A Trip to the Lencois Maranhenses
Riding the Dunes of the Lencois Maranhenses
After three weeks traveling throughout northeastern Brazil we arrived in Atins during an unusual dry spell in the middle of the wet season. (Peak season usually starts around late June and July). We were here to ride 4×4 on the dunes of the Lencois but could see the disappointment in the locals’ faces when we asked about the lagoons. Like all locals everywhere always say: “you should have been here last week”. Nevertheless, after speaking to some folks around the beach and our local guide Joao, we decided on a westerly route from Atins into the middle of the formation. The locals that had been there recently mentioned some of the larger and deeper lagoons were still worth the trip. It was set – we would meet at 10:00 am for about eight hours of riding around in the Lencois and swimming the pools.
We woke up early on a Sunday to consistent 20 knots from the east with a high tide. With the less than stellar reports for the lagoons, we considered pushing the ride into the Lencois to the next day in order to enjoy the kiteboarding conditions. Ultimately, Joao convinced us to continue with our plan, so we got onto our green ATVs and rode west.
By 4×4 on the Lencois
Local roads Inland from Atins are little more than low-grasses interspersed with the deep rutted tracks. This made the journey more active than we were expecting. Bobbing in and out of the paths, my skepticism of the whole thing quickly vanished as the dunes came into view. They are far more grand than I imagined – made of bottomless sand waves that stretch at some places for over 40 miles. In the best instances and the rainiest part of the year, dunes reach over 150-feet tall and at their base lie 30-foot deep fresh water lagoons. Per the legend of Jaoa, some pools grow fish after birds fly over dropping eggs that hatch – but we didn’t see any.
Our First Lagoon
About an hour west from Atins, we were in the middle of the Dune Field surrounded by mountains of sand and little else. Nothing seems to live on the dunes. The shrubbery quickly dies off and all that is left is the undulations of wind and sand. Driving 25 miles per hour up steep faces and faster on the way down. Switching from 4×4 to 2×4 on the Lencois, rising from the seat to better maneuver through narrow ridges, and opening up the throttle on the flats. We saw no one else and aside from the very rare old ATV track, there was no record of anyone before you. Words can’t explain the feelings experienced while traversing this world.
For the first hour riding the dunes of the Lencois Maranhenses we went by dozens of lagoons. Any could have been good enough to spend the whole day in. Joao pressed on guaranteeing something special. Raised on a high promontory of sand was a lagoon about 1/4 of a mile long by 75 feet wide. Joao shared with us that the lagoons are formed from the rising water table during the wet season, not from rain. We stopped for a while.
Watching the Sunset in the Lencois
After swimming in the water and walking around, Joao recommended we move to the next spot about 45 minutes away. So we rode on and reached a large lagoon where we setup camp to eat something and watch the sunset.
We sat, ate, played in the water and watched the sunset. Being one of the larger lagoons, it’s perfect for kite surfing in high wet season. Another reason to come back and a future adventure that’s now firmly on the list.
The Way Back
I was completely unprepared for this place and hated turning back for Atins. In retrospect, we should have planned an overnight trip. (They are technically illegal, but I’m sure we could have managed).
It took almost two hours to make it back to Atins the last 45 minutes in darkness. It was more than I could have ever imagined. Go see it.