Penedo, Brazil, is a village with a unique history. Penedo used to be a Finnish colony, and Finnish influence is still present in the area.
Santa Claus, Finnish folk dancing and Christmas cookies in the middle of Brazil? Located between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Penedo is a Brazilian tourist sight like no other.
The village of Penedo started in the 1920’s as a religious Finnish colony with great goals. Meat products, alcohol and smoking were strictly forbidden. The community members tried to build a paradise and worked in a collective farm with no salary.
The original plan didn’t work out, so the settlers of Penedo later changed their approach. Now Penedo is an extremely popular destination mainly for Brazilian tourists who visit the village on weekends and holidays.
The History of Penedo, Brazil
In the 1920’s, Finnish pastor Toivo Uuskallio got convinced that God had a mission for him: he should build a new utopia in the tropics of the south. After intense searching, Uuskallio found Penedo and persuaded over a hundred suitable Finns to join him in Brazil.
The Finnish settlers of Penedo came looking for paradise, yet they were in for a disappointment. They started an organic farm, but previous coffee farming had deprived the soil of nutrients. The intense heat and the rough conditions took Finns by surprise.
As problems persisted, the original rules such as strict vegetarianism and prohibition of alcohol were soon let go. Still, that wasn’t enough to save the community, and the struggling fruit farm filed bankruptcy in 1942.
When the utopia failed, many of the remaining residents found another sort of salvation: tourism. Brazilian tourists soon found Penedo, and the village’s popularity has only increased in recent decades.
The Little Finland of Brazil
Most Brazilians come to Penedo to enjoy the nature. The Itatiaia National Park is very close, and are many opportunities for fishing, horseback riding and other outdoor activities.
These days Penedo has dozens of hotels and restaurants. The village has just a few thousand residents, but according to my Couchsurfing host, thousands of people visit it every month. The international restaurants serve all sorts of meals from sushi to German apple pies and Argentinian beef.
Penedo used to be a Finnish colony, but now most of the residents are local Brazilians. However, I was told that approximately 50 locals can still speak Finnish. Many businesses have Finnish names, although the owners are often completely Brazilian.
There are two main spots for seeing Finnish culture in Penedo, Brazil. The first one is Little Finland (Pequena Finlândia), a tourist block in the town center. Although the wooden buildings of Little Finland resemble Finnish houses and many shops have Finnish names, the place doesn’t offer a very genuine Finnish experience.
Still, visiting Little Finland is a very amusing experience.
For more authentic Finnish culture, you need to visit Eva Hilden Museum of Finnish Culture (informally known as the Finland Museum) north of the town center. The free museum has an eccentric collection of free memorabilia from both Penedo and Finland.
Next to Eva Hilden Museum is Clube Finlândia (Club Finland) where a local dance group performs Finnish folk dance and other dance numbers every Saturday.
Should You Visit Penedo, Brazil?
When a Finnish friend of mine told me about Penedo, Brazil, I knew I had to get there during my 2-year trip around the world.
As a Finn, I think Penedo is one of the weirdest and funniest tourist destinations I’ve ever visited. The absurdity of misspelled Finnish shop names and extravagant Christmas decorations kept me laughing and smiling for days!
Finland is a small country, and our culture hasn’t been commercialized and stereotyped as strongly as, say, Chinese, Mexican or Brazilian cultures. If you want to get a glimpse of what a Finland-themed attraction park would look like, just visit Little Finland in Penedo and you’ll get the idea.
Penedo feels like an inside joke that only Finns can truly get. Still, the touristy village should be an entertaining and relaxing experience for others as well. The rainy weather stopped me from exploring the nature, but I heard there are beautiful waterfalls and hiking trails nearby.
How to Get to Penedo, Brazil?
Getting to Penedo on public transport is fairly easy. First, you need to get a bus to Resende, the closest city from Penedo. After that you can take a local bus from Penedo to Resende.
Resende is located on the main highway between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, so there’s several connections there every day. A bus from Rio to Resende takes 2 hours 40 minutes. A bus from São Paulo to Resende takes 4 hour 15 minutes.
In Resende, you can get out at Graal, a big petrol/bus station. If you’re hungry, you can get a good buffet meal inside the station upstairs. Local buses leave from Graal/Resende to Penedo approximately once per hour. The distance from Resende to Penedo is around 15 kilometers, so the bus ride takes a bit over half an hour.
Getting from the Atlantic coast to Penedo is also possible, albeit much slower. The coastal road and the bigger highway inland are not very well connected, so you need to find a bus that passes through the smaller roads in between.
I went to Penedo from Paraty, a town in the coast of Rio de Janeiro State. To do this, I first got a local bus from Paraty to Perequé. Then I switched to a bus that headed towards Barra Mansa and Volta Redonda, two towns right next to each other.
Finally I took a local bus from Barra Mansa to Resende where my Couchsurfing host picked me up. In total, it took me 5-7 hours to get from Paraty to Penedo.