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Watercolour of Brazil

To the point

The history of Brazil is fascinating. While detailing my trip over there, I'll help you discover its multiple faces. Let's go!

Watercolour of Brazil

The title of this song by composer Ary Barroso (Aquarela do Brasil*) is perfect for this colourful and diverse country. And I’m not just talking about its landscapes, its fauna and flora. Its people and culture are also part of this mix.

*Here is a YouTube link, if you want to see the cartoon made by Walt Disney, in 1942. The story takes place in Rio de Janeiro, when Donald goes to visit Joe (Zé Carioca), his Brazilian cousin. The Luso-Brazilian singer Carmen Miranda will make a special appearance. You will also find “Tico-Tico no Fubá”, another classic of Brazilian music, covered by Alys Robi under the title Tico-Tico in Quebec.

In 1969, in the song País Tropical, the singer and composer Jorge Ben Jor wrote: “I live in a tropical country blessed by God and beautiful by nature”. He is right!

Besides having the greatest biodiversity in the world, Brazil is also a great cultural mix. The population of this immense country can have several origins: Indigenous, African, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, French, Dutch, Lebanese, Syrian, Japanese, etc.

curitiba – quartier historique – maison hofmann
Curitiba - Quartier Historique - Maison Hofmann

Did you know that the Japanese (about 2,000,000 people), Italian (about 30,000,000) and Lebanese (about 6,000,000) diasporas in Brazil are among the largest in the world?

And immigration did not only happen in the past in this country, as it has never stopped welcoming people of many origins. Among the most recent are immigrants from Cuba, China, Haiti, Venezuela, Paraguay, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, South Korea, Congo…

When you think of Brazil, the first thing that comes to mind is Rio de Janeiro, which is undoubtedly the country’s best known city and the gateway to tourism. Another example is the megalopolis São Paulo, the country’s economic capital and one of the largest cities in the world.

Visit to Brazil

Since there are already articles about these cities, I would like to introduce you to other destinations I visited during my last trip to my home country.

The Federative Republic of Brazil has 27 units (26 states and the Federal District), divided into 5 regions:

  • North (7 states);
  • Northeast (9 states);
  • Central-West (3 states and the Federal District);
  • South-East (4 states);
  • South (3 states).

These regions were classified according to the socio-cultural and geographical similarities of their states.

During this trip, we passed through cities located in 4 regions:

  • São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Ouro Preto, Mariana and Montes Claros (South-East region);
  • Recife, Olinda, Porto de Galinhas and Fernando de Noronha (North-East region);
  • Manaus (Northern region);
  • Curitiba (Southern Region).
curitiba – bars du quartier historique
Curitiba - Bars de Quartier Historique

Our travel itinerary in Brazil

Quebec City (YQB) - São Paulo (GRU), with a landover inToronto (YYZ)

Leaving Quebec City in winter is always stressful because of the weather, which can sometimes lead to flight cancellations. Fortunately, we did not have any problem.

Contrary to Air Canada’s bad reputation regarding official languages, for French of course, the crew members spoke six languages on the flight from Toronto to São Paulo, including French and Portuguese.

Sao Paulo (GRU) - Recife (REC)

After the direct flight of about ten hours from Toronto (YYZ) to São Paulo (the airport is located in the city of Guarulhos) (GRU), we took a flight to Recife (REC), in the North-East of the country.

Since we had a few hours wait at the airport in São Paulo, I asked someone from the family to come and meet us. This allowed us to spend time with my family, set up a local SIM card, eat and drop off our four 32kg suitcases in his car, so we could leave with only a backpack.

A few weeks later we met in Belo Horizonte, my home town, as this person was going there for the holidays.

belo horizonte – 01 – belvédère du quartier mangabeiras
Belo Horizonte - Belvédère de Quartier Mangabeiras

Recife (REC)

Foundation of Recife: in 1537
Population of the city: about 1,700,000 (9th largest in the country)
Population of the agglomeration: about 4,000,000 (6th largest in the country)

recife – vieux-recife – affiche
Recife - Vieux Recife - Affiche

After a 3-hour flight, we arrived in Recife, the capital of the state of Pernambuco and one of the largest cities in the North-East region.

Recife is the oldest state capital in Brazil. The beaches are very famous and attract many tourists every year. Its Carnival is very popular, as are those of Olinda, Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.

We stayed at the Internacional Palace Hotel, which is located in front of Boa Viagem (“beach of the good trip”), in the district of the same name.

recife – quartier de boa viagem
Recife - Quartier de Boa Viagem
recife – plage de boa viagem
Recife - Plage de Boa Viagem
recife – plage de boa viagem et barrière de coraux
Recife - Plage de Boa Viagem et Barrière de coraux

Unfortunately, this beach has already had cases of shark attacks. You should therefore be careful and only swim when the tide is low, as the coral reef offers protection.

At the beach, there are food and drink stands, as well as chairs and umbrellas for rent, or free of charge, if we buy food and drink. Our favourite place on the beach was Joseph’s kiosk, a Frenchman who worked on the beach with his Brazilian wife and daughter with whom we took our chairs every day.

recife – plage de boa viagem – le territoire de joseph, le français
Recife - Plage De Boa Viagem - Le Territoire de Joseph le Francais

The Boa Viagem area is the best and most affluent in the city, with good dining and accommodation options. The typical cuisine of the North-East region is very rich, so it’s a good opportunity to try new stuff. Many restaurants offer free shuttles, so we don’t have to walk around in the evening, as this is not recommended.

