During your stay in Maranhão, you will experience amazing moments both in the town and the surrounding natural parks.
Visit the old colonial city of Sáo Luís, the largest of its kind in Brazil and recognized by UNESCO. Also, take a trip to the Lençóis desert to swim in the transparent freshwater lagoons surrounded by the Lençóis Maranhenses dunes; two unique sites waiting to be discovered!
Combining nature and culture, these are two truly wonderful destinations in the Northeast region that compliment each other on the tour. Explore a beautiful part of the region that is well off the beaten track, far from the cohorts of tourists where you can discover an authentic Brazil. A beautiful stop on the edge of the Amazon rainforest where you will enjoy discovering the regional urban architectural heritage and the remarkable spectacle of a desert that changes with every rainy season.
On the São Luís and Lençóis Maranhenses tour
The town of São Luís with the largest
colonial district in South America
The extraordinary desert of water and sand
São Luís and Lençóis Maranhenses tour at a glance
- A private transfer from the São Luís airport to your hotel
- A night in a hotel in São Luís and 2 nights in a hotel in Barreirinhas
- A guided visit on foot of the historical quarter of São Luís (2 to 3hrs.)
- A private transfer from São Luís to Barreirinhas
- A day’s visit to the Lençóis Maranhenses with driver and guide (obligatory) as a private service
- A private transfer from Barreirinhas to the São Luís airport
São Luís, a beautifully preserved colonial city
Founded by the French in the 17th century, but quickly occupied by the Dutch, then 3 years later by the Portuguese, São Luís do Maranhão is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Latin America.
Visiting its historic center, which has been under restoration for almost 30 years, is a little like going back in time.
The historic district, called Reviver today because of its many years of neglect, offers a charming revelation of beautiful old buildings. You will blissfully walk these small cobblestone streets, between the colorful houses with tile roofs, palaces with baroque façades and discreet patios with wrought iron gates.
This ancient part of the city is also characterized by the common use of “azulejos” (white and blue ceramic tiles) imported in the eighteenth century to protect buildings from the heat and humidity. Here you will find all the Portuguese architectural influence has been adapted to the local tropical climate.
São Luís is listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO for being the biggest concentration of Portuguese colonial architecture in the world. Throughout the tour, your guide will help you discover the region’s past prosperity. The city was home to a large part of the country’s intellectual and artistic elite, attracted by the prosperous local bourgeoisie. It was famous for once being one of the main intellectual centers of the country but today it is famous for its incredible Reggae music. Its nicknames of “Athens” and Brazilian “Jamaica” reflect this quirky cultural mix!
In the heart of a desert of dunes and lagoons, the Lençóis Maranhenses
Located 300km east of São Luís, the national park of Lençóis (“sheets” in Portuguese), created in 1981, offers the spectacle of one of the most surprising and magnificent natural curiosities in Brazil, a desert totally different to any other on earth.
To discover this unique site, you will firstly have to reach the small town of Barreirinhas, situated on a large bend in the Preguiças river which flows peacefully through a luxuriant landscape of forest and impenetrable tropical mangroves. Setting off from this small village, you will join the park aboard a private 4X4 vehicle accompanied by a driver and a local guide. You will cross the river on a ferry and then travel 45 mins in a landscape that becomes more and more arid before arriving at the first dunes. From here, you will continue on foot with your guide, as vehicles are prohibited in the park.
At the top of the first dune, you will see the vast expanse of brilliant white dunes whose shapes resemble the folds in a fabric, which stretch as far as the eye can see. But what distinguishes this desert from all others are the natural pools of rainwater that form between the dunes and become warmed by the sun. Between May and October, you will have the pleasure of enjoying these waters that you can bathe and relax in and appreciate the silence of this incredible place.
The abnormality is created by the clay in the soil, which effectively retains rainwater on the surface. Every year the same cycle is repeated. The heavy tropical rains between March and May fill the lagoons that disappear around October, overcome by drought, to reappear the following year.
Walking barefoot in the silence of this desert where the softness of fine sand mixes with the caress of warm water will give you the impression of exploring a different planet.
The “bumba-meu-boi,” an emblematic show from Maranhão
A folklore dance as famous as the carnival, “bumba-meu-boi” is inseparable from the region of Maranhão.
It is now part of the Register of Cultural Heritage of Brazil, the IPHAN. This colorful parade features a giant wooden replica of an ox and a slave who cut out its tongue to feed his pregnant wife. The ox dies, provoking the wrath of the owner who imprisons the slave. After the intervention of healers, the ox comes back to life and everything is resolved!
During the processions where the different groups present their performances, you will attend a show that mixes dance, comedy and tragedy to tell this story of death and reincarnation.
This scenario is a parody of slave society and social and ethnic inequalities particularly strong in this region with many Afro-Brazilians. It is also an allegory of the ambiguous reality of master / slave relations in former colonial times.
Trekking in the Lençóis, an unforgettable experience
Walking in the Lençóis desert is a fantastic experience for any walker or trekker.
The constantly wind-swept sand is never too hot and remains relatively compact especially along the lagoons. The great pleasure of a trek in the Lençóis is that you can bathe in these pools of fresh transparent water. It is worth mentioning that the temperature does not exceed 30 to 35 ° and that the constant wind will also keep the heat at bay during your walk.
Most trekking trips start from Lagoa Bonita or Atins. You can trek for two or three days, according to your desires. We can also adapt the tour according to whether you want to walk shorter or longer distances. The days last from 4 to 8 hours.
