The Comprehensive Guide To Aparecida, São Paulo, Brazil
Published July 27, 2020
Have you ever visited a city or town where religious traditions are a major part of the local identity and culture? The question might evoke thoughts of historic cities in the Middle East, monasteries in Southeast Asia, or even a place like Salt Lake City in Utah. But in this post, I’ll be introducing you to an incredible religious town that you won’t want to miss on your next visit to Brazil: Aparecida in the state of São Paulo!
Aparecida’s focal point is the Santuário Nacional de Nossa Senhora Aparecida (Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida). This church is not only a gorgeous and stunning piece of modern architecture, but it also holds the title of second largest church in the world.
The church is certainly worth spending a full afternoon exploring, and I’ve written another blog post (click or tap here) all about it. In this post, I’ll be focusing on some of the other interesting things to see and do in Aparecida.
The Largest Church in the Western Hemisphere
Aparecida is a small town, so the main attraction is undoubtedly the Santuário Nacional. Its brick exterior may not look very flashy, but the inside is a burst of color with an unexpectedly modern design.
If you want to see what I’m talking about, use the link below to open up that blog post!
The Town's Vibe
After you’ve seen the Basilica, you’ll definitely want to check out the rest of Aparecida on foot. There are only a handful of main streets, so it won’t take long to figure out that layout of town. The main plaza (located here) is on the top of a hill, so there are a lot of streets nearby that offer good views of the surrounding mountains.
You also won’t want to miss the Passarela da Fé, a pedestrian overpass that connects the cathedral to the main street in town (Rua Monte Carmelo). It offers an especially nice panoramic view of the mountains to the northwest. I took the two images below while walking on the Passarela.
Aparecida probably counts as a hidden gem in terms of international travel, but it’s understandably a favorite destination among locals. Therefore, the town has its fair share of tourist infrastructure, including a large number of hotels and souvenir shops along the main strip. However, it’s not overly commercialized and still has a distinct small-town vibe.
Other Points of Interest
This section will feature some other things to visit in Aparecida, including two smaller churches, a hike if you’re feeling adventurous, a cable car ride, and an observatory. Unfortunately, the final two attractions were closed during my visit because of COVID-19.
Two Smaller Churches
In addition to the main Basilica, Aparecida also has two other churches worth checking out. Both are located in the town center and easy to walk to.
Igreja de São Benedito
Basílica Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida (Basílica Velha)
This is actually the original Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida. It was built to commemorate a statue of the Virgin Mary which was, according to legend, fished out of the nearby Paraíba River by some fishermen in the early 1700s. This statue attracted religious visitors for decades to come, and this yellow cathedral was built as a place where they could see it. (The newer Basilica was built between 1955 and 1980, and the statue is currently on display there.)
This church may not look like much compared to its newer rendition that sits on the world records list, but the inside is nonetheless stunning and boasts a beautiful colonial style which is totally different from the interior of the Santuário Nacional. Just like the blue and white Igreja de São Benedito, the Basílica Velha has a cohesive color scheme both inside and out.
An Adventurous Hike
Over the years, the distinctive statue of the Virgin Mary mentioned above became a cultural icon of Aparecida. You will likely see it dozens or hundreds of times in just a few days: on signs, lampposts, bumper stickers, restaurant menus, advertisements, storefronts, and more. Perhaps the most prevalent place you’ll notice the statue is on the top of a hill overlooking the town.
When I saw it, I knew I wanted to try and hike up to it, but figuring out how to do it was a little bit of an adventure. If you use Google Maps, the app will likely direct you to use this trail here. I initially tried that, but when I reached the trail head (shown below), it just looked a little too overgrown and isolated to go that way by myself.
I turned back and decided to try my luck by going to the end of this street, where some local residents directed me towards the beginning of a much shorter dirt path that also ended at the statue (which is not shown on Google Maps default view as of July 2020). This still felt a tiny bit sketch, but it’s definitely the way I’d recommend going. I don’t think that this little hike would be ‘dangerous’ per se either way, but I’d still recommend keeping your wits about you especially if you’re alone. If you can go as a group, I’d suggest that.
From the top, you’ll be able to see the Santa Nossa Senhora Aparecida up close. She overlooks a stunning panoramic view of the town below, including of the Basilica. Compare its size to the hotels around while you’re here; from the ground, it can be hard to comprehend just how big this structure really is!
The Cable Car (Bontur Bondinhos Aéreos)
The last major attraction in Aparecida is the cable car, which connects the Santuário Nacional terminal to Morro do Cruzeiro, a hill with a cross-shaped observation tower directly east of the town. Unfortunately, both the observatory and the cable car were closed when I visited Aparecida because of COVID-19. I’m sure both attractions offer some stunning views of the town. If you visit Aparecida and have the time to ride the cable car, leave a comment below and let me know how it is!
A Very Brief Food Section
Since I visited Aparecida during July of 2020, certain things in town were closed due to the pandemic. This included most restaurants, and the few that were open only offered takeout and delivery. Luckily, my Airbnb host arranged a daily lunch provided by Cavs Restaurante e Doceria, which was always pretty good. They also changed their menu every day, so I got a good variety of dishes. And best of all, each meal was only 14 BRL so it was very economical!
For dinner, I would usually cook at home, but if I was feeling lazy or running out of food, I would run over to Pizzaria Aldebarã. They also had pretty good prices and I liked that they made thin-crust pizza; normally pizza in Brazil is thick crust.
Where I Stayed
Airbnb is usually my go-to for long-term rental (I stayed for three weeks). In Aparecida, I really lucked out with a two-bedroom full-kitchen place all to myself for frankly phenomenal price. Even the decor inside matched the overall theme of the town!
To search for Airbnb rentals in Aparecida (or anywhere in the world), feel free to use the widget below!
Unique Gifts From Aparecida
Last but not least: souvenirs! Most towns in Brazil offer pretty standard souvenirs: postcards, tee shirts, magnets. In contrast, every gift shop in Aparecida sells mini figurines of Our Lady of Aparecida. These make some unique gifts, so I’d recommend doing some shopping here.
Quality and price vary greatly, and it seemed like in general you get what you pay for. You can also buy this iconic image in almost any form imaginable: keychains, magnets, pins, larger statues, small glass paperweights, and the list goes on and on. The Basilica has a gift shop, but prices there are definitely inflated. You’ll find much better deals in the little family-owned gift shops all over town.
Closing Tips & Thoughts
Aparecida may not have the scale or grandeur of São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, but if you’re traveling between the two largest cities in Brazil and need a place to stop for a few days along the way, Aparecida is a great option. You’ll get to see a little corner of this massive country that few foreigners even know exist, and it’s surprisingly accessible from both cities (a 170 km drive from SP and a 260 km drive from RJ).
There’s enough to see and do in Aparecida that I’d recommend staying two or three nights. A day trip from São Paulo is possible, but you’ll probably only have enough time to see the Basilica and do a quick walk-through of the town unless you arrive really early in the morning.
Since I stayed for three weeks, I can confirm that it’s a fine enough place for digital nomads to settle down for a bit longer, but these attractions would probably stretch out to about a week even with the most leisurely pace. I spent a fair amount of my time there relaxing and working, so this was no issue for me.
Have I convinced you to at least consider Aparecida for your upcoming trip to Brazil? Let me know in the comments below! It really is a quaint little town that I highly recommend!
This post was published on July 27, 2020