The historical center of Recife is very beautiful, although poorly maintained. Renovations would do it a lot of good. For those who love colonial architecture, this is a great visit. You can discover the historic center by yourself. We went there one day by taxi and another day on a guided tour. Keep an eye on your belongings, especially cell phones and wallets.

recife – Église basilique notre-dame-de-penha
Recife - Basilique Notre-Dame-de-Penha
recife – vieux-recife – bâtisses coloniales
Recife - Vieux Recife - Bâtisses coloniales
recife – Église basilique notre-dame-du-carmel
Recife - Basilique Notre-Dame-du-Carmel
recife – Église de notre-dame-de-boa-viagem
Recife - Eglise de Notre-Dame de Boa Viagem
recife – vieux-recife – marco zero
Recife - Vieux Recife Marco Zero

We took a lovely catamaran tour where we passed under bridges in Recife (which is called the Brazilian Venice), while the guide explained the history of the area.

recife – vieux-recife vu du catamaran 02
Recife - Vieux Recife - Vu du catamaran
recife – assemblée nationale du pernambouc vue du catamaran
Recife - Assemblee Nationale du Pernambouc - Vue du catamaran

We left Recife to spend a few days in the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha. On our return, we stayed at the Jangadeiro hotel, located in front of the sea, still at Boa Viagem beach.

This time, we visited two interesting museums:

  • Ricardo Brennand Institute: The BRI has the world’s largest collection of the Dutch painter Frans Post, the first landscape painter of the Americas and the first Brazilian landscape painter. It also houses one of the largest collections of swords in the world, with more than 3,000 pieces, including 27 complete medieval armours.
  • Oficina Ceramica Francisco Brennand: This is a monumental complex – museum and workshop – with about 2,000 works, including sculptures, murals, panels, paintings, drawings and ceramic objects. The main theme of Francisco Brennand’s work is the origin of life and the eternity of things, with a subtle erotic touch.
recife – oficina ceramica francisco brennand
Recife - Oficina Ceramica Francisco Brennand
recife – institut ricardo brennand – musée d-art sacré et médiéval
recife – institut ricardo brennand – art médiéval
recife – oficina ceramica francisco brennand – musée et atelier d-art
Oficina Ceramica Francisco Brennand - Musée et Atelier d'art

One-day tours from Recife

Olinda

Olinda is located a few kilometers from Recife, a bit like Quebec City-Lévis. You can go there by taxi, Uber or guided tour. Some people prefer to stay there, instead of staying in Recife. Olinda is a beautiful city of colonial architecture, located by the sea. Walking through its cobbled streets is like taking a trip back in time.

recife vue d-olinda
Recife - Vue d'Olinda
olinda – excursion en 4×4
Olinda - Excursion en 4x4
olinda – monastère de saint-benoît
Olinda - Monastere de Saint-Benoît

Founded in 1535, Olinda is the oldest of the Brazilian cities declared part of humanity’s historical and cultural heritage by UNESCO.

Despite the need for maintenance of its historic houses and the loss of several 16th century buildings with the Dutch attack, Olinda still has dozens of baroque churches and convents of great historical value. Olinda was the capital of Pernambuco, but after the Dutch attack and the recovery by the Portuguese, the title of capital was given to Recife.

The Olinda Carnival is very popular, as is the one in Recife.

*As I don’t like big cities, I prefer to visit them when there are no big events.

olinda – monastère de saint-benoît – intérieur
Olinda - Monastère de Saint-Benoît - Intérieur
olinda – Église de notre-dame-du-carmel
Olinda - Eglise de Notre-Dame du Mont-Carmel
olinda – cathédrale de la sé -saint-sauveur-du-monde-
Olinda - Cathédrale de la Saint-Sauveur-du-Monde
Porto de Galinhas

Porto de Galinhas means “port of chickens”. This beach, located in the municipality of Ipojuca, has been voted the best in Brazil more than 10 times by tourism magazines.

porto de galinhas – radeau et piscines naturelles – photo turismo porto de galinhas
Porto de Galinhas - Radeau et piscines naturelles - Photo Turismo Porto de Galinhas

Initially, the beach was called Porto Rico because of its abundance of pau-brasil (the wood that gave the country its name). At the height of slavery, it was the main trading point for illegal slaves in northeastern Brazil, who often arrived hidden under crates of guinea fowl called Angola hens. The arrival of illegal slaves in the port was announced by the phrase “There are new chickens in the port!”. Thus, the beach of Porto Rico became known as Porto de Galinhas.

Today, the area attracts millions of tourists annually to visit the beautiful beaches and natural pools formed by the coral reef.

Upon arrival, we booked our dinner, before leaving for a jangada (raft) ride to see the natural pools and swim with the fish, and a buggy tour to visit other beautiful beaches in the area, such as Maracaípe, Muro Alto and Cupe. After the visits, we ate at the restaurant and visited the village shops.

