Until 1763, Salvador served as the first capital of Brazil and is widely regarded as the center of colonial architecture in the country. The most famous area of Salvador, known as Pelourinho, has a network of sweeping avenues lined with towering pink, yellow and purple buildings finished with elegant white trims. The main plaza in Pelourinho opens up to a pretty fountain and down the adjacent alley is the Church and Convent of Sao Francisco, a postcard-worthy scene and one of the most beautiful buildings in all of the state of Bahia.
Sometimes referred to as the sister city of Salvador, Olinda shares the bright, pleasing architecture of Salvador in a more condensed, calmer fashion. Olinda is a coastal city just north of Recife, in the state of Pernambuco. Its historical center was labelled a UNESCO Heritage Site back in 1982, three years before Salvador. With a relatively modest population, you can explore this area of Olinda in a peaceful fashion, taking time to gaze at the intriguing buildings and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of nature, trees and greenery.
Directly west of the Parana state capital of Curitiba is the sleepy historic town of Morretes. One of the most popular tourist destinations in Parana, little Morretes has not only a historic past, but also an old-fashioned way of traveling. From Curitiba, board an old steam train that chugs its way through the lush countryside of Parana right into the center of Morretes where you can disembark and explore.
No Brazil bucket list is complete without the state of Rio de Janeiro making its voice heard. But few know that Rio offers more than beaches, there is also the historic town of Paraty. Founded in 1597, the town was established in 1667 by the Portuguese who implemented their building techniques and styles into the homes, cathedral and streets. The streets and paths are very tight, which create shady walkways to shield from the hot sun, and many of the buildings sport an overhanging roof providing extra shade for the walkers below. The streets, made of sand and enormous stones, have sunken centers that show the history of centuries of feet and animals’ hooves that have passed over. With the jungle at one end and the ocean at the other, Paraty is simply a mesmerizing place.
Sitting alone in the flat lands of Brazil, four hours directly west of Brasilia, is one of the country’s most enchanting and somewhat forgotten historic masterpieces. Although it’s not the state’s capital, the town known as Goiás Velho is the historic heart of the Goiás state. The town feels like everyone departed when the state’s capital was moved to Goiana, giving Goiás Velho a very ‘caught in the past’ feel about it. The town was named a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2001.
Halfway between the town of Goiás and the nation’s capital is a small village known as Pirenópolis. Founded in 1727, the architecture in Pirenopolis has been maintained in its original style with just enough weathering to give a comforting feel. The streets consist of thousands of hand-laid rectangular pieces of dark rock, and the sidewalks are made from large slabs wedged together. The modest houses that line the street are all white, beige or pale brown with beautiful trims and traditional clay shingled roofs.
During the early colonization of Brazil, the state of Minas Gerais enjoyed a very wealthy era. Literally translating to ‘General Mines’, Minas Gerais was the richest area of Brazil, and the architecture that sprung up in that era is a result of that. Established in 1696, Mariana was initially the capital of Minas Gerais, and is also the oldest city in the state. A stroll through the city will make you feel that you are travelling back in time. The stunning old white buildings are finished with gorgeous balconies, beautiful trims around the doors and windows, all in different colors from one building to another. The main attractions are the plaza near Catedral de Se and the cathedral itself.
Referencing the early diamond industry, Diamantina also benefited from the wealth of early mining ventures in Brazil. The city is a perfect display of Portuguese Baroque style of architecture and has been listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site since its induction in 1999. The city is located on a gradual slope, which allows visitors to wander upwards through tight avenues in order to get a terrific view over the colorful rooftops.
The most famous colonial town in Minas Gerais is popular for a reason. Ouro Preto (or “Black Gold”) is a pristine, colorful, colonial town surrounded by nature in the southeast corner of the state. The most easily accessible town from the coast of Brazil, Ouro Preto still has an authentic feel about it, even though it sees hordes of awestruck tourists each year. The main plaza, Praca Tiradentes, is a highlight, with a beautiful obelisk on one side and the historic Museo de la Inconfidencia building on the other.