It possesses a wide variety of cargo handling terminals—solid and liquid bulk, containers, and general loads. It is Brazil's leading port in container traffic. The terrestrial access system to the port is made up by the Anchieta and Imigrantes highways and by the railroads operated by Ferroban and MRS.
It was once considered the "port of death" in the 19th century due to yellow fever, and ships often avoided docking at the wood plank port. The floods in the city's area provoked illnesses.
In the early 20th century, major overhauling and urbanization created the port's modern structure seen today, eliminating the risk of diseases and providing the port with modern, industrial-age infrastructure.
The location of the city of Santos was chosen at a convenient point for crossing the Serra do Mar mountain range, which is the main obstacle to access the interior. The first railway link from the port to the state capital São Paulo City, 79km away, and the state's interior, was completed in 1864. This allowed for an easier transportation of the vast masses of migrant workers who headed to São Paulo and the state's numerous coffee farms. The main product exported by Santos until World War II was São Paulo state's huge coffee production, Brazil's largest. Today, coffee has become a smaller component of Brazil's exports and cars, machinery, orange juice, soybeans are now some of the port's main exports.