Updated on June 8, 2014
The train ride between Tiradentes and São João del Rei, one of the best attractions for families in the colonial towns of Minas Gerais, slowly eases the traveler into the region's rich past, one chug and a whistle at a time.
Part of the Estrada de Ferro Oeste de Minas (West Minas Railway), created in 1878, the railway complex which includes the Tiradentes–São João Del Rei stretch and stations is also the oldest in Brazil still in activity.
The 35-minute ride covers about 13 kilometers. If you're staying in a hotel in central Tiradentes, the 1881 station is just a short walk away. At both stations, exhibits featuring vintage train cars, photos and railway gear offer visitors a glimpse into the olden days of Minas Gerais train travel.
The steam engine running on the The Tiradentes – São João del Rei tracks was made by Baldwin Locomotive Works, in Philadelphia, in the early 20th century. It pulls the train at a speed of 30 kilometers per hour (roughly 18.6 miles per hour) on a 760 mm-gauge line.
In Brazil, steam engines like this one are informally called "Maria Fumaça", which could be translated as "Mary Smoke" or "Smoke Mary". In Minas Gerais, another popular trip aboard a Maria Fumaça is the Ouro Preto-Mariana train ride.
São João del Rei:
If you're staying in Tiradentes, you still have time to do a little sightseeing in São João del Rei before you take the next train back. A short walk from the train station, you will find the Church of Ordem 3ª do Carmo, whose construction started in the first half of the 18th century.
Dedicated to Our Lady of Carmo, this church stands out among Brazilian baroque churches with its light-filled nave, a main altar ("altar mor") without excess decorations and bright ambiance featuring a striking balance of white and gold.
Among the wealth of architectural detais worth noticing are the façade by Portuguese master Francisco de Lima Cerqueira and the ornate pulpits.
Outstanding artworks include two paintings by Georg Grimm (1846-1887), a Bavarian painter who lived in Brazil in the 1880s. One of the paintings depicts the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor and the other, Elijah the Prophet's ascension to Heaven in a chariot of fire.
The author would like to thank São João Del Rei On-Line for the information about Georg Grimm's paintings at the Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo.
If you take the train in Tiradentes, try to sit to the right (seats are not assigned) for some of the best views as the train chugs along the Mortes River and the São José mountain range unfolds in the background.
When the engine arrives in Tiradentes, stay to see it get ready for the trip back, slowly and noisily turning on the old turntable.
The 1pm departure from Tiradentes is ideal: it gives you time for a tour of the railway museum in São João del Rei and for a visit to the nearby Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo, one of the most beautiful baroque churches in Minas Gerais.
Bring snacks and drinks for the kids, especially if you ride the train on a Sunday, when few shops open in São João del Rei.
R$ 22 round trip
Tiradentes Departure Times
Fri, Sat, Sun and holidays at 1p and 5p
São João del Rei Station Address:
Avenida Hermílio Alves 366
Tiradentes - MG
São João del Rei Departure Times
Fri, Sat, Sun and holidays at 10a and 3p