Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Attractions in Belo Horizonte: What to do and where to go
Despite its reputation as a destination for business travelers, Belo Horizonte is full of fascinating sites for all visitors. With everything from amazing architectural neighborhoods and stunning urban parks to nearby colonial cities and mountain peaks, you're sure to find whatever it is you're looking for in charming Belo.
The Pampulha District
This residential area situated around a lake is considered Belo's main attraction. The neighborhood was built in the 1940's, featuring an architectural complex designed by famous architect Oscar Niemeyer. Its most famous building is the Casa do Baile (The Ball House), a round building set on the edge of the lake, where the rich and famous of Belo held amazing dances and parties years and years ago. Today it is used to hold exhibitions and events.
The Igreja Sao Francisco de Assis is a church known for its bold and unique design, whose curved formations have become a symbol of Belo Horizonte. It serves both as a place of worship and as a popular tourist site, designed by Oscar Niemeyer. Brazilian artist Candido Portinari painted the interior tiles, and the beautiful surrounding gardens are the work of Burle Marx.
Inaugurated in 1965, the Mineirao stadium is the largest soccer stadium in the state of Minas Gerais and the second largest in Brazil. It holds up to 72,000 people and is often used for music festivals in addition to the usual soccer matches. Mineirao will be used as one of the host stadiums for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
The Pampulha District also houses many other fascinating sights, including the Pampulha Museum of Art, the Pampulha Ecological Park and the Zoo-Botanical Foundation of Belo Horizonte, home to South America's first butterfly sanctuary and a conservation center for endangered species.
Parks and Squares
Belo Horizonte is known as the "garden city", and today offers an impressive amount of natural areas. Visitors in Belo can enjoy 500 squares, 30 parks and 200 other green areas, with a total of more than two million trees spread throughout the city streets.
The landscaping and the architectural interest at Praca da Liberdade (Freedom Square) make this site truly worth visiting. It shows a fusion of gardens lined with palm trees alongside buildings of various architectural styles, including Neoclassical, Art Deco, Modern and Postmodern. Many of the state offices are located here, including the state government's main offices at the Palacio da Liberdade.
The Parque Municipal (Municipal Park) was created in 1897 and is set right in the middle of the downtown area, creating a stunning contrast between the park's natural scenery and the surrounding urban landscape rising high above the trees. The park is filled with small lakes, perfect for afternoon boat rides, along with a greenhouse, a theater, basketball courts, tennis courts and a small amusement park.
Parque das Mangabeiras is situated on the slopes of Serro do Curral, offering amazing views of Belo Horizonte. With an area of more than 830 acres designed by Burle Marx, most of the park is covered by wooded areas and includes a research center, leisure activities, cultural activities and a wide variety of wild animals.
Downtown, you're sure to notice Praca da Estacao (Station Square), situated in front of Belo's old train station. This recognizable landmark has various sculptures as well as dancing fountains on display. Various concerts and festivals are held here each year. The renovated train station is now home to an arts and crafts museum.
At the edge of the Serra do Curral mountain range, just south of Belo's downtown area, sits the Praca do Papa (Pope Square). This plaza owes its name to a youth mass held in 1980, when the Pope looked out over the amazing view of the city and declared, "Que belo horizonte!" ("What a beautiful horizon!"). Make sure to visit Praca do Papa at night, when you can admire the amazing city lights.
Inhotim combines the concept of a contemporary art museum with a large botanical garden. Displaying over 500 art pieces by more than 100 different artists, the gardens contain lakes, restaurants, and indoor and outdoor galleries. Inhotim also offers educational projects along with research on contemporary art and the environment.
The artwork housed here includes sculptures, photography, video art, paintings and drawings, all distributed throughout the park among twelve galleries, with new projects constantly under development. New exhibits are displayed each year along with a variety of individual projects.
The natural areas are divided into two main sections: a 1,500-acre nature reserve with natural forests, and a 110-acre landscaped botanical garden containing five lakes. The park maintains these areas using organic products along with water preservation systems, bird population management, fish farming and reforestation.
Brazilian carnivals are some of the largest, wildest festivals in the world. Every year, the streets of Belo Horizonte fill up with tourists and locals for one week during the month of February. Taking place before the Catholic tradition of Lent, this celebration combines parades, samba competitions, parties and all sorts of costumes. Making all of your travel plans at least three months in advance is a necessity if you plan on attending Belo's carnaval, since events and flights fill up quickly.
