By Ben Tavener, Contributing Reporter
CURITIBA, BRAZIL – A good history student will tell you Brazil has had three capitals: Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and Brasília. A few history students, however, will add a fourth to the list: an oft-maligned, understated city and capital of Paraná state: Curitiba. Although it was only capital for three days in 1969, during the tumult of Brazil’s military regime.
An hour’s flight southwest of São Paulo and a little more from Rio, Curitiba is a neat city with a modern feel, whose efficient transport links mean that it is as easy to get to as it is to traverse. Residents are proud of their Tubo bus system – and it symbolizes a lot of what is good about the city: attractive, clean and organized.
At the heart of the city, shops, cafés, bars and restaurants sprout from a central street (Rua XV de Novembro) and Praça Tiradentes, the city’s central square named after the 18th century revolutionary.
The city has a number of sizeable parks and other green spaces. In the very center of the city, the Passeio Público is part park, part zoo with monkeys, parrots and toucans to show the kids while enjoying an ice cream.
Parque Barigui is slightly further from the center, but much bigger and particularly good for playing a game of football (soccer), having a picnic or enjoying a freshly-squeezed sugar cane juice while trying to spot the wild capybaras that live there (normally easy to find).
One of Curitiba’s more impressive sides is its architecture – the city boasts a wide variety of styles and eras throughout. For instance, the Ópera de Arame (Wire Opera) is a unique structure where you can unwind with a show and also enjoy the lakes and cascades of Parque Pedreiras where it sits.
But nothing could be more simultaneously bizarre and beautiful than the Oscar Niemeyer Art Museum – with its eye-shaped gallery rising mysteriously out of the water, accessible only through a futuristic underground tunnel from the main building.
If you are in town on a Sunday, then the Largo da Ordem fair is definitely the place to spend the morning with street performers and artwork on display, as well as souvenirs, handcrafts and a range of both Brazilian and international food and drink on sale.
Grab a cool coconut water and peruse the market stalls along the sloping, pedestrianized Largo area which stretches up past a number of beautiful churches, not to mention restaurants and bars, all the way up to a small square with fountains and Curitiba’s iconic top-heavy Paraná pine trees.
At the top of the hill is the Museu Paranaense (Paraná Museum), itself well worth a visit, especially for anyone interested in the various waves of migration that mixed in the region’s melting pot.
True, the city can’t be compared to the likes of Rio or Salvador, but Readers Digest had named Curitiba as the “most livable place in Brazil,” and it is perfect for a weekend break, short stay or as a connecting point on a longer journey.
All major Brazilian airlines fly to Curitiba and frequently offer special deals. Buses within Curitiba are R$2.50 per journey Mon-Sat and R$1 on Sundays. Linha Turismo buses go past all the city’s main sights with flexible tickets (R$25) allowing passengers to jump on and off.
One word of advice: prepare for changeable weather. Locals often say, “If you don’t like the weather in Curitiba, wait ten minutes.”