The Only Desert* w/ “Millions” of Lakes

The Lençóis Maranhenses in the Northeastern state of Maranhão is an ecological reserve which occupies an area of 1000 sq. kilometers. Despite much rainfall, the reserve is almost completely free of vegetation.

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: freshwater 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 rain season. During the dry season, many leave for neighboring regions to work small plots of land.

According to local lore, the region was habitated by Caeté Indians, who woke up one day to find their town covered by sand.

As a general guide to this area, try the park’s official dual language website.

The English-language part seems to have been translated from its original Portuguese by a non-native speaker so hang tight. In the next few days, I’ll try to send them corrections.

For spectacular professionally-done photos of the area, check out this site.