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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Brazil.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Brazil.
When Ouro Preto became this once-affluent province’s 19th-century capital following an earlier gold boom, Tiradentes missed out on the development, remaining remote and rural – much as it is today. Situated between the picturesque Rio das Mortes and the Atlantic forest at the foot of the mighty Serra São José mountain, its nine winding streets and seven impressive Baroque churches would still be recognized by those who knew Tiradentes in its 18th-century splendor.
A smattering of contemporary art studios, galleries, and small restaurants have arrived as the town has become a favored weekend getaway for escapees from Rio and Belo Horizonte. The charming inn Solar da Ponte is an Anglo-Brazilian collaboration that has become a beloved home away from home for a diverse roster of international guests. This small pousada captures the spirit of a rustic but elegant country home in an 18th-century village with warm hospitality and old-world charm. There are freshly cut flowers from the garden in each of the spacious guest rooms, which have been beautifully decorated with the traditional regional handcrafts and designs for which the Minas Gerais region is known.
This historical and perfectly preserved 18th-century town tucked into the mountains of the interior state of Minas Gerais is one of the world’s greatest enclaves of Baroque architecture. Like a stage set of decorative wrought-iron balconies, pastel-colored mansions, and steep cobblestone streets (complete with the clatter of mule-drawn carts), the modestly sized Ouro Preto is home to thirteen Baroque churches that hark back to Brazil’s gold boom, when this region was a major source of the world’s supply.
The artist whose name and work is synonymous with Ouro Preto is Aleijadinho. Deformed at the age of forty and so debilitated that his assistants had to tie his chisels to his hands, he would go on to become Brazil’s premier Baroque sculptor, with Ouro Preto as his showcase. The church of São Francisco de Assisi was Aleijadinho’s last and most masterful solo project. Almost all the sculptures in the church are his, including those carved directly onto the ceiling. Competing for attention is the lavish church of Nossa Senhora de Pilar, Brazil’s second richest church, with more than 1,000 pounds of gold used in homage to the Madonna.
The largest wetland in the world, Pantanal is an oasis of water and wildlife whose numbers and variety are staggering. It is the meeting place of rivers, the last intact ecological paradise, home to a wealth of wildlife elsewhere hunted to extinction – and most South Americans don’t even know about it. Spoonbills, chaco chachalacas, coatis, jabiru, rheas – chances are you’ve never heard the names of many of these exotic creatures, let alone seen them. Others (wolves, anteaters, tapirs, jaguars, deer, armadillos) you may have seen before, though not of this size: Here they grow to be the largest of their kind on the continent. Most of the South Dakota-size area is privately owned by huge fazendas (cattle ranches).
Cows and caimans live side by side in a curious alliance, while the spirit of the pantaneiros, cowboys of the Pantanal, prevails. The Caiman Ecological Refuge – a combination cattle ranch and ecotourism destination – is the perfect home base for exploring the teeming Pantanal. Although the refuge’s 131,000-acre range is but a sliver of the fascinating Pantanal pie, the possibilities for round-the-clock field excursions are nearly limitless. Expert professional guides take you on foot, by boat, by pickup truck, or by horseback through and around the intricate web of rivers, canals, and lagoons. Nature’s spectacle continues at night, when millions of fireflies create Christmas-like effects, and the eerie sounds of the hunt are everywhere. Wild vistas under an open sky are shared by the ranch’s 20,000 head of cattle and other visitors to the refuge.
Life on this working fazenda centers around the main pousada, a handsome, even elegant, Mediterranean-style building that was originally the manor house of the owner’s family. Together with three other buildings scattered across the vast grounds, it accommodates guests who come for total immersion in this unique wildlife reserve, giving them air-conditioning, a pool, and some great home cooking thrown in for good measure.
Perched high above the heart of the Amazon jungle, the greatest rain forest on earth, the Ariaú Jungle Tower is enveloped in the voluptuous beauty of dense treetop canopy where the Rio Ariaú and the Rio Negro meet. A network of seven cylindrical towers, miles of connecting trapeze-like catwalks, and two lookout towers made of thatched roofs and polished tropical woods, the hotel compound is supported by stilts that rise up to 130 feet. Some of the towers, such as Tarzan’s Houses, are 110 feet aboveground, with 360-degree views of the Amazon’s thousand shades of green.
Electric generators and indoor plumbing ensure the luxury’ of ceiling fans and minibars, and the restaurant bakes its own hearty breads and does delicious things with fresh local ingredients and fish plucked from the river. But the real luxury is the hotel’s seamless immersion in the Amazon and its mind-boggling profusion of plant and animal species, a living round-the-clock theater. The hotel’s guided explorations by canoe, riverboat, or on foot are a celebration of the rain forest, the ultimate laboratory for life on earth.
