Alcântara, in Maranhão, is a historic city that offers a rich combination of colonial architecture, evocative ruins, vibrant cultural traditions and beautiful natural landscapes. Located around 20 kilometres from São Luís, the state capital, Alcântara is a fascinating tourist destination that is easily accessible by boat.

Alcântara in Maranhão has a wealth of architecture, alternating between ruins and houses that document the heyday and decline of the city, whose birth dates back to the early 17th century.

A good day trip from São Luís do Maranhão, Alcântara was once one of the richest cities in Maranhão between the 18th and 19th centuries, but much of its historical heritage has been lost.

Traces of the past can be seen in colonial townhouses covered in Portuguese tiles, in the ruins of the Palácio Negro slave market and in the town hall building, which housed a public jail in the 18th century.

Opposite the Praça do Pelourinho are the ruins of the Igreja Matriz de São Matias and the interesting Museu Histórico, a fine example of period architecture.

Next to the church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo are the remains of two palaces built by rival aristocratic families to receive Emperor Dom Pedro II.

A fortune was poured into the works of the Barons of Pindaré and Mearim, but the monarch never came to Alcântara and they were later abandoned, symbolising the city’s decline.

Part of this story of decadence is remarkably told in the book Noite Sobre Alcântara, by the immortal Josué Montello.

As well as a tour of the churches and buildings in the centre, you can also visit the beaches in the surrounding area. They’re not spectacular, but they balance the tour between culture and nature.

Main tourist attractions and activities in Alcântara

1. Attractions in Alcântara

1. Ruins of the Church of São Matias
  • Description: One of Alcântara’s most iconic ruins, the Church of São Matias was never completed, but its stone walls offer a fascinating insight into the city’s colonial past.
  • Activities: Photography, guided tours and exploration of the ruins.
2. Praça da Matriz
  • Description: The historic heart of the city, surrounded by well-preserved colonial mansions.
  • Activities: Walking tours, appreciation of colonial architecture and visits to historic houses.
3. Nossa Senhora do Carmo Church
  • Description: A beautiful church dating back to the colonial period, known for its ornate interior.
  • Activities: Visiting, attending masses and religious events.
4. Alcântara Historical Museum
  • Description: Located in a historic mansion, the museum offers exhibitions on the history and culture of the city.
  • Activities: Visits to the exhibitions, learning about local history and colonial life.
5. House of Aerospace Culture
  • Description: A space dedicated to the history of the Alcântara Launch Centre (CLA) and aerospace technology.
  • Activities: Guided tours and interactive exhibitions.

2. Festivals and traditions

1. Feast of the Holy Spirit
  • Description: One of Alcântara’s most traditional festivals, celebrated with processions, dances, music and community banquets.
  • Activities: Participation in the festivities, which usually take place in May and June.
2. Tambor de Crioula
  • Description: A traditional Afro-Brazilian dance, with live music and dancers dressed in typical costumes.
  • Activities: Watch the performances and, if possible, take part in the dance.

3. Nature and Landscapes

1. Itatinga Beach
  • Description: A beautiful beach located close to the city, ideal for relaxing and enjoying nature.
  • Activities: Sea bathing, sandy walks and picnics.
2. Alcântara Islands
  • Description: The archipelago of islands around Alcântara offers stunning natural landscapes.
  • Activities: Boat trips, fauna and flora watching and snorkelling.

4. Practical Tips

  • How to Get There: The main access is by boat from São Luís, with regular crossings that take around 1 hour. Boats leave from Cais da Praia Grande, in the historic centre of São Luís.
  • Best Time to Visit: Between the months of June and August, when traditional festivities such as the Festa do Divino take place, and the weather is drier and more pleasant.
  • Lodging: Alcântara offers several charming and historic guesthouses, as well as holiday homes.
  • Gastronomy: Try typical Maranhão dishes such as arroz de cuxá, torta de camarão and fresh fish.

5. Final considerations

Alcântara is a destination that offers an immersion in Brazil’s colonial past, with its ruins and historic mansions, as well as a deep contact with Maranhão’s culture and traditions. Popular festivals, preserved architecture and natural landscapes make Alcântara a unique place to visit and explore.