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Barreirinhas doesn't take long to see. The Rio Preguiças loops its way through town. There is a pleasant boulevard with numerous restaurants and cafes facing the river, and next to that a big dune where locals swim. Most pousadas are located on the banks of the river a little out of town.

Several companies specialize in multiday packages. These can be as simple as transportation to and excursions in Lençóis, or as complicated as multiday jeep excursions to the Lençóis and then through the Parnaiba delta all the way to Jericoacoara. For details contact Ecodunas (tel. 098/3349-0545; www.ecodunas.com.br) or Rota das Trilhas (tel. 098/3349-0372; www.rotadastrilhas.com.br).

Exploring the Dunes

Exploring the great shifting mass of glorious white dunes is the whole point of coming here. Contact Ecodunas or Rota das Trilhas, both in Barreirinhas and offering similar tours at comparable prices.

There are several ways to explore the area:

  • Hikes: The most popular is a half-day trip by 4*4 to Lagoa Bonita. The dirt road travels by increasingly rough sand trails to the park entrance, after which you climb into the dunes and hike for about 2 hours, allowing for plenty of time to swim in a couple of small rainwater lagoons. Cost is R$50. The half-day trip can be done in the morning, but in the afternoon it's cooler and you get to see the sunset. Variations on this trip go to other nearby lakes such as Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Paraiso. Longer hikes with customized itineraries can be arranged by consultation with Ecodunas. Guides are quite cheap at R$80 per day for up to three people. A 4*4 and driver -- to drop you off or pick you up at a trail head -- costs R$300 per day.
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  • Four-Wheel ATV: These full-day trips zoom up and down the dunes at the very fringes of the national park (ATVs aren't allowed inside the park boundaries), covering the roughly 30km (19 miles) between Barreirinhas and Atins on the coast. A full-day trip costs R$350 per ATV, which fits two people.
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  • Scenic Flights: The best way to admire the spectacular patchwork of crystal-clear lagoons amid the dazzling white sand dunes is from above. Cost of a 30-minute scenic flight is R$180 per person, with a minimum of three people. Flights are best in the morning.
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Trips to Atins, Caburé & Mandacaru

At the mouth of the Rio Preguiças are two tiny villages sandwiched between the Lençóis dunes and the ocean. Mandacaru is a fishing village close to the mouth of the river; Caburé is a narrow neck of pure sand perhaps 200m (650 ft.) wide, with crashing surf on one side and the lazy Rio Preguiças on the other. What started as simple camps on this wind-swept piece of geography have since grown into a small collection of pousadas and restaurants.

One popular option for visiting these areas is to take a day trip by boat from Barreirinhas. The trip descends the river, stopping at the Smaller (Pequenos) Lençóis on the way. This sand dune area is still growing, and you can see where the advancing sand is eating away at the riverside forest. The trip stops in at Caburé for lunch, with time in Mandacaru to wander this tiny picturesque village and climb the 45m (150-ft.) lighthouse for a view of the national park, before returning to Barreirinhas. The tour can be arranged with Ecodunas or Rota das Trilhas. Both charge R$60, lunch not included.

Many people opt to spend the night in Caburé or Atins. This allows time the next day to make a walking expedition into the Lençóis dunes along the coast beyond Atins. The route takes you through several beautiful and completely isolated small lakes before stopping at the Restaurante de Luzia (no phone), a tiny palm-frond covered shack at the ocean side that serves an orgiastic feast of giant prawns for R$15 per person. Cost of this coastal dune expedition is around R$100 for up to four people, prawn lunch not included, with departure from Caburé. You can arrange the entire trip (boat from Barreirinhas, coastal day trip, and boat back to Barreirinhas) with Ecodunas or Rota das Trilhas.

If you decide to stay in Caburé, there are several rustic pousadas. The sandspit has no electricity, so it's generators only and at 10pm it's lights out, candles on. Pousada Porto Buriti (tel. 098/3349-1802 or cell 9984-0088) has the best infrastructure. It offers 10 small chalets at R$120 to R$160 a night. Make arrangements before staying overnight as accommodations are limited. An option in Atins is Pousada Rancho do Buna (tel. 098/3349-5005; www.ranchodobuna.com.br), with basic but very clean and pleasant accommodations for R$110 double. The owners can also arrange horseback rides, bird-watching tours, or a variety of hikes and boat tours in the area.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.