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If you were dropped blindfolded into Ouro Preto and opened your eyes, you’d be pardoned for mistaking that you’d travelled back in time to the 1700s. This treasure house of Baroque architecture has remained amazingly intact over the centuries. From its small beginnings as a settlement for treasure seekers during the gold rush of the early eighteenth century, Ouro Preto acquired the status of a ‘vila’ and was known as Vila Rica (Rich Town). Today, the municipality of Ouro Preto is comprised of twelve rural districts. Historically, it was the stronghold of the Inconfidentes, early fighters for Brazil’s independence from colonial rule. Ouro Preto also nurtured a school of mulatto artists whose legacy is a significant part of the town’s cultural ethos. Nature too, has been extraordinarily munificent to Ouro Preto.

When you’re satiated with the town’s colonial beauty, there’s the Itacolomi State Park to explore with its hiking trails and waterfalls.

 

Things to See & Do in Ouro Preto

 

Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Pilar Church

Of the many churches gracing Ouro Preto, the Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Pilar is quite an ‘eye catcher’, a term that really doesn’t do justice to the fact that over 400 kg of gold was used in the construction of this fabulous specimen of Baroque architecture. The church was built in 1786, when Baroque extravagance was reaching its zenith. There was no such notion as excessive opulence, as is evident from the mind-boggling number of angels and cherubs, gargoyles and florid moldings that were used to embellish the outside and inside of the church that is also all in gold.

Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Pilar

 

São Francisco de Assis Church

Built in 1794, the São Francisco de Assis Church is considered to be Ouro Preto’s most beautiful places of worship; it’s certainly one of Brazil’s loveliest. The Franciscan brotherhood commissioned the famed Brazilian mulatto sculptor and architect, Aleijadinho, to design the church. Aleijadinho used locally available soapstone to fashion his elaborate carvings, the pulpits and altars. It took him three years to create the baptismal font in the sacristy. Manuel da Costa Atayde, another locally born artist, painted the ceiling mural of the Virgin Mary in heaven, with musicians and cherubs around her. Note the two front towers, on either side of the church which have actually been set back, so as not to diminish the effect of the elaborately carved entrance.

Museu da Inconfidência

 

Chico Rei Mine

Centuries ago, this mine lured gold-diggers and treasure seekers from afar. Today, Chico Rei is a tourist attraction in Ouro Preto, inviting visitors to experience the life of a miner in Ouro Preto. It’s a self-guided tour; take your time to explore the labyrinth of tunnels and passages underground and look around at the innumerable nooks and crannies in the walls, where miners stashed away their daily finds. If you’re claustrophobic, you might consider skipping the tour altogether as the tunnels are extremely confining. Deep down is a mineral room, where there’s a display of the precious stones and minerals that this mine once yielded. It takes around 45 minutes to do a thorough inspection of this attraction.

Artesanato em pedra sabão

Lavras Novas

About 13 km (5 miles) from downtown Ouro Preto is Lavras Novras, a rural district surrounded by magnificent mountain ranges and waterfalls. It has become a popular attraction in recent years for young travellers looking for destinations off the beaten track.

 

Inconfidência Museum

This was once the city council as well as the jail where conspirators of the Brazilian revolutionary movement, the Inconfidência Mineira, were confined. On the ground floor, you can see exhibits such as keys, locks and lamps from the days of the Inconfidência. The building was constructed between 1784 and 1854, on the southern side of the Praça Tiradentes. Here, you will find the tomb of Tiradentes, the revolution’s prominent leader and instruments of torture. The first floor houses important exhibits of Aleijadinho and Atayde.

Igreja São Francisco de Assis

Praça Tiradentes, the main square of Ouro Preto, lies in the heart of the city, flanked by the Museu da Inconfidência and the University of Ouro Preto. Two parallel streets lead downhill out of the square – Rua Senador Rocha Lagoa and Rua Conde de Bobadela (also called Rua Direita) – both chock-a-block with cafes, pubs and shops. Walk down their twisting paths until you arrive first at the Praça Reinaldo Alves de Brito, where you can stop to admire the sculpted fountain ; once you have your breath back, proceed further down to the Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora do Pilar. Going further you’ll reach the charming church of Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosario.

