Belo Horizonte

View of Praça do Papa from the Serra do Curral

Belo Horizonte is Brazil's third-largest city and the capital of the state of Minas Gerais. With its orderly grid plan and tree-lined avenues, it's a pleasant metropolis. For travelers, it's a good stopping point on the way to the beautiful colonial towns such as Ouro Preto and Tiradentes.

Understand

Founded in 1897, Belo Horizonte (or simply "BH" (beh-ah-GAH) to locals) is a little over a century old. With a metropolitan population reaching more than 5 million (edging out Salvador), it was built as a planned city to take the place of Ouro Preto as the state's capital. Its layout features square sections delineated by broad avenues, intersected diagonally by smaller streets.

The city lies in the center of the Minas Gerais state, and was intended to bring together the many parts of this very diverse state.

Get in

By bus

BH is a major national hub for bus travel. The bus terminal rodoviária is located downtown at the northern end of Afonso Pena Avenue. Approximate travel times from other capitals:

By plane

BH is served by two airports:

By car

You can safely drive to Belo Horizonte from major Brazilian cities, including São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and Vitoria. You have to pay toll on the roads from Rio de Janeiro and from São Paulo. All major car rental companies can be found in Brazil. You can also drive from/to the historical cities of Minas Gerais, like Ouro Preto, Tiradentes, Diamantina, São João del Rey, Mariana and others. The roads and the city of Belo Horizonte are GPS mapped. Be sure that the GPS contains the latest version of the maps.

By train

Belo Horizonte is one of very few Brazilian cities with a scheduled long-distance train service. A daily train operated by minng giant Vale connects with Vitória, the seaside capital of Espírito Santo state, taking about 12 hours. The central station,   Estação Central, is located in the city centre on Av. dos Andradas.

Get around

On foot

If you plan to get around the city center on foot, you might want to take a map. Because the city grid is laid out with both ordinal and diagonal streets, it is very easy to take a wrong turn. Also, the land where the city was built has plenty of hills, so one should wear comfortable shoes to go up and down the streets. At night, stay on the main avenues and streets for safety, because it can be dangerous.

By bus

BH is well served by buses. The SC buses circulate through the downtown area; others serve outlying neighborhoods.

To pay the bus tariff, you can use cash, or the electronic billing card (Cartão BHBUS). For the tourist, its recommended to use cash, by the way...

The buses are color-coded:

Some companies sometimes use temporary replacements buses with the wrong color, so even thought the colors can help, always pay attention to the line number.

If you are outside the downtown area (and wish to go there), take a blue bus headed in that direction. As there is no bus map, remember its number to find your way back. Keep in mind that the return route may be on a different street than where you got off. Check BHTrans-Ônibus for more information on buses.

The buses are complicated and are excruciatingly slow and full during rush hours. Don't go anywhere by yourself without properly planning your itinerary first.

By train

The Metrô . snakes through the city, from Eldorado northeast to Vilarinho, tangential to the north side of downtown. Lagoinha Station is near the rodoviária (bus station), Gameleira Station is near the ExpoMinas Convention Center and Minas Shopping Station is near the Mall of the same name and Ouro Minas Palace Hotel. Unfortunately, unlike subways in developed countries or in São Paulo, the Metrô lines, even though connecting the two biggest cities in the metro area, Belo Horizonte and Contagem, do not cover most of the city and outside the stations can be dangerous (true for São Paulo's). New lines have been planned and when completed will connect downtown to Pampulha and Savassi, the two most visited neighborhoods.

The trains are useless for someone traveling. Take a taxi.

By taxi

Taxis inside the safe are generally considered very safe (if a bit expensive).

The main taxi companies in Belo Horizonte include Hutaxi, Jo Taxi, Intertaxi, Pitangui and Protaxi. Most cabs in Belo Horizonte are painted white - however, starting from 2012, there are some so-called "special" cabs which are black (and are marked as such). Inside the city, all cabs work with taximeters. However, in case of travelling to the countryside or others states, the fare can be discussed.

There are also radio taxis such as Coopertramo ((31) 3454-5757) which can be booked and the fare discussed beforehand. It's a common way of getting from the airport to the city and the other way around. They have boths in Confins airport. Their cars are all dark blue.

By car

You can rent cars at the Confins Airport or at Pampulha Airport. All major car rental companies, like Localiza and Hertz have booths at the airports. It is a long drive from Confins airport to downtown Belo Horizonte. Be sure to get a GPS with new maps, since there were some modifications on main avenues for the World Cup. You can also rent a car at other places around the city.

See

Pope Square
Nighttime view from the Alta Vila Tower
Parque Municipal

Note that a lot of places including museums, the parque municipal and the Mangueira park are closed on Mondays.

Buy

Eat

For a good sample of traditional mineira food, here are some options:

For great Brazilian food, here are some options:

For great international food, here are some options:

If your food tastes lean toward brown rice and tofu, try Bem Natural. This is both a snack bar with tuna and chicken sandwiches on whole wheat, and a por quilo buffet with stuffed tomatoes, vegetarian feijoada, and brown rice. There are four locations in BH:

Drink

Beware: Brazilian law regulates that you can't drive if you have more than 0.2g/l of alcohol in your blood. It used to be 0.6g/l, and the new law is commonly referred to as the "dry law". If you drink, take extra care if you're going to drive through big avenues or through places crowded with bars. If you ever get caught by an officer while drinking and driving, treat the policeman with respect and calmly refuse to take the breathalyzer test—you are not obligated to generate evidence against yourself. You are going to be charged anyway, but they will only have the testimony of the officer(s). Of course, the safest thing to do if you drink is not to drive afterwards. There are usually plenty of taxis in front of popular bars during peak hours.