This region deserves more than one day. Next time, I will stay at least a week, to practice la dolce vita, idleness (you can choose the name you want)!

porto de galinhas – rue piétonne
Porto de Galinhas - Rue Pietonne
porto de galinhas – radeaux et piscines naturelles
Porto de Galinhas radeaux et piscines naturelles
porto de galinhas – piscines naturelles – photo turismo porto de galinhas
Porto de Galinhas - Piscines Naturelles - Photo Turismo Porto de Galinhas

Recife (REC) - Fernando de Noronha (FEN)

au revoir, recife
Au revoir Recife

After an hour flight, we arrived at the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha (commonly called Noronha), which is THE dream destination in Brazil.

This archipelago of about 3,000 inhabitants has a natural park status, and is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

The number of visitors is limited and there is a “preservation fee” charged on arrival, as well as a fee calculated by the number of days. There are also centres for the protection of fauna and flora.

Several beaches are public. However, the most beautiful ones are part of the national park, for which you have to buy an access card that you have to show at the gatehouse to get in. On these paying beaches, we can also find snack bars and souvenir shops and snorkeling equipment rental.

The island is small, but we can’t do everything on foot. Options are taxi, bus and buggy/scooter/bike rental.

Since everything is “imported” from the continent, the cost of living is more expensive in Noronha. For accommodation and catering, we can say that it costs 2 to 3 times more, compared to the continent. Our pousada, very simple, was more expensive than our 4-star hotels in Recife. But as this place deserves to be visited at least once in a lifetime, we disregarded the prices.

fernando de noronha – belvédère de la plage du sancho 03
Fernando De Noronha - Belvedere de la plage du Sancho

Beaches

fernando de noronha – plage du sancho
Fernando de Noronha Plage Du Sancho

The Sancho beach has been voted several times as the most beautiful in the world by TripAdvisor. This beach is located at the bottom of a cliff and people with reduced mobility cannot access it, as to get there they have to climb down ladders and stairs installed on the rocks. However, for those who stay above, trails to the lookouts are accessible. The alternative to the ladders/staircases would be a boat trip, to see the beach from a distance.

fernando de noronha – Échelle d-accès à la plage du sancho
Fernando De Noronha - Echelle d'accès à la plage du Sancho
fernando de noronha – baie et plage du sancho
Fernando De Noronha - Baie et plage du Sancho
fernando de noronha – belvédère de la plage du sancho 02
Fernando De Noronha - Belvedere de la plage du Sancho
fernando de noronha – les deux frères et la baie du sancho
Fernando de Noronha - Les Deux Frères et la baie du Sancho

After the lookout forS ancho beach, there is a lookout to see the two rocks in the sea (known as the Two Brothers), which are the symbol of the archipelago. This lookout, designed to view them from the top of the cliff, is often very busy.

fernando de noronha – plage du cachorro -plage du chien-
Fernando de Noronha - Plage du Cachorro - Plage Du Chien

Leão Beach (Lion Beach) has been part of the national park network for two years. This is an area where turtles lay their eggs. It is possible to see them, but visits are controlled.

fernando de noronha – plage du leão -plage du lion-
Fernando de Noronha - Plage du Leao

Sueste beach is also part of the national park network. It is a large beach where we could see many animals including rays, turtles, sharks and baby sharks as well as fishing birds. At 4pm everyone has to get out of the water because it is dinner time for the sharks and turtles, and human presence can disturb them.

fernando de noronha – plage de sueste
Fernando de Noronha - Plage de Sueste
fernando de noronha – plage de sueste – notre ami
Fernando de Noronha - Plage de Sueste - Notre ami
fernando de noronha – les deux frères
Fernando de Noronha - Les Deux Frères

The beaches of Cachorro (Dog Beach) and Conceição are linked by a path.

Other beaches, such as Boldró, Americano, Bode, Cacimba do Padre, Atalaia, are also worth visiting and can be reached by different paths. Some of these trails can only be accessed if a booking was made in advance, sometimes several days beforehand.

At the public beach of the port of Santo Antônio, people can bathe for free and that where the boat excursions leave from.

We went on an excursion to admire the most famous places on the island: the rocks of the Two Brothers, the mount of the Peak, several beaches, a pierced rock and many others. We stopped for a swim, where we saw the Sancho beach and the Two Brothers from a distance. For several minutes, our boat was followed by dolphins that seemed to have fun following us.

fernando de noronha – les deux frères et le mont du pic, les symboles de fernando de noronha, vus de l-avion
Fernando de Noronha - Les Deux Frères et le mont du Pic: symboles de la ville vus de l'avion
fernando de noronha – les dauphins qui nous suivaient 02
Fernando De Noronha - Les dauphins qui nous suivaient
fernando de noronha – le rocher percé
Fernando De Noronha - Le rocher percé
fernando de noronha – le bateau
Fernando De Noronha - Le bateau
fernando de noronha – mont du pic
Fernando de Noronha - Mont du Pic
fernando de noronha – excursion en bateau
Fernando De Noronha - Excursion en bateau
Attention

It is possible to admire the animals but it is strictly forbidden to bathe with them or to touch them. For example:

  • a blogger dived into the water to be photographed with the dolphins and was fined a few thousand Reais (Real is the currency of Brazil).
  • A couple of tourists pulled a baby shark out of the sea for a selfie and were also fined almost R$20,000 (about CAD 5,000).

Also, regular sunscreen is not allowed unless you have an eco-friendly option.

Please respect the animals!

