Now that tourist visas are no longer required for American, Canadian, Australian, and Japanese citizens, many of you have no excuse NOT to visit Brazil. However, before you race to Skyscanner book your ticket to Rio or São Paulo, let me tell you a little about why you should consider the vibrant metropolis of Belo Horizonte.
Belo Horizonte (sometimes endearingly referred to as Beagá or BH for short), is the capital of Minas Gerais and boasts a population upwards of 5 million people. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I personally knew very little about this place when I decided to pack up and start two internships there in 2016. Shortly after arriving; however, I realized what a special place this city is. Now let me tell you, without being too cliché, five reasons why you should Shut Up and Go to Belo Horizonte NOW before everyone else does!
1. It is THE World Capital of Bars
Did you know that Belo Horizonte has the highest concentration of bars per capita out of any city on the planet? Yeah, well now ya do!
When I lived in Belo Horizonte, I always loved showing up at my favorite boteco and splitting a nice cold bottle of Brahma with my friends (Just talking about it fills me with saudades!). If you’re looking for a traditional hangout, the Maletta Building smack in the center of the city is the place to go. Once you walk in, climb up the signature broken escalator and you’ll find dozens of local joints serving all different types of cachaça and catering to mineiros from ALL walks of life.
Otherwise, there’s always a young and “hip” crowd chillin’ in the Savassi district. Bar 80 is a classic and my co-workers from the English school and I would always meet up there on Friday evenings to sip caipirinhas and sing to pop tunes. Lastly, if you’re looking for something different, I recommend Fundos da Floresta in Santa Tereza. The bar is decorated as if you were in a mystical rainforest, the bartenders are dressed as fairies, and their concoctions range from Fairy Nectar to Blue Mushroom Potion. It’s as cool as it sounds. Just remember, I only listed a few bars… Belo Horizonte has over 12,000 more. Yes, TWELVE THOUSAND.
This is why locals often say
Beagá não tem mar, mas tem bar.
Belo Horizonte has no sea, but it has bars.
2. It’s the Culinary Mecca of Brazil
Ask any Brazilian where the most delicious food in their country is and 9/10 will say Minas. It’s a fact, Mineiros know how to make bomb food.
The poster-child of Mineiro cuisine is the beloved Pão de Queijo. (PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE pronounce this correctly or else you might end up with something VERY unexpected on your plate).
Pão de Queijo is a round ball of steaming hot cheese bread made fresh all around Belo Horizonte each and every day. On average, you can pay about R$ 2 (0.50 USD) for each serving. I know, it’s a small price to pay for heaven. Pro tip: If you want some bougie pão de queijo with a special filling, head to A Pão de Queijaria in Savassi.
The second culinary pride of Belo Horizonte is Feijão Tropeiro, best enjoyed when you’re watching a football game at Mineirão stadium. This dish consists primarily of beans, bacon, eggs, and cassava flour as these are the ingredients that the horse-back troops or tropeiros ate while carrying goods around Brazil during the colonial era.
Lastly, when you’re ready for something sweet, ask for doce de leite. This caramel-like pudding made from sweetened milk can be eaten straight out of the jar (my personal recommendation) or drizzled on top of cakes, custards, and other desserts.
3. Nature is Everywhere
When you are tired of the hustle and bustle of Belo, there are so many breathtaking places to relax and enjoy the wild outdoors.
If you want to stay within the limits of Belo Horizonte, you can explore Parque Municipal. This “Central Park” is right at the heart of the city and is lined with acres of tropical trees and countless ponds. However, my personal favorite for an afternoon picnic is Parque das Mangabeiras, located near the top of the city. Here you can grab some popcorn from one of the vendors and watch the quatis (Brazilian raccoons) jump around on the grass. They won’t attack you, I promise.
If you’re like me though, you love hiking and you’re itching for an adventure. BH’s still gotcha covered! Nestled up in Mangabeiras, there’s a hike called Serra do Curral. Here you can climb one of the mountains surrounding the city and get a bird’s eye view of all of the action.
For another adrenaline-filled adventure, take a bus out towards Caeté and jump off at Serra da Piedade. The bus will leave you at the base of a sprawling mountain. Normal people decide to walk up the winding road, but of course my friends and I chose to charge up the side of the mountain itself when we went. Once you arrive at the top, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the countryside of Minas Gerais along with a church where you can pray for a ride back down.
However, the biggest gem of them all is Serra do Cipó. This one’s a little out of BH (around 2 hours away) but the journey is worth it. This national park in the rainforest is loaded with cascading waterfalls, massive canyons, and flowing rivers. I actually learned how to ride a bike here, so when you go, just think of me speeding through the jungle and nearly falling into every stream I crossed. It might just make the trek easier.
4. Pampulha… Just Pampulha
In the 1940s, Mayor Kubitschek hired the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer to build the most beautiful neighborhood in all of Brazil. The result: Pampulha.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site, a bit of a distance from Central BH, surrounds the shimmering Lake of Pampulha. Aside from being the perfect place to go on an afternoon jog with the capivaras (Brazilian beavers that actually might attack you), this area is a cultural hotspot to discover what gives BH its unique identity today.
Presently, the complex around Lake Pampulha includes a ballroom, a tennis club, a church, an art museum, and the former house of Mayor Kubitschek. The church, formally referred to as Igreja São Francisco de Assis, is undoubtedly the most famous out of the landmarks. As many Brazilians can tell you, Niemeyer was a modernist architect way ahead of his time and the curves he constructed resemble the mountains surrounding Belo Horizonte. The archbishop at the time; however, wasn’t a big fan of his work. Like, at all. In fact, he might have insinuated that the church looked like the “bomb shelter of the devil.” Harsh much? Anyways, the church was finally inaugurated in 1943 and still stands today as a centerpiece of Brazilian architectural modernism.
After you’re done exploring the architectural wonders of Pampulha, the absolute best thing to do is walk into Parque Guanabara and hop onto the ferris wheel at sunset (Bonus points if you find a cute Brazilian guy or gal to go with you). One of my most magical moments in Belo was spinning around at the top of the ferris wheel and watching the massive South American sun set over the Lake of Pampulha.
5. The Mineiro People
There is no way to talk about the magic of Belo Horizonte without mentioning the Belo Horizontinos themselves. I have traveled the world far and wide and I have never met such a warm and friendly group of people.
Every time I walked into a club in Belo, I would walk out with at least five new friends who I had never met before. Mineiros are just naturally curious to meet new people, especially foreigners, and strive to make them feel welcome in their city. I kid you not, there was even one time when an entire police squad invited me out to party in a club with them. A POLICE SQUAD.
On the other hand, locals say that “Belo Horizonte is an egg.” In essence, no matter where you go in Belo Horizonte, you will constantly see your buddies or find someone who is friends with someone you know. In fact, this even extends to the world as a whole. I have met countless Belo Horizontinos here in Europe who randomly have friends in common with me back in Brazil. No matter how we are connected, they have welcomed me into their homes and treated me like family, as I do for them, because you know what – that’s the Mineiro way.
Have you ever been to Belo Horizonte? Let us know in the comments where YOU will head to in Brazil now that visa restrictions have been lifted.