Isolated but fabulous, Diamantina is one of Brazil’s best-preserved and least-visited colonial towns. Surrounded by desolate mountains, it was the most remote mining town in Minas and the starting point for the Estrada Real, the old road to the coast built with the sweat, blood and tears of thousands of African slaves. Diamantina’s fine mansions and winding streets haven’t changed much in the last 200 years. Designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1999, this cidade histórica is also the birthplace of Juscelino Kubitschek, former Brazilian president and founder of Brasília.
As with most mineiro cities, Diamantina is built on precipitous slopes. The bus station sits high on a bluff, so the 500m descent into town can be tough on the knees, and the return climb is a true workout. The central square is Praça Conselheiro Mota, dominated by Santo Antônio cathedral – both colloquially known as Sé.