“Am I in Europe?” This was what I first thought when visiting the city of Curitiba in the Southern Brazilian state of Parana. Much of Southern Brazil (the state of Parana, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul) feels that way because over the last 150 years it has become a melting pot of European cultures. It is evident in the architecture, celebrations, food, and people – it is really White compared to the rest of the country.
The region is so different in fact, that there is an entire separatist movement, a la Brexit, unfolding. You can read all about how that is going in my paper.
I had a chance to visit the city and some surrounding areas in May 2018. I boarded a tour bus for 45 BRL and it was the best in the whole country. The bus drives to 25 sites throughout the city and with your ticket, you are allowed to hop off at five locations. Below is my all-inclusive guide to the city, including the bus route and all the stops, so you can choose where to go for yourself.
Operating Hours: 9 AM – 8 PM, every day
Est. Duration: 2 hours (without stops), full day (with stops)
Entrance Fee: 45 Brazilian reais (BRL) cash; pay during boarding
In this historic town square, the city of Curitiba was born. The first municipal elections were held here in 1693 and later that year, construction of the large cathedral began.
Rua das Flores
Created in 1972, this flowered pedestrian street is a popular spot for nightlife, restaurants, and shopping. Fun fact: It is Brazil’s first boardwalk!
Rua 24 Horas
When it was opened in 1971, this beautiful all-glass shopping mall worked around the clock. It now closes at 10 every night but is still a great place to for local artwork and food.
A small museum dedicated to the former train station located there over a century ago. It features small replicas of trains and gadgets from the time – superb for any engineering or train aficionado!
This structure was built as a gun arsenal but repurposed as a theatre during the cultural revolution of the 70s. You can still catch shows there today!
Modeled after the vast royal gardens of France, Curitiba’s gardens are a great romantic getaway. They hold flora local to the region as well from all over Brazil. The central greenhouse makes for beautiful picture backdrops – one lady actually had her pregnancy photo shoot while I was there and she looked like a goddess.
Get a taste (literally) of the regional food scene by visiting the Municipal Market. Since Curitiba is an international city you can get delicious from other countries as well. This is also the go-to spot for finding the perfect souvenirs.
This state university was established in 1912 as Brazil’s first university. More than 35,000 students from all over the world go here to partake in its more than 100 programs.
Built in 1916, this palace served as Curitiba’s first city hall before it was moved to a larger, modern building.
Commemorating Curitiba’s diversity, this memorial was opened in 1996 to honor the large Middle Eastern population. Inside the space is a library with books of Arab culture and Islamic religion.
These buildings have been home to the Curitiba parliament since 1953.
Oscar Niemeyer Museum
This odd-looking building was opened in 2002 to honor Oscar Niemeyer, an architect with a knack for odd-looking buildings, whose influence can be seen all over Brazil. The space holds exhibits of modern art and film screenings.
The Polish community, which first immigrated to Curitiba in 1871, has had a major influence in the city. A memorial to their contributions was constructed for the visit of Pope John Paul II (of Polish origins) in 1980.
The city’s German community is also commemorated by this memorial which was built on the farm of an influential German family.
Free University of the Environment
As a city of many firsts, of course, Curitiba opened the world’s first university that is solely dedicated to environmental preservation in 1992.
St. Lawrence Park
A quiet park with running trails, a lake and that is completely enveloped by nature.
Wire Opera House
A one of a kind structure! This opera house is built entirely of metal tubes (hence the name) and glass. The transparency of the building opens it up to the beauty of the surrounding lakes, trees, and waterfall. The lower floor features a chill bar.
Another beautiful surrounded by large fountains, streams, and waterfalls. Its most recognizable feature is the large overlook that looms over a lake and the countryside below.
This park retains the culture of the local Guarani indigenous tribe. It is the perfect place to visit if you want some ideas as to what the area looked like before colonization.
This memorial to the Ukrainian community is a replica of Saint Michael’s Church, located in the mountains of Ukraine.
This door, which replicates Italian architecture, marks the entrance to the local Italian neighborhood, Santa Felicidade.
This colony started by Italian immigrants in 1878 is renowned for its gastronomy and well-preserved architecture.
The city’s “Central Park”, it offers amazing views of the city and the opportunity to walk amongst the free-range animals that call it home.
At 110 meter high, this telephone tower offers the only 360° views of the city.
Old Town Square
Brazil’s as Catholic as they come and this becomes evident at the old town square, which is surrounded by ancient churches.
Hopefully, I have convinced you that Curitiba is a must see place. Some of these are sights you would not even get in cities like Rio or São Paulo. I am not saying not to visit the other cities, but do make sure to stop at Curitiba. Besides having its own charm, compared to the others, this city of 2 million is safe, cheap, and well equipped for tourists.
Curitiba additionally serves as a door into towns like Morettes and Paranagua, which you should visit if you want a well-rounded trip: beach (Paranagua), city (Curitiba), and nature (Morettes).
While I did not have the time to see Paranagua, I made a quick day trip to Morettes on what is one of the most beautiful rides you will take in Brazil. The Serra Verde Express is a train that goes through the mountains and valleys of the Atlantic Rainforest (the last remains of it). The ride is super relaxing, but still exciting with the diverse views it offers. The staff is super friendly and will provide great cultural and historical anecdotes throughout. The train ride is 4 hours from the depot in the center of Curitiba to the small, rural town of Morettes.
Morettes is a charming town at the base of the mountains and by a river. It retains a lot of its colonial history in its architecture, cobblestone sidewalks, and central fairs. While there you can shop for souvenirs, paddle boat on the river and my favorite – try the state dish: barreado. Barreado is a slow-cooked stew dish that is so yummy! I was given a meal for like two people but finished the whole thing by myself cause I would have been doing it a disservice. Be prepared to get sleepy afterward – I napped for 2 hours on the riverbank.
Tips on Getting There, Getting Around & Where to Stay
- Citizens of Canada, the European Union, South Africa, and most Latin-American countries can enter visa-free. Australians and Americans will need one prior to arrival.
- If you are flying in, there is a bus from the airport (CWB) that charges 50 BRL to take you into the city center.
- Take the local bus or Uber over a taxi. The taxis will recognize you as a foreigner and will upcharge.
- You can hop onto the tour bus at any of the stops. You do not need to start at Point #1. Make sure to look out for the “Linha Tourism” sign when looking for the correct stops.
- You will receive a map of the tour stops. Hang on to it to know when place close if you plan on re-visiting certain stops!
- Your day on the tour bus will allow you to see a lot, but do take another day to see the town center on foot.
- For lodging, stay in the city center. It is safe and close to most tourist sights, as well as nightlife and restaurants.
- If you choose to go to Morretes, Paranagua or both know the following about:
Departure Time: 8:30 AM from Curitiba, every day
Est. Duration: 4 hours to Morettes or 6 hours to Paranagua
Entrance Fee: 85 (no service), 119 BRL (drink/snack service) with cash or credit
Riding the Serra Verde once is enough – to come back to Curitiba or keep making your way to Paranagua you should take Viacao Gracias bus which is cheaper (usually 20 BRL) and make quicker trips (about 1 hour).
For a different side of Brazil, one that is slower and quieter, definitely visit Curitiba! While you are in the state of Parana, you should also go to nearby Iguazu Falls. I did and you can read all about the trip here. For a full photo album with all my pictures, go here.