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Belo Horizonte Travel Guide

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Belo Horizonte is the 3rd largest city in Brazil coming after Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. You'll find this city at about 2/3 of the way from Brasilia to Rio.

Belo Horizonte is the 3rd largest city in Brazil coming after Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. You'll find this city at about 2/3 of the way from Brasilia to Rio. It is the capital of Minas Gerais state. The name means Beautiful Horizon. The city of Belo Horizonte was completely built on a plan corresponding to that of Washington D.C., with a very long highway circling the whole city. It is considered to be one of the cities with the best quality of life in Latin America. Belo Horizonte was founded in 1897 and is Brazil’s third largest city with a population of some 2.5 million inhabitants and over 5.1 million inhabitants in metropolitan area. The city is also a leading cultural center, with more than three universities, a historical museum, numerous libraries, and sports stadiums.

Belo is built on several hills and completely surrounded by mountains. The city's blocks and streets display some interesting features. With a chessboard layout, some have been named after Indian Tribes, and others have been named after states of Brazil. The constant rising and falling of the streets sometimes makes navigation a bit tricky, but the wide avenues lined with trees are always easy guidelines. Unfortunately, the growth of the population has been bigger than anticipated 100 years ago. So there's a lot of poorly built architecture and slums, but also still some excellent colonial buildings. You should not miss the fin-de siecle buildings around the Praca da Liberdade and the market on Av. Afonso Pena on Sunday.

Located about 100 kms from Belo Horizonte you will find the charming city of Ouro Preto (which means ‘Black Gold’), a colonial city with great churches and impressive pieces of work. The Complexo do Caraça and Serra do Cipó are also two well known landmarks of the State. The environment in these picturesque spots is additionally enhanced by the nature and the beautiful landscapes. The area is famed for its biodiversity.

Map of Minas Gerais

Belo Horizonte Culture Attractions

There are some Belo Horizonte culture attractions you simply must know about. By the end of this article, you will know who founded Belo Horizonte, as well as many other interesting facts and customs unique to the city.

The city that is now known as Belo Horizonte was founded by João Leite da Silva Ortiz, an explorer from nearby Sao Paulo. The main things that attracted him to Belo Horizonte were the comfortable climate, good landscape and fertile farming soil.

The religious underpinnings of Belo Horizonte are distinctly catholic. This dates back to Columbian times when Spanish settlers sent missionaries up and down South America, converting the locals to Christianity. Today, catholic traditions still play a large role in the day-to-day lives of the citizens.

One of the notable Belo Horizonte culture attractions is the Pampulha district, where countless examples of contemporary Brazilian architecture are on display to the masses. One such example is the Mineirao Stadium, one of the largest soccer stadiums on Earth. The Sao Francisco de Assis Church (known more commonly as “Igreja da Pamphula”) was designed by the famous modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer. Today, the church is both a place of worship and a popular tourist sight/photo opportunity.

Also in Pampulha, one can explore the beautiful Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais campus. The dorm and classroom buildings on campus represent an important piece of the city’s epic landscape, and are a perennial favorite of tourists and photographers. Other worthwhile buildings in Pampulha are the Niemeyer buildings, as well as the breathtaking towers of corporations like Telemig Cellular.

Downtown, one will discover the infamous Savassi region. This is the area of Belo Horizonte known for its restaurants and high-energy nightlife. Many Belo Horizonte culture attractions can be found right here, such as the Praca da Liberdade (or Liberty Plaze), and the Palacio da Liberdade (or Palace of Liberty.)

Almost anywhere you look in Savassi you will find nightclubs and restaurants to check out. This is especially helpful after long days spent outdoors in the beating Brazilian sun, when all you truly want to do is cool off and let loose for a night of fun and relaxation!

There are many other Belo Horizonte culture attraction besides just these, of course. To assist, we have compiled specific articles on several of the best and most sought-after destinations in Belo Horizonte. Click any of the following links to learn more about these fascinating attractions.

Belo Horizonte History

The story of Belo Horizonte history is an interesting one indeed. By learning the events that led this bustling city to its current state, you will have a greater appreciation for the sights and sounds around you as you enter this unfamiliar place. We will begin at the beginning, with the first person to settle the area.
                            
Belo Horizonte history begins in 1701, when the explorer João Leite da Silva Ortiz settled the area. However, the mighty metropolis we know Belo Horizonte as today began as just a small village, founded for no reason other than its hospital landscape and fertile farming soil. One of the first major events in Belo Horizonte was the establishment of the “Curral d’el Rey”, which is Portuguese for “King’s Corral.” The farm produced immense amounts of wealth, and this small success encouraged locals from neighboring cities to inhabit the area. The surrounding settlements, like Curral d’el Rey, were primarily farms.

History Belo Horizonte takes a twist when immigrants from the Sao Francisco river area began to pass through Curral d’el Ray to reach other parts of Southern Brazil. Over time, many of these travelers simply fell in love with Belo Horizonte and saw no reason to continue their journey south. Instead, they stayed and started families in the region, leading to a surge in population growth.