Sleep

Major high-rise hotels are generally on Av. Afonso Pena or at Savassi neighborhood, while mid-range and budget accommodations are clustered around the train station.

Budget

Mid-range

Stay healthy

To keep hydrated, drink bottled water or water from drinking fountains, usually located at malls.

Tap water provided by COPASA (sole provider for the city) is regarded as fully potable (filtered, sterilized, PH controlled and fluoridated), but it is important to note that due to historical unreliability of water supply in Brazil, the vast majority of buildings have water tanks, so even if it is provided by COPASA, if you are unsure of the sanitary conditions of the building water tank, you should avoid drinking it before filtering, boiling or ozonizing it.

Even though bottled water in Brazil is labeled as “mineral water”, you should be careful and use good sense when buying it. Cases of tap water and untreated water being bottled and labeled as “mineral” are not uncommon. Always check the color of the water, the general aspect of the bottle and the seal. Some Brazilians are used to untreated water but it is very likely that tourists will have serious issues with it, including diarrhea, vomits, fever, headaches and muscular pain. It is usually safer to drink COPASA tap water then bootleg bottled water. Free healthcare is widely available, but waiting times may be long (even on minor emergencies), for non urgent cases go to the free “Posto de Saúde” near where you are staying (there are plenty all over the city). Private hospitals usually have faster service and better facilities and you can pay your treatment with either cash or with your insurance. Check with your insurance company the hospitals and clinics covered beforehand. If you have any allergies or known health problems, it is wise to learn some Portuguese words to describe it as it is very likely most of the hospital staff won’t speak English except for more qualified MDs, nurses and social workers. Although you might not see any initial difference, nurses are divided into “college nurses”, “technical nurses” and “auxiliary nurses”. You are more likely to find an English speaker among the college nurses (they are called Enfermeira or Enfermeiro and usually act as sector supervisors in a hospital).

Belo Horizonte can get very hot during summer, so avoid staying out in the sun for too long, specially between 10AM and 3PM. Even though it is not on the coast, sunscreen is advisable, especially if you have light skin.

Public restrooms can be found at malls and public buildings. A small fee may apply. Also, bars and restaurants are required by law to have a restroom available to its customers, but even if you are not buying anything, just ask nicely and they will let you use it.

Smoking in Belo Horizonte is banned from closed buildings. This includes malls, restaurants, bars (except if you are sitting outside), clubs, public buildings, airports and others. Smoking has been increasingly regarded as a bad habit and even on the sidewalk people might get annoyed by it, so it is best to smoke privately or away from non smokers.

Stay safe

When crossing the street, watch for motorcycles, which can appear out of nowhere and sometimes ignore stop signs. At some intersections with divided streets, you can cross only one side at once.

Minas has both the military police (polícia militar) who are the enforcers of the law at street level, however not linked to the Brazilian Military and the civilian police (polícia civil) who conduct further investigations like the British CID. Note, though, that most officers don't even have a knowledge of basic English. The uniform of the Minas Gerais state military police is brown.

The emergency number (by which you can reach the military police) is 190.

The city has its own police, the Municipal Guard, the uniform is blue and officers are found in parks, near monuments, schools, hospitals.

The city has seen a recent surge on crime related to drugs. It is wise to avoid walking alone at night or carrying expensive electronics such as cameras, notebooks, iPods or jewelry. It is not uncommon to be mugged at traffic lights or walking during the day or night. Despite Brazil's huge ethnic diversity, tourists can be easily identified by bad guys as people who carry electronics carelessly and seem to be always wondering where are they going. Be discreet.

If someone mugs you, don't react. Your life is worth more than a hundred dollars.

Connect

By net

There are many LAN Houses and Cyber Cafés throughout the city, even inside Shopping Malls, so checking your e-mails or browsing the internet won't be a problem. Rates go from R$2 to R$5 per hour.

By phone

The area code for Belo Horizonte is 31. The code for Oi, the phone company that runs most of the phone booths in the city, is also 31. So to call Belo from outside using Oi, you dial 031 31 and the desired number, for example: from São Paulo to Belo, dial 03131 xxxx-xxxx. But to make a local call, you don't have to dial 31 at all, just the eight digits. Sometimes, it depends, because there are many other cities surrounding Belo, with the same area code, so you might be dialling the long distance code, using 31. Dialing from or to Ouro Preto, to or from Belo, you need to dial 03131 xxxx-xxxx. There are other long distance companies codes available, which can be used to make calls, such as Embratel (21), Intelig (23), which provides long distance calls with suitable rates, to or from Brazil, and to other countries.

Cope

Belo Horizonte has a good network of hospitals. The main hospital area of the city is located downtown, close to the Municipal Park, where it is possible to find lots of healthcare institutions such as hospitals, clinics, and laboratories.

Public hospitals

Private hospitals

Drug stores

Araújo Drugstore - +55 31 3270-5000

Onofre Drugstore - +55 31 3115-1515

Pacheco Drugstore - +55 31 3489-1300

Droga Raia - 0800 774 4040

Free rescue and ambulance service

This can be requested by a free call to one of two instituitions: SAMU (the acronym for the health emergency service) - Phone: 192 or Fire Department - Phone: 193 .

Go next

Belo Horizonte is an entryway to many of the country's most important colonial towns:

Belo Horizonte is an entryway to the following other sights:

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, January 08, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.