“You really should visit Belo Horizonte,” commented my friend last year. “My city is so beautiful and not only this; it also has the best pão de queijo (cheese bread) in the whole of Brazil!”
Upon hearing these (what I considered pretty lame) reasons why I should take a trip into the Brazilian countryside, I feigned an enthusiastic smile and assured my friend that one day, one day I’d take this trip to the land of the cheese bread. The reason why there wasn’t much conviction attached to this comment was because I had absolutely no intention of going.
Let me explain! The idea of travelling from the exquisite chaos of São Paulo into the agricultural state of Minas Gerais, well…it just didn’t do a whole lot from me. Don’t get me wrong, I do like pão de queijo, but not enough to justify travelling so far to eat it. And as for beauty, I felt like Rio already had that covered…so was there anything else really worth going to Belo Horizonte for?
Well, this post has been written for anyone who, like me, has ever underestimated this city. It really is well worth visiting. But before I get into what I liked there, allow me to tell you what made me change my mind about going in the first place…
Three reasons why I changed my mind
- I have a number of friends living in São Paulo who call Belo Horizonte home, and….well, there is just something different about these guys. They’re usually much more laid back, easy going and friendlier than their Paulistano counterparts (Paulistano is the name given to someone from São Paulo). And this got me thinking, what is it about their city that makes them this way? As someone who is fascinated by Brazilian culture, over time Belo Horizonte had been a city I was curious to find out more about.
- I’ve noticed that Mineiros (the nickname given to those from the state of Minas Gerais) are generally very proud of where they’re from; which inspired a great deal of curiosity from me. I absolutely love life here in São Paulo, but when the Mineiros I know and trust here told me that, ‘yes, São Paulo is great, but it is no Belo Horizonte’….well, I began to wonder what they meant by this.
- I had been told on numerous occasions that Belo Horizonte is ‘hipster.’ When I heard this for the first time my forehead knotted into an expression, poised somewhere between a look of surprise and suspicion…was this true? Was Belo Horizonte – a countryside city – really a city for the alternative?
There was only one way to find out….
When my friend Thiago offered to play tour guide and put me up in his place in the Savassi neighbourhood, I didn’t hesitate to accept his invitation. Then just a few weeks later I was on a night bus bound for the sixth most populous city in Brazil, Belo Horizonte.
After a spot of lunch, Thiago and I met up with our friend João. Then after sampling one of the local beers, we headed deeper into the neighbourhood to get some ice cream. A few steps into the journey I realised that we were walking at what felt like a ridiculously slow pace. I looked around and saw that those walking on the other side of the road were walking equally as slowly.
In São Paulo, unless you’re in a park, the chances are you’re going to be walking quickly to wherever you need to be. People are constantly rushing around in São Paulo and this sense of urgency is pretty infectious.
But in Belo Horizonte people don’t seem to be playing by the same rules. For a few minutes I found this really frustrating. “Why is everyone walking so slowly?” I asked, trying to pass my question off as a joke. “Why not?” was the response I got, “Here in Belo Horizonte we walk slow because we don’t feel the need to rush around, not when we don’t have to!”
And here lies one difference that I soon came to appreciate about Belo Horizonte, life in this city didn’t seem to be particularly high paced. Especially when you’re looking at it through the filter of life in São Paulo.Having said this though, I don’t want to give you the impression that this calm nature is a reflection of the nightlife in the city. As I found out, Belo Horizonte can be pretty lively as soon as the blanket of darkness falls upon it! But then I suspect this won’t be much of a surprise to anyone who knows that the city is the bar capital of Brazil, with the largest number of bars per capita in the country.
In other words…these guys like a drink!
During the 72 hours I was in the city, thanks to Thiago and João, I was shown around a number of places of interest to someone from out of town. What I’ll do now is share three of my favourites with you:
When I was told that this market sold pretty much everything, I wasn’t really expecting this to be true. But you really can buy almost everything here. Want beer? A kitten? Kitchen Appliances? Indian spices? Crystals? Furniture? A cockerel? Then this is the place to go!
If it is just a drink you’re after you can try one of the narrow, traditional bars within the central market, where the bar women will serve you as they stand on top of the counter! It looks like Coyote Ugly, kind of!
There really isn’t a whole lot of space for drinkers who chose to drink there, but this didn’t seem to deter anyone with a beer in these places. The bars were rammed the Saturday afternoon I was there, which I was told is pretty standard. Across the road on Avenida Augusto de Lima are plenty of cheaper, quieter bars should you wish to wind down with a beer after an afternoon of shopping….with your new cockerel!
This square offers a stunning view over the city and it is also a great place to unwind with friends. On the Sunday night we were there, as we arrived, we found ourselves walking past a group of over 100 people in the midst of a rap battle. Let me say that again, I was witnessing a very intense rap battle in the square! Outside of 8 Mile, I’d never seen one of these before. So we set up our picnic blankets, poured ourselves some drinks, arranged our snacks and allowed these Mineiro rappers to provide the backdrop to our Sunday night conversation. I was told this never usually happens, that the square is usually much quieter…but I really don’t want to believe this! However I did see my fair share of musicians, dog walkers, families and hipsters also taking advantage of the park.
As someone accustomed to life in São Paulo, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between this place and Praça Por de Sol (read my review of that park here)…in look, vibe and type of person frequenting it.
As soon as evening arrives in Belo Horizonte this building becomes a playground for the alternative, you’ll find a whole range of people enjoying themselves. Once inside you’ll notice that the place looks like a run down shopping centre, and within its walls you will find a variety of different bars, restaurants and shops. I went to this place twice, and during these visits I bought some vinyl, kicked my friend’s ass at a game of Street Fighter on a retro Nintendo 64 in one of the bars and drank some local cachaca overlooking Rua Bahia. This is easily my favourite place in the city.
In conclusion i have to say that Belo Horizonte pleasantly surprised me, so much so that I can see myself making a return trip in the not too distant future. Although the city lacks the chaotic buzz I’ve grown to love in Sao Paulo, for a few days I fully appreciated the comparative tranquility of the city. There seems to be a lot to see and do and the alternative scene is also something I’d like to explore further…I must confess, I even enjoyed the pão de queijo a lot more than I was expecting too!
Have you been to Belo Horizonte? Where would you recommend as must-see places for a tourist to visit there?
Do you feel the city is unfairly overlooked by tourists?