Lookouts

  • Path to see the Sancho Beach and the rocks of the Two Brothers
fernando de noronha – belvédère de la pointe d-air france
Fernando De Noronha - Belvedere de la pointe d'Air France
fernando de noronha – belvédère des deux frères – clotûre
Fernando De Noronha - Belvedere des deux frères - Cloture
  • Pointe d’Air France: at the tip of the island, the inner sea (towards Brazil) and the outer sea (towards Africa) meet. This is a historic area where the French settled in the 1920s to support the air force. It is not a swimming area as it is very dangerous. You can see the secondary islands, including that of São José, which houses the only fortification located outside the main island: the Fort of São José do Morro.
fernando de noronha – belvédère des deux frères – falaise
Fernando De Noronha - Belvedere des deux frères - Falaise
  • Capela de São Pedro dos Pescadores (Chapel of Saint Peter the Fisherman). Small and simple, this chapel is isolated on top of a hill with a large cross next to it and close to the beach of Pointe d’Air France. It was built around 1930 when the French occupied the island as an air force support point. The chapel could not have been named in honour of anyone else but the patron saint of the fishermen who lived from tourism in the waters near the archipelago. This chapel often hosts wedding ceremonies and photo shoots, one of which we were able to observe.
fernando de noronha – chapelle de saint-pierre des pêcheurs
Fernando De Noronha - Chapelle de Saint-Pierre des pêcheurs
  • Fort of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios (Fort of Our Lady of Remedies). Asserting a dominant position on the bay of Santo Antônio, it was the main defence structure of the island and the archipelago.
fernando de noronha – Église notre-dame-des-remèdes
Fernando De Noronha - Eglise Notre-Dame des remèdes
fernando de noronha – fort notre-dame-des-remèdes
Fernando De Noronha - Fort de Notre-Dame des remèdes
  • Fort of Boldró. On top of a hill, it offers a beautiful view of the beach of Boldró and the Two Brothers.
fernando de noronha – coucher du soleil – restaurant mergulhão
Fernando De Noronha - Coucher du soleil - Restaurant Mergulhao
au revoir, noronha
Au revoir Noronha

Recife (REC) - Manaus (MAO)

Foundation of Manaus: in 1669
Population of the city: about 2,200,000 (7th largest in the country)
Population of the agglomeration: about 2,700,000 (11th largest in the country)

After a 4-hour flight, we arrived in Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas and the largest city in the northern region.

This city, founded by the Portuguese in 1669 at the confluence of the Negro and Solimões rivers, is at the centre of the largest tropical forest in the world. It was known in the early 20th century as the Paris of the tropics, due to the luxury of European architecture during the rubber cycle, attracting foreign investment and immigrants from all over the world.

Manaus is the third largest industrial centre in Brazil (after São Paulo and Rio) and the headquarters of several research, scientific and environmental organisations.

We visited the city centre without a guide and, as suggested by many people, with some caution.

manaus – marché municipal adolpho lisboa
Manaus - Marché Municipal Adolpho Lisboa

Places visited

  • The fabulous Amazonas Theatre: built with materials from Europe and Brazil, it is the postcard of Manaus and one of the most important theatres in the country .
  • We had the opportunity to take a guided tour and also the chance to get tickets for a samba show.
  • The church of São Sebastião
  • São Sebastião Square and the Monument to the opening of the Amazonas ports to world trade
  • The former courthouse, now a cultural center
  • Eduardo Ribeiro Museum-House
  • Dom Bosco School
  • Dom Pedro II Square
  • The Palace of Liberty (Museum of the city of Manaus)
  • The Rio Branco Palace
  • The Metropolitan Cathedral of Manaus Our Lady of Conception and the XV November Square
  • The town clock
  • The old customs building
  • The Port of Manaus
  • The Adolpho Lisboa Municipal Market (where we ate some typical dishes)
  • The Provincial Palace
  • The Amazonense Dom Pedro II School
manaus – théâtre amazonas – escaliers
Manaus - Théâtre Amazonas - Escaliers
manaus – théâtre amazonas – fresque du plafond
Manaus - Théâtre Amazonas - Fresque du plafond
manaus – théâtre amazonas – scène
Manaus - Théâtre Amazonas - Scène
manaus – théâtre amazonas – salle de réceptions
Manaus - Théâtre Amazonas - Salle De rceptions
manaus – théâtre amazonas – loges
Manaus - Théâtre Amazonas - Loges
manaus – cathédrale métropolitaine
Manaus - Cathedrale Metropolitaine
manaus – port
Manaus - Port
manaus – place de são sebastião
Manaus - Place de Sao Sebastiao
manaus – les singes
Manaus - Les Singes
manaus – palais provincial
Manaus - Palais Provincial

We used Uber to get to the Mercure Hotel to enjoy the pool a bit before dinner and the show at the Amazonas Theatre. The next day we took a boat trip to see and do several interesting things:

  • see the new 4 km Phelippe Daou (or simply Negro River bridge) bridge linking Manaus to communities that previously depended on boats;
  • see botos (pink freshwater dolphins) roaming in the Negro River;
  • visit the Dessana tribe (we saw their dance, the sacred fire, and we tasted the roasted ants. At the end, I encouraged them by buying some handicrafts);
  • dinner at the floating restaurant Reine de la Jungle;
  • climb a platform in the Janauari National Park to see monkeys and Vitórias-Regias (Giant Water Lilies);
  • see the incredible view of where rivers Negro and Solimões meet. The waters of these rivers do not mix because of their different temperatures, densities and speeds, which makes the trip interesting. However, the meeting of the two rivers can be seen much more clearly from the air.

