The landscape around Alto Paraíso (which means Upper Paradise in Portuguese) offers dramatic waterfalls and rugged hiking trails. But most people come to flex their minds. Located deep in the rolling rangelands of central Brazil, it sits atop an immense layer of quartz crystal that is said to possess fabulous powers, at least over the imagination.
Among the 4,000 permanent residents, about half are impassioned esoterics. New Age pastimes abound, from feng shui to chromotherapy. There are some 40 sects and cults, a few of them apocalyptic. But instead of Armageddon, most of the people in Alto Paraíso are bracing for a boom in tourism to mark the millennium. A decade ago this was an impoverished patch of Brazilian nowhere. Now, there are about 30 small hotels and 40,000 visitors in a normal year. They drink herbal tea at the Gamma Space café, dine at the Alpha and Omega Creperie, buy rock crystals at the Fairies Corner. Night life most often means watching the sun go down and the stars emerge in the wide, clear sky. Not a bad way to welcome a New Age, or just the next 1,000 years.