2,262km (1,405 miles) N of Rio de Janeiro, 2,340km (1,454 miles) N of São Paulo.
By Plane -- Gol (tel. 0300/115-2121; www.voegol.com.br) and TAM (tel. 0800/570-5700 or 098/4002-5700; www.tam.com.br) have flights to São Luis. The airport, Marechal Cunha Machado, Av. Dos Libaneses s/n, Tirirical (tel. 098/3217-6101), is 13km (8 miles) from the city center. A taxi to the centro histórico costs R$40.
By Bus -- Buses arrive at the Terminal Rodoviário de São Luis, Av. Dos Franceses s/n, Santo Antonio (tel. 098/3249-2488), 10km (6 miles) from the centro histórico.
By Ferry -- Ferries to Alcântara depart from the Terminal Hidrovário (tel. 098/3232-0692), located opposite the Reviver area in the centro histórico. Ferries depart daily at 7am and 9:30am, and return at 8:30am and 4pm. Note that if the tide is out, ferries depart from the beach at Ponta D'Areia. Also, ferry departure times are only approximate. It's best to check at the ferry terminal the day before departure.
The city of São Luís sits on the Ilha São Luis, a vast low-lying alluvial island that floats between two large river estuaries, the Baía São Marcos (to the northwest) and the Baía São José (to the southeast). Small tidal inlets -- called igarapés -- divide the island into numerous smaller islands and peninsulas. The oldest part of the city -- called the centro histórico -- sits on one of these peninsulas, almost completely surrounded north and south by wide igarapés.
The old city's oldest section lies at the very tip of the peninsula. It is here (tide willing) that the ferries to Alcântara dock, and where in times past ships used to unload their cargos. On maps this area is often labeled "Praia Grande." In recent years, as the city has poured money into renovating old buildings and bringing the old city back to life, the area has been renamed the "Reviver."
Roughly speaking, the Reviver runs from the ferry dock east past the old Customs house and along the cobblestone streets up the steps to the Praça João Lisboa, and from the small rise in the north that holds the fort and governor's palace (Palacio dos Leões) and south as far as the Convento das Mercês.
The city has long since spread beyond the original small peninsula. Two bridges lead from the north side of the original peninsula into the newer parts of São Luis. Closest to the mouth of the estuary, the José Sarney bridge (named for a former Brazilian president and Maranhão governor) turns into the Avenida Castelo Branco (named for a former president and dictator) which leads to the São Francisco neighborhood. This is São Luís's small central business district. It has a few banks and office towers, but is otherwise completely lacking in sights or restaurants or anything else of interest to tourists.
Beyond a roundabout at the top end of São Francisco, the road turns into Avenida Ana Jansen, which leads past the Lagoa de Jansen and then out to the first of the city's beach neighborhoods, Ponta d'Areia. The city recently installed a boardwalk and small park on the north side of Lagoa de Jansen, then encouraged bars and restaurants to move in, transforming the lake into one of São Luis's most popular dining and nightlife areas.
In Ponta d'Areia, the Avenida Jansen becomes Avenida dos Holandeses, a wide, busy highway that runs parallel to the coast forming the commercial backbone for the beach neighborhoods of Praia de São Marcos, Praia do Calhau, Praia do Caolho, and Praia Olho d'Agua. Most of the hotels in these neighborhoods are located on the seaside Avenida Litorânea, which splits from Avenida dos Holandeses in Praia de São Marcos and travels out along the shoreline.
By Bus -- São Luis is a big spread-out city, not really ideal for bus travel. Buses to the old city are marked PRAIA GRANDE. Buses to the beach neighborhoods are marked PONTA D'AREIA or PRAIA CALHAU. Buses cost R$1.80. You board through the front.
By Taxi -- Taxis are widely available. To reserve, phone Cocoma (tel. 098/3231-1010) or Coopertaxi (tel. 098/3245-4404). A taxi from Ponta D'Areia to the centro histórico costs about R$15 to R$25.
São Luis's airport has a tourist information booth in the arrivals hall that's open daily from 8am to 6pm (tel. 098/3244-4500). In the city, there is a state tourist information office in the centro histórico on Praça Benedito Leite, Rua da Palma 53 (tel. 098/3212-6211), open Monday to Friday 8am to 7pm, Saturday, Sunday, and holidays 9am to 2pm. Both give out an excellent free map of the old city.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.