In the evening we went to the Manauara shopping center to eat at the famous Cachaçaria do Dedé.

manaus – le boto – on pouvait rester dans l-eau, mais on ne pouvait pas nager ni toucher l-animal
Manaus Le Boto - Dans l'eau sans nager ni toucher l'animal
manaus – excursion en bateau sur le fleuve negro
Manaus - Excursion en Bateau sur le fleuve Negro
manaus – tribu dessana – avec la grand-mère et le petit-fils
Manaus - Tribu Dessana avec la grand Mère et le petit fils
manaus – tribu dessana
Manaus - Tribu Dessana

Manaus (MAO) - Sao Paulo (GRU) - Belo Horizonte (CNF) - Montes Claros (MOC)

This part of the trip was only done to visit some of my family, so I’ll leave it here only for the chronology.

avion avec l-ancien logo de gol
Avion avec l'ancien Logo de Gol
manaus – la rencontre des eaux des fleuves negro et solimões vue de l-avion
Manaus - Rencontre des Eaux des Fleuves Negro et Solimoes - Vue de l'avion

Montes Claros (MOC) - Belo Horizonte (CNF)

After seeing some of my family in the city of Montes Claros, in the north of the state of Minas Gerais, we flew to my home city, Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state.

Foundation of Belo Horizonte: in 1897
Population of the city: about 2,600,000 (6th largest in the country)
Population of the agglomeration: about 5,900,000 (3rd in the country)

As we had already visited this city before, we dedicated these few days to family and friends.

Places to visit

  • The Pampulha lake complex
  • The Mineirão soccer stadium
  • São Francisco de Assis Church
  • The Savassi and Santa Teresa districts (Belo Horizonte is considered the bar capital of the country)
  • The Mangabeiras district’s lookout, which offers a magnificent view of the city
  • The Pope’s square (where Pope John Paul II celebrated a mass in 1980)
  • The Liberty Square
  • The old government palace and the former ministries (all of which have moved near the international airport, 45 km from the city centre) The old buildings, in neoclassical style, which now house museums
  • The Central Market
belo horizonte – 07 – stade mineirão
Belo Horizonte - Stade Mineirao
belo horizonte – 06 – Église saint-françois-d-assise
Belo Horizonte - Eglise Saint-Francois d'Assise
belo horizonte – 05 – lac pampulha, arena mineirinho, stade mineirão
Belo Horizonte - Lac Pampulha - Arena Mineirinho - Stade Mineirao
belo horizonte – 03 – musée d-art de pampulha
Belo Horizonte - Musée d'art de Pampulha
belo horizonte – 02 – vue du belvédère du mangabeiras
Belo Horizonte - Vue du Belvédère du Mangabeiras

One day tours from Belo Horizonte

The Inhotim Institute (60 km from Belo Horizonte, in the town of Brumadinho)

The Inhotim Institute has one of the most important collections of contemporary art in Brazil and is considered the largest open-air museum in the world. It occupies an area of about 1000 hectares, of which about 10% is open to the public.

This institute is a beautiful mixture of park, botanical garden and museum. It has a research center, restaurants, shops and a hotel.

institut inhotim – environnement
Institut Inhotim - Environnement
institut inhotim – lac
Institut Inhotim - Lac
institut inhotim – sculpture
Institut Inhotim - Sculpture

The historical colonial cities of Congonhas, Mariana and Ouro Preto (100 km from Belo Horizonte).

I like Ouro Preto so much that I decided to go there again (I don’t remember how many times I went there).

We drove with friends to Ouro Preto, and this time we added to our visit the nearby town of Mariana, where I had never been. Once in Ouro Preto, we took the tourist train that runs the 18 km between the two cities for an hour.

This old railway, built in 1883, has been revitalized by acompany called Vale. The trip on the little train is very interesting. We spent part of the day in Mariana before taking the train back to Ouro Preto for the rest of the day.

mariana – gare de train
Mariana - Gare de train
  • Mariana

The city of Mariana, founded in 1696, is the oldest in the state of Minas Gerais. This was a time when the area attracted many gold miners. The city’s economy is primarily mining, which accounts for 80% of its gross domestic product. It is part of the iron-ore quadrilateral, which accounts for 60% of Brazil’s iron ore production. The region is also rich in precious stones and metals.

With its numerous baroque buildings, it is also a tourist city which is part of the Royal Route (Estrada Real), a tourist route linking places that were important during the gold rush.

Mariana was the first capital of the state, before being replaced by Ouro Preto.

mariana – rues pavées
Mariana - Rues pavées
mariana – maisons coloniales
Mariana - Maisons coloniales
Places visited
  • The train station of Mariana
  • The old town hall
  • The old prison
  • The church of Saint Francis of Assisi
  • Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church
  • The pillory (post where slaves were tied and whipped in the public square)
  • Gomes Freire Square
  • The São Francisco Fountain
mariana – Églises de saint-françois-d-assise et de notre-dame-du-carmel
Mariana - Eglises de Saint-Francois-d'Assise et de Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel
mariana – ancienne prison
Mariana - Ancienne Prison
  • Ouro Preto

The beautiful city of Ouro Preto (then called Vila Rica) was founded in 1711, following the discovery by pioneers of gold in the rivers of Minas Gerais in the late 17th century. Several gold seekers, followed by merchants, came there to make their fortune. This city quickly became prosperous and very important.

