Barreirinhas, Gateway to Lençóis Maranhenses
(Click here for the complete coverage of ‘Maranhão’)
Destination São Luís, capital of the state of Maranhão.
Barreirinhas is a small city at about 200 km east of São Luís, and is located at the Preguiças River. Barreirinhas is known as the gateway to the dune landscape of Lençóis Maranhenses.
It is not easy to encounter these three holiday destinations in the holiday collection of Dutch tour operators. A quick search via Google (barreirinhas reizen) reveals that the first thirty hits (including the most known Dutch tour operators that have Brazil travels), one one tour operator has an option to travel to Barreirinhas in its collection (see list below).
Satellite image of Lençóis Maranhenses
As expected, by far most of the tour operators have standard travels of the Brazilin Big Three in their collection: Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Amazone. Other operators also have the national parks of Pantanal and Foz do Iguaçu, and popular beach resorts in Rio Grande do Norte (mostly. Pipa), Ceará, and Pernambuco (Porto de Galinhas). Obviously, Maceió is absent in this shortlist, while the capital of Alagoas is considered as one of the most beautiful beach resorts, according to Brazilians. Other popular destinations in the shortlist are national park Chapada Diamantina in the state of Bahia, the historical cities of Ouro Preto, São João del Rey, and Tiradentes (Diamantina is obviously absent!), the cities of São Paulo and Brasília. Only few tour operators offer locations as Curitiba, Porto Alegre, and Florianópolis. While these cities are located in the relatively wealthy southern part of Brazil, and have strong ties with Europe, thanks to the numerous migrants from various European countries.
São Luis – Barreirinhas
The bus travel from São Luís, capital of the state of Maranhão, to Barreirinhas lasted more than four hours. Barreirinhas, a municipality that counts little more than 40 thousand inhabitants, is considered as the gateway to Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses. This park measures about 155 thousand hectares, and is also called the ‘Brazilian Sahara’. The city of Barreirinhas, at more than 250 km east of São Luis, may be reached by small airplanes, by secondary roads (a 4×4 is required), or by car or regular bus service that departs from the Rodoviária van São Luis.
Barreirinhas – downtown
Despite the number of 40 thousand inhabitants, Barreirinhas does not have the atmosphere of a city. The center more resembles to that of a village, with a central square, close to the Preguiças River, along which the city is constructed. Most roads are paved. The main road has numerous small stores and services; the side-ways have more interesting and cheaper stores and restaurants. Pharmacies, photo stores, bakers, greengrocers, supermarkets, and even LAN houses, where you can have your digital pictures burned on a CD for 2.5 euros.
Barreirinhas – going out
Restaurants, bars, and night clubs are concentrated along the embankment of the Preguiças River. In between, there are some souvenir shops. This embankment is strongly focused on attracting tourists, the prices are a bit elevated here. As in many touristic locations, cheaper alternatives are found not for from the main streets. Many restaurants have menus translated into English and Spanish. But it does not say that the waiters are fluent in English or Spanish. These restaurants also offer entertainment, also for tourists. Very enjoyable for foreigners, but not very much for Brazilians. As evaluated by my travel companions. When we arrived in Barreirinhas, we quickly noticed that a big local festival just had ended. A good alternative is to have something to eat and drink along the embankment. It is not uncommon arrange an agreement about the price of the beer bottles and the bites, since you might gain some discount. When hungry, one may look for cheaper restaurants that are not far from the embankment; cheap ‘pratos feito’ may be obtained for a few euros. A ‘prato feito’ is a standard dish that consists of rice, Brazilian brown beans, salad, vegetables, and a piece of meat.
Barreirinhas – accomodation
Various pousadas (cheap hotels) are found in Barreirinhas, and they vary from very cheap to quite expensive. It is recommended to visit a number of locations and to compare them. One of my travel companions had discovered an excellent location of a Brazilian woman. Her house is too big for her alone; therefore, she had started to rent rooms. Since these rooms are integrated in her house (you enter her living room and kitchen), she and her family members appreciate very much that the strict house rules are respected. The rooms available were big and very clean. The bathroom was clean and well-kept. Breakfast (coffee, bread rolls, cheese, ham, cake, and fruit juice) was simple but more than sufficient. We had to pay 15 reais per person, about 6 euros, per night.
Barreirinhas – excursions
You will not visit Barreirinhas for the night clubs. The main reason for most of the tourists that arrive there, is to visit the national park of Lençóis. As a foreigner, you may feel lost and confused about the number of offers. Local teenagers approach you with most promising offers, but it is art to see through these offers. Because these teenagers want a big share of what they manage to sell of these offers. They sometimes may be able to promise you the most impossible possibilities, they can convince you that they are the cheapest. Please do not accept these offers too quickly. In our case, the owner of our pousada helped us a lot. She was familiar with all offers, and she managed to arrange a good offer for us. We had to pay 20 reais (8 euros) each to join the excursion with a 4×4 to the closest freshwater lake in the park: Lagoa Azul. The also mentioned the cheapest boat trip to Atins: 5 reais each (return trip) for the boat trip of four hours.
One may consider Lençóis Maranhenses as an underestimated touristic pearl. A park that must be maintained for future generations, thereby minimizing the damage caused by touristic activities. Nevertheless, the park is a must see for tourists who are interested in natural beauty and natural peace. Barreirinhas is very suitable for these tourists. It is recommended to be informed about the possibilities in the city in the region. This article might also be of little help.
Sites of American tour operators visited (2012):
Sites of Dutch tour operators visited (2007):
jiba.nl “The Brazilian Rivièra measures 8.511.965 km2 and has more than 2 million inhabitants.” (???)
rondreiskoning.nl (the only one in this list that offers a travel to Barreirinhas and Lençóis.)
By Dr. Adriano Antoine Robbesom
- Travel in Brazil: MARANHÃO (02). Dunes of Lençóis Maranhenses II (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- COLORFUL BRAZIL: Dunes of Lençóis Maranhenses (MA) (adrianoantoine.wordpress.com)
- Travel in Brazil: MARANHÃO (01). Dunes of Lençóis Maranhenses (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- Travel in Brazil: Belo Horizonte – MARANHÃO: (12) Imaging the Bus Travel, Hour by Hour V (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- COLORFUL BRAZIL: Sunset at Atins, Maranhão (MA) (adrianoantoine.wordpress.com)
- Travel in Brazil: Belo Horizonte – MARANHÃO: (11) Imaging the Bus Travel, Hour by Hour IV (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- Travel in Brazil: Belo Horizonte – MARANHÃO: (09) Imaging the Bus Travel, Hour by Hour II (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- Travel in Brazil: Belo Horizonte – MARANHÃO: (10) Imaging the Bus Travel, Hour by Hour III (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- Travel in Brazil: Belo Horizonte – MARANHÃO: (08) Imaging the Bus Travel, Hour by Hour I (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- Lençóis Maranhenses – Brazil’s Lagoons Among The Dunes (presurfer.blogspot.com)