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Overview

The only Brazilian city to be founded by the French, Maranhão’s sleepy island capital of São Luís offers an intoxicating blend of African, indigenous and European influences that seep into everything from its rich culture to its fragrant cuisine featuring fresh seafood and Amazonian fruits. Despite its partial dilapidation, the historic center known as Praia Grande is full of atmospheric cobblestoned streets and palaces covered in multi-colored azulejos (ceramic tiles), many of which house museums and galleries showcasing the region’s folk art.

Crossing the Anil River from downtown brings you to modern beach neighborhoods ...

The only Brazilian city to be founded by the French, Maranhão’s sleepy island capital of São Luís offers an intoxicating blend of African, indigenous and European influences that seep into everything from its rich culture to its fragrant cuisine featuring fresh seafood and Amazonian fruits. Despite its partial dilapidation, the historic center known as Praia Grande is full of atmospheric cobblestoned streets and palaces covered in multi-colored azulejos (ceramic tiles), many of which house museums and galleries showcasing the region’s folk art.

Crossing the Anil River from downtown brings you to modern beach neighborhoods that stretch on for miles, but more fascinating is a trip across the Bay of São Marcos to the state’s first capital of Alcantâra, whose ruined and restored mansions being swallowed up by jungle are straight out of a García Márques novel. Brazil’s reggae capital, São Luís is also renowned for its Bumba-Meu-Boi festivities; held in June, these commemorations combine music, dance, and pageantry featuring elaborate costumes that would humble many a Parisian couturier.

Michael Sommers
About the Expert

Michael Sommers is the author of Moon Brazil and Moon Rio, as well as the blog Thrill of Brazil. He has been living in Salvador, Brazil since 1999.

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Michael Sommers for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

  • Location: The city is located on São Luís island in the Baía de São Marcos on the Atlantic.
  • Language: Portuguese
  • Currency: Brazilian Real
  • Research: Wikipedia | Wikitravel
  • Weather: Rainfall | Daylight

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    June to December (January through May is the heavy rain season).