Here comes my guide to Curitiba, the so-called model city of Brazil. Full of culture’n’comfort, it’s also a great gateway for day trips to other amazing places like scenic Morretes.
Just hop on the iconic xx train to travel in style through lush rain forests and over shaky bridges. A fantastic tour you definitely shouldn’t miss out on once you’re in Curitiba.
As you might have noticed, I’m travelling quite a lot. Obviously – I’m a travel blogger. But I’m also travelling a lot when I’m travelling.
|Curitiba’s landmark, the greenhouse at the botanic garden – as iconic as the tube shaped bus stations.|
Since I’m not driving – I explained in an earlier post why – I’m familiar with public means of transport basically around the world.
I’m even familiar with public means of transport in places where people who live there don’t know that there is public transportation (this of course was in the US – in Florida: When I told a lady at the mall in Naples that I had to hurry to catch the bus, she looked at me in awe and admitted: “I didn’t know we had a bus.” Well, the number of people on the bus proved that she isn’t the only one; the public bus in Naples seems to be one of Florida’s best kept secrets).
|Curitiba was the first city that implemented a subway-like bus system with buses that are only accessible from special platforms and bus lanes separated from individual traffic. The benefits are quite obvious.|
Funny enough, my daughter wrote her bachelor theses about this topic, i. e. about implementation of bus systems in South America respectively in Lima. However, it all began in Curitiba – where I am now – and where they implimented a very efficient bus system.
Before I’ve known her thesis, I was a bit sceptical whether riding a bus can really be a scientific topic for a thesis, but reading her explanations, I realized how important public transport is – not only as a mean for getting from A to B, but it also has a high impact on people’s life and the city’s development. It’s only logical: if there is a bus going along a dark, sketchy street on a regular basis, it grants a certain monitoring and control and decreases crime. A functioning bus system offers many people access to other parts of the city and is often the only way to hold a job, hence it grants a better outcome. It can improve city life dramatically.
|On his mural made of tiles, local artist Poty (Lazzarotto) of course also depicted the iconic tube shaped bus stops….|
|…as well as the archetypal Paraná pine.|
So now I’m a true expert: Not only empirically because I’m familiar with all these buses and subways and trams and minibuses and shared cabs around the world, I also have a scientific theoratical knowledge.
So Curitiba was the first city who implemented this very elaborate bus system. According to my Portuguese teacher Marcie, Curitiba is not only leading in this aspect, but in many other aspects like healthcare, education etc. Marcie says, it’s the model city of Brazil.
|Another great service for the people of Curitiba is this ancient street cart, now housing a library. You can even leave your kids there while shopping.|
Curitiba – the Model City of Brazil
I don’t know about that, but I can see that it is a pleasant place: There is an old city center which is pretty well maintained and not falling apart like in Rio or a bit sketchy as in São Paulo. Within walking distance is the so called civic center which is not what we would call a civic center, but a business neighborhood where all the big companies and banks are located – and the civic center, too.
|First Presbyterian Church of Curitiba.|
|Haberdasher “Casa Edith”, founded by Lebanese imigrant Kalil Karam, who came to Curitiba in 1909 and named his store after his daughter who was born in 1913.|
There they have also a museum desgined by the everpresent architect Oscar Niemeyer which is housing an exhibition on his work as well as modern and contemporary art – when I was there, the Curitiba bienal took place.
|I guess Oscar Niemeyer designed this original building in a blink of an eye.|
|Moon outside: sculpture by Chen Wenling “Autumn Moon in the Sky”|
|Moon inside: Ding Hau “The Moon Palace”….|
|….consisting of countless lacquered wooden tenements,….|
|….that can also be row houses. Ding Hau “Floating City”
|Walking sort of towards the light: on my way out off the eye into the main building.|
Another truly iconic place is the botanic garden, and visiting this site gave me the opportunity to experience the wonderful bus system of Curitiba.
|The majestic Paraná pine – to be found all around town,
hence at the botanic garden, too.
On the walking tour I took on my first day, the guide explained the different kind of buses that can be identified by their color. Great system for illiterate people. Well, I’m actually not illiterate, still I ended up in a wrong bus. Actually, it wasn’t really my fault since I had asked a lady whether this bus goes to Guadalupe station and she said yes.
Turns out she was wrong. And I was wrong, too, by being on this bus.
By the time I figured that out, I was already two stops too far. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but unfortunately this was a rapid bus (that even illiterate people can easily identify by its silver color, as I learned the day before…) that stops like every eight minutes. So two stops is a lot.
