Sand Dunes with lagoons - Lencois Maranhenses National Park in Brazil

Dunes with Lagoons – Brazil’s picturesque sandscape

From lazing around and taking it easy on the beach to trekking the jungles and visiting the world’s largest waterfalls, Brazil gets it all and provides ample opportunity to experience a mind-altering time. There might be a natural hotspot you’ve never heard of.

„Bedsheets of Maranhão“ the locals named the picturesque union of dunes and lagoons which stretches along the Atlantic Ocean of Brazil’s tropical northeastern coast. Encompassing 1550 square kilometers these natural bedsheets would overlay 3 times Mexico City or 5 times New York. To protect this unrivaled ecosystem, a National Park had been established roughly three decades ago.

I’m certainly more lucky than being well prepared. Only for 3 months after wet season the brilliant pastel green and azure blue colored pools left behind by the rains reveal their full splendor. With the last raindrops, by mid of May, I reach Barreirinhas – virtually the starting point to venture out into the fairytale sandscape. For weeks I have been looking forward to experiencing the harmony of wandering white sands, waist-deep freshwater lagoons and moving cumulus clouds up-close. Shortly after a dune-quicky led by guides who whistled me back to the pack as soon as I had been separating some meters, I decided to set off for a more intimate quest.

Later the night. As the last travel agency being open, the employee dozing behind the desk seems to be the appropriate person to interrogate about my idea of a solo backcountry stroll without whistling pseud-authorities. Pointing at my 20 dollar summer tent and then at the ancient looking illustrated map hanging in his office, I dare to ask: „Amigo, may you please show me a suitable route through the desert?“ After some time of consideration, he chuckles and crawls out of his improvised bed. As he speaks, I’m suddenly aware that he isn’t really tired, but completely drunk. Staggering occasionally back and forward, he suggests a loop by flicking his index finger criss-cross over the map, mentioning a lonely tree which, if it still would be rooting there, might be the hint that I’m still on track, but otherwise quite lost. He goes on for some minutes bubbling random information until he suddenly stops and turns back to me. „Know what, forget what I say. You have compass?“ Nodding in anticipation, I reply that my phone will do the job. „Está bem, you walk 35 degrees Northeast to ocean, and turn right to find village“. Well, sounds like a plan. Thanks to the pools filled with rainwater, I would hardly die of thirst, he jokes sarcastically while sneaking back behind his desk for another nap. Somehow i feel very intrigued to roam remote areas in developing countries, since their vague control mechanisms allow a curious backpacker plenty of freedom. Mostly this turns into a mind-boggling adventure.

Being aware of the extraordinary circumstances that I can’t really miss the hundreds of pool of drinkable water along the trek I only organize some essential foods. This is by far the lightest gear I’ve ever carried on a 3-days trek. Swim trunks, a Brazilian beach towel, a crappy tent, a gas cooker plus cooking pot, some rice, and spices. Obviously, this is not a grand adventure story, it’s an essay about crossing the width of the most surreal and marvelous desert on earth. A magical experiment which gave me food for thought. “I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude” (Henry David Thoreau). Doubtlessly, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to move into the woods for years like Henry back in 1845. Determined to live a life that allowed him to focus on the simple things that really matter, and nonetheless to find inner peace. A desert walk might offer comparable insights, as it did for me.

With the same stretch-jeep as the day before I cruise out to the edge of the crescent-shaped dunes and start walking. Holding my phone-compass towards 35 degrees Northeast, I only spot shimmering white sand as far as the eye can see. With the sun rising up high, the loose sediment starts melting my feet (and I start regretting not having brought any flipflops or light shoes). This seems to be the perfect time to act childish and roll down the fair sized 40-meter dune sideways, straight into my new private pool. Drinking its waters while enjoying a swim, I’m all of a sudden aware that I’m wandering through a perfect oasis. Lagoons are born anew each year after 6 months of rainwater fill the basins in between the sculpted dunes. With every footstep, my toes are about to touch a spot that is constantly changing its shape due to the northeast wind, which is relentless driving the sand as far as 50 kilometers inland – A superb example of inconsistency, easy to mirror this sentiment to the life of an observer and all matters. Since the whole area is in persistent motion, there is no point in having a map – it would be completely useless anyway.


The wind is picking up, turning my attempts to pitch the tent into a farce. Fortunately, there is no one around to witness how I’m running after certain parts of my tent which currently are flying in all directions. Pitching a tent into the loose ground without weights ain’t easy. Although more concerning is the storm that is brewing closeby. How was that again with lightnings striking the tallest object in the area? Overlooking the scene, there aren’t that many tall objects, except myself. To my surprise, the storm turns westwards, revealing a night sky lavished with stars.

Waking up with the first sunlight at the edge of a private swimming pool which currently echoes pinkish clouds on its surface – I still feel like dreaming. This time in a good way. Since I’m not used to experience solitude in fair distance from civilization, I was facing weird nightmares the night before, unconsciously sorting out unprocessed fears.

My phone battery is already at its end. However, I’m better off walking around or swimming through the half-moon-shaped pools, trying to obtain a more or less straight course towards the Atlantic. After some hours of meandering through the fine sand, I make out a noise which I believe is the rumbling ocean on the rim of the park’s 70 kilometers long shoreline. Climbing up a slightly higher dune, I gain a better overview, and yes, there it is! The majestic Atlantic. I won’t hurry since I have still enough food for today and the area is just too spectacular to be leaving it too soon. Yet, another blissful afternoon at one of the crystal clear pools followed by a vibrant sunset is awaiting. Pure romance – per se a natural rehabilitation clinic for addicts of social networks and refugees of the classic 9-5 working life.

Chased by angry Arctic Terns protecting their nests as well as a bunch of inquisitive kids I reach the charming fishing village Atins after the estimated three days of walking. Gently, I split my self-procured coconut, only surrounded by a herd of cows which apparently seem to enjoy the setting sun altogether, I slowly take my leave out of this magical setting.