Travel to Brazil

Brazil is the largest country in South America, occupying the north eastern chunk of the continental body. The country has borders with every other South American country except Ecuador and Chile.

Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese in 1500 and it remained a Portuguese colony until 1808. It was later elevated to the status of Portuguese Kingdom until the country became a presidential republic in 1889.

The majority of Brazilians are Catholics and the official language Portuguese. Visitors may make the mistake of thinking Brazilians are Hispanic. Brazilians view Spanish as a secondary language and might be offended if attempts to speak to them are conducted in Spanish.

Brazil has the largest share of global wealth in Latin America along with the largest population and is an emerging economy, recognized for its industrialization, natural resources, agricultural power and vast labor pool.

Brazilian culture definitely has its origin in Europe. The style of architecture and colonial towns definitely reflect this. Music plays an important part in forming the Brazilian identity. Samba, chord and Bossa nova are styles that originated in Brazil.

Given the size of the country, Brazil is subject to the widest climatic differences. The Equatorial north has a wet and dry season but São Paulo down south, enjoys four seasons.

Some of the tourist highlights of the country include the biodiverse wealth of the Amazonian rainforest and the majestic splendor of the Iguazu Falls.

We hope that this carefully prepared travel guide will ease your travel planning for Brazil holidays and encourage you to plan a future trip to Brazil.

Travel tips for Brazil

Visa Requirements for Brazil

Brazil has a reciprocal visa policy with most countries. Citizens of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina can enter Brazil with a valid ID and stay for 90 days (60 days in the case of Venezuela). Check the guidelines for Brazil passport visa free countries.

Citizens of a host of other countries do not require a visa for a stay of up to 90 days with a valid passport. Citizens of all other countries do require a visa.

Brazil visa application for tourists can be extended at the Policia Federal offices. Border towns, ports and state capitals all have one.

Please note that there is a difference in the entry and exit stamps that are issued in Brazil. The entry stamp has an odd number at the right-end of the stamp. The exit stamp has an even number. Please do check this on entry, otherwise visa extension will be refused until you rectify the entry stamp.

Please check the current guidelines, of the visa requirements for your country and ways to get a Brazilian visa, if required, before you travel to Brazil.

Important Cultural Information

Brazilians are friendly people and quite open about talking about their problems, corruption and other civil problems. They might be rather sensitive to criticism about these affairs though, so broach the topic carefully or best avoid it on your holidays in Brazil.

Any line of racism or a racial slur is treated very seriously in Brazil and someone might be arrested for racist ideas.

Brazilians speak a form of Portuguese. Don’t try to communicate with Brazilians by inserting Spanish words in between Brazilian phrases as they differ considerably with regard to phonetics, word usage and grammar.

Cheek kissing is a common mode of greeting between two women and a man and woman. Shaking hands is also a form of more formal greeting and appropriate for two men. People will kiss once (São Paulo, Brasilia), twice (Rio de Janeiro), or thrice (Florianopolis and Belo Horizonte). There will not actually be a kiss on the cheek but a touch on the cheeks with a kissing sound.

Brazilians are quite fanatical about their football with serious rivalry between local teams often leading to flare-ups and controversy.

Brazilians are good dancers and are quite at ease with their bodies. They might tend to stand closer to each other than people of other nations and engage in hugging, touching on the arm or shoulders while talking.

The best time to visit Brazil is from June to September – the period of Brazilian winter.

Banking & Money in Brazil

The unit of currency in Brazil is the Real (BRL), which consists of 100 centavos. Coins come in 5, 10, 25, 50 centavos and 1 Real denominations. Notes come in 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 Real denominations.

It is advisable to not use cards at smaller outlets – at gas stations, in taxis, newsstands etc. Card information may be compromised. Better to pay in cash that has been withdrawn from ATMs and go to large stores when making more expensive purchases.

Look for ATMs with the same logo as that on your credit/debit card. Banco de Brasil, Bradesco, Citibank, BankBoston, Santander and HSBC machines should all work for this purpose. Withdrawal limits are usually in place. A transaction fee for each ATM withdrawal will usually be charged.

Foreign currency like Euros and Dollars may be exchanged in larger hotels and international airports or banks. Currencies other than USD and Euros are hard to change.

A number of Brazilian shops accept credit cards.

