Sand dunes in Brazil: visiting Atins in the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park after the rainy season

Walking in the Brazilian desert

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Sand dunes in Brazil? When I’ve first seen pictures of them, I was a bit hesitant and thought that someone mislocated the place. But I was wrong. In the Lençóis Maranhenses (or Lencois Maranhenses) National Park near São Luís, there are dunes. In addition, during and after the rainy season, freshwater pools, kind of lagoons, are formed in between them! What miraculous view! The Brasilian desert, Barreirinhas, and Atins were must-sees on our budget Brazilian trip, and we were in the perfect time of the year. It was July, the dry season just started no so long ago. 

Traveling to Lençois Maranhenses National Park

How to get to the sand dunes of Lencois Maranhenses

The closest airport is located in Sao Luis. We took a local bus from São Luís bus station to Barreirinhas where we stayed a night at a camping. It was not so easy to find the place, as our maps on the phones seems a bit incorrect and could not deal with the house numbers. Later, turned out that we walk the opposite direction on the street, but after asking the only people we have seen they pointed out the correct way. Finding accommodation in darkness is always fun!

During the boat excursion to Lençois Maranhenses National Park
During the boat excursion

Boat excursion to the sand dunes a.k.a. reaching Atins from Barreirinhas

Next day took a tourist boat arranged by our accommodation to Atins. A cheaper way to see the dunes is by foot, either from Barreirinhas or Santo Amaro do Maranhão, but after our stomach problems, it was out of the question to walk 20+ km in the ‘desert’. Karol still didn’t feel totally well.

Monkeys in Lençois the Maranhenses National Park

Dried fish - on the way to Atins

First stop: Pequenos Lençóis Maranhenses and the monkeys

So, we took the tourist boat which stopped at several places at the edge of the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. Mostly on sandy beaches. In Pequenos Lençóis Maranhenses we met with the cutest part of the local fauna in the monkey tent known as ‘tenda dos macacos‘. There we had our first walks on dunes as well.

Lençois Maranhenses National Park

Lagoon at Lençois Maranhenses National Park
The first lagoon at Lençois Maranhenses National Park
Karol enjoys his first steps in the desert
Karol enjoys his first steps in the desert
It was a bit windy
It was a bit windy

Mandacarú and the ‘Farol Preguiças’ navy lighthouse

We’ve visited a lighthouse at Marinha do Brasil (what a unique name 🙂 ) in the fishing village of Mandacaru. Definitely the best stop on the way for people like us who don’t want to spend the whole day at sunbathing and beaching. The views were quite Instagram-worthy from the top of the lighthouse.

The view from lighthouse

Caburé beach – the last stop on the sightseeing boat

The last stop for us was the Cabure beach. Full of buffets and hammocks on the beach. Ideal for chilling out, we were really impatiently waiting to reach our destination.

Arrival to Atins

During the early afternoon, finally, we were dropped at ‘the port’ of Atins. I write ‘port’, because besides that some boats were anchored there, do not expect anything more. Just water.

The port of Atins
The port of Atins

The lost camera

And that was the moment when I wanted to take a picture of it. We realized we don’t have our camera with us anymore! Yay! Quick thinking, when did we use it last time? In a hammock on the previous beach full with tourist. We might have dropped to the sand or left it there. The communication was still pretty hard as our Portuguese did not improve much during the last weeks, but managed to stop a boat before they left, and they called to someone on the beach.

Karol went back with the tourists who were on the excursion, while I was waiting on the shore with a guy and a jeep for him to return. I thought that probably someone took it already and we lost all our pictures. Probably we should have taken some of the shitty phone pictures at least. But I was surprisingly calm. We can’t really do anything more.  After half an hour, a boat came with Karol and we had our camera back! We got back our pictures! Time to explore the settlement and go swimming in the Atlantic Ocean!

Atins seaside
Even at high tide, it is not so busy…

Accommodation in Atins

In Atins, we spent 2 days. It is a pretty touristic place, either a local enjoying their vacation house there or doing business: restaurants, tour operators and of course different, but all quite expensive accommodation providers. But hey, we found a cute and artistic motel (pousada) for a bargain price. Check it out here! The owned lady speaks perfect English, we can highly recommend her if you also lack Portuguese.

Paintings everywhere
Seashell decoration


Day trips to the sand dunes and lagoons

A visit Lagoa Azul and Lagoa do Peixe or Lagoa Bonita

Next day we paid for an excursion when they took us into the middle of the desert for a trip there. We didn’t really care which of the famous places we would see, just wanted to avoid walking in the heat on the hot sun so we took one of the trips. You can choose between dunes with and without life – to simplify your decision making. We went to the ‘lifeless’ ones, but still saw some lilies 🙂

Of course, they tried to sell some more trips and ‘surprisingly’ all the prices went higher than what we agreed when booking the trip, but we did pretty well and paid the earlier agreed amount for the one we took part in. I am sure it happens in every touristy place, not only here, but stand up for yourself if you are in this situation, never pay more!

