Welcome to Alcântara
Across the Baía de São Marcos from São Luís is the colonial town of Alcântara. Built using slave labor between the 17th and 19th centuries, Alcântara was once the preferred residence of Maranhão’s rich plantation owners. In decline since the latter half of the 19th century, Alcântara today is an atmospheric amalgam of ruined, maintained and restored mansions, houses and churches set along streets of artistic crisscrossed cobblestones. With a population little bigger today than 150 years ago, it is one of the country's most tranquil, authentic and beautiful historical sites. Keep an eye out for guarás, beautiful red ibises that are unusually plentiful around here and add yet another wonderful element to an Alcântara trip.
Since 1990 the Centro de Lançamento de Alcântara (CLA), the rocket-launching facility for the Brazilian space program, has operated nearby. It is an odd juxtaposition: rockets alongside a slumbering colonial town.