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Curitiba, Brazil, is a melting pot with a really interesting history. First, were the Tupi-Guarani indigenous people of the region, then came the Portuguese, then in waves came the Germans, the Ukrainians, the Italians the Polish, the Russians, the Japanese, and countless other smaller groups of immigrants. Many were escaping poverty and persecution from their home countries rather than seeking out a new home for the fun of it, and so their mass migration and sense of community had a strong influence on the city we see today.
There were once a German area, an Italian area and so on, but over time the communities have mixed and merged to create a city that really stands out in its culture.
How to pronounce Curitiba: cu-ree-CHEE-bah
European architecture and modern street art blend perfectly together, and the centre of the city has lush parks from which to watch the world go by. Curitiba, Brazil’s first ‘green city’, continues to be its most sustainable. Initiatives such as dedicated green spaces, an integrated transport system and allowing people to exchange recyclable waste for bus coupons and food have propelled Curitiba into the lead on sustainability efforts.
Like many cities in Brazil, there is an obvious problem with homelessness and drug use, and there are a number of sketchy characters roaming the streets at all times. During the day this doesn’t feel like too much of a safety risk, though be alert if you’re walking alone. For us, it was a good warm-up before tackling Lapa in Rio de Janeiro. At night, we found that the centre and the area on the map called Jardim Botânico (not the botanical garden itself) feels pretty dodgy, so try to stick to lit areas.
The north of the centre feels a lot more safe and chilled. Uber works in Curitiba (Brazil considers it legal, unlike other countries in South America) and it’s very cheap, so it’s a very good option after dark.
Things to do in Curitiba, Brazil
For a relatively less-visited city, there’s actually a lot to do and see in Curitiba. The attractions are quite spread out, so we definitely found it useful to have our hire car. Even on a rainy day, there was enough to keep us very much occupied.
1. Get on a free walking tour
One thing that the rain does get in the way of is the free walking tour. This takes place at 11am every Saturday from the UPFR (Federal University of Paraná) building in Santos Andrade Plaza, but only if the weather is good. You need to register your interest on the website or through social media, and if it looks like there could be rain, make sure you check their Facebook group for updates. We didn’t realise it had been cancelled, so sat on the steps like lemons for 30 minutes…
When you’re on it, the tour takes you around the fascinating history of the old town. If you can’t make the tour for whatever reason, you should definitely take a walk around this area anyway; it feels mostly pretty safe.
2. Browse the Sunday market at Largo da Ordem
Every Sunday morning, the streets of the old town are lined with street stalls selling artisanal goods – unlike most markets we go to, we would actually buy quite a lot of the stuff being sold there. Still pretty bummed I left without a llama drawstring bag.
There is usually a traditional dance performance at the cultural centre in the old town as the market goes on around it, and loads of great street food stalls to try local delicacies – one of which made it into our list of the best South American street foods. The market is in business from 9am until 2pm between Rua São Francisco and ends at Rua Martin Afonso.
3. Stroll around the botanical gardens
As mentioned previously, Curitiba is Brazil’s front-runner in being green, and it’s reflected perfectly in the pristine details of their botanical garden. While the famous glass house was under repair when we visited (May 2019), the beauty of the rest of the gardens in the middle of this metropolis was more than enough to impress us.
Entry to Curitiba’s Jardim Botânico is free. Make sure you walk as far as the bridge over the lake; don’t just stop at the glass house.
If this really sparks your interest, there are plenty of other green spaces to check out, such as Unilivre and Praca do Japão, each with their own architectural point of interest within the park.
4. Marvel at the Ukrainian church at Tingüi
If the culture influences mentioned in the intro interest you, make sure to check out Tingüi Park, which is a free-entry memorial to the Ukrainian immigrants who came to Curitiba, in the style of a wooden church. It’s pretty impressive, and inside is filled with paintings, painted eggs and info placards (in Portuguese) to learn about this community.
The first wave of Ukrainians was running from crippling poverty back home, but after big enthusiasm for Brazil’s promises to give them good land, clothing and food, there was a lot of death in the early days due to broken promises, lack of knowledge of how to cultivate in this new climate and illness. Their numbers dwindled for a while, before Ukrainians began another wave of migration to escape Soviet persecution.
