Culture in São Luis and history in Alcântara, Maranhão

Historical center of São Luis

Historical center of São Luis

São Luis, the capital of Maranhão is a gateway to the wonders of the state. Nowadays the principal attraction of Maranhão is the national park of Lencois Maranhenses, which is located only 3-4 hours drive from São Luis. However if you arrive to São Luis, it’s worth stopping here for few days before heading to another destinations of the state. The state capital, that in fact is located on an island, has cultural value, an enchanting history and turns out to be an interesting place to start exploring the attractions of the region.

Streets of São Luis

Streets of São Luis

The main attraction of the city is the culture based on history and interesting architectural facts. Therefore we recommend you to stay overnight at the historical center of São Luis in stead of searching for accommodation from the beach side. The advantage of staying at the center is that you can explore a big part of the sights by walk, feel the spirit of the colonial era and enjoy the atmospheare of the squares with bars and restaurants at the night time. São Luis is famous for its’ buildings covered with colorful “azulejo” tiles brought from Portugal during the glory days of the colonial era. Due to the historical facades with azulejos the center of São Luis is part of the Unesco World Heritage sights as well. Some of the building are in better conditions than others, but the most important thing is that the value of these historical treasures has been recognized and hopefully during the coming years most of them will restored.

Streets of Alcântara

Streets of Alcântara

Once you are in São Luis a day trip to Alcântara is a must do. Alcântara is a small historic island just a short boat or catamaran drive away from São Luis. The vessels leave from the port right in front of the historical center and transport you to the island of Alcântara in about one hour. If you are travelling from July till December, when it wind is at its’ strongers, be prepared! The sea can be pretty rough causing nausea especially in the late afternoon when returning back to São Luis. Such as in case of São Luis, the main attraction of Alcântara is the history as well. When you walk along the streets of this tiny village somehow you will get a feeling that time has stopped moving, the laidback atmospheare and the tranquility of the old days are present even today. The attractions of Alcântara are located in a raither small area so it can easily be explored by foot. Walk on the streets, enjoy the atmospheare with colonial buildings and reach the square, where the ruins of the church of Matriz, a former prison and other historical sights can be found. If possible hire a local guide, so that you will get the maximum out of your visit and learn why the esclavitud has had such a big role in the history of Alcântara. If you have extra time during your visit to Alcântara, or if you decide to stay over night on the island, an another interesting place to visit the is the nearby island of Cajual with historical fossils. Some of these fossils has also been found from Africa, proving that long time ago there was just one continent. In the middle of the historical sights, there is something surprisingly modern in Alcântara as well. A space station located on the island is not really visible for an ordinary tourist, but the museum is open for public and is an interesting place to visit if you are into space science.

Ruins of church Matriz

Ruins of a church

São Luis is located at the coastline of Atlantic Ocean, but isn’t really a beach destination. However, if you are willing to stop by at the beach during your stay in São Luis, choose Cunhau, the best beach of the city. This wide beach is located just a short drive from the center, and has a lot of infrastructure with beach bars and restaurants. The color of the water is not spectacularly blue, but the beach works for anyone who is willing to have a relaxing day while staying in São Luis. In the evenings, enjoy the squares of the historical center or dine in one of the restaurants located at the margins of Lake Jansen.

For further information about the other attractions of Maranhão read our blog post about the Lencois Maranhenses and Caburé.

Main square of Alcântara

Main square of Alcântara

Our suggested itineraries including São Luis.

Brazil Diversity recommends:

  • Pousada Portas da Amazonia, São Luis – Portas da Amazonia is a pousada located in an old building at the heart of the historical center. This pousada is an excellent choice for a tourist, who is more into orginal rustic style than modern decoration. Portas da Amazonia offers a comfortable accommodation with traditional touch.

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