Foreign Traveler: Where are you traveling to next?
Me: Belo Horizonte.
Traveler: Uhm, where is that? Never heard of it. Why are you going there?
Brazilian: Where are you traveling to next?
Me: Belo Horizonte.
Brazilian: Cool!!! The people in Minas Gerais (the region) are so nice and the food is simply the best in Brazil! Oh, and it’s great for going to bars.
Belo Horizonte. The one foreigner I had met told me that there was nothing to see. It was ‘simply a big city’. So, in my head, I had never considered coming here if it wasn’t for Ouro Preto, a famous old city full of churches, cobble-stone streets, and ancient gold mines.
However, this post is not about Ouro Preto. You can read about that from other travelers and bloggers 😉
I wanted to highlight Belo Horizonte a little bit as I think it has a great vibe and is totally worth a visit!
Warning: This is not a Brazilian beach town. It’s a place inland in the middle of nature!
Belo Horizonte is the capital of the region of Minas Gerais. It’s a rather large city and one of the biggest consumer markets in Brazil. It’s about 6h from both, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
I spent 2.5 days in the city and wanted to share some of the things to do there!
The food – Central Market
Minas Gerais is known for some of Brazil’s best food. As most Brazilians have told me: Pão de Queijo (the famous Cheese Bread) is simply the best in Minas Gerais as the amazing cheese from there is used for it. I can only agree with that and you should definitely give it a try, even if you’ve had it in other regions.
For a sample of some of the best foods in Minas Gerais you can head to the Central Market in Belo Horizonte, the apparently ‘third-best market in the world’ (at least they’re honest )
Below are some of the foods to try:
Cheese: If you’ve spent a while in South-America then you’ll probably be missing good cheese. At least that’s where the European in me comes out – I love strong-flavored and ‘scented’ cheese. Minas Gerais satisfied my cheese craving at its fullest. There are so many different flavors to try at the central market, that you don’t even have to buy any 😉
And in case you weren’t familiar with it – Goyabada (a guava dessert jelly) and cheese are the perfect combination of savory and sweet food – so perfect that it’s called ‘Romeo and Juliette’ here and you can find it on pizzas, in pies, on its own or even on top of an acai bowl (not sure whether that would make it better or not – both foods are too good on their own).
Speaking of Goyabada and sweet foods. The next food to try at the market are:
Sweets: Ah sugar and Brazil go hand in hand! Seriously I wonder why people are not high on sugar with all the delicious treats that lure you around every corner…. Minas Gerais makes it even harder. There are things you can find elsewhere in Brazil – such as Goyabada and cocada (a sweet made from coconut rasps mixed with other things) or even Dulce de Leche (the caramelized sweetened milk candy or bread spread) but the quality here is simply at another level. I also thought the prices to be definitely on the affordable side and again, there were enough samples around to taste everything. I totally loved the pumpkin coconut ‘sweet’ – I had never tasted anything like it before.
Fruit: As you are at the central market, you will be able to find fruit and vegetables. I was thrilled to find Jabuticaba, a grape-like fruit that has become one of my favorites in South-America and is mainly found in this region. There are of course other fruits and vegetables and vendors sell pieces of pineapple and melon as well as sugar-cane juice with lemon or pineapple (highly recommended guilty pleasure treat!)
You can also have lunch at the market – THE dish to try in Belo Horizonte is the so-called Feijão Tropeiro – a hearty rice and bean dish with egg and sausage, different from your regular ‘Arroz e Feijão’. Bear in mind that the market can get incredibly crowded. I went on a Saturday morning and the lines in front of popular restaurants and bars were long and it was simply crowded everywhere you went.
So apart from eating, what else is there to see or do in Belo Horizonte?
As people in Belo Horizonte will say ‘Não tem mar, vai pra bar’, i.e. If there’s no ocean (mar), go to the bar! People take this literally. I haven’t seen a city this full of bars in a long time and every Brazilian I told, that I would go to Belo Horizonte mentioned that the best thing to do was going out for a drink.
That being said, Belo Horizonte got you covered. Even though I’m not necessarily a nightlife person, I loved how many streets were full of outside no-frills bars where you could grab something to eat, sometimes listen to life-music and simply enjoy the warm (not yet summer) evening.
One place that I really liked was the so-called ‘Mercado Novo’. It is basically a shopping mall that has some office/printing related shops on the ground floor and the second floor has been turned into an area full of bars. I loved the atmosphere; you basically enter through the ramp of the parking lot and head to the second floor. People are hanging around in the hallways of the mall, bar hopping from place to place. Some places serve food as well and many have changing menus, especially in their artisanal beers. Not all places are open all the time, so you’ll always find another place to keep your interest. I really loved the relaxed atmosphere, it’s not a ‘fancy area’ to go out but simple and chill.
