Do you like the cool crisp taste of some of the best artisan beer you have ever tasted? Even better, how would you like hundreds of thousands of liters of beer poured freely in a Brazilian celebration second only to the Rio Carnaval? If this sounds like your dream vacation, then I have the place to share with you.
When you enter the city of Blumenau located in the state of Santa Catarina, you won’t believe you’re still in Brazil. The architecture alone is fascinating and different. It will feel like you’re in Europe. Old Europe, to be exact. From the beautiful half-timbered buildings with red tile roofs, to the sidewalks paved with colorful bricks, you will be transported into an entirely different culture. The streets are lined with quaint shops, and plenty of German restaurants boasting all of the traditional dishes. Wherever you look, you will find something interesting and new to explore.
And if you come to Blumenau in October, you won’t believe you’re not in Munich. It’s not about the beer, or at least not just about the beer—it’s all about German traditions. You will be treated to folk music, parades, bands and dance companies that come to Blumenau from the old continent. Picture men, boys, girls, and women all dressed in traditional costumes, parading and dancing in the streets. Add crowds of tourists, lining up the central street to cheer them. Imagine your Mardi Gras, but a bit smaller, cozier, with more culture than the French Quarter debauchery; with both German and Brazilian flavors, and you will get it… well, almost. The spectacle is not easy to describe—it needs to be experienced.
Few tourist brochures if any will tell you how Blumenau Oktoberfest came to be. If it wasn’t for a chatty cab driver, I wouldn’t know myself. The Oktoberfest celebration was conceived after the devastating flood of 1980. The cash-strapped state of Santa Catarina decided to raise some serious money by bringing to the New World a 19th century tradition from the old country. The decision was not uncontroversial, and there was opposition to the whole idea, but despite the unrest, it was implemented in 1983, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The reason I mentioned it is that if you didn’t know, you’d never guess this celebration is only twenty years old. It’s very well organized and it surely looks as if it is a century-old tradition. The Oktoberfest has become extremely popular for Brazilians and other South American tourists who come to Blumenau in hordes. From 600,000 to one million tourists visit Blumenau Oktoberfest every year—that’s three to four times the city population.
Although Oktoberfest is a great reason to visit, there are many other things to do in Blumenau as well. Take some time to watch local bands and parades on Rua XV de Novembro, play and dance with the locals on Oktoberplatz, or get amazed at the show of funny vehicles built by a local designer. Don’t forget to tour Eisenbahn, perhaps the most famous brewery in Brazil, and most importantly eat German food! It’s everywhere, and it’s delicious!
After the day’s parades, you will want to go and tour Vila Germânica and visit its huge beer pavilion for some serious drinking, eating, and partying. There are also concerts, shows, and dances all over the place. Let’s put it this way: you will have to go out of the way to be bored in Blumenau during the Oktoberfest. Full and exhausted—that’s another story!
Getting there is not too complicated. If you read my previous column about Balneário Camboriú, then you know that the nearest large airport is located in Florianopolis, but there is also a smaller airport Ministro Victor Konder in Navegantes (NVT) that is considerably closer, and has direct flights from Rio (by GOL), SP (TAM and Azul) and Porto Allegre (Azul). In addition, GOL customers get a free transfer between the city and the airport.
As far as the FF programs go, not surprisingly, your best bet is TAM via Star Alliance, (you can try and get a GOL reward flight with Skymiles but it’s tougher). No international hotel chains for free lodging here as well—sorry, but just like in the case with Balneário, a very nice 4-star hotel room will run you under $100, and a room at a budget, but decent hotel can be had for $30-40 a night. That makes this destination quite affordable even on the Oktoberfest—well, at least by the Rio standards.
Would I choose Blumenau as a primary destination? I might, but only during the Oktoberfest, and only if I made sure that I had plenty of time to spend. I would recommend setting aside six to seven days to fully enjoy Oktoberfest, and another three-four to spend in Balneário Camboriú , which you certainly don’t want to miss. If you visit for just a few days you will never have enough time to experience the amazing and dynamic celebration that is Oktoberfest. Well, at least in my two days there, I didn’t (although I still had a blast).
Oktoberfest or not, Blumenau is worth visiting at any time of the year. If you get as far as Balneário Camboriú , make an additional side-side trip and stay a couple of days in Blumenau. The architecture, the food and the beer will still be there waiting for your arrival.