Get off the beaten track in northern Brazil, writes Joanna Booth
Few landscapes look entirely unique. The most dramatic mountains, clearest lakes and most pristine beaches, can – though it doesn’t diminish their beauty – often look rather like other mountains, lakes and beaches.
Just occasionally, however, nature conspires to create a spot that is one of a kind. We tend to end up calling them ‘otherworldly’.
This adjective definitely gets bandied around when it comes to the Lençois Maranhenses, a national park in Brazil’s remote north. Undulating dunes of blindingly white sand up to 40 metres high stretch for miles, but the point where they start feeling more like something from a sci-fi movie starts when you spot the lagoons.
Bright azure pools sit like moats around the sand dunes. So much water in the desert seems unreal.
But that’s because this isn’t officially a desert. Between January and June, the pools are filled by about 47 inches of rain – more than four times the annual precipitation in true deserts.
But the season here is short – by October, the strong sun has caused water levels to drop and a whipping wind makes journeying through the sands less pleasant.
This area of Brazil is untouched by the crowds that descend on Rio de Janeiro and Iguaçu Falls. Unique, but also remote, it’s one for your most adventurous clients.
What to see
The sun-warmed waters of the Lençois Maranhenses aren’t the only melting-pot in this region. State capital São Luís reflects the area’s mix of African and European heritage, with a sprinkling of the Caribbean.
The colonial buildings of its pedestrianised historic centre are renowned for their signature blue-and-yellow Portuguese tiles, and the area is home to many museums and theatres.
Those who come in July find culture is brought alive during the colourful Bumba-Meu-Boi festival, when the streets are filled with musicians and dancers in elaborate costumes. Journey Latin America and Rainbow Tours sell the
Pestana São Luís, a resort-style hotel with a large pool and landscaped gardens, which is within easy reach of the old town.
Those stunning white dunes need to be visited in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and tours leave from Barreirinhas, a town three hours from São Luís that functions as a gateway to the national park.
Journey Latin America features the Pousada do Buriti here, which has a pool and chalet-style rooms.
Tours generally take place in the afternoon and most head for Lagoa Azul, where visitors can swim and watch the sun set over the dunes. Fitter travellers can head for Lagoa Bonita to climb a 40-metre dune.
Another highlight is a speedboat trip along the Rio Preguicas, through the dunes and mangrove forests to the tiny coastal village of Atins.
How to visit
There is an airport at São Luís served by flights from a range of Brazilian cities by carriers including Tam Airlines, Gol and Azul, so clients can fly in and out for a brief adventure. Sunvil can put together three-day packages.
The closest airport with international flights, from the likes of TAP, Iberia and KLM, is in Fortaleza, and many people choose to extend their trip into neighbouring northern provinces to exit through this gateway.
Rainbow Tours suggests spending time on Jericoacoara’s world-renowned beach, where the operator features the Chili Beach Boutique Hotel and My Blue Hotel.Journey Latin America suggests visiting the Parnaiba Delta to see alligators and iguanas, before spending a few days in Jericoacoara.
The operator offers this option for private itineraries and as part of its escorted North East Brazil tour, which visits the Bahia region before heading north to Maranhão. The two-week trip starts at £2,578 for departures on August 14, excluding flights.
You can become an expert on Maranhão – and on other aspects of travel to Brazil – by completing the online training courses developed for the Visit Brazil Travel Association by Brazil Online Training.
Chris Fuzinatto, the association’s chairman in Europe, says: “We want UK visitors to discover one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. Maranhão has the perfect mix of natural beauty, architecture and historical heritage.”
As well as the latest module on Maranhão, there are courses on the regions of Minas Gerais and Pernambuco plus a general Brazil module, and online training from British Airways and TAP.
For more info: brazilot.com
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