An utterly relaxing way of taking in the dunescapes is to float by them in a rubber inner tube known as boia cross. Half-day trips feature 90 minutes of floating down Rio Cardosa, an emerald colored river that’s a 45-minute Jeep ride from Barreirinhas.
For a more panoramic view, splurge for the 30-minute flight that will give you an unforgettable bird’s-eye view over the dunes (for the best light, reserve the morning or late afternoon). Ecodunas can organize both trips for you. Boia-cross costs around R$50 per person while a flight is R$150 per person.
The closest and easiest way to explore the dunes is by taking the half-day Jeep trips that visit nearby lagoons, including the particularly gorgeous Lagoa Bonita and Lagoa Azul. Try to go in the afternoon (when it’s cooler and the light is more golden), since you’ll be able to watch the sun set over the dunes. A full-day Jeep outing to the village of Santo Amaro do Maranhão allows you to visit the enchanted Lagoa da Gaivota, one of the largest and deepest of all Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses ’s lagoons, whose colors change like a 1970s mood ring.
Tropical Adventure (tel. 98/3349-1987, www.tropical-adventure-expedicoes.com ), Ecotrilha (tel. 98/3349-0372, www.ecotrilha.com ), and Ecodunas (tel. 98/3349-0545, www.ecodunas.com.br ) all operate Jeep trips, which start at around R$50 per person for a half-day trip.
The Rio Preguiças is a river that passes close to Barreiras. It winds through a landscape of buriti palm forests, mangrove swamps, and sand dunes, passing tiny palm thatched villages, until it finally flows into the ocean. With a guide, you can descend the river by launch or by a small motorboat known as a voadeira. Excursions include stops for swimming and lunch in the fishing village of Caburé, which lies on a sandbar between the river and the sea. You’ll also stop in the village of Mandacaru to climb up the Farol Preguiças, a picturesque lighthouse that offers fantastic 360-degree views of the dunes.
Another option is to hire a boat to take you downriver to Atins, an idyllic village ensconced in the dunes, which is surrounded by some stunning lagoons such as the Lagoa Tropical. Although you can visit Atins in a day trip, it’s worthwhile staying overnight so you can explore the surrounding dunes and lagoons on foot (and soak up the relaxing vibes).
Tropical Adventure and Ecodunas can organize these boat trips for you. A full-day excursion for up to four people costs around R$50 per person (not including lunch). You can also negotiate directly with a boat operator and guide (a boat trip to Atins should cost around R$80).