Over time, the growth and prosperty of Belo Horizonte became noticed by high-ranking figures in the state of Minas Gerais. And so it came to pass that the history of Belo Horizonte’s history intersected with Minas Gerais history, when Belo Horizonte was named capital of the state. The previous capital, Ouro Preto, was symbolic of the monarchy of the Brazilian empire, which Minas Gerais wanted to distance itself from. Thus, Belo Horizonte was a breath of fresh air and evidence of better things to come.

It wasn’t until 1906, however, that this area was named Belo Horizonte. Prior to that, it was referred to by the name of its original farm – Curral d’el Ray. However, after the mayor of Minas Gerais elected the city as a candidate for the state’s new economic development centers, it took the name Belo Horizonte – Portuguese for “beautiful horizons.”

All in all, Belo Horizonte history has been a fascinating tale of one city’s rise to prominence in Brazil. It is worth reading about in greater detail if you want to truly appreciate the city’s importance to Minas Gerais.

Belo Horizonte Museums

Belo Horizonte museums offer tremendous opportunities for the creative and wandering minds on your vacation. However, there are actually several of these museums and each of them will appeal to a slightly different type of person. To match the people on your trip with the museums they will enjoy, read further!

The first two museums are similar, but different. One is the Belo Horizonte Museum of Natural Science. This museum can best be described as Belo Horizonte's shrine to the intricate glory and inner workings of nature. Here, inquisitive minds can pore over the many delicate ecosystems and ecological wonderments of southern Brazil at their own pace, stopping to take notes and pictures if they wish.

The museum is famous for being hospitable and friendly to students and researchers. Chris Carlino, growth specialist of heterotrophic eukariotic cells  had this to say about the museum, which he visited in preparation for writing his thesis:

“I have never been to such a friendly and accommodating museum! I've visited museums in the past where they actually hassle you and demand payment if you want to stop and take some notes. Not here! I learned about the medicinal properties of Brazilian herbs in excruciating detail with no trouble from anyone. I recommend the museum hands down.”

The other, similar museum is the Belo Horizonte Museum of Natural History. This is one of the great Belo Horizonte museums because it showcases the historical evolution of various ecosystems in the city, with helpful footnotes and citations to help researchers continue their reading. Anyone interested in learning about when and where the various plant life and vegetation began to crop up should check this museum out!

Another museum well worth checking out is the art museum, or Museum de Pampulha Belo Horizonte. It is where the most extravagant and tasteful works of art in the city's history are kept. The museum is frequented by art historians and dealers from around the world, all of whom are keenly aware of the value and significance of the art within.

In conclusion, museums Belo Horizonte offer a great opportunity for fun and excitement on your vacation. The key is to visit the museums that your fellow travelers would enjoy most. Science-minded people would generally love the first two, while the artist among you would clearly enjoy a trip to the art museum. Either way, these museums are packed with history and wonder!

Belo Horizonte Shopping Centers

So you want to do some Belo Horizonte shopping, but you just don’t know where to start? We’ll admit it: it is not always easy knowing where to buy things in a new foreign land. Fortunately, our shopping guide will shine a light on the best places to shop in Belo Horizonte.

One guest reviewer could not say enough good things about the Mercado (or “Central Market.”) Here is some of his testimony on his shopping Belo Horizonte:

“The Mercado has lost some of its luster; the influence of French architecture in steel and glass has given way to a more modern concrete décor. But trust me, do NOT let that stop you from going! This savior of shopping has over 400 stores and huts selling everything imaginable: food, fresh produce, wooden handwork, candles, candy, medicine, even exotic animals for pets! You can also stop off at bars to get delicious snacks and ice-cold beer or soda. Best time to go? Saturday, during lunch. This is when the market is truly at its best.”

Now, that’s the kind of Belo Horizonte shopping you want to do! Another traveler talked specifically about the wooden handwork available at the Central Market:

“Not only are the prices pretty cheap, but the stores there sell some of the best handmade wooden crafts around. You can buy wooden spoons and various other crafts that you won’t find anywhere else. Check it out!”

Central Market is also regarded as one of the safer areas to shop, with theft and mugging at bare minimums. Generally, you will want to avoid holding large sums of money in your hands where others can see them. It also helps to learn a few colloquial phrases in Portuguese for use when buying things. This makes you look like one of the locals, as English speakers are frequently targeted by thieves who know they are tourists.

Another great Belo Horizonte shopping source is the Sunday Giant Fair. Here’s what one traveler said about her day there:

“For this fair, the authorities close the always-busy Avenue Alfonso Pena so that stall-holders can transform the street into an enormous engine of commerce. When the fair is in full swing, more than three thousand stalls are erected and open for business, many of them selling Belo Horizonte’s famous swimwear and bikinis. In addition you will find baskets, kid’s clothes, toys, costumes, and fine jewelry. If I could recommend one thing to do in shopping Belo Horizonte, this would be it!”

Clearly, Belo Horizonte shopping offers some buying opportunities you wont want to miss!

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