Some lovely ladies tried to help. Unfortunately they did it simultaneously which made them a bit difficult to understand, but at the end I filtered from their explanations that the best way was to stay on the bus and take another one to the botanic garden at the final stop.
I’m a nervous, highly impatient person and riding a bus for about half an hour in the wrong direction drives me totally bananas. When we reached the final stop, I found out the only advantage of my odyssey: The final stops are closed stations. So once you’re in – for instance because you got there on a bus you never had to take…just an example – you can get on whatever bus you please. So I wasted about one hour, but I actually saved…one Dollar. Hence if you have very much time and really very, very, very little money, this is my tip how to save on public transportation: just keep on going from final stop to final stop.
|The pines are so special to Curitiba’s residents that they are even adorning their walkways with a stylized version.|
Obstacles and Quirks
So although in Brazil – by far not only in Curitiba – the number of public transport means is quite good, the system sucks the big one; it actually does not deserve the name ‘system’ – it’s a bunch of different means that are not compatible: If I buy a ticket for the subway and have to take a bus eventually, I have to buy another ticket. That makes trips where you have to change very expensive; for Brazilians that is. The average income is about 2000 Reais (about 500 US$). So when you have to pay about 8 Reais to go e. g. to work – one way that is – that’s a fortune! I first thought that they have some sort of season ticket since you can buy plastic cards and charge an amount of your choice on them. But that’s it – the only advantage is that you don’t have to stand in line every time you need a ticket; but you don’t save any money with it. And since the subway, the street car and the bus are not compatible, even I, who spent only two weeks in Rio, had two different plastic cards. They have an ok system, but they definitely should make it more affordable.
Another thing that’s totally crazy is how you board: it’s always through a really tight turnstile. It’s already pretty difficult to go through when you’re wearing nothing but clothes. It’s a huge challenge when you’re carrying anything, let alone e. g. a big bag or a suitcase.
|Look how tiny the turnstile is. And it’s in the middle which makes the whole bus a maze.|
These turnstiles are not only at the entrance of subway station, no way, they are in the middle of the bus, too. They make getting in so complicated. And that the drivers as well as the cashiers are unfriendly and not helpful at all makes things even worse.
|Read on another really very special trip by public transport in the next post.|
Rio is Rude
After I’ve been to Rio for two weeks, I had the impression that people in service jobs are neither very fast nor very friendly. Every employee seems to hate his job and the customers that come with it. Because once you get to meet and know them outside their job, most of them are really friendly and fun. They are just not friendly – sometimes even really rude – with customers, clients and guests. I know this phenomenon from Cuba – the Brazilian working tempo is very similar to the one in Cuba. The Brazilian treatment of customers is as unfriendly and irritating as the Cuban. What I don’t get is how they get away with it in a capitalist country. In Cuba it’s evident: most stores, shops, restaurants and hotels are owned by the government. Employees don’t make more if they are more efficient. There is now point in being ambitious – it takes you nowhere: you don’t make more money; and even if you made more money, there is hardly anything nice you could spend it on. So why bother?! But Brazil is a capitalist country, there is competition, there is not Mr. Government, there are private owners and managers.
Now that I’ve been to places outside Rio de Janeiro, I must say, that it’s pretty Rio-specific; people in other places were much friendlier and more helpful and polite. I’m afraid it’s the same disease they have in Paris or Berlin: Tourists are coming, anyway, even if you treat them like dirt. Unfortunately they are right – we do go to these places just the same. Anyway, I wouldn’t like to live in a place were everybody is constantly unnerved and rude. My advice: Go to Rio, have a quick look at the attractions that are not to be missed and leave as fast as you can to other Brazilian destinations that will make up for the Carioca’s rudeness big time.
“The model city of Brazil” – that’s what my Portuguese teacher Marcy had called Curitiba. And although this town, home to almost 2 million people which makes it Brazil’s eighth largest city, is not really spectacular, it’s worth the visit. It has lush parks, a well maintained historic center, modern buildings such as the Museu Oscar Niemeyer, celebrating Brazil’s star-architect. Their bus system was exemplary for many other Latin American cities. And if all this does not impress you, go on a wonderful day trip and take the scenic train to Morretes.
|Today, Curitiba’s first town hall is an inspiring culture center for everyone.|
Yes, Curitiba might not be famous and does not deem exciting at first sight, but you sure will have a great time here.
Curitiba was a pioneer city when it came to public transport, so it’s also easy to get there: There is a train station and right next to it an overland bus station, and of course they have an airport that’s easily accessible by a shuttle bus that goes about every twenty minutes from dawn till dusk.
