By Carolina Pinheiro
Photos: Tom Alves
An ecological reserve comprising myriad islands, mangrove forests, and rivers, the Parnaíba Delta straddles the Piauí-Maranhão border with some 66,700 acres that shelter flora and fauna native to this essentially unspoiled area. The principal bays frame the region’s largest islands: Canárias, Santa Isabel, Cajú, Melancieira, and Tutóia, all of which have good tourist infrastructure. In November 2000 the Delta was designated an Extractive Marine Reserve, thereby ensuring the sustainable exploitation and conservation of natural resources used by the community.
Fans of kitesurfing are attracted by the clear waters off Piauí and particularly the strong gusts generated here where the Parnaíba River meets the sea. Boat tours through the archipelago depart from the port of Tatus on Isla Grande. After six hours of crossing numerous streams, the tour boats stop and visitors disembark to swim and hike to places such as Poldros Beach and the Morro Branco dunes.
Conditions along the 42-mile-long Piauí coast are excellent for water sports, with Barra Grande being the preferred beach for kitesurfing. Instructors Mari and Reinaldo are in their third season in the area. They point out just how perfect the area is for the sport, since the wind —steady and without too many sudden surprises—has been blowing in the right direction for the last two years.
Makers of Bobbin Lace
Located slightly over four miles from Parnaíba, Isla Grande is a cradle of traditional culture. The 120 women associated with the House of Bobbin Lace Makers produce more than three thousand pieces per year. According to the President of the association, María do Socorro Reis Galeno, “Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff even wore a special-order dress for her inauguration in 2015.”
The beach is one of the state’s prime tourist destinations. Da Vila offers good lodging and dining options. Other picturesque spots nearby include Portinho Lagoon, the port of Correia, and the beaches of Atalaia, Peito de Moça, and Carnaubinha.
Parnaíba shares the culinary traditions of the northeastern coast, with basic ingredients including fine fish, shrimp, and crabs, and dishes such as fish in fruit sauce and various types of salads.
On the Road
The “hairdo tree” (a tamarind tree with branches that look a bit like wind-blown hair) is one of the region’s natural attractions. And the historic center of Parnaíba, gateway to the Delta. Puerto de las Barcas, located on the banks of the Igaraçu River, was founded in 1761.
In the Thick of Things
Lovers of wildlife will delight in a boat ride along the Delta coastline, which offers an unforgettable taste of the Brazilian northeast. Closer to the mainland lies Isla de las Canárias, the most-heavily populated in the archipelago (with over 2,500 inhabitants), most of whom fish for a living. Passarinho, Torto, Caiçara, Poldros, Poçoes, Santa Cruz, Manguinhos, Barracoa, and Papagaio stand out among the countless islands. The meeting of diverse environments such as the sea, the river, and the dunes make the Delta a truly memorable sight.
In 2009 the Ministry of Tourism named this the best tourist route in the country. The sublime landscapes glowing under nearly year-round sunshine create the perfect setting for many recreational activities. A walk along the dunes is a good way to catch a first glimpse of the Maranhão desert.
The Flight of the Guará
One of the most incredible moments of a trip to the Delta is watching the sun go down as the scarlet guarás ―considered among the most beautiful birds in Brazil― flutter in the treetops, seeking refuge for the night.
True to its name, the Adventure Route is an open invitation to excitement. Nighttime wildlife watching is a favorite activity; visitors can see turtles, iguanas, marmosets, and caimans on the shores of the immense mangrove forest.
How to Get There
Copa Airlines offers two flights a week to Recife from North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean through its Hub of the Americas in Panama City. Local flights go from Recife to Teresina, 200 miles from Parnaíba. The Delta can be reached by traveling some six miles along highway PI-220 to Tatus, the port from which boats and launches depart for the ecological reserve. The Guanabara company offers buses for the 205-mile trip from Teresina to Parnaíba.
Where to Stay
Casa de San Antonio and the Nautillus Hotel are two good choices. In Barra Grande, the enchanting Posada BGK, built entirely of traditional regional materials, provides an array of services. The seaside cabins blend into the coconut palm grove and offer visitors breath-taking views.