The other side of Praça Tiradentes leads down to the Largo de Coimbra where the Igreja São Francisco de Assis is located. Keep going further down to the Matriz Nossa Senhora da Conceição, another important church. Next door to this is the Aleijadinho Museum, dedicated to the iconic painter whose works contributed significantly to the cultural ethos of Ouro Preto. From here, your walk will lead you along the Rua Bernardo Vasconcelos, crossing a quaint old stone bridge, before it starts climbing steeply. At the top stands the Matriz Santa Efigenia dos Pretos, a church built by slave communities who were prohibited from worshipping in other churches. The view from here is worth the arduous climb, but if you’re not up to it, hire a taxi from the main square for R$6 (US$3/£1.50). At the church, look out for the distinct Afro-Brazilian motifs like goat horns and shells, that give away the origins of the sculptors. As you walk back down the sharp incline, you’ll be able to marvel at the lovely view of the city.

Lavras Novas, Minas Gerais

The small community centre is dominated by the church of Our Lady dos Prazeres (of Pleasures). There are waterfalls and hiking trails aplenty for nature lovers. However, the signage is poorly executed, considering that negotiating some of these attractions can be very risky. The Cachoeira do Rapel, a waterfall cascading down 200 m over several levels is one example, a definite no-no for inexperienced hikers. There are several other falls to explore and enjoy – Cachoeira dos Namorados (Sweethearts’ Waterfall), Represa do Custódio, named after the dam of the same name and Cachoeira Três Pingos (Three Raindrops Waterfall). Locals will tell you that the Represa do Custódio is the most beautiful. Getting close to it however, takes time and effort, as vehicles can go up to a certain point, after which there’s a forty minute walk ahead. It’s well worth the attempt, to experience the sheer power of the water as it gushes down. A fine spray, cool and refreshing, mists over tired walkers.

 

General information

There are agencies of the major banks in Ouro Preto, including the Banco do Brasil (São José Street 189), Itaú (São José Street 105), HSBC (201 St. Joseph Street), Caixa Economica (São José Street 128) and Bradesco (Tiradentes Square 32).

Credit cards are accepted in most establishments. There are Internet cafes that offer services like broadband Internet access, scanning, printing and international telephone calls. There are electronics stores and photo shops where you can buy memory cards, revealing photos and other services.

If you need medical attention there is the Santa Casa de Ouro Preto at Padre Jose Moringa street, 320 – Bauxita – Phone: +55 (31) 3551-1133. Open 24 hours. There is also the emergency room, available in UPA – Mecânico José Português São Cristóvão Street, Phone: (31) 3559-3255. Open 24 hours a day.

It is good to remind visitors that comfortable shoes are essential to meet the charming hills and the  stone sidewalks.

 

Food & cuisine in Ouro Preto

 

The culinary tradition of Minas Gerais is known throughout Brazil for its use of wood or coal-fired ovens and cast-iron and soap-stone utensils and pans which give this local Brazilian food a characteristic flavour. This is how food here has been cooked for hundreds of years in small farmhouses. Restaurants in Ouro Preto which have adopted these historic techniques have helped popularize the cuisine in other parts of Brazil. Just as in farmhouse kitchens, these restaurants prepare their dishes sourcing fresh, local produce Comida Mineira, Ouro Preto, Minas Geraisand meats, particularly pork and chicken.

There are numerous restaurants in Ouro Preto and you will find a variety of foods to suit all tastes!

Our Ouro Preto Restaurant Guide below will give you some handy information about eating out in Ouro Preto, as well as the types of cuisine you are likely to encounter. For some general information about food and cuisine in Brazil see our Brazil Restaurant Guide. Some tips and suggestions for shopping in Ouro Preto can be found in our Ouro Preto Shopping Guide.

Cassava flour, known as mandioca, is the starch of choice for making cakes and appetizers. Best known among these is pão de queijo, a small roll made of cheese and cassava flour, baked and served as a hot appetizer. Known worldwide as Brazilian cheese rolls, these are also a breakfast favourite. Cachaça, (distilled, fermented sugarcane juice), the alcoholic beverage that packs quite a punch, is also a local product of significance. Don’t miss the chance to visit an authentic Cachaça production site on one of our Ouro Preto tours.

