In the past years I visited Brazil six times, but I never really explored the country. I do have a annual conference in Sao Paulo but in the past, I always went to a neighboring country like my 10 days in Bolivia last year. This year however I decided to stay in Brazil. As I like to visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites I decided to go to Minas Gerais as there are 4 sites near the provincial capital Belo Horizonte. This 5-day Minas Gerais itinerary is perfect to combine with a business trip or a longer trip in Brazil. The area around Belo Horizonte is beautiful; join me on a tour.
Planning a Minas Gerais itinerary
Planning a Minas Gerais itinerary is straighforward and easy. The area’s in this itinerary are safe and easily explored solo too. Make sure to arrive early morning in Belo Horizonte the first day so that you have at least from 12PM onwards to make a half day trip. Keep in mind that the airport is almost an hour by taxi from the downtown center area! You can switch this day with day 5 if you prefer too. I already arrived late evening the day before as I had a business appointment too in Belo Horizonte. Another thing to keep in mind is that museums and other attractions are closed Mondays and Sundays after 12PM. I used Belo Horizonte as my base, but I give some alternative suggestions if you want to hop cities instead of doing day trips.
Minas Gerais itinerary day 1: Half day Pampulha
Pampulha is an area about 30 minutes north of the city center of Belo Horizonte. It’s inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites as Pampulha Modern Ensemble and one of the newest in Brazil. The Pampulha Modern Ensemble is place I highly recommend visiting especially if you like modern architecture. It’s a neighborhood developed by Oscar Niemeyer who was also responsible for the design of Brazils capital Brasilia. There are several places of interested and I recommend starting at Casa Kubitschek.
When finished exploring Casa Kubitschek, walk along the shore of the lake towards the Saint Francis of Assisi church and onwards to the Yacht Club and Casa do Baile. From there it’s best to take a taxi to the old casino which is now the Pampulha Art Museum. It took me half a day to do this itinerary but if you have more time on your Minas Gerais itinerary you can also visit the soccer stadium which is nearby. In the evening go for a good Brazilian steak (check my Belo Horizonte restaurant guide) and Brazilian craft beer.
Minas Gerais itinerary day 2: Day trip Ouro Preto
Ouro Preto is a beautiful old colonial town and very well preserved. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its outstanding Baroque architecture. This old heritage town is a must include on any Minas Gerais itinerary. Ouro Preto is a 90-minute drive from Belo Horizonte or just over an hour with speeding tickets if you drive like me. I must add a note that it’s 90-minutes if you stay in the Savassi neighborhood of Belo Horizonte from you can get direct on the highway 356 south east. In Ouro Preto park your car somewhere near Tiradentes Square.
When I arrived in the center of Ouro Preto it felt like I went back in time: cobble stone streets, no wires above ground (I really hate those in old towns) and colorful houses along the narrow streets. Ouro Preto was the center of the Brazilian Gold Rush and this wealth is very well preserved. Start with a visit to Museu da Inconfidência which is a must-see museum in Ouro Preto. Then visit the Nossa Senhora do Carmo church behind the museum and the theatre just down the road. Continue walking down the road to Nossa Senhora da Conceiçao church and the Museu do Oratório. It’s probably time for lunch now!
After lunch continue walking to Nossa Senhora do Rosário church (slavery church) and from there to the Casa Dos Contos and Museu de Ciência e Técnica. The São Francisco de Assis church is another church not far from the Tiradentes Square worth a visit. If you walk this route, you’ll cover all must-see places and see most secundary places too. There are a few more churches worth visiting but not all are always open so check the time tables if you plan to go. I drove back to Belo Horizonte around 4PM where I arrived late afternoon which was perfect for an early dinner and a night out (check my Belo Horizonte restaurant guide).
MAKE IT A ROAD TRIP: Stay overnight in Ouro Preto and go late morning to Congonhas (see Minas Gerais itinerary day 3) and go back to Belo Horizonte from there.
Minas Gerais itinerary day 3: Day trip Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas
The town Congonhas itself isn’t worth going to but the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site is. It can be reached in about 90 minutes from Belo Horizonte or as alternative in an hour from Ouro Preto. I visited Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas as a (half) day trip from Belo Horizonte. If you make your Minas Gerais itinerary a road trip you probably arrive from Ouro Preto and continue to Belo Horizonte.
