Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil
The Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is located in Maranhão state, in northeastern Brazil, just east of the Baía de São José, between 02º19’—02º45’ S and 42º44’—43º29’ W. It is an area of low, flat, occasionally flooded land, overlaid with large, discrete sand dunes. It encompasses roughly 1500 square kilometers, and despite abundant rain, supports almost no vegetation. Because of the nature of the park’s protected status, most vehicles are not permitted access. Entrance to the park is made exclusively by 4-wheel drive trucks.
Composed of large, white, sweeping dunes, at first glance Lençóis Maranhenses looks like an archetypal desert. In fact it isn’t actually a desert. Lying just outside the Amazon Basin, the region is subject to a regular rain season during the beginning of the year. The rains cause a peculiar phenomenon: fresh water collects in the valleys between sand dunes, spotting the desert with blue and green lagoons that reach their fullest between July and September. The area is also surprisingly home to a variety of fish which, despite the almost complete disappearance of the lagoons during the dry season, have their eggs brought from the sea by birds.
The national park status serves only as a means of protecting the area’s ecology; consequently many people are park residents, as is also the case with nearby Jericoacoara. The inhabitants of the park work primarily as fishermen during the rainy season. During the dry season, many leave for neighboring regions to work small plots of land. According to local lore, the region was inhabited by Caeté Indians, who woke up one day to find their town covered by sand.