A very convenient stop is at the Teatro Guaíra on the east side of the Praça Santos Andrade.
|The Santos Andrade square is a good point of orientation – and it’s also the spot where the free walking tour starts.|
The Praça is not only a beautiful square with many sculptures of famous men – all facing the Universidade Federal do Paraná all the way across from the theatre, it is also a good point to start exploring the city center.
|Of the 11 statues on the Santos Andrade square, only Ms Lala Schneider is facing the Teatro Guaíra, the others have to look towards the university.|
You can do it bye:yourself – or you can join the interesting and fun free guided tour. May I remind you – it’s called ‘free’ since you are not obliged to pay for it…hence, I cannot understand how people actually do not pay for it: these guides work for tips, guys!
|Our walking group posing in front of one of the iconic tube-shaped bus stations.
(Photo: Curitiba Free Walking)
|Fun fact: They installed the flower pots to the left and right of the pedestrian street so people get used to walking in the middle, formerly reserved for the vehicles, too.|
|Typically Curitiba – an ingenious project at every corner: Here a former streetcar, now transformed into a small library where e. g. people can leave their kids while shopping.|
The Old Center
Right behind the University is the Praça Generoso Marques with many buildings that show the tradition of immigration to Curitiba: Stores and restaurants founded by Germans and Lebanese and who not.
|Haberdasher “Casa Edith”, founded by Lebanese immigrant Kalil Karam, who came to Curitiba in 1909 and named his store after his daughter who was born in 1913.|
The nicest one is the Paço da Liberdade: Built between 1914 and 1916, it used to house the first town hall.
|On the back of the building is Maria Lata d’Água, a memorial of the slaves being part of the multicultural and multiracial formation of Brazil.|
Later it was used for the collection of the Museu Paranese until it became a wonderful community center with space for different cultural activities, a computer room where everyone can go online for free, a library and a very charming coffee house.
|Just opening: The classic – and classy – coffeehouse.|
|Catedral Basílica Menor Nossa Senhora da Luz –
The Cathedral Basilica Minor of Our Lady of Light
At the back of the building, you’ll find yourself at another majestic square, the Praça Tiradentes with the Catedral Basílica Menor Nossa Senhora da Luz.
Walking right of the Cathedral, you’ll get to the Tv. Nestor de Castro. Here one of Curitiba’s stars, the artist Poty Lazzarotto created murals depicting scenes from the life in Curitiba and its surroundings.
|Poty depicting Curitiba’s icons like the tube-shaped bus stations or the palm house at the botanic garden. To the upper right, he depicted Paulo Leminski, a Curitiba born poet of Polish descendance.|
Poty’s work is found all over Curitiba. While here he used colorful tiles for his images, he decorated the facade of the Teatro Guaíra in monochrome clay. However, his style can be immediately recognized.
|First Presbyterian church at the Setor Historico of Curitiba.|
Right behind Tv. Nestor de Castro begins the Setor Historico, the historic sector with colonial houses and cute little churches, with many bars, restaurants, and specialty shops.
Since Curitiba experienced a lot of immigration over the years, there are many museums – such as the Museu Ucraniano – and memorials – such as the Memorial Alemão, the Memorial da Imigração Japonesa or the Memorial Arabe – all over the city. To get to see them all takes time since actually, only the Memorial Arabe is in the very city center.
|This plain Moorish edifice houses a library of Middle Eastern culture & a sculpture of the writer Kahlil Gibran (born as Gibran Khalil Gibran in Lebanon).|
A good option to get to see more of Curitiba is by Linha Turismo, basically a hop on hop off bus, only that you get five tickets so that you can re-board four times (which is enough for Curitiba, take it from me). The whole tour in one go takes about 2.5 hours.
|Oscar Niemeyer had a good eye for architecture.|
Of course, there are also various art museums to be visited, the most famous one being the Museu Oscar Niemeyer, located in the Centro Civico district north of the city center. If you don’t mind walking, you can get there in about 20 minutes. Otherwise, there are many buses going from the center to the Centro Civico.
|The tunnel connecting the “eye” and the main building.|
Oscar Niemeyer (1907 – 2012) is certainly one of world’s most important modern architects. He was friends with Le Corbusier and together they designed the UN-Headquarter in New York. Not only did Niemeyer design Brazil’s capital Brasilia, his buildings are also to be found in England, Italy, France, and many other places.
|Oscar Niemeyer – eternalized in a mural in São Paulo by Brazil’s greatest muralist Eduardo Kobra|
The museum, that’s of course designed by the master himself, houses an exhibition on his work in one gallery, but the rest shows changing temporary exhibitions.