The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas is famous for its 12 apostle sculptures by Antônio Francisco Lisboa. He was a famous Brazilian sculpturer who lost his fingers due to illness but continued working with tools tied to his fingerless hands. He was also called Aleijadinho which means crippled. The 12 statues with the cathedral and the 6 chapels containing sculptures of the stations of the cross together form the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Congonhas museum nearby is a must visit too even though it’s not the best museum in the world.
There are several restaurants in the area for lunch. A visit shouldn’t take more as 3-4 hours in total as the cathedral itself isn’t open due to restorations which seem to take forever. Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas is a must include on any Minas Gerais itinerary.
MAKE IT A ROAD TRIP: If you do this Minas Gerais itinerary as a road trip you arrived from Ouro Preto. Now continue to Belo Horizonte for the night as the next day is a long drive and too long to do from Congonhas.
Minas Gerais itinerary day 4: Day trip Diamantina
Diamantina was, as the name suggests, the center of diamond mining in the 18th-19th century. It’s another example of beautiful well preserved Brazilian baroque architecture. It’s a 4-hour drive from Belo Horizonte but this can be easily done as a day trip and a must include on a Minas Gerais itinerary. Go early at 7 AM so that you arrive at 11 AM. Visit the diamond museum first and the cathedral. Around the square you’ll find plenty of restaurants for lunch when you finish.
After lunch walk around town where all places of interest are well market with signs and distances. The most important places include Casa de Chica da Silva, Igreja do Rosário, Mercado Municipal, Casa de Juscelino, Casa de Gloria, Basilica Sagrado Coração de Jesus, the old train station and Igreja das Mercês. If you walk to all places in this order, you’ll also pass all the secondary places. The walk including visits to the small museums takes about 3-4 hours. It was already in the afternoon when I drove back to Belo Horizonte. A long day trip but well worth it.
MAKE IT A ROAD TRIP: Stay overnight in Diamantina so that it isn’t a too long day. You can depart a bit later from Belo Horizonte and drive back after lunch the next day. Just keep in mind that Monday and Sunday afternoon everything is closed. An overnight in Diamantina does make this Minas Gerais itinerary a day longer or alternatively skip the last half day in Belo Horizonte.
Minas Gerais itinerary day 5: Half day Belo Horizonte
Belo Horizonte has a few interesting museums worth visiting which are located around the Liberation Square. The Circuito Cultural Praça da Liberdade was opened in 2010 in the historical area of Belo Horizonte. Another museum worth going to is Museu Histórico Abílio Barreto which is housed in an old farmhouse. It’s probably possible to spend a full day more in Belo Horizonte. This totally depends on what kind of museums you want to visit or if you want to go shopping. I visited two museums in the morning and had to continue to Sao Paulo for a business conference.
EXTEND YOUR TRIP: A friend of mine told me that Tiradentes is also a great town like Ouro Preto and Diamantina. It’s a bit far from Belo Horizonte but it’s possible to drive there, stay overnight and continue the next day to Rio de Janeiro. Tiradentes is often included on a Minas Gerais itinerary and highly recommended by my friend. I hope to visit Tiradentes one day from Rio de Janeiro!
This Minas Gerais itinerary visits all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites around Belo Horizonte. It’s a perfect itinerary to do before or after a business trip in Brazil. You can also add it to another Brazil itinerary. I had a great time visiting Belo Horizonte and I can recommend everyone to make Belo Horizonte your base and do day trips. If you prefer however to sleep in a different city each night and taste the nightlife too, then make it a road trip. If you stay in Belo Horizonte check out my restaurant guide for the city. Whatever you plan I’m sure you will enjoy this Minas Gerais itinerary to Belo Horizonte, Ouro Preto, Congonhas and Diamantina. I did and now I want to see more of Brazil next year I’m in Sao Paulo for my annual conference.Stay tuned for more stories and subscribe to the newsletter or follow CTB on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram including Instagram stories; on all social media you can find CTB @christravelblog) to get updated information.
Did you visit Minas Gerais too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!