In addition to being Minas Gerais' economic center, Belo is also one of the state's cultural hubs. The city is full of fascinating museums of all types, including the following:
Museu de Artes e Oficios
(Arts and Crafts Museum): Situated inside downtown Belo's old train station, this museum tells the story of pre-industrial Brazil through a collection of work tools.
Museu de Arte da Pampulha
(Pampulha Art Museum): This building, designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, was originally a casino until gambling was banned in the forties. Transformed into a museum a decade later, the museum today offers multimedia facilities, a small restaurant and a library, all surrounded by beautiful gardens designed by Burle Marx.
Museu de Historia Natural e Jardim Botanico
(Museum of Natural History and Botanical Garden): This garden occupies an area of about one and a half acres. The museum contains mineral and archaeological exhibits along with an interactive lab. Don't forget to visit the museum's nativity scene, which shows various scenes from the life of Jesus.
(Mineiro Museum): This museum is located within the building that used to be occupied by the state's Senate. It displays collections and exhibits representing the local culture, known as "mineiro" culture.
A visit to Belo wouldn't be complete without taking advantage of its amazing cultural surroundings. Although Belo Horizonte is a relatively new city, it serves as a gateway to nearby charming, historic cities set among the mountains, dating back hundreds of years to colonial times. These towns grew in prosperity during the Brazilian gold rush in the eighteenth century, and most feature sculptures and churches designed by a famous Brazilian sculptor known by his nickname, Aleijadinho. Among the most popular regional colonial destinations for day trips are Ouro Preto, Mariana, and Tiradentes. These towns feature intriguing architecture and beautiful churches, along with interesting mines.
Ouro Preto (which means "Black Gold") was Minas Gerais' former state capital and is situated less than two hours from Belo Horizonte. Founded in the seventeenth century, the city has been declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. This former mining town features excellent regional cuisine, charming houses with beautiful facades, shops selling gold jewelry and precious stones, and unique architecture by the baroque sculptor Aleijadinho. Make sure to include the Sao Francisco de Assis church, the Nossa Senhora do Carmo church, and the mineralogy museum in your travel itinerary.
A scenic train ride through the mountains will take you from Ouro Preto to the nearby town of Mariana, the oldest city in Minas Gerais. The railway and train (known as the "Trem da Vale") were constructed at the turn of the twentieth century to connect these two historic cities. In Mariana, you can enjoy the town's beautiful central square and church, the Basilica da Se. Filled with cobblestone streets, Mariana offers amazing churches, museums, mine tours and baroque architecture.
A few hours outside of Belo Horizonte, the historic city of Tiradentes is the ideal spot for experiencing the history, colonial art and local cuisine of Minas Gerais. This town was also a popular destination during the gold rush era, and was practically frozen in time until businesses from Rio de Janeiro began to restore the colorful houses in the 1970s. The town's many churches, local handicrafts and beautiful houses make it a popular site for touring.
Adventure and Ecotourism
The state of Minas Gerais is filled with amazing landscapes showcasing waterfalls, rivers, mountains, forests and unforgettable views.
The Parque Estadual do Itacolomi (Itacolomi State Park) is situated about 60 miles from Belo, right next to the colonial cities of Mariana and Ouro Preto. It houses tropical forests, exotic plants and over 400 animal species, along with an important historic background as the site of old tea farms. The park's main attraction is hiking to the peak of Itacolomi Peak, at 5,500 feet high, offering stunning views of the surrounding region, including Mariana and Ouro Preto. Visitors can also enjoy a lagoon, various hiking trails, a chapel, and a tea museum.
One of the best sites in South America for adventure sports is Parque Nacional da Serra do Cipo (Serra do Cipo National Park), just 40 miles outside of Belo Horizonte. With towering rock walls, this park is perfect for rock climbing at any level, from beginner to expert. Here, visitors can enjoy a 230-foot high waterfall, various caverns, and the Bandeirinhas Canyon. Many activities are offered, including kayaking, hiking, camping, mountain biking, and safaris. The best time to visit is from June through August to avoid the rainy season.
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