Another street full of bars and restaurants I visited was near the Praca de Savassi. Leading off it is the Rua Antônio de Albuquerque, a section of which is for pedestrians only. It was a great combination of bars and restaurants, some even had live music.
Belo Horizonte, being the State Capital has its fair share of museums and the best part is that they are mostly free! (at least the four museums I visited were). Most of the museums are clustered around the Praça da Liberdade, so you can do a quick museum hop and enjoy a coffee in the beautiful coffee shops. Below are the four museums I visited.
The following three museums are all located at the Praça da Liberdade:
MM Gerdau Museum Of Mines And Metal (MM Gerdau – Museu das Minas e do Metal)
My favorite museum and the one I’d recommend if you only had time/energy to see a single museum in the city. It displays many minerals, metals, and gemstones as well as international ones.
Memorial Minas Gerais Vale
This museum had my favorite coffee shop. The café’s walls are covered with large photographs and showcase one wall full of bottles of cachaca, the local liquor. It made for a very artsy and peaceful atmosphere.
The museum itself had some temporary art exhibitions and some information about the history of Minas Gerais. I really liked the architecture of the building.
Bank of Brazil Cultural Center/ Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil
The Bank of Brazil has temporary art exhibitions that you can visit. There is a popular café in the inner courtyard as well.
Arts and Crafts Museum/ Museu de Artes e Ofícios
This museum is right at the Central Train Station and showcases Minas agriculture and other historical temporary exhibitions.
This outdoor arts and craft market runs every Sunday from the early morning hours until around 1pm. It is located at Avenida Afonso Pena, right next to the Municipal Park. I am not sure why it has the term hippie in it as most goods sold are regular new items, sold at very affordable prices. You can find bags, jewelry, shoes, clothing, arts and crafts. Several food stalls are serving mainly Bahian Acarajé, barbecue and other basic (fried) snack food and of course: cakes and brigadeiro. You can find FeijFe do Tropeiro here as well. It gets pretty crowded around the lunch hours so it’s advised to get there early!
Praça Governador Israel Pinheiro (or simply Praça do Papa – Pope’s Square)
This is the place for a picnic and hanging out with friends whilst enjoying the view over Belo Horizonte. It is a big park with lots of grass areas to hang out, snack vendors…
From the Praça itself you can head to yet another lookout, Mangabeiras that has an even better view over the city.
Américo Renné Giannetti Municipal Park / Parque Municipal Américo Renné Giannetti
I was positively impressed by the Municipal Park. It seemed more like a Botanical Garden to me than just a simple park as it had lush green nature and different kinds of trees – even bamboo! There are a few small ponds and you can nicely relax and chill on the grass. There is a section for kids where there are some small ‘roller-coasters’ and you can also ride boats on the lagoons. It is right in the middle of the city, so perfect for a little break from all the concrete and city life.
Surroundings of Belo Horizonte:
Due to the rainy weather, I did not get the chance to check out nature in the surroundings of Belo Horizonte but there seemed to be quite a few choices. From the Laguna Pampulha, a man-made lagoon right in the city to nature parks on the outskirts – there should be enough to keep you busy for a couple of days once you finished your sight-seeing in the city center.
Another very popular place to visit is the so-called Inhotim museum. It is a contemporary art museum, set in the middle of a beautiful natural setting/park. It is about 2h outside of the city and there are daily buses from the bus terminal (Rodoviária) in Belo Horizonte that take you there and back at the same time). I didn’t visit it unfortunately as I had rainy days and that place definitely asks for some sunshine as you will be walking around outside most of the time.
I spent only 2.5 days in this city but I already got a feeling of why many Brazilians seem to like to live there. It is a friendly city, that feels safer than many others I’ve visited and has various places where you can enjoy culture, food and nightlife. I’d recommend you give it a try if you’re in the area!
1) I really enjoyed getting to know the city through locals. I used couchsurfing and was hosted as well as joined the weekly Friday couchsurfing meeting.
2) The metro is fast and useful but doesn’t get you anywhere. There are a lot of buses running through the city which might more of use for getting you from A to B. Also, Uber and other rideshares, i.e. 99 and Cabify are widely available and very affordable, so that often with two people you’re better of getting a rideshare than using the bus or the metro. I’d also say definitely use them at night for safety reasons as that limits you having to walk around the city for too long.