Around 1750, it had more inhabitants than the cities of Rio de Janeiro or New York. Its wealth allowed it to build a multitude of baroque churches, many of which were decorated by the architect-sculptor “Aleijadinho”, nicknamed “the little cripple” because he was disabled. His work is magnificent and deserves to be admired. Ouro Preto is without a doubt the most famous and important colonial city in Brazil.

It was the first historical city in the country to be protected by UNESCO and the second capital of the state, before being replaced by Belo Horizonte.
Built on several hills with steep slopes and cobblestone streets, it is highly recommended to have good shoes to make the visit more enjoyable.

ouro preto – rues pavées
Ouro Preto - Rues Pavees
ouro preto – architecture coloniale
Ouro Preto - Architecture coloniale
ouro preto – Église saint-fraçois-d-assise
Ouro Preto - Eglise Saint-François d'Assise
Places visited
  • The train station
  • Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church
  • The municipal theatre
  • The Museum of the Conjuration (Inconfidência) – former prison
  • The pillory (also the place where the head of Tiradentes, the martyr of independence, was exposed)
  • Tiradentes Square

We visited fewer places in Ouro Preto since we had already visited it. However, there is much to discover in this picturesque and mysterious historic city.

This city has 18 churches, 12 museums, the municipal theatre, the university, the public library, the train station, the soapstone handicraft market, old mines, several hotels and restaurants as well as many other sites. It is possible to stay a few days in these cities because there are so many things to see. Sometimes certain areas are blocked off and inaccessible for an inside visit.

Despite the tragic past linked to slavery and Portuguese domination, the historical cities of Minas Gerais, especially Ouro Preto, have contributed to literature, science and especially to the movements towards Brazilian independence.

ouro preto – les collines de la ville
Ouro Preto - Les collines de la ville
ouro preto – place tiradentes et musée de la conjuration
Ouro Preto - Place Tiradentes et musée de la conjuration
ouro preto – musée casa dos contos
Ouro Preto - Musée Casa Dos Contos
ouro preto – mur en pierre
Ouro Preto - Mur en pierre
  • Congonhas

Congonhas is about 80 km from Belo Horizonte. Its main attraction is the Sanctuary of the Good Jesus of Matosinhos, which was created in the eighteenth century by Aleijadinho and is considered one of the greatest Baroque works in the world. The UNESCO-protected shrine includes a church, stairs, a terrace, twelve soapstone sculptures of Old Testament prophets and seven chapels.

We visited it on another trip, but because of its proximity to Ouro Preto and Mariana, it is worth spending at least a few hours there.

congonhas – sanctuaire du bon jesus de matosinhos
Congonhas - Sanctuaire du bon Jésus de Matosinhos
congonhas – un des prophètes de l-ancien testament
Congonhas - Un des prophètes de l'Ancien Testament

Other historical cities worth visiting in the state of Minas Gerais are Tiradentes, São João Del Rey and Diamantina.

Belo Horizonte (CNF) - Sao Paulo (CGH)

Foundation of São Paulo: 1554
Population of the city: about 12,300,000 (1st in the country)
Population of the agglomeration: about 21,250,000 (1st in the country)

são paulo – vue panoramique de l-Édifice altino arantes -farol santander-
Sao Paulo - Vue panoramique de l'édifice Altino Arantes Farol Santander

The airport of Belo Horizonte is located about 45 km from the city centre, in the town of Confins. Once at the airport, it only takes an hour to fly from Belo Horizonte to São Paulo’s Congonhas airport, which is much closer than Guarulhos. We stayed a few days in São Paulo to see the family since we had already visited the city.

For more travel ideas, you can read Caroline’s article.

However, I recommend you to visit:

  • the center the city
  • the Municipal Theatre
  • the observatory of the Altino Arantes building (Farol Santander)
  • the cathedral of the Sé
  • the São Paulo Museum (MASP)
  • Paulista Avenue (São Paulo State)
  • the Vila Madalena district
  • the Beco do Batman (Batman’s alley) (see the graffiti)
  • the Japanese district of Liberdade
  • the Eataly branch
  • the resort of La Luz
  • the São Paulo Pinacoteca
  • Ibirapuera Park
  • 25 de Março Street (March 25), to see the madness of a popular shopping street
  • the Mercado Municipal (municipal market), to eat a big pastel
são paulo – vue de l-observatoire de l-Édifice altino arantes -farol santander-
Sao Paulo - Vue de l'observatoire de l'édifice Altino Arantes Farol Santander
são paulo – théâtre municipal
Sao Paulo - Théâtre municipal
são paulo – parc ibirapuera
Sao Paulo - Parc Ibirapuera
são paulo – musée d-art de são paulo -masp-
Sao Paulo - Musée d'art de Sao Paulo Masp

One-day tours from São Paulo

  • Visit the beaches of Santos, São Vicente or Guarujá
  • Riding the cable car in São Vicente (small chairs, I was afraid! hahaha!)

