There is a Brazil that few people knows. Far from Rio da Janeiro, far from the Carnival of Bahia, far from the Amazon, there is a wild Brazil, very rich of natural history, a Brazil that leaves open-mouthed, a Brazil that enters you like a punch in the stomach and do not let you more. I am speaking of the wonderful Brazilian Northeast, in particular that region which includes the states of Ceara, Piauì and Maranhao. Endless expanses of white dunes close to the ocean, pristine forests, river ecosystems, wild animals and prehistoric rocks. All this and much more is enclosed in this region that offers an endless variety of fairytale landscapes.
These are my tips on the unmissable steps to discover this fantastic territory:
From Fortaleza rent a car (possibly an off-road) and head towards the Ubajara National Park, about 300 km from the capital of the State of Ceara. The park offers guided tours of various levels of difficulty, in routes that twist through waterfalls, forests and paths suspended among the trees. The peak of the trek is the Cave of Ubajara, which is located in a deep depression of 535 meters. The cave has very particular rock formations and different halls, baptized with the names that allude to the figures that represent the formations. After the visit to the park, for the more adventurous there is the possibility of staying in a chalet inside the forest. For others, various options of pousadas and hotels can be found in Ubajara.
From Ubajara move to the nearby State of Piauì, where you will reach the evocative 7 Cidades National Park in about an hour. The 7 Cidades are seven points of geological, archaeological and naturalistic interest, and owe their name to the different rock groups that separate seem to form small "cities". They are ancient rocks, more than 400 million years old. The park has about 6,000 years of cave paintings, internationally known and a destination for scholars and enthusiasts from all over the world. The park is located in the transition zone between the cerrado and the caatinga, protecting species of fauna and flora that are found in the two ecosystems. In the place it is common to find species like the jaguar, the red fawn, the armadillo, the moco, the iguana, the paca, the anteater and various reptiles. To stay overnight there is a nice fazenda just outside the park with attached restaurant, obviously all very rustic.
The following day you can move in three hours by car to the Piauì coast, in Parnaiba city, where the Parnaiba river is located. Its delta, unique in the Americas in the open sea, is the third largest in the world after the Nile river and the Mekong. From there you can leave for a boat trip among the igarapé, watch the sunset over the river and take a night canoe safari. Along the night ride, accompanied by expert local guides, you will be able to observe the nocturnal life of the animals that inhabit this habitat: snakes, iguanas, birds and crocodiles. To stay in Parnaiba there are several hotels and pousadas, but I recommend the beautiful and cheap pousada Vila Parnaiba. Warning: the boat trips on the river are very expensive (about 100 euros per person), so it is advisable to join a group if possible, in any case the experience is absolutely worth the expense.
From Parnaiba the following day you can move to Atins, in the Maranhao State, gateway to the fabulous Lençois Maranhenses National Park. The transfer to Atins is challenging, it can only be done in 4x4 and with the indications of an expert guide. After resting, the following day you can go inside the Lençois Maranhenses National Park, on foot or on horseback, and always with a guide. The landscapes in the park are those that characterize a desert of sand, but with a particularity: the rains transform the fluvial waters into numerous mirrors of fresh water in the dunes. They are found practically throughout the all Park area, forming a unique landscape. The trips to the Lençois can have different costs and duration, and you can also stay overnight in the communities inside the Park, in spartan accommodation but in an extremely evocative setting. For overnight stays in Atins you still have a wide choice of pousadas.
After spending at least two days discovering the Lençois Maranhenses, you can return to Ceara for the last stop on this adventurous tour: the Jericoacoara National Park. Jericoacoara is a true gem of Northeast tourism, and the magazine "People" has defined it as one of the ten most beautiful places in the world. Set in a UNESCO natural park, Jericoacoara is a former fishing village discovered in the 70s by European hippies, which have colonized and transformed it into one of the most famous tourist destinations in Brazil, while preserving its beauty. Even Jericoacoara can only be reached by 4x4, but you can leave your car in Jijoca and be accompanied by one of the vans that comes back and forth from the park in about half an hour. (Admission to the park includes a tourist tax of 5 reais per day, about 1.50 euros, which however could increase with 2019). Stop at Jeri for at least two or three days and immerse yourself in the party and magical atmosphere of this place out of the world. From Jericoacoara you can then return to Fortaleza in about 5-6 hours, to end your tour.
Recommended duration for this tour: 12-14 days. Best period: from July to December. Average cost per person (accommodation, car rental, transfers, park entrances, excursions): 1500 euros.