São Luís is blessed with a chain of excellent beaches, all of which can be reached by bus from the Terminal de Integração. The surf can be dangerous and people drown every month, so take care. Swimming after sunset is not a good idea, as there are occasional attacks by sharks attracted by the kitchen waste dumped by ships offshore.
Ponta da Areia is the closest beach to the city centre, located by the ruins of the Forte São Marcos. Some 8km out of town, the dune beach of Calhau is larger and more scenic than Ponta da Areia: when the tide is out there is a lovely walk along the sands to Ponta da Areia, two hours’ leisurely stroll west. After Calhau comes Olho d’Agua, equally fine, close to the dunes but a bit windy and well developed with houses and beach kiosks. Araçagi, 19km out of town, is the loveliest beach of all, an expansive stretch of sand that’s also studded with bars and restaurants. It’s served by hourly buses, but unless you rent a car you won’t make it back the same day; there is a small hotel, though, the Araçagi Praia (t 98/3226-3299; R$121-180), which offers smart rooms.