bathers won’t be alone. Some of the lagoons link up with neighboring rivers allowing fish to enter the temporary pools.
Other fish spend the dry season burrowed far enough under the sand to reach the wet mud far beneath until the rainy season when they emerge into the fresh pools to feast on insects and visiting river fish.
Access to the park, also known as ‘the sea of sand dunes’, is via Jeep.
Visitors are driven by guides – the vastness of the landscape means it’s not advisable to explore alone.
While a day trip is enough to get an impression of the park, more ambitious travellers will no doubt be tempted by the walking tours, where the entire park can be crossed in three days.
This more immersive experience also means not missing out on the sunsets, which are nothing short of spectacular.
By the end of September, the number of visitors to Lençóis Maranhenses National Park reduces dramatically, in line with the water levels in the lagoons.
During the dry season the pools vanish, quickly, leaving nothing but an arid sandy terrain – until next year.