Estrada Real in Minas Gerais, one of the most famous cultural road trips in Brazil

  • Type of road trip: cultural road trip (colonial towns, rococo churches, baroque).
  • Quality road: Unpaved but generally well-maintained.
  • Time to drive: Accessible all year.
  • Accommodation or Camping: All towns have guesthouses and a lot of rough camping opportunities along the way.

The Estrada Real, or the Royal Road, runs from Diamantina, some 250 kms north of Belo Horizonte, down to Paraty lying along the coast west of Rio de Janeiro. The road meanders mainly through the state of Minas Gerais with a variety of natural beauties. Along the road, you can find great places for rough camping as well as marveled at the rich historical heritage that is visible in some dozen exquisite colonial towns.

That gold was discovered here in the late 17th century resulted in a gold rush of unprecedented proportions. By the middle of the 18th century, the mines were turning out half the supply of gold in the whole world. The wealth generated during this period of time bought the services of the best current artisans and artists and filled the towns with magnificent baroque architecture, government buildings, churches, and chapels.

For those who only have limited time and want to focus on the central part, from Ouro Preto to Caxambu, there have so many picturesque towns and dozens of baroque and rococo churches with the best-known town Ouro Preto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ouro Preto is perfect destination for a stay of a few days since you will have time to explore its atmospheric center, steep streets, as well as awe-inspiring churches. In terms of places to eat, you should try Contos de Réis restaurant and Bené da Flauta restaurant (next to the San Francis de Assisi church) that serve local specialties in cosy surroundings.

Paraty and Diamantina are more than worth a visit and don’t mind driving those additional kilometers. Try visiting Diamantina on a Saturday evening between May and October when a big-band concert is held with the musicians playing from the balconies around the plaza.