São Luís do Maranhão

Strolling through São Luís do Maranhão is to move between the historical past with beautiful churches, museums and monuments and the present.

São Luís, the capital of Maranhão, has many particularities: it is the only city in the country founded by the French, it has the largest collection of Portuguese tiles in Latin America and, despite belonging to the Northeast, it is close to the Amazon.

In the Historic Centre of São Luís do Maranhão, the façades of the mansions, adorned with delicate tiles from the then Metropolis, allow you to go back in time – it is a pity, however, that the conservation of this world heritage site disappoints.

But the “Island of Love” (ilha do Amor), as São Luís is known, also has its modern side, as the busy Avenida dos Holandeses and the bars of the charming Lagoa da Jansen remind us.

The influence of the Portuguese, Spanish, French and Dutch has helped shape São Luís’ Historic Centre, making it the true guardian of a vast cultural heritage – part of its 4,000 buildings are recognised by Unesco as World Cultural Heritage.

The unnumbered streets can be quite a mystery to those not used to the city. But most of the hotels and restaurants are in the Ponta D’Areia, Renascença I and II and Calhau neighbourhoods, all interconnected by the long Avenida dos Holandeses, which makes access a little easier.

The Historic Centre, which can be reached by crossing the José Sarney Bridge, is home to most of the attractions, but it is good to plan ahead: on Mondays, most of them are closed. The same occurs on weekends, when shops are closed and there is little traffic, which makes the tour less safe.

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