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A landlocked state in the southeast of Brazil, Minas is approximately the size of France (588,384 square km/227,176 square mi). It borders six other Brazilian states. The Serra da Mantiqueira range creates a natural boundary between Minas and Rio de Janeiro, it encircles to the south the Paraíba Valley an area between the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Minas Gerais. The Serra da Canastra mountain range is a source of the São Francisco River; the longest river in the country flows down from the mountains through most of Minas Gerais and Bahia, and enters the ocean between the states of Sergipe and Alagoas. Minas is one of the most populous states, with a population of 19.4 million. The state has approximately 16% of the country's paved roads, making it one of the easiest states to navigate. Although Minas is large, its major attractions, including Belo Horizonte, Ouro Preto, and the mineral-spa towns, are in the state's southeast, within driving distance of one another.
Belo Horizonte is the third-largest city in the country, with more than 2.5 million inhabitants. At an elevation of 2,815 feet, the city lies in a valley encircled by a ring of mountains, the Serra do Curral. The city center was planned for carriages, and the streets crisscross each other at 45-degree angles, making modern-day traffic absolutely impossible. Social and cultural activity is concentrated along three main plazas in the center: Praça Sete, Praç a da Liberdade, and Praç a da Savassi.
The Colonial & Gold Towns
The historic cities of Ouro Preto, Tiradentes, and Diamantina lie in the Serra do Espinhaço range, with Ouro Preto at 4,000 feet. This central region of Minas Gerais is the most populous, with more than 7 million inhabitants. The towns are typically very hilly, with narrow winding streets that are more easily navigated on foot than in a car.
The Mineral Spa Towns
The Circuito das Águas (Water Circuit) of Minas Gerais is concentrated in the southeastern regions (essentially counties) of Sul de Minas (2.6 million inhabitants) and Mata (population 2.2 million). The small cities of Caxambu and São Lourenço sit at an elevation of about 4,000 feet and have less than 50,000 inhabitants each. They're equidistant from the cities of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte (400 km).
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