São Luis is the capital of Maranhao state and the heart of the city is on an island connected by bridges to the mainland. Founded by the French and also owned for short times by the Dutch and Portugeuse, European influences are everywhere. As an old slaving port, much of the African culture remains. The lovely colonial centre is being restored with the help of UNESCO and the city comes alive in the evenings, particularly at the weekends.
A few hours' drive east of São Luis lie the stunning dunes of the Lençois Maranhenses - 155,000 hectares of white sand which are full of fresh water lagoons from March to October.
Our preferred accommodation
City hotel - São LuisA large hotel in the colonial centre just off the main square, next to the cathedral and government buildings. It is well located for exploring the city and is the only hotel in this part of town that has a pool.
Country hotel - BarreirinhasA charming property just outside Barreirinhas, a small village near to the dunes of the Lençois Maranhenses. There is a large pool (with a sandy bottom!), hammock area, games room, a bar and good restaurant.
City hotel - São LuisA charming small pousada in the historic centre on a pedestrianised cobbled street, converted from a colonial house. There is a good breakfast, and a variety of local restaurants are a short walk away for other meals.
Beach hotel - CaburéA simple pousada in the isolated fishing village of Caburé, on a narrow spit of sand between the Atlantic ocean and Preguiças river. There is a restaurant and a small plastic pool, otherwise swimming is in the river on one side and the ocean on the other.