Private Journeys

Off the beaten track Brazil: Dunes and lagoons of Lencois Maranhenses

10 days from £2,230pp

Brazil

Itinerary

map marker Map

Day 1

Arrive Recife and transfer to hotel in Olinda

Meet your driver/guide at Recife airport (it's possible to fly directly from Europe to the northeast of Brazil). This pulsating city, whose status as a crumbling, neglected colonial slaving port is being transformed as it benefits from a face-lift and burgeoning arts scene, sits on three small islands connected with each other and the mainland by over two dozen bridges.

Transfer to your hotel in the much more tranquil town Olinda, like Recife founded by the Dutch but now a glorious example of Portuguese architectural flair.  A maze of steeply cobbled streets, pastel coloured houses, baroque fountains and elegant squares blankets the hills. But it’s not always a sleepy place: Olinda is renowned for its wild and raucous Carnival.

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Day 2

Walking tour of Olinda.

Take to the streets to discover more intimately the beautiful nooks and crannies of this beautiful UNESCO listed town on foot.  Your guide will introduce you to some of the country's quaintest baroque churches, as well as to state-approved graffiti murals which adorn Olinda's walls. Many of the towns buildings have a fascinating history, such as the San Bento Monastery which was the site of the country’s first law school and the first place to abolish slavery. Climb up to the Igreja da Se church topping a hill from which are sweeping views over the town and palm-defined coastline.

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Day 3

Transfer back to Recife airport and fly to São Luis.

São Luis is the capital of Maranhão, a port on Brazil’s north coast at the junction of two rivers and the sea . It has a multifaceted history: founded by the French but constructed by the Portuguese as an entry point for African and Amazonian slaves, nowadays it is a bit of a scruffy backwater but with pockets of undeniably photogenic charm, its crumbling façades redeemed by the presence of dazzling bright blue Portuguese tiles, or azulejos. 

Flight schedules mean you won't normally arrive until the late afternoon so there's usually only time for a brief walking tour around the city's historic core. Being based at a simple pousada close by, you’ll be able to soak up the city's atmosphere and appreciate its African heritage, reflected in the music and spiritual rituals – there’s a large Afro-Brazilian element to the population and it can almost seem to be an African city. Many of the colonial façades have been restored, showing off with bright pastel coloured walls. To reinforce this cultural mélange, you can also visit the French-built fort, San Antonio, and the Portuguese cathedral.

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Day 4

By road to Atins in Lençois Maranhenses.

Today's full-day adventure starts with a drive to the bustling little town Barreirinhas, a hub for visitors to the magnificent Lençois Maranhenses National Park. After lunch there, you step into a boat to ride the sluggish waters of aptly named Rio Preguiças (lazy river), fringed by mangroves, which winds its way through a wilderness of sheets of sand and swamps beloved of water birds.

Feel the sand beneath your feet on the golden dunes of 'Little Lençois' before it’s back on the river to waterside Mandacaru, a rustic village of squat red-tiled houses lorded over by a lofty lighthouse which offers fantastic views over the park’s far-flung dunes and lagoons. Break the journey again at Caburé, where a handful of thatched fishermen’s huts guarded by a few wind-torn palms are perched on a bar of silky ocean-front sands.

Finally, finish your trip at the remote fishing village Atins, tucked among the dunes, where you’ll spend two nights. The village consists of a stretch of cottages and single storey houses scattered along sand tracks set a short distance back from the beach to protect the inhabitants from the thrust of the winds and the ever changing profile of the sandy coastline. There’s little of tourist infrastructure - no shop, no electricity overnight, and the silence is punctuated by the hissing of the sand whipped up by the breeze. The pace of life here is leisurely to say the least.  

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Day 5

Explore Lencois Maranhenses National Park.

Explore the Lençois Maranhenses National Park by jeep – you’ll discover an endless expanse of intact sand dunes and clear water lagoons which support a rich variety of wildlife. At first sight you could be forgiven for thinking this was a desert, until the sight of the pools and ribbons of aquamarine water reminds you that the rains accumulate in the folds of the rippling dunes creating a mirage-like effect. The softness of the uniformly pale, cream-to-white sands, devoid of vegetation bar a few tufts of grass, is almost surreal.  Water is usually present in the pools between May and September and the views are most spectacular at low sun, when a range of shadows come into play. Just after sunrise is the best time to view this magical phenomenon.

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Day 6

By road to Parnaíba on a river delta.

It’s an adventurous 4WD drive across dunes, beaches, swamps and rivers to the Parnaíba delta which you’ll explore by boat. A traditional way of life survives in the communities established among the delta’s islets, mangroves and lagoons, a haven for thousands of birds. In the afternoon you will be taken on a scenic tour by boat within the delta, ending at Canarias Island where you spend the night at a simple lodge in idyllic surroundings.

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Day 7

By road to Jericoacoara, a laid back village on the Atlantic coast.

Take a boat back to Parnaíba and then continue by 4WD along the coast, passing virgin-pure wild beaches, cliffs, sand dunes and isolated backwater communities. Arrival in Camocim for lunch before continuing along the beach, passing the village of Tatajuba with its gorgeous lagoon-side setting.

Arrive at the remote settlement of Jericoacoara - dominated by a huge sand dune - which has been voted one of the best beaches in the world. The main streets of 'Jeri' are merely broad channels of deep sand flanked by numerous guesthouses, small shops, funky cafés and restaurants. Its origins lie in a laid-back fishing village, nowadays though it is also a hip and popular venue for windsurfing, kitesurfing and exploring by dune buggy. At night there’s a youthful ambience, with lively bars and folksy night clubs.

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Day 8-9

At leisure among the dunes.

At leisure in Jericoacoara. If you don’t want to experience one of the sea or dune-borne activities, you can just laze on the beach in front of the Atlantic Ocean, and sip an ice-cool caipirinha at sunset.

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Day 10

Transfer to Fortaleza airport for connection to international flight home.

It's four hours' drive to the city of Fortaleza where you will be taken to the airport for your flight home or elsewhere if extending your travels in Brazil.

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