Curious families with adventurous spirits will find plenty of opportunities for meaningful vacations when traveling to Brazil with kids. Check out what one of the families in the Our Whole Village network has to say about their most recent family vacation to Lençóis Maranhenses National Park in northeast Brazil. Thanks, Daniela and family, for sharing your experience with us!
A Unique Family Trip to Brazil
For our last family trip to Brazil, we visited the unique Lençóis Maranhenses National Park (Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses). Far removed from popular tourist spots such as Rio, the park welcomes visitors with its vast dunes and quaint nearby villages.
Find Lençóis Maranhenses National Park on a map, and you’ll be astounded by its size. Located in Maranhão state, it covers 383,013 acres (155,000 ha). There, dunes and, after the rainy season (from February to June), blue or green lagoons create one of the most stunning landscapes you’ll ever lay eyes on.
Getting to Santo Amaro do Maranhão
We started our trip to Brazil with children in the quaint village of Santo Amaro do Maranhão, thought by many to be the “icing on the cake” because of its close proximity to the most beautiful lagoons in the park. To get there, we rented a car at São Luis Airport (the capital city of Maranhão) and drove east for two and a half hours and then north for another 30 minutes.
Unfortunately, roads in Brazil are not always in good shape, and this one was no exception. When you get close to Santo Amaro, located at the border of Lençóis Maranhenses, park your car (there are safe parking lots) and hire a 4×4 driver to take you to your pousada (inn).
Our pousada was simple but clean, with a warm pool that worked well for relaxation at the end of the day. Their breakfast could have used some improvement, though (breakfasts in Brazil are usually very good, even in very simple pousadas). Fortunately, they made up for it with good dinner options. The “camaroada” (a shrimp dish) tasted delicious!
Exploring Lagoons and Lakes Near Santo Amaro
We had two days to explore the area, and we opted for private tours through Santo Amaro Coop, the local 4×4 drivers cooperative, to maximize the use of our time. Incidentally, Santo Amaro proved the only place where small sand chairs and one umbrella could be procured to take to the lagoons. Valdo, our driver, and Gabriel, our guide, brought them along. We highly recommend securing them before leaving for the lagoons.
In the morning, we did the “Circuito Adorinha” and, in the afternoon, the “Circuito América.” There is a short boat trip to cross the “Rio Alegre” to go to the America Lagoon. The sky was cloudy, and it rained a little, but we still appreciated the gorgeous colors of the lakes. We were shocked to learn that there are so many lakes close to Santo Amaro that some of them don’t even have names.
To break up these tours, we had lunch at the “Restaurante do Gordo” in the city. A small, authentic establishment, the food is a treat. But don’t go here if you’re in a rush. Service took longer than expected. That said, the wait proved well worth it. We enjoyed some of the best “arroz de cuxá-maranhense” of our entire trip.
Taking the “Circuito Betânia”
On our second day in Santo Amaro, we explored the lagoons at the “Circuito Betânia.” This tour took us further away from Santo Amaro and closer to the small village of Betânia.
There, we stopped for lunch at “Da Lindalva” a rustic restaurant surrounded by the dark, warm waters of the Alegre river. We enjoyed delicious grilled shrimp, fish, and rice and beans. After lunch, our oldest boy explored the shallows close to the restaurant by kayak.
On to Barreirinhas and the Rio Preguiças
From Santo Amaro, we drove to Barreirinhas, which took about an hour by car. From there, we made arrangements to leave our car in the parking lot of the hotel. Then, we departed for three nights to Atins.
A private boat took us north along the Rio Preguiças. Along the way, we made two stops. The first was at Vassouras where medium-sized capuchin monkeys can be seen, especially in the morning. Then, in Caburé, we ate lunch on the Preguiças River. An easy walk quickly brought us to picturesque views of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Kitesurfing Capital of Brazil
Atins is the Brazilian capital of kitesurfing. But you’ll also see other water sports there including windsurfing and stand up paddleboarding.
An otherwise quiet village located in the sand at the northeast border of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Atins offers more than just small-town pousadas and rustic restaurants. The city also boasts boutique hotels, elegant B&Bs, and sophisticated dining options.
We had a free day to explore the beach and watch the kites in the sky. For adventurous souls, you can take classes and give it a try. The next day was spent exploring the lagoons closest to Atins.
Finding “the Best Grilled Shrimp in the World”
The “Canto do Atins” tour took us to some of the best lagoons in the area. It also offers participants lunch at one of two restaurants in Atins that claim to serve up “the best grilled shrimp in the world.”
Many legends swirl around the origins of the competition between Luzia´s and Antonio´s restaurants, but no one knows for sure how it all began. Ironically, the restaurants sit side by side, and most tour drivers agree that they both serve up delectable food.
