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- 13 Dec 2019, 3 nights
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Tucked away in the Minas Gerais valley in the Serra do Espinhaço mountains, you'll find the surprisingly grand hillside town of Ouro Preto. It sprang up in the 17th century and quickly rose to prominence as the centre of Brazil's gold rush, which brought wealth and the traditional colonial architecture the town is known for. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, its steep cobbled streets, Baroque buildings and surrounding green hills make for a photo opportunity unlike any other.
There are Ouro Preto hostels in the historic centre, just moments from the main attractions. Many places have outdoor gardens or terraces for watching the mountain sunset with a beer in hand, while others put on social events like pizza nights where you can mix and mingle. If you're an animal lover, you can even stay in a hostel in Ouro Preto with its own cat. Lots of hostels have en-suite rooms and plenty have free linen too.
Ouro Preto is one of six mountain towns in the area. You'll find history around every corner in this unspoiled 17th-century location, but the neighbourhood of Bauxita is where you'll find the more modern university and student population. Get ready to party here at the weekends. Belo Horizonte, 2 hours away, is the state's capital and is the closest thing to big city living in the region, still backed by the verdant mountains. The 17th-century town of Mariana is accessible via the Mariana Pass (the views alone are worth the journey) and easy to explore on foot.
There are lots of hiking opportunities around Ouro Preto. Itacolomi State Park has trails including the highest peak in the region, plus a swimming lake and rushing waterfalls. Take a tour of the Mina du Veloso to explore the town's former gold-mining industry, with 400m of tunnels. Set inside the town's old jail, the Museu da Inconfidência chronicles the failed independence revolution of 1789. You can take in history and culture all at once with the São Francisco de Assis church, which was designed by famous Brazilian Baroque architect Aleijadinho and built in 1768.
In Ouro Preto centre, the steep hills make it tricky for vehicles, so walking is often the easiest way to get around. Buses will take you to the outskirts and to local towns. Tancredo Neves International Airport is the nearest if you're flying. It's between 3 and 4 hours on a bus from here to Ouro Preto.