The Estrada Real (or Royal Road) is a historic routes series in Brazil. It spans the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Minas Gerais. These roads (a total of 1,600km in length) was built in the 17th/18th centuries by the Portuguese colonists.
They were used to transport diamonds, gold, and other minerals in the hinterland of Minas Gerais to the Atlantic coast’s ports such as Rio de Janeiro, as well as to Portugal. The Minas gold rush, having brought much wealth to Portugal and financing the Industrial Revolution in England, led to towns along the roads with the construction of mansions, ornate government buildings, and elaborate baroque churches.
These days, the Estrada Real is the only way for visitors to explore the lush nature and rich cultural and historical legacy in this part of the country.
- Quality: Unpaved but generally well-maintained.
- When to drive: Accessible all months of year.
- Accommodation / Camping: All towns have guesthouses and lots of rough camping opportunities.
The Estrada Real runs from Diamantina, about 250 kms north of Belo Horizonte, then splits into two roads: one ends in Rio de Janeiro and the other continues to Paraty in São Paulo. The road has much natural beauty and meanders mainly through the state of Minas Gerais. You can find great places for rough camping at the rich historical heritage in some exquisite colonial towns.
If you don’t have much time, you might want to focus on the central part of the road, from Ouro Preto to Caxambu, with a lot of picturesque towns and dozens of rococo and baroque churches. One of the best-known town is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Ouro Preto.
Paraty and Diamantina are really more than worth a visit so don’t mind driving those additional kilometers. You should visit Diamantina on a Saturday evening from May to October to attend a big-band concert taking place with the musicians playing from the balconies around the plaza.