As São Paulo is a large, densely populated city with a lot of traffic (more than 9,000,000 cars, motorcycles, buses and trucks), travel time can be greatly affected.

téléphérique de são vicente
Téléphérique de Sao Vicente
são paulo – quartier japonais liberdade
Sao Paulo - Quartier Japonais Liberdade
são paulo a aussi son araignée de l-artiste louise bourgeois – musée d-art moderne -mam-
Sao Paulo a aussi son araignée de l'artiste Louise Bourgeois - Musee d'Art Moderne MAM

São Paulo (CGH) - Curitiba (CWB)

Foundation of Curitiba: in 1661
Population of the city: about 1,950,000 (8th largest in the country)
Population of the agglomeration: about 3,550,000 (9th largest in the country)

Before returning to Quebec, we decided to spend a few days in another city and our choice was Curitiba, an hour’s flight from São Paulo. It is the capital of the state of Paraná, the Ecological Capital of Brazil and the largest city in the southern region.

The southern region is known for its cold climate and its population of European origin. For example, in Curitiba, there are residents of Ukrainian, Italian, Polish and German origin. The city is known worldwide for its green projects and for the creation of the Bus Rapid Transit system in the 1970s, which has inspired many cities around the world.

To visit the city on foot, we chose a hotel near the city centre. To visit the other attractions, all you had to do was buy a ticket for the Linha Turismo double-decker bus, which passes by all the city’s attractions. It is possible to disembark everywhere on the route and get back on the bus back 5 times (not enough, in my opinion, but hey… When attractions were close, we walked or used Uber services to take the bus back a bit further).

curitiba – palais de la liberté
Curitiba - Palais de la liberté
curitiba – araucária – pin brésilien
Curitiba - Araucaria - Pin Brésilien
Places visited (on foot and with the bus)
  • The Botanical Garden (with its glass greenhouse and several examples of Araucárias, the Brazilian pines)
  • Rua das Flores (Flowers Street)
  • Downtown
  • The Passeio Público park
  • The Arab Memorial
  • The town hall
  • The Polish Gateway
  • The John Paul II Woodland and the Polish Immigration Memorial
  • Curitiba is the second largest Polish diaspora in the world, after Chicago. Polish immigrants began arriving in 1871.
  • The Oscar Niemeyer Museum (MON or Museum of the Eye)
  • The Bosque alemão (German Woodland), the Hansel and Gretel trail and the Philosophers’ Tower
  • German immigrants began arriving between 1828 and 1833.
  • The Ópera de Arame (Wire Opera), a magnificent cultural space
  • Tanguá Park
  • The Ukrainian Memorial – Tingui Park
  • Ukrainian immigrants began arriving in 1895.
  • The Italian Gateway
  • The Santa Felicidade district (Italian quarter)
  • Italian immigrants began arriving in 1878.
  • The restaurant Novo Madalosso. Inaugurated in 1970, it offers 4,645 seats on a surface of 7,671 square meters. These figures made possible its inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest restaurant in the Americas. It has free parking for 900 cars, and employs 70 cooks and 160 servers. In this restaurant, we pay for the food per person and the waiters keep serving us, until we ask for the bill.
  • The Durigan vineyard
  • The parish of São José and Santa Felicidade
  • The historic district – Garibaldi Palace
  • Garibaldi square and the flower clock
  • The Fountain of Memory and the Drooling Horse
  • The church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Saint Benedict
  • The first independent presbyterian church in Curitiba
  • The Hoffmann house
  • Largo da Ordem (square in the center)
  • The church of the Third Order of Saint Francis of Chagas
  • The minor basilica cathedral of Our Lady of Light
  • Tiradentes Square
  • The XV de Novembro street (XV November)
  • Generoso Marques Square
  • The Freedom Palace – cultural center
  • Avenida Palace – Bradesco Theatre
  • The 24-hour street
  • Hard Rock Cafe Curitiba
  • The Batel district and the Patio Batel shopping center
  • The Paiol Theatre
  • The Oi Panoramic Tower
  • The ruins of São Francisco
  • The Municipal Market
  • The railway museum and the Estação shopping center (train station)
  • The Guaíra Theatre
  • The Federal University of Paraná (UFPR)
curitiba – Ópera de arame -opéra de fil de fer-
Curitiba - Opéra de Arame - Opéra de fil de fer
curitiba – université fédérale du paraná -ufpr-
Curitiba - Université fédérale du Parana Ufpr
curitiba – théâtre avenida
Curitiba - Théâtre Avenida
curitiba – quartier historique – palais garibaldi
Curitiba - Quartier Historique - Palais Garibaldi
curitiba – parc tingui – mémorial ukrainien
Curitiba - Parc Tingui - Memorial Ukrainien
curitiba – parc tanguá
Curitiba - Parc Tangua
curitiba – parc jean-paul ii et mémorial de l-immigration polonaise
Curitiba - Parc Jean Paul Ii et Mémorial de l'Immigration Polonaise
curitiba – musée oscar nieymeyer -musée de l-oeil-
Curitiba - Musee Oscar Nieymeyer - Musée de l'oeil
curitiba – boisé allemand
Curitiba - Boisé Allemand

Not all of these places are essential for a visit to the city. However, as we had tickets for two days with the Linha Turismo bus, these are the places we visited, some of them more than once.

If you are lucky, you will see a capybara (capivara) in one of the parks. It is the largest rodent in the world, weighing up to 91 kg and measuring up to 1.2 m in length and 60 cm in height. It looks like a giant guinea pig and is the town’s mascot.

curitiba – pour ceux qui veulent avoir une idée de la taille des capibaras – photo d-internet
Curitiba - Pour ceux qui veulent avoir une idée de la taille des Capibaras - Photo Internet

Curitiba (CWB) - São Paulo (CGH)

Back in São Paulo, we stayed a few days with our family before returning to Quebec.

