The World Heritage-listed historical center of São Luís is an enchanting neighborhood of steamy cobbled streets and pastel-colored colonial mansions, some handsomely restored, many crumbling. It’s a charming area with a unique atmosphere and one of the Northeast's best concentrations of museums, galleries and craft stores. Unfortunately, a general sketchiness pervades some of its streets after dark.

The city as a whole has a markedly Afro-Brazilian tinge to its culture, from a lively reggae scene to the highly colorful Bumba Meu Boi festivities. The trip across Baía de São Marcos to Alcântara, an impressive historical town slumbering in regal decay, is an added reason to put São Luís on your itinerary.

São Luís sits at the northwest corner of the 50km-long Ilha de São Luís, which is separated from the mainland only by narrow channels.