Called the “flooded desert” Lencois Maranhenses National Park in north eastern Brazil is a true wonder of nature.
Encompassing an area of about 1500 square kilometres, the park consists almost entirely of shifting sand dunes. As the dunes are not static, the park is in a constant state of change. The park’s most unique aspect, though, is that during the wettest six months of the year, heavy rains fill the valleys between the dunes, creating a myriad of lakes and ponds which really do give the impression of a desert being flooded.
The park is located in the state of Maranhao, which is on the Atlantic Coast and is just on the cusp of the mighty Amazon River, so has a distinct wet and dry season.
“One of the most amazing attributes of the park is the huge variety of marine life which exists there.”
Of course, it is perfectly understandable for fish to flourish when the many lakes and lagoons fill with water. However, as the dry season progresses the water begins to evaporate and the lakes and lagoons diminish to very low levels.
Apparently, this abundance of fish is explained by the fact that water birds, which make their annual pilgrimage from the coast, carry with them fish eggs, which populate the water holes.
Another oddity about Lencois Maranhenses National Park is the absence of abundant plant life. Without water, the dunes resemble any other desert, being bare and mostly seemingly empty of any plant life. Even though, the park spends a fair amount of the year with plentiful water, and there is a smattering of greenery in places, this is no encouragement to the mass propagation of plants.
Being a national park, Lencois Maranhenses is open to the public, but with limitations.
“No vehicles are allowed into the park, so visitors must enter either on foot, or on pushbikes, which are also allowed.”
The colours can be quite stunning. The brilliant ivory white of the sand is brightened by waters which appear as either an aqua blue or deep green. The best time to visit is between May and September when the water is at its highest.
Lencois Maranhenses has been formed over thousands of years, as the sand from riverbeds is deposited at the mouth of the rivers and brought back to the continent by winds and sea currents.
The nearest town to the park is Barreirinhas from where it is possible to arrange transport and tours to the park.