Sao Paulo (GRU) - Toronto (YYZ) - Quebec City (YQB)

We flew back on December 30 to touch down in Canada on December 31, just in time for the New Year.

This is the end of our 4 weeks trip in Brazil.
There is so much to see! On every trip, I try to balance family, friends and the places I want to visit.
I can’t wait for the next one!

Planning

Flights

YQB-YYZ: Air Canada
YYZ-GRU: Air Canada
GRU-REC : Azul
REC-FEN: Azul
FEN-REC: Azul
REC-MAO : Azul
MAO-GRU: Gol
GRU-CNF : Gol
MOC-CNF: Gol;
CNF-CGH : LATAM
CGH-CWB : LATAM
CWB-CGH : LATAM
GRU-YYZ: Air Canada
YYZ-YQB: Air Canada

avion latam avec les anciennes couleurs de tam
Avion Latam avec les anciennes couleurs de Tam
avion avec les nouvelles couleurs de latam
Avion avec les nouvelles couleurs de Latam

Accommodation

All hotels were booked through hotels.com. There were not many chain hotels in the cities we visited.

In Recife, we tried two different hotels(Hotel Internacional Palace and Hotel Jangadeiro, the latter after the trip to Fernando de Noronha) and both facing the sea in the Boa Viagem district.

In Fernando de Noronha, we stayed in a simple pousada(Pousada das Andorinhas).

In Manaus, we tried the Mercure Manaus Hotel, in the Adrianópolis district.

In Belo Horizonte, Montes Claros and São Paulo, we stayed with family.

In Curitiba, we stayed in a hotel near the city center(Hotel Slaviero Slim Curitiba Alto da XV).

Gas & Transit

We mostly used Uber. This time, I was not afraid to take taxis, but I had bad experiences in my country of origin and in my language…

The taxi was used twice:

  • once in Recife, to go from the airport to the hotel. The return with Uber cost half the price.
  • once in Belo Horizonte, when I came back from the dentist, to avoid staying in the street at night because the Uber service couldn’t find a driver. Although I am Brazilian and in my home town, the taxi driver took detours with me. I guess I must look like a tourist now, hahaha.

Whatever your choice, taxi services or apps (Cabify and Uber) are cheap.

Food

It is relatively affordable to eat out in most cities in Brazil. In Fernando de Noronha the prices are higher, although it is still possible to find affordable options.

The portions are often huge. Ask the waiter (use a translation app, as most people don’t speak other languages there) if one dish is enough for two people. In Olinda, we ordered two different dishes and I had to ask to take half of my plate with me to give to a homeless man on the street and make him very happy.

Do not drink tap water and consume only industrial ice cubes.

In bars and restaurants, it is customary to ask for a 600 ml bottle of beer (very cold) to share, but there are also beers on tap (this is called chopp).

If you are several people, be careful. Often they do one bill for the whole table (I hate that) and sometimes it’s hard to tell who ordered what. It is best to ask before ordering to have separate invoices.

The tip is included in the bill, but this does not prevent you from giving a little more, if you want.

At the beach, there will be several vendors, but at least they are not pushy like in the Dominican Republic. Hahaha

At the beach, you can try Coalho cheese (cheese on a stick, like a popsicle), coconut water and corn sold by independent vendors.

Drinks and small portions are normally bought at the kiosk we choose to have the free chairs and umbrella.

Try the following specialties:

  • coxinha (chicken croquette),
  • pão de queijo (cheese bread),
  • pastel (thin filled pastry – you choose the ingredients)
  • a bowl of açaí (typical fruit of the Amazon),
  • Guaraná Antarctica (the Brazilian soft drink that often beats the two American cola brands).
manaus – restaurant cachaçaria do dedé – bière et pastel
Manaus - Restaurant Cachacaria Do Dede Biere et Pastel

Some safety tips

  • We should not be paranoid, but we should not let our guard down either. Brazil can be a dangerous destination, if we are not careful.
  • Avoid walking alone at night and on deserted or low-traffic streets. Take a taxi or an Uber.
  • Avoid public transportation, especially during rush hour when it is crowded. If you want to try adventures, be careful with your stuff.
  • Renting a car is not always a good option because there is too much traffic and people drive a little aggressively.
  • Avoid wearing jewellery, wear a watch of little value and be careful with your cell phones, bags, wallet, purse, jewellery, etc.
  • At open-air restaurants with tables near the street, be prepared to be bribed all the time by people (to sell things or ask for money) and don’t leave your bags and cell phones on the chairs or table. Ideally, choose a table further away from the street.
  • At the beach, do not leave your belongings unattended to go into the sea. Chances are they won’t be there when you return. When we are just 2 people, we go 1 person at a time.
  • In the sea, you have to be careful, because there can be strong currents. Don’t forget the sharks in Recife. You have to swim at low tide, always.
fernando de noronha – plage du port de santo antônio
Fernando de Noronha - Plage du port de Santo Antonio

Credit cards used

Here are the credit cards we used during our trip to Brazil. The last one was to pay Uber.

Conclusion

Thanks to milesopedia and the group members for the opportunity to share my experiences, tips and even blunders. I am learning a lot from you and I am happy to add my contribution.

My previously published articles

Suggested Reading