 

Local Delicacies

Hearty stews and bean dishes with pork are big favorites locally. Tutu á Mineira and feijão tropeiro are typical of Minas cuisine. In the former, beans are cooked, mashed and recooked, much like Mexican fried beans. This is served with a choice of pork products, egg, collard greens and rice.

Cachaça da Roça, Ouro PretoFeijão tropeiro follows a similar route, except that the beans, instead of being mashed, are combined with cassava flour. Frango a molho pardo, a traditional chicken dish hailing from Portugal is – hold your breath – made with fresh chicken blood. If that makes you wince with horror, you’ll be surprised to know that it’s quite tasty. You might like to experiment with a tiny portion at a kilo restaurant (Brazilian buffets where you pay by weight for the food you pick up). Frango com quiabo is chicken in a rich tomato and okra stew. These four dishes are bound to be featured in virtually all Ouro Preto restaurants. A single portion is usually sufficient for two persons.

Farofa is made of manioc flour with small quantities of pork, hard-boiled eggs, onions or various vegetables, polenta, collard greens or chouriço (a less spicy version of the chorizo sausage). These and fried bananas are some of the most popular dishes from Minas Gerais.

The national dish is the marvellous black bean stew called Feijoada. Prepared fresh to order, this dish is typically served on Sundays. When you’ve had dinner at a churrasco, (Portuguese for barbecue restaurants), you’ll agree that the Brazilian barbecue is a hard act to follow. Also don’t miss out on the experience of eating at a rodizio, where you will be served different cuts of meat ad infinitum, until you indicate otherwise.

Where to Eat

Comida Mineira, Ouro Preto, Minas GeraisThe opulence of Baroque in Brazil’s beautiful religious sculptures is also reflected in Ouro Preto’s cuisine. The substantial meat dishes are high on calories and fat, as well as taste. Even jabuticada, the native liqueur, has a rich, cherry flavour. If you’re watching your waistline or simply craving lighter fare, check out the local cafés. The ones on the Rua Direita are said to be the best, where apart from simpler food, you can also listen to jazz and bossa nova played by live bands into the wee hours of the night.

For a list of restaurants, click here.

Drinks in Ouro Preto

Guaraná is a popular Brazilian soft drink. Chopp is a well-liked draught beer. Don’t forget to pick up a bottle or two of Brazilian cachaça.

 

Shopping in Ouro Preto

Ouro Preto is the world’s single largest source of high quality pegmatite, the igneous crystalline rock that yields gem minerals such as topaz, garnets and tourmalines. Sources of pegmatite from other regions of the world, like the Urals, Pakistan , Sri Lanka , Myanmar and the United States together do not equal what’s available in Ouro Preto. It’s no wonder then that Ouro Preto is an important trade hub for precious stones and jewellery.

Topázio Imperial, Ouro Preto

Local artisans use soapstone to create a variety of products like table ware, vases, ashtrays and jewellery boxes. These are sold in the city and the adjacent district of Santa Rita .

Ouro Preto Shopping Guide

Gemstones

While shopping in Ouro Preto for gemstones, the place to head to is Praca Tiradentes. Browse through several shops selling a dazzling array of gemstones and jewellery. Do look around for the famous – and rare – Imperial Topaz. The rare and extraordinary Imperial Topaz, characteristically shaded in pink, mauve or peach comes from here. Also known as ‘precious topaz’, this stone was named in honour of the Brazilian royalty who greatly valued its magnificent, liquid-gold beauty. Thanks to their rarity, fine Imperial Pink Topaz and other typical Imperial Topaz colours are an expensive buy.

 

Pedras preciosas, Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais

Soap stone fair

Soapstone is quarried in Santa Rita de Ouro Preto , 28 km from the city. Artisans use this as raw material to produce beautiful carvings and imitations of Aleijadinho artefacts. Soapstone is a versatile material; Ouro Preto’s souvenir shops are replete with bric-a-brac made of soapstone that combine beauty with utility, such as jars, ashtrays, tableware, boxes and ashtray. This stoneware comes in several colours – soft greys, whites and browns to vibrant greens and orange.

