Cuiabá, the capital of Mato Grosso in Brazil, is considered the gateway to the natural paradise of the Pantanal. Often spurned by tourists, its city centre offers numerous museums, impressive churches and a lively fish market.
The Brazilian city of Cuiabá is located in the west of Brazil and has been the capital of the state of Mato Grosso since 1835. It boasts the geographical centre of South America and was one of the venues of the 2014 World Cup.
Table of contents
Origin of Cuiabá
Cuiabá was founded in 1719 on the Rio Cuiabá of the same name by the so-called "bandeirantes" who found gold in the area. The name was derived from the Indian expression "Ikuiapá", which means "place of the harpoon". Due to the gold discoveries, Cuiabá saw brisk immigration, including many Arabs, who left their mark on the city with their business establishments and mosques.
The alluvial land around Cuiabá is still ploughed up using old-fashioned methods in search of the coveted precious metal. However, the gold finds are no longer profitable and so Cuiabá now lives mainly from cattle breeding and agriculture.
Climate and best time to visit Cuiabá
Cuiabá is hot and humid all year round. Temperatures climb up to 43°C and rarely fall below 15°C. In the Brazilian summer, from December to March, you can also expect oppressive humidity and cloudbursts of rain. The best time to visit Cuiabá is from June to October.
Places of interest in Cuiabá
Visitors are mainly attracted by the unspoiled natural landscape surrounding Cuiabá. Since most tourists only take a brief look at the city centre before continuing on to the surrounding area, the heart of Cuiabá is still largely untouched by tourists.
If you look around, you will find rousing live music, boots, hats and saddles of real cowboys, excellent dishes from all over the world and terrific drinks made from the ubiquitous coconut milk. Cuiabá's attractions are all within walking distance of the city centre.
Praça da República
The centre of Cuiabá is the Praça da República, which is lined by a cathedral from 1968, the post office, the tourist information office and the sunny yellow baroque Palácio da Instução.
The latter houses a museum of natural history, anthropology and history. This presents an extensive collection of exhibits on Brazil's indigenous peoples, historical documents on the work of Cândido Rondon and provides information on the war between Brazil and Paraguay in the 1960s.
To the north-east of the Praça da República, Rua Galdino Pimentel marks the beginning of the small old town centre with historic buildings from the 19th century. Avenido Getulio Vargas, which also leads away from Praça da República, is where you will find the best hotels and restaurants in the city.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário e São Benedito
Right at the end of the Pimentel is the Praça do Rosário, where the snow-white Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário e São Benedito can be found. Also known as the Rosário Church, it once marked a rich vein of gold and is the oldest place of worship in Ciuabá.
It was built in 1722 by slaves in the "Estilo Barroco de Cuiabá" ("Baroque Style of Cuiabá") and today offers the largest religious manifestation of the city with the "Festa de São Benedito". Its interior is decorated with precious golden altar and beautiful iconographies.
Mercado de Peixe
The fish market of Cuiabá is a special sight of the city. It is located at the bridge over the Rio Cuiabá and its visit is always an experience. Here, the soul of the city can be captured, and it is also amazing what magnificent specimens are drawn from the rivers of the Pantanal. The fish can also be seen alive in the adjacent Aquário Municipal.
The municipal university of Cuiabá is located about 4km from the city centre in the middle of a beautiful park. The associated Museu Marechal Rondon attracts visitors with a surprisingly good collection about Brazil's indigenous people.
If you are interested in Brazil's indigenous peoples, the Museu Rondon is the place to go. The museum was founded in 1972 and is the centre of research and dissemination of indigenous cultures in Mato Grosso. Among the thousand or so exhibits are costumes, weapons, feather ornaments, ceramics, musical instruments, fabrics, crockery and ritual artefacts from Brazil's indigenous peoples.
In 1909, the Brazilian officer and explorer Cândido Rondon surveyed the geographical centre of South America on an expedition. The corresponding marker can be seen today on Praça Moreira Cabral, which is located southeast of Praça da República on Rua Barão de Melgaço.
Catedral Metropolitana Basílica do Senhor Bom Jesus
The cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Cuiaba and has had an eventful history. The original church was built of wood and clay as early as 1722. In the mid-19th century, the façade was modified and a new tower was built in the 1920s. In 1968, in the course of the modernisation of Cuiabá, the old adobe church was demolished, which was greatly regretted by the population.
Today's cathedral, an imposing concrete structure with two rectangular towers and huge stained glass windows, dates from 1973 and was elevated to the status of basilica minor one year after its completion.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Bom Despacho
The magnificent cathedral was built in 1918 on the model of the Nôtre Dame in Paris. Since 2004, it overlooks Ciuabá from its hill, freshly renovated. Right next to the church is a museum of sacred art.
Excursions from Cuiabá
Few tourists come to Cuiabá for the city itself. The city is considered the gateway to the Pantanal, one of the largest wetlands in the world.
The Chapada dos Guimarães is also just 60 kilometres further north. This is an impressive plateau, criss-crossed by rivers and streams, with imposing rust-red sandstone formations, gushing waterfalls, natural pools and fascinating birdlife.