Maritime state in northeast Brazil, bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean; area 328,660 sq km/126,896 sq mi; population (2007 est) 6,118,000. Maranhão is the northeast's second-largest state after Bahía. The capital of the state is São Luís, which is built on a island on a delta, between the bays of São Marcos and São José. Maranhão forms a transitional area between the semi-arid northeast of Brazil and the Amazon Basin, with its tropical climate and vegetation, and is still relatively economically underdeveloped, though transport links are improving. The Trans-Amazonian Highway runs through the south of the state. Numerous rivers flow south to north through Maranhão.
Features In the south and southwest of Maranhão, the terrain is mountainous or hilly upland with scrub forest and a dry climate; here cattle ranching is the main occupation. Further north, the land becomes lower and flatter and the rainfall greater; here livestock rearing is supported by arable farming; the sandy coastal belt is largely flat with thick forest and tropical rainfall. Cotton, sugar, rice, vegetable oils, maize, and cassava are the main crops. Maranhão is notable for its proliferation of valuable babaçu palms, from which a high-grade vegetable oil is produced. Gold, bauxite, and other minerals are extracted. A large hydroelectric power station stands at Boa Esperança on the River Parnaíba in the southeast of the state. An international airport has been constructed at São Luís. The state has a rich folkloric tradition and an historic colonial centre.