sao luis city

The charming & historical city center of São Luís, Maranhão

When you visit Lençois Maranhenses National Park, do you also go to São Luís?
While travelling around the Maranhão State (where the Lençois are) I met many fellow travellers, that where not planing to stay more than a day @ São Luís , or just went there to catch a plane or bus to keep on travelling. After spending around 5 days in São Luís, I thought it  was a pity travellers didn’t spend more time in this charming city with it’s lovely historical center (called Reviver), long sandy beaches and long Reggae nights.

Where to stay

If your plan it’s to stay in a low budget hostel, with share rooms, and meet other fellow travellers there’s only one option in Reviver: the HI Hostel Solar das Pedras (35 R$ per night with breakfast, without AC). This hostel is really basic and there is not really a nice common area where you can meet other travellers, but let’s face it, is very cheap and it’s very central located. There is another hostel which is located in the San Francisco neighbourhood:  Tijuana Hostel 40/50 R$ without/with AC). If you prefer to stay in a Pousada in Reviver and have more privacy, there is the Portas da Amazônia (from 115 R$ with breakfast included) which is very nice and super good located.

old town_ sao luis

What to do

In São Luís there are many things to do. You can visit the museums for free and learn more about the northeast Brazilian culture, go to the beach, and if it’s windy, it’s possible to go kite surfing. If you prefer to go shopping, you can walk along the “Rua Grande” which is full of shops. In the nights, you can join some really cool reagge parties on the Reviver streets. From São Luís, is also possible to do a very nice day trips to Alcantara (info coming in the next post)

casas azulejos

They are all free in São Luís, and all of them offer a guided tour in Portuguese which are really good.

Casa do Maranhão: it used to be an abandoned port warehouse, but after the rehabilitation it became an exhibition gallery for local artists. Go in to see which artist is exhibiting, and visit this nice building.

Centro de Cultura Popular Domingo Vieira Filho: this rehabilitated mansion now houses a collection of all the costumes and dresses that the locals wear for each celebration, like Mumba Meu Boi, Tambor de Mina, etc. They are really colourful and original.

Museo de Arte Sacra: This small museum is next to the Catedral da Sé @ Avenue Pedro II. It contains some sacral paints and sculptures. The best thing here is the view from the above balcony of the cathedral (both buildings are connected) and the view of the Av. Pedro II.

Casa do Nhõzinho: in this house they have a large collection of native Maranhão people art crafts, cloth & necklaces, fishing nets and all kind of daily life useful crafts. The house is really nice and the view from the upper levels it’s beautiful.

Museo de Artes Visuais: this museum offers a nice collection of tiles in the first floor. In the upper levels they have paintings from local artists. The tiles are really worth a visit, as well as the views from the upper levels!


To go to the beach you will need to take a bus from “Terminal Praia Grande”. Bus 403 goes to Praia do Calhau and Praia do Caolho (around 45 minutes ride, the bus stop it’s across the beach, you won’t miss it!),  bus 701 goes to Praia Olho d’Agua (get of on the end stop). As it was windy when I went, there were people practicing kitesurfing. All these are really long beaches where you can go for a walk or swimming.. They all have “barracas” where you can order food and a nice coconut water to refresh yourself. Fish here is also very good and not expensive at all!

olho d agua beach

São Luís is known as the reggae capital of Brazil, that means that there are a lot of reggae bars and parties. The most famous reggae bar is “Bar do Nelson“, in the San Francisco neighbourhood. During the weekends the parties here are really good. If you prefer to go for some drinks and hear reggae  in the Reviver neighbourhood, bars like Senzala, or Cafofinho da Tia Dica put music on the streets and a bottle of beer (600 ml) is 8 or 9 R$. There is also the Bar Chez Moi that is very good on the weekend nights.

fiestas juninas_sao luis

If you are in a shopping mood you can visit the local Central Market located at the end of Av. Magalhães de Almeida (10 minutes walking from Reviver). Here you might find fruit, vegetables, fresh fish, meat, as well as restaurants with local food and shops with all kind of products for the household. Here you might find very cheap hammocks!!!

central market
If you are looking for art crafts and souvenirs, you can try the Feira da Praia Grande, located in the Reviver neighbourhood. Here you can also find restaurants with local food.
The long pedestrian street Rua Grande, it’s also full of shops, mostly cloth. It’s really worth walking down this bustling street to have a real Brazilian shopping feeling!

Getting there & around

I flew from Fortaleza to São Luís, I was lucky I found a flight ticket for 125 R$ with AZUL airlines, just one week before flying. Many people think, that buses are cheaper than planes, but in Brazil it’s better to check every day the flight prices because sometimes you find super offers, like this one! (the airplane was cheaper than the bus… and only 2 hours flight, instead of 24 hours bus ride!!!!). At the airport you will find a tourist office where you can get some information and a city map. To go to the city, there is a bus that goes from the airport, and leaves every 20 minutes (the rides is 2,60 R$ and it takes 40 minutes). If you stay in the bus, you will arrive to San Francisco neighbourhood (the “new” city center). If you want to go to Reviver, you have to get of @ “Praça Deodero” and from here you can walk 20 min through the shopping & pedestrian street Rua Grande, or take another bus, any yellow bus, that stops @ “Terminal Praia Grande” (you will see the list of places where the bus stops, on the side of it, or you can just ask the driver). Get out there, and you will be next to the river and to the Reviver neighbourhood. All accommodation option are just 5 minutes walking from here.

If you arrive to São Luís by bus, from the “Rodoviaria” you can take a bus to “Praça Deodoro” or “Terminal Praia Grande” just from outside of the bus station.

Useful information:

Brazilian Real exchange rate today (30/07/2015):

3,30 R$ = 1 USD
3,60 R$= 1 EUR

Some words in Portuguese that might be useful during your stay in São Luís, as well as the map of the city!

rodoviaria: bus main station
Reviver: the name of the historical center of São Luís
rua: street
praça: square
praia: beach
mercado: market
rede: hammock
azulejos: tilha
pousada: hotel
cafe d’amanhã: breakfast