Also check out the daily handicraft market for interesting soapstone products. Watch local craftsmen engaged in their trade at Largo do Coimbra, near Igreja de Sao Francisco de Assis.

Other shops

Shopping in Ouro Preto is not only about gems and soapstone; there are plenty of other options for tourists. If you’re short of time and wish to pick up gifts and souvenirs in one shot, the place to go is Bobadela (Da Direita) Street, where a glittering variety of shops await your patronage. Besides the inevitable gemstone outlets, you’ll find a vast range of locally made handicrafts and other products, ranging from blankets to ethnic dolls.

Artesanato em pedra sabão

When shopping for jewellery in Ouro Preto, you’ll realize that it’s nearly impossible to find a perfectly matched pair of Imperial Topaz colours like pink, salmon or sherry. Here’s a good tip: if you do come across a pair of matching earrings, you are extraordinarily lucky. Buy them, as the chances of your finding another such pair are very slim, no matter how much you are prepared to pay.

Ouro Preto is the world’s single largest source of high quality pegmatite, the igneous crystalline rock that yields gem minerals such as topaz, garnets and tourmalines. Sources of pegmatite from other regions of the world, like the Urals, Pakistan , Sri Lanka , Myanmar and the United States together do not equal what’s available in Ouro Preto. It’s no wonder then that Ouro Preto is an important trade hub for precious stones and jewellery.

Topázio Imperial, Ouro PretoLocal artisans use soapstone to create a variety of products like table ware, vases, ashtrays and jewellery boxes. These are sold in the city and the adjacent district of Santa Rita .

This Ouro Preto Shopping Guide will tell you the best places to shop, as well as what to shop for. Check out our Brazil Shopping Guide for some general information about shopping in Brazil. Also check out our Ouro Preto Restaurant Guide for suggestions on where to find a great meal whilst shopping for that perfect souvenir.

Ouro Preto Shopping Guide

Gemstones

While shopping in Ouro Preto for gemstones, the place to head to is Praca Tiradentes. Browse through several shops selling a dazzling array of gemstones and jewellery. Do look around for the famous – and rare – Imperial Topaz. The rare and extraordinary Imperial Topaz, characteristically shaded in pink, mauve or peach comes from here. Also known as ‘precious topaz’, this stone was named in honour of the Brazilian royalty who greatly valued its magnificent, liquid-gold beauty. Thanks to their rarity, fine Imperial Pink Topaz and other typical Imperial Topaz colours are an expensive buy.

Visit with us the traditional jewellery producers in an unforgettable tour.

Pedras preciosas, Ouro Preto, Minas GeraisSoap stone fair

Soapstone is quarried in Santa Rita de Ouro Preto , 28 km from the city. Artisans use this as raw material to produce beautiful carvings and imitations of Aleijadinho artefacts. Soapstone is a versatile material; Ouro Preto’s souvenir shops are replete with bric-a-brac made of soapstone that combine beauty with utility, such as jars, ashtrays, tableware, boxes and ashtray. This stoneware comes in several colours – soft greys, whites and browns to vibrant greens and orange.

Also check out the daily handicraft market for interesting soapstone products. Watch local craftsmen engaged in their trade at Largo do Coimbra, near Igreja de Sao Francisco de Assis.

Other shops

Shopping in Ouro Preto is not only about gems and soapstone; there are plenty of other options for tourists. If you’re short of time and wish to pick up gifts and souvenirs in one shot, the place to go is Bobadela (Da Direita) Street, where a glittering variety of shops await your patronage. Besides the inevitable gemstone outlets, you’ll find a vast range of locally made handicrafts and other products, ranging from blankets to ethnic dolls.

Artesanato em pedra sabãoWhen shopping for jewellery in Ouro Preto, you’ll realize that it’s nearly impossible to find a perfectly matched pair of Imperial Topaz colours like pink, salmon or sherry. Here’s a good tip: if you do come across a pair of matching earrings, you are extraordinarily lucky. Buy them, as the chances of your finding another such pair are very slim, no matter how much you are prepared to pay.