Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

Photo by Els Slots.

Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses – Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is part of the Tentative list of Brazil in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park has a 70km long coastline known for its high amount of sand dunes. During the rain season colourful lagoons arise amidst the dune fields in temporary ponds above a layer of impermeable rock. The park also has a variety in mammal, bird and plant species.

Map of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

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Els Slots

The Netherlands - 02-Dec-22 -

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park (T) by Els Slots

We can expect to see Lençóis Maranhenses National Park (LMNP) on the WH List within the next few years: Brazil already submitted a complete dossier for it in 2020, but it had two that year and gave preference to the Sitio Roberto Burle Marx. The park essentially is a landscape of sand dunes, dotted with lakes that form due to rainfall. It’s not a desert and there is no permanent water source.

I visited it on a half-day sunset tour to Lagoa Bonita. Entrance here is only possible via a guided tour by 4x4, as the roads inside the park are sandy, and muddy, and go up and down. The 45-minute drive goes mostly through a forested area and I was surprised to see people also living and farming there.  

We were let out of the car near the climb to the sand dunes area. Here we first had to wade some 300 meters through mid-thigh deep water, before a short sandy climb awaited. All is done best on your bare feet: it actually felt wonderful!

The rest of the tour was actually free time to swim or explore the dunes. Two large lakes had formed where we entered (I believe they're called Lagoa da Prata), and I hiked a full lap around one of them. For some of it, I walked on the pristine sandy dune ridges, but I also got my feet wet in the cool water by following the coastline for a bit. The lakes do have fish in them, and birds are also present. I saw some small plovers and black-necked stilts.

When it gets inscribed, LMNP will be a candidate for our Best seen from the sky connection. The site is famous for and named after its ‘crumpled sheet’ effect, with uncountable ripples and folds in the sand created by wind erosion. When you are walking among the dunes you hardly see that, but look at it from the terrain view on Google Maps for example!

I do have some doubts about how globally unique LMNP is (how does it compare to Fraser Island or White Sands National Park for example?), but its scenic beauty probably will get it listed as a WHS. The park is already a hugely popular destination with Brazilian tourists and Instagrammers.

Getting there

The closest large city with a well-connected airport is São Luis – conveniently already a WHS. For a short trip to LMNP, the city of Barrerinhas is the best hub. Buses and shared minivans regularly shuttle between the two cities during the day and take 4-5 hours. Another good option (which I took) is to find a spot on a shared minivan to Barreirinhas directly from São Luis airport. Upon arrival, I crossed the taxi section and walked over to the parallel road where a few minibusses were waiting. One of them had a shield ‘Barrerinhas’ and the driver was happy to take me on as an additional passenger. This is not an organized service, but there seem to be shared minivans scouting out for additional loads every flight.

To get a spot on a tour into LMNP, just walk into one of the tour offices on the main street of Barreirinhas the night or the morning before. There are plenty of tour providers, they all do the same and they share spaces to fill their cars.

Read more from Els Slots here.


Brazil - 10-Jul-18 -

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park (T) by Rafabram

I visited this National Park in July 2017. Lençóis means sheets, a reference to the wavy lanscape of the park, a system of little lagoons among sand dunes. I don't know if a landscape like that can be found elsewhere, but for me it seems very unique. It's important to say that many of the lagoons can dry in the second semester, and I can't imagine the beauty of the park without them. To reach Lençóis Maranhenses first you need to go to Barreirinhas, a small city with hotels and the general support. Most of travellers arrive there from São Luís, the closest city with an international airport, and also with a historic centre listed as heritage site. On my road trip I chose another way, going from Parnaíba city, but that's not the easiest way for a foreigner traveller. Barreirinhas is just ok, not very appealing except for the views of a river there, but restaurants are nice.

In the hotel they offered some options of day trips to the park. I went only to the tour of Blue and Emerald lagoons, but there's also a popular tour to the Bonita lagoon, a little more distant. These two lagoons are more famous because of their colors, but there's a countless number of them. Arriving in the park is a little adventurous. The usual way is to go in seats in the back of a pickup truck, not so uncomfortable as it sounds, but it can be a little when the path gets bumpy. The journey begins crossing a river by ferry. I was surprised to see so many people there, the queue of cars was huge and I had to wait a long time until my time to cross. I think it's that way only in the high season. It takes about 40 minutes to reach the dunes. I don't remember where exactly the park begins, because you don't pass by a gate or something like that, but it's interesting to see how the landscape changes and the vegetation decreases. I don't remember seeing any wildlife, but that's not the main point of this national park.

Cars can't go into the dunes zone, so then starts the hiking. The guider showed the main lagoons, and then gave a free time for taking a swim - it was just not allowed in Emerald lagoon because of algae problems. I did prefer to use this time to explore more the area. It is breathtaking, and it gets even better when you leave the crowd behind and see yourself alone in this strange desert. Most of the lagoons are very shallow, so no problem to cross them. The tour ends watching the sunset from the top of a dune.

Despite my short time there, I really liked the experience. Not just for the beauty of the place, but also the feeling of untouched nature (no paved roads or any kind of buildings). I was very happy to see it as the last addition to the brazilian Tentative List, because it is undoubtedly able to give a good experience to travellers and with a tourist support. I'm not sure if some of latest additions to the list, like Cedro Dam or Itacoatiaras of Ingá River, are able to do so, despite I've never been to these places before.


Full Name
Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses – Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
Nominated for
Natural landscape - Rivers, Wetlands and Lakes
2020 Postponed

Brazil prioritizes nomination of Sitio Roberto Burle Marx

2019 Upstream process terminated

Process stopped due to submission of official nomination dossier.

2018 Upstream Process

Request, may not have been prioritized due to Brazil being a Upper Middle Income Country.

2017 Added to Tentative List

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Lençóis Maranhenses National Park (T)
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