This is a memorial to the hardships they suffered and the cultural impact they made. Don’t forget to stop in at the little shop hut next door for a Brazilian-Ukrainian blend of snacks.
5. Catch crazy views from Torre Panorâmica
The 360 degree panoramic tower will unsurprisingly do exactly as it says on the tin. It’s located in the Mercês area of the city, and costs 6 R$ to get all the way up. The tower is open for visitors from Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 7pm. Sunset is undoubtedly the best time to go, as long as the sky is clear!
6. Open your ear at the Arame Opera House
Perhaps Curitiba’s pride and joy is their opera house. Situated a little out of town, it is accessible by the ‘021 Interbarrios II’ bus, or there is free but limited parking outside (try a few streets down if you can’t get into the car park). The glass –house structure of the building is stunning, and it sits at the edge of a park with a waterfall and a pond/lake thing.
When we went, it happened to be during a jazz festival, and there were musicians playing from a raft in the middle of this indefinable body of water. Admission is normally free, but we went at a time when a show was on, it cost us just 10R$.
The drinks & nibbles at the bar downstairs are a little on the pricier side, but the cappuccino is mega-peng so well worth splashing out on.
7. Cram knowledge in at the Museu Oscar Niemeyer ‘Eye Museum’
We didn’t have time/motivation to go ourselves, but this futuristic museum was recommended to us several times. It’s a museum of art & design, which probably has something to do with our levels of motivation, but even from the outside it looks to be pretty serious business, with a giant eye standing from the middle of a pond/lake thing (seeing a pattern here).
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm, and costs 20 R$. Grainy picture’s all we gots:
Where to eat and drink in Curitiba, Brazil
In Centro, Ben-Café is just at the end of Praça Osório, a lush mini forest in the city centre. The café is hip-AF, but maybe the staffs’ matching dungarees were a step too far. The coffee is good and the vibes even better.
For snacks during the day, just walk into any local-looking shop with a baked goods counter and get yourself stuck into a coxinha (potato and chicken version of a scotch egg, and one of the best street foods in South America) or pastel (crispy pastry – often with a filling. Note that the plural of pastel is pasteis in Portuguese; lots of people mistake it for pasteles).
For a more substantial meal, right opposite the Eye Museum is a courtyard of food trucks. Here, you’ll find an eclectic mix of cuisines, from crepes to Asian curry to sushi. Next door to that is a bar called Basset, which does incredible sandwiches. Remember that X- before the description of a burger or sandwich means cheese.
Talking of burgers, in the Alto da Rua XV area of Curitiba, there is a loosely Amsterdam-themed burger bar called Red Light, which does a banger of a dinner.
The previously mentioned Red Light and Basset both turn into great drinking spots for the locals later in the evening. Red Light is a bar that people actually prefer to stand outside with their drink than sit inside, so you don’t have to worry about getting a seat. There’s a much younger crowd in here than in Basset, which tends to draw more of the after-work crew.
A few doors down from Bassett, you’ll find Pork’s which is a cool little craft beer place and a popular haunt for locals.
Where to stay in Curitiba, Brazil
We stayed in two places in Curitiba, O Bosque and Curitiba Casa Hostel. The most impressive was probably the first, mainly due to its safer location, attention to experience and beautiful spaces.
One bad point though is that it’s pretty open to the outside, so although this must be lovely in summer, in May it was deathly cold at all times. They provided several nice knitted blankets to us each, but it was still a wear-two-layers-to-bed kind of temperature. The breakfast, although free, is pretty poor by most hostels’ standards, at a black coffee and 2 pieces of bread.
A much better brekkie experience was had at Curitiba Casa, which offered cakes, fruits, cheese, ham, bread, and several drink options (including milk for the coffee!). The hostel was comfy enough, but just lacked the wow-factor that O Bosque had in terms of design. The owner is incredibly friendly and speaks perfect English.
The downside is the location, which although closer to the centre than O Bosque is pretty far from any shops, bars or restaurants, and is a little close for comfort to the areas that drug users tend to hand out. Luckily, Uber is both legal and cheap in Curitiba, so you can always go door-to-door.
How long to enjoy all the things to do in Curitiba, Brazil? 3 days
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