Azulejos of São Luís
Everywhere you walk in the historical center of São Luís you’ll see buildings clad with fabulously detailed azulejos – Portuguese tin-glazed ceramic tiles that have become an integral part of the identity of the city and were a major factor in the awarding of Unesco World Heritage status to the area.
In São Luís the use of tiles adorning mansions was not purely decorative: the hot, humid climate plays havoc with masonry and the tiles serve to protect the walls from humidity damage. Many were added to the facades well after construction and not all are from Portugal; tiles made in Germany and France were also imported. In general French tiles tend to be slightly smaller than the others.
The best preserved azulejos are found along Rua Portugal, which is lined with three-story mansions with mostly intact tilework. The street is also home to the Museu de Artes Visuais which contains some fine original examples.
The city’s beaches are along the north-facing ocean coast, beginning about 4km north of the historical center. They can be busy and fun, but are far from Brazil’s finest, and a distinct smell pervades most of the city’s water. Beware of rough surf, tides and pollution.
Praia Ponta d’Areia is the closest beach to the center, and the busiest, with bars and restaurants for beach food. It can be polluted. Two kilometers further along, Praia de São Marcos is frequented by younger groups and surfers. The best local beach, Praia de Calhau is broad and attractive, with hard-packed sand perfect for football games. It is 9km from the center and popular on weekends. The large barracas (stalls) lining the beach cater to late-night partiers throughout the week.
A short bus ride from São Luís, the little fishing village of Raposa is a fine place for a swim. Many local establishments offer good-value seafood meals, and the water here tends to be cleaner than at the city beaches.