If you go on a trek for three days, you start from Lagoa Bonita to reach the oasis of Baixa Grande with its local homes, the walk takes about 7 hours. The next day you will reach the other oasis called Queimada dos Britos, this walk takes about 4 hours. Finally on the last day you will follow the Rio Negro to the ocean before descending towards Atins, along the beach. You can then agree with your guide on where you want to finish your trek. A car can collect you and take you to the end of the trek or you can finish on foot. During your journey, you will hardly meet anyone, only a few fishermen who build temporary huts on the beach and come fishing for a fortnight or so at a time. You can also buy fresh fish from them and grill it on the spot!
Accommodation is with the locals and you will be taught how to properly lie in a hammock to have a good night’s sleep. You will eat with the locals or have a picnic brought by the guide. The landscapes are unique and beautiful and the experience unforgettable. We take care of your luggage during the trekking stage, and you will take only what’s needed for your trek.
Detailed Itinerary – São Luís & Lençóis Maranhenses Tour
Day 1 : São Luis/ In
Once your flight lands at the São Luís do Maranhão International Airport and you have collected your luggage, a private driver will take you to the hotel you have chosen.
During the trip, you will discover the city along the way. This is your first glimpse of one of the oldest colonial cities in Brazil which has the same relaxed and colorful atmosphere that is found in Bahia, for example.
Check-in and night at the hotel.
Day 2 : São Luís/ Barreirinhas
Buffet breakfast at the hotel.
After breakfast, an English speaking guide will meet you at reception if you are staying in the center, or a driver will pick you up and take you to meet your guide on site if you are staying elsewhere. You will go on a tour to discover the historic district of São Luís.
For a few hours, you will walk the cobbled streets of this old colonial city to explore its hidden corners and learn of the region’s history. You will also visit some cultural centers including a restored colonial house. A real odyssey in the glitzy past of the capital of Maranhão.
You will walk back to the hotel or meet your driver who will take you back.
In the afternoon, a driver will collect you for your private transfer to Barreirinhas.
It’s about a 4 hr drive during which you will discover the local ecosystem with its vast expanses of Burriti and Carnauba palms. These are fundamental to the traditional, local economy. Their trunks provide timber for houses, palms are used for the roofs of houses, and the wax is sold to the food and cosmetic industry. Also, fruits are transformed into delicious sorbets and jam.
Arrival in Barreirinhas, check-in and night at your chosen hotel.
Day 3 : Barreirinhas – Lençóis
After a buffet breakfast at your hotel, you will set off on an excursion in the Lençóis do Maranhão National Park.
Departure is around 8 a.m. in a private 4X4 vehicle. A local guide will accompany you. At the Preguiças river, a ferry will take you and your vehicle across.
You will then drive through the dunes along the maze of tracks that wind through the vegetation for about ¾ of an hour watching the countryside get more and more desert like. Once you arrive at the National Park, you continue on foot.
With your local guide, you will climb the immaculate white dunes that contrast with the turquoise blue lagoons. The main lagoons will have other visitors, or explore a little further to find your own “private” lagoon and relax in peace. You can walk bare foot and refresh yourself when you want in this true little paradise on earth !
Around 12:00, you will go back to the vehicle to drive to the small farm at the park entrance for lunch with the locals, a great chance to sample the local dishes (it’s the only place to eat here. If not, you need to bring a picnic).
After lunch, and a little rest in the hammocks to avoid the midday heat, you will return to the other side of the Lençóis Maranhenses around 3p.m. Here you will see the splendid sunset over the dunes and then set off back to the hotel along the tracks for 45mins.
Night at the hotel.
Day 4 : Barreirinhas – Rio Formiga / São Luís
After a Brazilian buffet breakfast and checking out of the hotel, there’s an option to go down the river on a buoy (a Brazilian style of gentle rafting). Alternatively you can take your transfer directly to São Luís.
You will drive to the river Formiga, which is a quiet stream and with a local guide, you float down the river using large inflatable buoys. During the trip you can inspect the wild river banks, as you are rocked by the gentle current. A harmonious moment with nature!
At the end of the trip, a local restaurant offers local specialties for lunch; the “Galinha Caipira” (farm chicken) is a real delight!
After lunch, a driver will take you to São Luís airport or a hotel if your flight is the next day.
Arrival at the airport/hotel and end of our services.
São Luís, Barreirinhas and Lençóis Maranhenses tour -Accommodation
Hotel Pestana São Luís (superior)
Pestana São Luís is located on Calhau Beach, about a quarter of an hour from the historic centre of Reviver. In addition to good recreational facilities including beautiful pools, there is a full range of different category rooms. Quality services and a beautiful decor add to the charm, not to mention the balconies from where you can enjoy the evening breeze.
A perfect hotel for families with children looking for fun facilities but also for those who wish to stay longer and not in the historical center.
Hotel Grand São Luís (standard)
The Grand São Luís Hotel is the only establishment of its kind in the historic center. If you want to spend your stay in this area in comfortable conditions, it is, in our experience, the best option.
Spacious and well-equipped rooms, a swimming pool and restaurant, and a beautiful location close to the main monuments in the area make this hotel an ideal place for short stays.
Pousada Encantes do Nordeste (standard)
The pousada Encantes do Nordeste is a small but charming place featuring lodges with pleasant decor and a beautiful tropical garden.
An unpretentious and very friendly establishment with a swimming pool and breakfast area in the garden. It is ideal for smaller budgets and for those who do not like big hotels.
Porto Preguiças Resort (Superior)
If you have children, want an establishment offering sports and leisure activities or are looking for extra comfort, Porto Preguiças is the hotel for you.
It has traditional brick bungalows with modern comforts and pleasant decor. They welcome you in a large park that runs along a curve in the river where you can go swimming and canoeing.