Ecuador's Enchanted Islands:

2018 Galapagos Cruises

Just six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador lie the Galapagos Islands, a living laboratory of evolution and home to some of the world?rest species. Flightless cormorants, blue-footed boobies, marine and land iguanas and giant tortoises all coexist freely as they did thousands of years ago within this group of thirteen major islands and dozens of small islets.

Now in the twentieth century you can discover these fascinating islands with their rich variety of landscapes, interesting lava formations, vast sand beaches, remarkable fearless animals and natural beauty, still untouched by man. A Galapagos Islands cruise is a life changing experience!

Galapagos, Inc. has been promoting travel to the Galapagos since 1978. Visit their website to find the once-in-a-lifetime excursion that's perfect for you.

Galapagos, Inc.

Brazil City by City

Belo Horizonte

Belo Horizonte (Portuguese for "Beautiful Horizon") is Brazil's third largest city (pop. 2.4 million), and the capital of the state of Minas Gerais (General Mines), named for the area's great mineral wealth.

Founded in 1897, the continually developing city owes its exceptional growth to mining, industry and commerce. The city was among the first of Brazil's planned, modern municipalities and is a hub of Brazilian surface transportation with highways leading to Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Brasilia and Salvador.

Located in the Sierra do Espinaço mountain range, Belo Horizonte has clean, tree-lined streets and friendly neighborhoods. Safer and more conservative than most large Brazilian cities, "Belo" is a pleasant place to visit any time of year due to its moderate, year 'round climate with highs in the mid 70s to low 80s and lows in the 60s.

The city's popular Pampulha suburb is home to the Pampulha Architectural Complex. Designed by the city's mayor and Brazil's future president, Juscelino Kubitschek, to be a leisure and tourist mecca, the area provides an early glimpse of the modern styles that would one day shape the country's new capital, Brasilia. In Pampulha you'll find early examples of famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer's designs along the shore of a 10-mile artificial lake. Buildings include a casino now the Museum of Modern Art, a dance hall, yacht club, and the Church of San Francisco, considered one of Neimeyer's most important works. Inside are frescoes by Candido Portinari, famous Brazilian modernist.

Modern shopping malls and small neighborhood shops stock something for everyone. The city's gem shops feature dazzling arrays of gems, jewelry and stone-carved works of art. A visit to the city's Museum of Mines, facing Liberty Square, is a must. Glass cases are filled with every variety of gem and mineral, both from within Brazil and abroad. The natural formations of many specimens, including geodes of all sizes, are spectacular.

Belo Horizonte is the gateway to several of Brazil's most historic, colonial cities. Often called the "gold cities," these baroque towns remain much as they were during the gold rush period of the mid 1700s.

About 90 minutes from Belo is Ouro Preto (Black Gold) where an authentic 18th century atmosphere survives complete with monumental fountains, colonial mansions, flaming bougainvillea, and 13 classic Jesuit baroque churches. This former capital of Minas Gerais state, and a World Heritage site, is a popular stop for tourists. Most points of interest are within walking distance of each other and gem shops displaying the region's many varieties of semi-precious stone line the central plaza.

The 1988 movie "Moon Over Parador" was partly filmed in this town that becomes a photographer's dream each morning and evening as the light moves across buildings clinging to the hillsides. A wide range of handicrafts and a stoneware market make this a shopper's paradise. Pack light for a trip to this area - the souvenirs can get heavy.

A half hour from Ouro Preto lies the city of Congonhas which has lost the old-time charm of other gold cities but is still an important stop. The colonial church overlooking the city features works by Brazil's most famed sculptor, Antonio Francisco Lisboa, nicknamed Aleijadinho ("Little Cripple"). In addition to his life-sized statues of 12 Old Testament prophets carved in soapstone at the entrance to the Bom Jesus do Congonhas church, seven small chapels contain carvings depicting the stations of the cross carved by Aleijadinho and painted by Brazilian painter Ataide in the late 1700s.

Other towns dot the landscape with varying degrees of historic preservation. The mineral spa towns on the water circuit offer mental, physical and spiritual rejuvenation. The fresh air and beautiful landscapes of these cities go far to relieve the stress of everyday life. However, drinking the healing waters is not recommended -- it can lead to problems travelers try hard to avoid.

The local cuisine of Belo Horizonte and the rest of Minas Gerais state consists of hearty dishes with loads of distinctive flavor. The mineral-rich soil is not good for growing crops, so produce is trucked in from other areas and salads and vegetables are limited. Meat and starch are the staples. Buffets, either price-fixed or by the pound, are common. Heavy black pots over open flames or burners contain main dishes made with beef, pork or chicken in gravy or sauce, usually with onions, okra or greens. Rice and beans are common as are other starches including manioc, which is sometimes pureed with beans. It's fun to try a little of everything and amazing how the different tastes marry on the plate to become a unique dining experience. Although Brazilian wines have come a long way in the past few years, beer is still the drink of choice with meals. The Caipirinha is Brazil's national drink of crushed limes, sugar and cachaça (sugarcane liquor) and the state of Minas Gerais is home of Brazil's finest cachaça.

Belo Horizonte and the Minas Gerais state are well worth a visit. The people are friendly, the streets are clean and safe, the food is good and can be very inexpensive, lodging is world class and the surrounding area is beautiful and historic. It's truly the place to discover the Golden Age of Brazil.

Costa Rica Coast to Coast...


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