Day trip to the desert from Atins

After 20 minutes of driving, we stopped in the middle of nowhere and started our hike. I wore sandals and it was hard to decide, what is better. Wearing them or walk barefoot, so I kept taking them on and off.

Lagoons near Atins

Desert walk

We crossed one of the ponds, climbed dunes and took zillions of photos. The best part of the desert trip was bathing in the lagoons. Alone. A lot of small ones were scattered, so basically, all of us could choose an own one.

Crossing a lagoon near Atins

Atins and us

Life in the desert

The sand dunes with the pools were amazing! I really enjoyed swimming in them, the water was clear and very pleasant temperature-wise. Apparently, the adventures with our camera were not over because I managed to drop into the sand and it also got some water… After some cleaning and drying, it started to work again the next day. Birdie had a fun day too

Walking in the Brazilian desert

Walking in the Brazilian desert


Atins beach is one of the best kitesurfing spots on the world

Besides the day trip, we had also ventured into the desert near Atins. For free 🙂 It was enjoyable to walk in the warm water while parrots were flying around. The sand dunes spread until the seaside. The Atlantic beach of Atins was empty as it is remote, but that’s what we liked! No need to worry and just leave your stuff on the shore while you are taking a swim. A few people were kite surfing, others enjoyed a drink on the only buffet that was open. We heard that it is a popular place for kitesurfing across Brazil, but not the easiest to approach.

Storm is approaching the Atlantic shore of Brazil - Atins

Sailingboat in Atins

Swimming in the Atlantic Ocean

Kitesurfing in Atins, Brazil

Atin's sunset

Quad ride on the way back to Barreirinhas

On the way back from Atins, there was some miscommunication and the guy who should have picked us up by boat forgot about us, but the owner of the pousada where we stayed arranged us a quad (!) for the same price as the boat. We have been traveling through the dunes and managed to catch our afternoon bus to São Luís. It was another fun. Imagine that there is a quad, a driver, the two of us and our two (luckily only small) backpacks attached to the quad and you pass the dunes for 20 km. What a journey!

Next stop: Rio!

How much a trip to Brazil costs? Read now!


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Sad dunes in Brazil: Lençois Maranhenses National Park #atins #brasel #desert #trip #nationalpark

Sad dunes in Brazil: Lençois Maranhenses National Park #atins #brasel #desert #trip #nationalpark



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29 thoughts on “Sand dunes in Brazil: visiting Atins in the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park after the rainy season”

  1. Pingback: Backpacking Brazil Alone | The Travel Mantra

  2. Lençoes Maranhenses is a dream trip of mine… So happy you had that amazing experience checked. And cool must have been driving that quad around the dunes? So awesome
    Thanks for the share

  3. So lucky you got your camera back!! I broke 2 cameras on 1 4-month trip once (both DSLRS) cost a bomb replacing them but i couldnt imagine travelling without a camera!
    Looks like a great trip!

  4. I am from Brazil originally and I always wanted to go visited more of my Home Country, but it is just sooo big. But next time I think I will go here! Thank you for the useful guide!

  5. Pingback: The Top 50 Places to Visit in South America: Make the most of this incredible continent.

  6. Anisa Alhilali

    Wow I didn’t even realize there were sand dunes in Brazil, it looks amazing! And so lucky that you were able to get your camera back.

  7. Crazy Travelista

    OMG this is amazing and so on my bucket list! And i was like you also, I thought someone mislocated it,I was like what? Sand dunes in Brazil? No way! Haha

  8. Louise Oliver

    Wow, I never associated Brazil with sand dunes like that! I’ve been to Brazil twice but still only seen a tiny bit of the country. Losing my camera is always a big fear of mine – how amazing you got it back 🙂

  9. ThatAnxiousTraveller

    That looks stunning!! I had no idea that somewhere like that existed in Brazil – and I’m really glad you got your camera back, too!

  10. Pingback: São Luís – a world heritage city center by UNESCO (in pictures) – Our life, our travel

  11. Your story reminds me of when I almost lost my camera, by leaving it on the table in the reception of a hotel, for only 5 minutes. And the hotel staff stole it and gave it back only after I posted a reward note. I find fantastic the bathing between the sand dunes experience. That must have been amazing!

  12. What a gorgeous place and wild adventure! You guys toughed it out though and I have to say, I love that you found your camera and pics! Makes the experience that much sweeter 🙂

  13. Wow, you had all sorts of issues on this trip! How annoying. But how amazing that it all worked out. Your photos are awesome! Such a pretty place to visit.

  14. I love the lily pad photo! I almost didn’t even realize that was a sand dune in the background and was trying to wrap my head around the photo haha 😛

  15. Jet Set Brunette

    That’s awesome that you got your camera back! I accidently dropped mine off the side of the boat once, and the captain dove in after it and managed to find it at the bottom! I had to replace the camera, but the memory card was saved, meaning I got all my photos! I was so so so happy!

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