Museu Oscar Niemeyer
Rua Marechal Hermes 999
Phone: + 55 – 41 – 33 50 44 00
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. and the entrance fee is 20 R$ (6 US$)
Another iconic place not to be missed while in Curitiba is the Jardim Botanico, the botanic garden southeast of the city center.
|One of Curitiba’s most iconic buildings, the palm house at the botanic garden, became the city’s logo.|
While the garden will not overwhelm you with its variety of plants and flowers, the palm house has practically become the Logo of Curitiba – and you can take really nice pictures of the premises and the view of the city.
Daytrip to Morretes
A day trip to Morretes, a town located 70 km / 44 mi east of Curitiba, is not to be missed. Actually – the journey is the reward, at least if you are taking the Serra Verde Express. This train, consisting of many different wagons, takes you during three hours through the most scenic landscape. Along the
Serra de Mar, the Atlantic rain forest and through the untouched, rugged mountain scenery. Steep slopes and high bridges – it’s like being on an old fashioned, extremely slow roller coaster.
|Way up high on a what seems to be an improvised bridge – heading for Morretes.|
After three hours – you think it cannot get any better – you arrive in picturesque Morretes, where already at the town’s entrance children greet the travellers by standing in front of their houses and waving. It is all so idyllic!
Once you arrive at the train station, to your right is an information window where you can ask the friendly lady for a map of Morretes. You probably won’t get lost without it, but I like knowing where I am and what it is that I’m seeing.
|Leaving the train station, you find yourself on the main square Praça Rocha Pombo from where this little piece of paradise can be conveniently explored walking.|
There are attractions at the outskirts to be reached by buses, but after three hours on the train I felt like walking – and the town of Morretes, which by the way has about 15,000 inhabitants, is such a cute little place.
Being located in the Serra da Graciosa, every corner you turn, you are overwhelmed by a majestic view!
|Wherever you go, there is a view – and what a view that is!|
There are the Paróquia Nossa Senhora do Porto and the Igreja de São Benedito, but there are lots and lots of cute little houses – many of which are restaurants or specialty shops.
|The guesthouse Nhundiaquara (deriving from the Tupi-guarani-language nhundia = fish and quara = hole) is been opened in these historic structures in 1945. The main structures, however, are from the 17th century.|
The food is probably good everywhere since food is good everywhere in Brazil. However, I picked a restaurant that was not that centrally located since I wanted to go away from the crowds and tourist groups. They don’t have a website, but I can tell you that they are called Dois Chefs and are on the left-hand side when you’re going from the iron bridge towards the old graveyard – which is totally worth a visit, too.
|The old cemetery. Even here: a view.|
As a souvenir, I decided to buy a variety of tiny Cachaça bottles of different flavors such as ginger, pineapple, passion fruit, mint, and some others.
|The stands selling all sort of local delicacies are a great opportunity to stock up on souvenirs.|
There is one train going to Morretes at 8.15 and during high season another one at 9.15, but that one has only expensive, luxury seats.
|Choo choo – let’s hit the rails! Me, waiting for the adventure to begin.|
There is a wide range of different tickets and packages: from a simple ticket for 95 R$ (29 US$) to a package including extra tours to Paranaguá or Antonina – both located on the banks of Baía de Paranaguá, the Paranaguá bay, that will cost you almost 500 R$ (more than 150 US$). But also the tickets to Morretes can go up to 360 R$ (110 US$). You are then seated in a nicer wagon with better seats, there is a bi-lingual guide and drinks like soft drinks and beer are included.
|The other man’s grass simply cannot be greener….|
You find all these options on their website that is really good and clear. The process of booking, though, is terrible: You book and then you have to wait till they answer you to confirm.
According to their website, this can take up to seven days.
I booked two months ago and still have no answer.
Since I was quite frustrated with this booking process, I just got up pretty early in the morning to be at the station ahead of time.
At least in the cheapest wagon, they had still a lot of seats available – and it stayed quite empty during the whole trip.
|….no matter how much you’ve paid for your ticket; the landscape remains the same – breathtaking!|
It’s quite ironic: since most people either go on an organized tour that books seats at the more expensive wagons, the cheap ones stay basically empty. So you pay a fraction of what they pay and you have the wagon for yourself and you can move around according to the changing scenery.
Of course, you can also take the train to go back to Curitiba. But it’s far cheaper – about 22 R$ (less than 7 US$) and faster to go back by bus.
Since in Curitiba the bus station is next to the train station, I’d recommend you buy your return ticket right after you got your train ticket. This way you are all set and don’t have to worry that the bus might be full.
If you have the time, just go to the station one or two days before and arrange everything ahead – especially during the high season and the Brazilian school holidays.
Train Curitiba – Morretes:
Bus Morretes – Curitiba:
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