As a family of shrimp-lovers, we decided to try both! For our taste, Antonio’s was the champion. The grilled shrimp there was seasoned to perfection. Even though we tried Luzia´s restaurant first and were not hungry when we arrived at Antonio´s, the shrimp served at the latter still won our “family contest.”
Witnessing the Revoadas Dos Guarás
In Atins, we also got to experience the wondrous Revoadas Dos Guarás firsthand. Guarás are amazing orange/pink/red birds who fly back from their feeding site to their sleeping site every day before sunset. Tourists hire small boats to get close enough to the area where the birds fly high in the sky.
The watching site is far enough to avoid disturbing the birds but close enough to appreciate their magnificent colors in the waning light of sunset. Our pictures did not do justice to all of the beauty we witnessed in person.
Resort-Living in Porto Preguiças
Back in Barreirinhas, we settled into our first resort stay of our trip at Porto Preguiças. Smaller than most Brazilian resorts, they do not offer any kind of guided activities. But this proved to be a plus for us.
Porto Preguiças sits near the Preguiça River. Because of the slow water flow and low transit of boats in this area of the river, you can rent a kayak to paddle out and enjoy the beauty of the river and the vegetation surrounding it.
The resort itself proved very comfortable. We opted for a large family accommodation with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, yet the price was quite affordable. Breakfast (included in the daily fee) and dinner were both beyond expectation. In fact, the shrimp risotto was excellent and pizzas were surprisingly delicious.
Our kids loved all three hotel pools: one regular pool, one with sand in the bottom (not very sanitary in my opinion!), and one with running water from the river (and also sand in the bottom).
The Lagoa Bonita and Lagoa Azul Tours
During this part of the trip, we relaxed at the hotel for one day and fit in a last tour during the second. We chose the “Lagoa Bonita + Lagoa Azul” 8-hour tour. But I have to be honest here, we did not get to the second part of the tour.
After seeing more dunes and lagoons and having lunch at Dona Graça´s restaurant in the middle of the park, the kids were crazy to get back to the hotel. So, we ended up not visiting the Lagoa Bonita where we were supposed to see some of the most marvelous views of the park atop dunes towering upwards of 131 feet (40m).
One reason we chose to opt out of this part of the trip proved the drive to the lagoon. The sand road was supposed to be very bumpy. In other words, your body would get jarred for more than 30 to 40 minutes straight. The thought of this proved too tiring, both physically and mentally, especially for our son.
Exploring the Historic Corridor of São Luis do Maranhão
Our last day was dedicated to wandering the historic part of São Luis do Maranhão. Since we only had one night left, we decided to sleep at Casa Lavínia, a small B&B in the middle of the old town.
Belonging to a Frenchman who fell in love with Brazil, and a Brazilian woman, a few years ago, Casa Lavínia is located in a home constructed circa 1856. The B&B has rooms that can accommodate families of various sizes. They told us that French visitors are their most frequent guests.
As for the beauty of the old part of the city, much restoration work needs to be done in the neighborhood. When completed, it may begin to approach the beauty of parts of Havana. I would love to see how it looks after these renovations.
For dinner, we went to Casa de Jujá, a very small restaurant with a wonderful menu that requires reservations at least four hours before dinner. This is because Jujá, the chef, buys only the freshest ingredients to cook for her guests. You eat in her home’s dining room, which is designed to make you feel at home. It was a wonderful experience.
Traveling to Brazil with Kids
If you enjoy nature and beautiful landscapes, Lençois Maranhenses is a part of Brazil that you definitely have to visit. Five days is enough for Santo Amaro and Atins. But if you have time, you can choose to do the “Rota das Emoções” that crosses from Jeriquaquara to Santo Amaro do Maranhão (or the reverse). You’ll embark on a three-day trek in the middle of the park, an area restricted to any vehicles.
Maybe when my youngest is a bit older, we will try this option. That said, the lagoons close to Santo Amaro were the most beautiful ones we saw on our journey.
Our family absolutely loved the whole experience. Lencois Maranheses National Park is definitely a must-see in Brazil and perfect for adults and kids of all ages. Looking through the pictures, although it is hard to remember the names of the lagoons where they were taken, one image is more breathtaking than the next. Lencois Maranhenses is one of those places where you feel relaxed, close to nature and grateful to be alive.
Ready for Your Own Brazil Family Adventure?
Are you and your family ready for this adventure?
We will eliminate the guesswork and arrange all the details for you so you can just focus on making memories with your family.
Want to learn about other trips to Brazil with kids we offer? Check out our Brazil Family Adventure to Chapada Diamantina and Salvador or our Brazilian Amazon Cruise Adventure to the rainforests of Amazonia.
At Our Whole Village, we craft transformational trips for curious families who want to create lasting memories while making a difference. We’re here to help you and your family experience the world, its people, and its cultures. Contact us today to learn more about the unforgettable experiences that we curate for curious families just like yours.