Although there are plenty of modern hotels in the beach neighborhoods of Ponta d’Areia and Calhau, the beaches aren’t that fantastic. Moreover, the hotels, which range from bland to hideous, are overpriced for what you get. São Luís’s real interest lies in its history, culture, and architecture, which makes Praia Grande and Centro the best places to stay.
An insanely inexpensive option is the Albergue Juventude Solar das Pedras (Rua da Palma 127, tel. 98/3232-6694, www.ajsolardaspedras.com.br, R$40–50 d), a youth hostel located in an old building right in the middle of the historical center. Although the rich blue facade gives off cheery vibes, the rooms, while clean and functional, are a little spare and sad. However, where else can you get a dorm room for R$15–20 per night with breakfast (and access to Internet, kitchen and laundry facilities)? More atmospheric are the common spaces, where exposed stone walls and wooden floors reveal the building’s former character. A little more money gets you more privacy and personality.
The once grand Lord Hotel (Rua de Nazaré 258, Centro, tel. 98/3221-4674, R$65–80 d) is a little faded and threadbare, but if you’re a sucker for retro ambiance, you’ll be charmed by the high ceilings along with the ’40s fixtures and furnishings. Make sure you get a room with a view overlooking the Praça Benedito Leite.
While not right in Praia Grande, the Pousada Colonial (Rua Afonso Pena 112, Centro, tel. 98/3232-2843, www.clickcolonial.com.br, R$110 d) is close enough. This colonial building plastered in white, blue, and lemon azulejos has been carefully renovated. Both the comfortable, if somewhat small, air-conditioned rooms and the common spaces are bright, spacious, and well cared for. The best rooms are those overlooking the street.
For palatial surroundings, check into one of the immense rooms at the Pousada Portas da Amazônia (Rua do Giz 129, Praia Grande, tel. 98/3222-9937, www.portasdaamazonia.com.br, R$89–159 d), a handsomely restored mansion dating back to 1839. The decor mingles antiques with local artesanato and organic materials such as bamboo, wicker, and stone. Rooms boast thick wooden floorboards and cathedral ceilings. Large windows either overlook a sea of colonial rooftops (a little noisy) or a tropical courtyard garden (more tranquil) where breakfast is served. Although this hotel isn’t luxurious, the spaciousness and palpable flavor of the past make it seem that way. There is a cyber café on-site as well as a pizzeria that opens in the evening.
The Hotel Grand São Luís (Av. Pedro II 299, Centro, tel. 98/2109-3500, www.grandsaoluis.com.br, R$185–205 d) is the only hotel in the historical district that offers three-star comfort. It recently reopened after undergoing major renovations of the original, not-so-swinging ’70s-era hotel. If you’re seeking convenience and modern comforts, such as a trio of swimming pools and a tiny fitness room, you’ll appreciate this hotel, but if you’re looking for warmth and/or charm you won’t find it here.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition