Ouro Preto and the gold rush

Last modified 19.03.2022 | Published 08.10.19871980's, Brazil, South America, Travelogue

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Ouro Preto was the centre of the 18th century gold rush. We also visited nearby Mariana before continuing our journey to Belo Horizonte.

This article is part of a travelogue from of a five month journey in 1987-1988 to several countries in South AmericaBrazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile.


Tuesday 06.10.1987, Ouro Preto

Getting there

The bus trip from Rio de Janeiro to Ouro Preto went well. We slept part of the night and arrived at seven in the morning, an hour and a half before time. The sunrise over the green, rolling hills was great.

We were met on the bus station by two guys who had accommodation to offer. One of them, an American with an obvious traveller background, looked alright but his room rate was a bit stiff we thought. 300 (5 USD) a person was too much for our budget. The other guy had a place for 250.

We received business cards from both of them and took a bus downtown to kind of check out other hotels first. Unfortunately the bus went too far and we didn’t really know where to get off. At the end we jumped off at a mine on the outskirts of town and took another bus back to the praça – alright sightseeing at least. The hotels here are in general very expensive, several of them would cost us more than a 1000 Cz$ (16.6 USD) and we ended up at the pousada of the American. It was a success!

  • Pousada & Galeria Panorama Barroco, Rua Conselheiro Quintitiano 722. Phone (031) 551-3366. 300 (5 USD) per person in (for our part) a three-bed room including a double bed. Not many visitors for the time being. Communal bath and shower. Possibilities for laundry (one machine 100 cruzados). Clean and very good. Very good breakfast as well. Map.

The hostel has atmosphere and a relaxed style. As it is partly a gallery the handicrafts add to the distinction of the place. For the first time we met other travellers and it was splendid – not least considering the exchange of information and impressions. The hostel has music and video films in the evening.


About the town

Ouro Preto (meaning black gold) is a very well preserved colonial town with a past in the mining of various minerals. This has left its mark on the town in at least three ways.

First, the Portuguese style colonial architecture is fascinating with old white chalked brick buildings under weary roof tiles. Churches and museums bear witness to times when religious faith led to the building of houses of worship of great splendour and to decorations on every little hilltop and square.

Secondly, there are plenty of mountains and hilltops in the area to dig into. This makes the town very hilly to move about in. I have rarely seen steeper streets. The thoughts easily go to cars with failing breaks and to pedestrians with slippery shoes on the wet cobbled stone streets.

Thirdly, the town’s past has had profound effect on contemporary business life. We were not only approached on the streets by sellers offering their wonderful stones, but also a large number of the shops had specialised in this kind of goods. Furthermore tourists pour in, luckily without making the town less exciting. 

It seems that we arrived out of season – many of the restaurants are closed.

On the praça there is a very interesting museum with gems and the kind from the state of Minas Geraisand elsewhere in the world. There are entrance fees (10-20 cruzados) to most churches and sights.

Wednesday 07.10.1987, Ouro Preto – Mariana

After an excuisite breakfast at the pousada with homemade bread, tea, butter, honey, cheese and cake, we visited two higly decorated churches, the latter also with a museum: Santa Efigênia and Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Conceição. Recommended.

We then took a bus to the neighbouring town of Mariana (11 Cz$, (0.2 USD) 0.5 h) only 12 km away. Midway we passed by a gold mine. Mariana proved to contain some of the colonial style as in Ouro Preto but not quite as much and impressive. The flatter landscape is a plus however.

Bo asked three youngsters to take their picture. That was alright. One (and a half) of them spoke French. He had worked as a guide and was hoping to go to France in 10-15 years if and when he could afford it. Bo excelled in communicating with him and I was able to understand most of it.

Tomorrow we intend to take the bus to Belo Horizonte and continue from there into the country – and the continent to Cuiabà. Now our journey really commences. The distance from Belo Horizonte to Cuiabà is 26 hours – considerable.

We have been able to wash our clothes. They became clean and we now feel well just to put them on. Unfortunately we contracted slightly loose stools, possibly from the pizza in the evening.


Thursday 08.10.1987, Ouro Preto – Belo Horizonte

Getting there

There are quite a few buses a day between Ouro Preto and Belo Horizonte. We took the 1130 morning bus (2 hrs.). On the way we had a full understanding of why this state is called Minas Gerais (“general mines”) and why half of Brazil’s minerals come from here. The surface of the mountain sides were often completely removed as a consequence of all the open-pit mining activity.

Besides this it was shocking to see how the wide, green, rolling hills were devoid of animals. This appeared to us as a sign of Brazilian lack of initiative and ideas.

Belo Horizonte, meaning good / beautiful horizon, welcomed us with heavy industrial plants and large residential block buildings. Where’s the horizon?

Our intention was to continue tonight already on the eight o’clock bus. The company serving Cuiabá (0800 and 2000) was unfortunately sold-out. We examined and rejected the alternative detour route via Campo Grande, and bought a ticket to Cuiabá tomorrow morning. The ticket price had gone up by 5 USD compared to our guidebook, and cost us as much as 1015 Cz$ (17 USD).

Our guidebook, the South American Handbook, mentioned the following hotel which we booked into for the night.

  • Hotel Magnata, Rua dos Guaranis 124, 5-10 minutes walk from the bus station. 360 Cruzados (4 USD) for a double with twin beds and bathroom in the corridor. Breakfast included. Fair enough. Map.


About the town

The city seemed to be made with a plan, at least the central streets. The map we got at the information office at the bus station showed strait streets with avenues diagonally across. On the outskirts we noticed poor houses – slum.

The centre was pleasant and green and had an interesting handicraft market in the Libertad Park on Thursdays.

We had language problems ordering food in a local joint but it went well in the end.


Read more

The next chapter: The next legs of our journey brought us into the vast interior of Brazil. Key words are deforestation, gold rush and long stretches on bus.

Read the introduction to this journey 

View a full screen map of the journey 

Click to view my entry about the Historic Town of Ouro Preto, the World Heritage Site