Belém is the jumping-off point for most river trips up the Amazon, and its exuberant daily market Ver-o-Peso (whose name comes from the colonial-era sales pitch – literally, “See the weight!”) is a jumbled, seemingly endless sprawl of exotic goods. The hypnotic confusion and heady smells of dried herbs, medicinal roots, concentrated essences of the jungle’s spices and flowers, and miracle elixirs and potions hold visitors in thrall. Snakeskins, turtle soap, and dolphin eyes may be contraband articles, but they still make an occasional appearance along with other items linked to macumba superstition and voodoo folklore: aphrodisiacs, amulets, alligator-tooth charms, lizard powder, dried boa constrictor heads, and other unrecognizable things you may not want to know about.
The humid air carries the aroma of mouthwatering food being prepared by native women, who cook for the hundreds of vendors in Brazil’s largest outdoor marketplace amid a cacophony of cursing, flirting, touting, and bargaining. The market’s main attraction is its cornucopia of the river’s most unusual species of fish (piranha!), meat (armadillo!), fruit, and vegetables, many of them guaranteed to show up the same day at Lá Em Casa, Belém’s best restaurant for native cozinha brasileira.
It was at Belém that the native people first showed the colonials the wonder of the Amazon’s bounty. Today, Casa’s warm and voluble chef-owner, Ana Maria Martins, carries the torch by giving her guests the best the river has to offer. The region’s premier dish is pato no tucupi, duck in an herb sauce made from the juice of the ubiquitous manioc root, here raised to a culinary art form; only the locals seem to hanker for the minced turtle meat or frog legs. More than twenty years ago, Doña Ana went upstream to the family farm to learn from the Indian elders; she’s been entertaining her fortunate visitors ever since in this breezy colonial setting in the shade of the patio’s giant flamboyante tree.
The vast kingdom of the Amazon has fascinated explorers for centuries, and to travel its entire navigable length is one of life’s great adventures. The dimensions of the river – once known as “The River Sea” – are truly awesome. As it gathers its strength from more than 1,000 tributaries and drains into an area nearly the size of the contiguous United States, the Amazon’s flow is ten times greater than that of the Mississippi.
Abercrombie & Kent’s river expeditions are led by experienced naturalist guides who approach each trip with sensitivity, expertise, care, and genuine delight, sharing it with the hundred like-minded passengers who make the expeditionary vessel, the shallow-draft Explorer, their floating home for the trip’s duration. A fleet of Zodiac landing craft enables the exploration of remote jungle tributaries and visits to riverside villages, pristine islands, and jungle clearings behind the rain forest’s “green wall.” Highlights might be the “wedding of the waters,” where the dark, tealike Rio Negro joins the flow of the cappuccino-colored Amazon; an evening in the company of a local tribe; or face-to-face encounters with any of the countless living species (science has yet to catalog some 85 percent of them) that live within the river’s fascinating and fragile ecosystem.
The Pelourinho district, the architectural enclave and highlight of Salvador’s hilltop Cidade Alta (Upper City), has been reclaimed, restored, and transformed into the cultural heart of a city long famous for the richness of its Afro-Brazilian heritage and colonial history.
A wealth based on the unseemly but lucrative importation of African slaves peaked in the early 18th century when most of Pelourinho’s remarkable gold-drenched Baroque churches were completed.
They are some of South America’s most outstanding, clustered around what is now Pelourinho Square, whose name means “the pillory” or “whipping post” (one of the myriad reminders of the city’s historical and emotional ties to Africa and slavery).
The home of Salvador’s affluent European descendants until the beginning of the 20th century Pelourinho then descended into squalor and physical collapse.
But a massive restoration begun in 1992 secured its return as a haunt of poets and artists and a showplace for Bahian craftsmanship. Easter egg-colored landmark buildings now house a number of minor but interesting museums, art galleries, and caffes and restaurants.
When Casa da Gamboa, Salvador’s most famous restaurant, opened a branch in Pelourinho, it further established the neighborhood’s role as a cultural and culinary outpost.
There are some large international beachside hotels, but they don’t come close to the character and architectural flavor of the Hotel Catharina Paraguacu, a pink colonial mansion with rooftop beach that’s just Pelhourino.
What: site, restaurant, hotel.
Casa da Gamboa: Rua Joao de Deus 32. Tel 55/71′-336-1549, fax 55/71-321-3393.
Cost: dinner $18.
When: lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; Sun, lunch only.
Hotel Catharina Paraguacu: Rua Joao Gomes 128. Tel/fax 55/71-247-1488.
Cost: doubles $81 (low season), $99 (high season).
Best Times: Nov-Jan.