In 2013, I spent two weeks in the state of Minas Gerais. Enough time to know the richness and beauty of this region of Brazil. It was a trip I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Minas is a state full of history, Baroque churches, Pão de queijo (cheese puffs), Cachaça, red earth and green landscapes, and of course the Mineiros. A warm, receptive, loving and helpful people.
I made a summary of the towns that I passed through and some tips that will help you on your journey.
In Minas Gerais there are many cities that are worth visiting, however if you have little time you will have to prioritize and limited to only a few. As my journey began and ended in Belo Horizonte, I decided to leave it for last. Thus, the route that I recommend you if you do arrive to the Belo Horizonte airport is to start by the south in São João del Rei and Tiradentes, then go up to Ouro Preto and Mariana, and finish in Belo Horizonte and Inhotim.
Getting to Belo Horizonte
There are two airports: the Tancredo Neves International Airport, in the municipality of Confins and the Pampulha Airport, which lies within Belo Horizonte. If you arrive by Tancredo Neves, take a bus from Conexão Aeroporto (Airport Connection) company. It is an economical and very handy option, I highly recommend it. There are buses to the bus station, to the airport of Pampulha, and other terminals in the city. (Check schedules and fares here). The trip from Tancredo Neves to Belo Horizonte takes about 1 hour.
In Belo Horizonte bus station you can take a Viação Sandra company bus to São João Del Rei (BRL$ 45.00),the trip takes around 4-5 hours.
Travelling by bus in Minas Gerais is kind of exhausting. The distances are very short, but the buses stop on the road a lot to pick up passengers. Fill you up with patience.
São João Del Rei and Tiradentes
What many people don’t know is that these cities are very close. Therefore, I recommend you to stay in São João Del Rei, which is cheaper, and take the public transportation bus service to go to Tiradentes. It will take you 18 min. One or two days will be enough to meet the two cities. Another recommendation is to bring your snickers, you will be walking in cobblestone a lot.
The historic district of São João Del Rei is so charming. In a couple of hours you can walk though it easily. Its divided by the river that runs through the city. A good tip is to walk downtown at night because the old buildings are much more charming illuminated with the old lamps.
Walk through all the alleys, you will find churches everywhere. Go up to the church of Our Lady of Mercies (Nossa Senhora Das Mercês), there will have a panoramic view of the city. Meet the Solar dos Neves, an old house which is still owned by the ex – president Tancredo Neves family. Visit the building of the Federal University of São João Del Rei (UFSJR).
In front of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi (São Franciso de Assis), you will find several bars. They have outdoor tables in front of the square. A very nice place to have a drink at night.
Besides the historic center there is no much more to see in São João Del Rei, however, As a College town there is always something going on, like a soiree of poetry, plays, music recitals, etc. Maybe if you are lucky you’ll find some of these activities during your visit.
Now talking about Tiradentes. I was lucky to meet a fantastic guide tour. He led me to the track Serra de São José that leads to Tiradentes. I highly recommend it, but go with someone who knows the way. You can take a bus in front of the bus and ask the driver to tell where the trail starts. The place is just amazing, have waterfalls, natural pools where you can bathe, a panoramic view of the region unique. You won’t regret. Go early in the morning and you will be at noon in Tiradentes.
You can walk Tiradentes in one afternoon easily, but if you spend a whole day you can calmly enjoy every corner of this wonderful place. Buses returning to São João Del Rei each hour.
Another transportation option is the Maria Fumaça train, but I found it expensive (BRL$ 56 round trip) and time-consuming compared to the bus. The old trains are also not my passion.
Ouro Preto – Mariana
Reaching Ouro Preto from São João Del Rei is not so easy. There is one bus that comes from another town, makes a stop in São João Del Rei, and goes to Ouro Preto. The scale is really early in the morning (around 2 am), it costs around BRL$ 50 and it takes about 4-6 hours to cover 163 km. My recommendation is to schedule a ride on facebook. Both cities are College towns. Therefore, there is always a big influx of students coming back and forth by car. It will save money and time, beside of meeting new people.
In Minas Gerais is hard to say which city is more fantastic than the other. But, Ouro Preto is simply sensational. A small town embedded in a mountain valley (prepare to walk up and down a lot of hills). Most of it is stone-built by the slaves. A story that no one in town is really proud to tell. Full of history, art and baroque architecture.
During the day you have the museums, the old mansions and cobblestone streets; during the evening the main streets are packed with students that fills the bars and the city becomes a party. Don’t miss the traditional chicken drumstick (coxinha de frango) with cachaça at Baroque Bar (Bar Barroco), at the Rua Direita (Right Street). The combo is already regarded as the best one in Brazil.
There are two tourist information points. One on the Bus Terminal and another one at Praça Tiradentes, which by the way is the icon of the city. There you can pick up maps of the city. In Ouro Preto you will also find many churches and many museums, Watch out the time because certainly you are going to walk a lot to visit all of them.
Near the Tiradentes Square, you can take a bus to Mariana, in 45 minutes you will reach the center of town. You just need a couple of hours to visit it. Between Ouro Preto and Mariana, is Mina de Ouro da Passagem (Gold Mine Pass), one site that is worth visiting only if you have time to spare.
Belo Horizonte and Inhotim
To reach Belo Horizonte from Ouro Preto you can catch buses at the bus station in Ouro Preto or arrange a ride again by facebook, or even on the road. As I said the population is used to give rides to students and people in general.
Belo Horizonte has the virtues and defects that every big city has. The city traffic is chaotic, but the public transport system is very good and very friendly with tourists. In all bus stops there information lines, timetables and routes of buses. Thing that is hard to find in other Brazilian capitals. On the other hand, like all capital city, artistic and cultural offer is broad and diverse. There are many museums worth visiting.
The people of Belo Horizonte, like in other regions of the state, are very receptive and warm. They will do everything to make you feel at home. Moreover, the city is open for you to know it. The center focuses various touristic places close enough to walk to them. Soon I will be publishing the sites you can’t miss in Belo Horizonte.
Set aside at least two or three days to know Belo Horizonte. Take into consideration that if you go, you need to visit the Inhotim Institute, one of the most important collections of contemporary art in Brazil. It is so worth visiting, and you will need a whole day to go there.
There are other cities that are part of the tourist itinerary of the state as, such as, Congonhas, which houses many works of the Brazilian artist Aleijadinho and Diamantina, which is a historical heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural (UNESCO). However, the general opinion is that the distances make these trips kind of unpleasant. You will find Aleijadinho’s work in all the other cities, and Baroque architecture and history you will have enough in the script I just pass. Believe me, if you try to go to Diamantina, you will lose too much time.
Prepare your heart and your stomach for Minas Gerais, there is no other state in Brazil with a more receptive people and tastier food than this. If you have the opportunity to meet a Familia Mineira, you will be surprised with the size of the stove and the number of pots, always full of delicious food! Minas Gerais will never leave your heart. Believe me.
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