Discover Brazil’s secret landscapes
The northeast of Brazil is home to remarkable, untouched landscapes of epic proportions that rival the country’s more famous attractions. Kuoni’s Content Editor Katy Ward escapes the crowds to discover the unique charms of this remote region.
Brazil conjures up images of the mighty Amazon, thunderous Iguaçu Falls and spellbinding Rio but the relatively undiscovered northeast coast is home to astounding landscapes that are blissfully devoid of tourists. Exploration of this lesser known corner of Brazil can involve long, and often, bumpy journeys through remote areas and lagoon crossings by raft but it is immensely rewarding and offers the opportunity for an adventure of a lifetime.
Brazil boasts over 4650 miles of coastline and Fortaleza, the country’s fifth largest city, is renowned for its endless stretch of white-sand beaches. Upon arrival in Fortaleza we began our transfer to the village of Flecheiras.
The city’s skyscrapers and late-night traffic soon gave way to quiet, dusty roads and we discovered the locals’ novel way of cutting transfer times. Why use a road when you can drive across the beach! We raced across the open sands without a soul in sight as the dark waves lapped the shore like puddles of treacle just a few feet from our car. Tiny crabs scuttled out of our path at an astonishing speed, glowing white under our headlights like tiny meteors as they sought refuge in the safe embrace of the velvety waters and the welcome blast of fresh salty air from the open window swept away the cobwebs of fatigue.
They sought refuge in the safe embrace of the velvety waters and the welcome blast of fresh salty air from the open window swept away the cobwebs of fatigue."
The coastal village of Flecheiras is a rustic retreat set against a backdrop of sweeping dunes and lagoons – perfect for relaxation after a long journey. Local fishermen head out to sea in jangadas, traditional wooden fishing boats, whilst tourists explore the stunning surroundings on horseback and dunebuggies. Journeying through small villages we observed every-day rural life and attracted curious glances from villagers unaccustomed to hordes of tourists. Neighbours chatted to each other over fences and families watched television from the comfort of their terraces whilst cows stubbornly claimed their right to the road.
Off-road driving in this remote region took us along an expanse of white sand fringed with palm groves and dotted with weathered fishing boats seemingly afloat in a sea of sand, abandoned by the tide. I began to comprehend the vastness of Brazil’s landscapes as we drove for miles with only the occasional boat or donkey to be seen. Driving over the undulating sand dunes echoed the rise and fall of the ocean’s waves whilst leisurely water crossings involved a simple raft that somehow managed to accommodate our 4×4.
Our next stop was the wonderfully laid back beach resort of Jericoacoara, known locally as Jeri. With its sandy, unpaved streets and buzzing nightlife, this small fishing village has a relaxed backpacker vibe and the trade winds from Africa make it a dream destination for kite-surfers and the crescent-shaped silhouette of the kites dot the skies until the sun goes down. Due to its unique setting along the Atlantic Coast, Jeri is one of the only places in Brazil where you can watch the sun set over the ocean and this natural spectacle is quite an event. Every night tourists and locals climb Duna Pôr do Sol, or Sunset Dune, to enjoy a dazzling display as the burnt orange sun melts into the horizon amid an warm amber glow, streaking the endless sky with slashes of red and pink that reflect on the glistening sand. There is a party-like atmosphere as local youngsters entertain tourists with daring back-flips over the edge of the dune and the adventurous try their hand at sand-boarding before everyone gathers on the beach to clap along to the rhythm of the drum as capoeira performers put on an impressive display combining martial arts and dance.
A speedboat ride down the Rio Preguiças to Vassouras took us to Pequenos Lencois, the smaller version of the region’s famous dunes. The simple pleasure of leaving a trail of footsteps on the untouched surface was surprisingly satisfying and sinking into silky sands that envelop your feet like warm liquid chocolate was pure bliss. At Tenda dos Macacos, ‘Tent of the Monkeys’, we sipped fresh coconut water and watched resident monkeys comically cart off the shells to greedily scoop out the flesh. We continued to Barreirinhas, the gateway to Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, passing mangrove swamps and forests and admiring a flock of scarlet ibis that came to roost in the treetops, fluttering in the breeze like a shower of ruby red petals.
We continued to Barreirinhas... admiring a flock of scarlet ibis that came to roost in the treetops."
We continued to Barreirinhas, the gateway to Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, passing mangrove swamps and forests and admiring a flock of scarlet ibis that came to roost in the treetops, fluttering in the breeze like a shower of ruby red petals.
Lençóis Maranhenses is an awe-inspiring landscape of colossal sand dunes set within 383,000 acres of National Park. With no access roads to the park, it can only be reached by 4x4s via a very bumpy track but the white-knuckle journey is well worth it when you feast your eyes on this unique natural phenomenon. Lençóis translates as ‘bed sheets’ in Portuguese and from above, this vast expanse of 40-metre tall dunes, crafted by the wind over thousands of years, resembles a giant rumpled sheet.
The wind-carved peaks ripple like frozen waves and stretch as far as the eye can see but, despite its desert-like appearance, Lençóis Maranhenses experiences surprisingly high rainfall during the wet season. Like a mirage, thousands of freshwater turquoise lagoons form between the undulating dunes, transforming the park into a surreal landscape. This natural phenomena is staggeringly beautiful at any time of year but between April and September the park is a photographer’s dream with dazzling white sand providing a striking contrast against the glistening emerald and sapphire lagoons and cornflower blue skies.
If you have a sense of adventure and enthusiasm for off-the-beaten track holidays then northeast Brazil is the perfect destination. Why not combine the rustic beauty of the northeast with some southern highlights. The colonial town of Paraty is bursting with old world charm whilst Rio boasts an electrifying atmosphere and one of most beautiful settings on earth.