Travel in Maranhao outside Sao Luis is made difficult by road system that is limited and often precarious when it rains. Fortunately, not all the interesting places are difficult to go to.
Easy to reach is Raposa, an interesting fishing centre at the tip of the Ilha de Sao Luis, 30 km from the city. It's a simple town, built on stilts above mangrove swamps, which gives it unusual appearance.
Raposa is especially worth visiting for its well-known lace work which I found very beautiful. There are no real tourist facilities but an ATM and a couple of simple restaurants offering local specialities, mostly sea food. The ocean is attractive and it's not hard to agree with a fisherman about a ride to the near island which has a pretty beach.
I really liked the vibe of Raposa and was most enraptured with a plain living and very friendly people!!
There are frequent buses from Sao Luis and they leave from Praca Deodoro or Rua da Paz. The journey takes about an hour.
more pics in Raposa Travelogues
If you like history, you have to visit Alcantara, a town that seems to have stopped in time. It is set in a wonderful tropical landscape on the other side of the Baia de Sao Marcos from Sao Luis. Founded in the 17th century, it was one of the richest and most important towns in Maranhao and the seat of the rural aristocracy.
While the town has ben in decline since the latter half of the 19th century, it is still considered an architectural treasure. Alcantara is virtually untouched and was listed as a National Heritage Site in 1948. It has an outstanding architectural heritage, with over 300 colonial buildings as well as some interesting ruins. Worth visiting is Praca da Matriz, a square plaza surrounded by colonial buildings, Pelourinho (Pillory), ruins of the Igreja de Sao Matias and century old trees.
Beside the anient, Alcantara has been home to a sample of modern air-space technology since the 80s. One of the most modern Latin American space bases, where satellite launching projects are developed, is installed just 7 km from the town.
Alcantara has also some nice deserted beaches, accessible by canoe. And even better is sail through igarapes (mangroves) and visit the Ilha do Cajual, an island where you can see beautiful guaras (red ibis).
You get to Alcantara by boat from Sao Luis. The journey takes about an hour.
A charming and enjoyable little town Sao Jose de Ribamar is located only 32km from Sao Luis. Traditionally a fishing town, it's also an important religious centre of the state of Maranhao. There is about an hour drive through thick palm forest and small hills. The bus stops in the town centre where you find a little square, Praca de Matriz, with some picturesque houses and the very beautiful Igreja de Sao Jose de Ribamar (Church of Sao Jose). The skyline is marked by the giant statue of Sao Jose.
One of the most popular areas is the Barbosa neighbourhood, where you can see fishermen at work or catch one of the boats leaving for small towns along the coast. We walked to the beach and had a stop in one of the many bars and rustic barracas to taste the local seafood and had a couple of drinks.
There's a very relaxing feel to the town, the people are friendly and the scenery splendid, so Sao Jose de Ribamar can be a nice day trip from Sao Luis.
more pics in Sao Jose de Ribamar Travelogues
Santo Amaro is located on the eastern coast of Maranhao, approximately 243 km from Sao Luis, at the boundaries of the National Park of Lencois Maranhenses. It is characterized by beautiful landscapes of beaches, dunes, fields, rivers, lakes and ponds, in the middle of savanna and mangrove forest. The municipality of Santo Amaro do Maranhao is the latest destination of ecotourism of Brazil and the attractions are many. With a unique natural beauty, it's the ideal place for nature lovers and perfect for those who like adventure.
The difficulty to get there only increases the expectation of visitors but it can also discourage many. From Sao Luis there is a four hours bus drive until the village of Sangue and then the adventure starts. Since the road is not paved, access is only through four wheel drive cars. The road is flooded during the rainy season, from March to June.
The area around Santo Amaro do Maranhao and Lagoa da Gaivota can be seen in the haunting Brazilian film Casa de Areia (House of Sand), a 2005 production directed by Andrucha Waddington. The isolation of Lencois Maranhenses at the beginning of the 20th century, when the film plot starts, is not such a distant reality for the region's community.
Aparently the place is less than its history... this well was one of the gates of a complex of tunnels under the old town, used in the colonial times as escape route to the harbor.
There are also a couple of tales about it, which I will properly write about later...