The local color and intrinsically genuine heart of the village is evident at every corner. The town square is full of action and is ripe for people-watching; beckoning shopkeepers stand in doorways, trying to lure you in to browse everything from handmade jewelry to native clothing. There’s also an open-air market in Ouro Preto, where locals are selling all kinds of goods. You could easily roam up and down the aisles for hours, eyeing the wares laid out on table after table and at booth after booth.

And after exploring the village for a while, a meal is a must. Our recommendation? Dine at Bené da Flauta. Perched on the edge of a hill, this brightly decorated, airy café not only serves a variety of tempting dishes -- don’t forget the cheese bread, a Brazilian staple known as pão de queijo, as a complement to your meal -- it also affords diners a gorgeous view of the surrounding landscape. Peppered with homes and church steeples, the area has a homey, storybook atmosphere. Dine on the restaurant’s second floor, if possible, to get a bird’s-eye view.

However you spend your time in Minas Gerais, whether you’re in Belo Horizonte or Ouro Preto, you’ll be richly rewarded by the reception you get from the locals. “The people here, they are happy when they have a guest, when they have a tourist here,” Santos says. “It’s not just because of the money [that tourism brings in]. We like that people come and see our land and share time here, share the beautiful things we do. It’s really our pleasure.”

And once you go, it will be yours too.