Medical Emergency Information

Some Emergency numbers to keep at hand when visiting Brazil include the following:

  • 190 for Police
  • 192 for Ambulance
  • 193 for Firefighters
  • 021/3399-7170 Tourist Police 24 hr contact in Rio de Janeiro
  • 011/3214-0209 Tourist Police Contact in São Paulo

Major hospitals in Brazil include:

  • Hospital Copa d’Or (Rio de Janeiro)
  • Hospital Samaritano (Rio de Janeiro)
  • Hospital Albert Einstein (São Paulo)
  • Hospital Sao Jose (São Paulo)
  • Brazil Hospital Sirio E. Libanes (São Paulo)
  • Hospital Memorial (Natal)

To be sure, you should have travel insurance for Brazil. Make sure to get good travel insurance for Brazil beforehand. Compare options with both WorldNomads and SafetyWing.

Wi-Fi and Internet in Brazil

The international telephone code of Brazil is 55.

Brazil has 4 national mobile operators. They are Vivo, Claro, Ol and TIM, which run on GSM and HSDPA/HSPA+ networks. Smaller operators in the country are Nextel and Sercomtel.

Pay as you go SIM cards for GSM phones can be bought everywhere – at newsstands, retail shops, pharmacies and supermarkets. If a phone needs to be unlocked then this can be done in a phone shop for a charge.

Calling cards are also a great way to call loved ones back home and has a number of benefits.

Internet cafes (LAN houses) are popular and on the increase. Even in small towns you can expect a cafe or two with decent connectivity. Airports, large hotels and shopping malls may offer Wi-Fi hotspots. Make sure to set-up a VPN (like ExpressVPN) before using public Wi-Fi spots. Read more about why it’s important to use a VPN while traveling.

Arrival in Brazil

The main port of arrival into Brazil by air is São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport (GRU). The LATAM airlines has a monopoly over direct flights into São Paulo from many capital cities in South America, so keep this in mind when booking plane tickets to Brazil.

LATAM also has direct flights from  a number of cities in North America, Europe, a few locations in Asia and Africa.

The next largest airport in Brazil is Rio de Janeiro Galeão International Airport (GIG). Gol Transportes Aereos flies to Santiago, Buenos Aires and Asunción from here. Delta flies to American destinations from Rio. There are also direct flights to Africa, Europe via different airlines.

Sydney and Auckland has connections to Brazil although the flights make a pit stop.

Search for flights to Brazil on Expedia.

Brazil can be approached by road. Brazil has numerous border crossings with Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela and Guyana.

Brazil is connected to neighbouring countries via long-distance bus travel.

Brazil is connected to Peru, Venezuela and Colombia by Amazon river boats. The journey, however, takes 12 days and is most grueling.

Train travel is not developed but there is the ominous ‘Death Train’ from Santa Cruz, Bolivia into Brazil but the journey route is plagued by robbers. Is Brazil safe – is a popular question and precautions should definitely be taken when planning things to do in Brazil.

Areas of Brazil

These are the main geographical areas and places in Brazil. The main cities are Rio de Janeiro, Brasília and São Paulo.

Northern Brazil

The northern region is the place of the Amazonian forest with a distinct Amerindian cultural influence.

Keyplaces: Acre, Amazonas, Roraima, and Rondonia

Northeastern Brazil

This region is considered to have the most beautiful stretch of sunny coastline. The region is the hottest and sunniest in the country and is also the poorest. There is a strong black culture in this region especially concentrated around Bahia. The northeast region is home to the “Forro” music and should be on your places to visit in Brazil if you enjoy music.

Keyplaces: Bahia, Paraiba, Rio Grande do Norte, Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, Salvador (the capital of Bahia)

Central Western Brazil

This region is where you will find the Pantanal wetlands with farms, younger cities and the Federal District. “Sertanejo” music has its origins here.

Keyplaces: Federal District, Mato Grosso

Southeastern Brazil

This region is home to the country’s two largest cities: Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Apart from cosmopolitan, big cities, the Southeast region also has some old colonial towns particularly to be found in Minas Gerais. Some of Brazil highlights can be found in this region.

Keyplaces: Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro (read things to do in Rio de Janeiro), São Paulo

Southern Brazil

This region is characterized by valleys and pampas where a gaucho culture meets European culture. Many Polish, German, Italian and Ukrainian people immigrated to this particular region, which has the best standard of living in Brazil.

Keyplaces: Rio Grande do Sul, Parana, Santa Catarina

Transportation in Brazil

Most regions of Brazil are covered by air service. Some major hubs include São Paulo and Brasilia. The majority of the domestic air carrier market is dominated by LATAM and Gol airlines. Other noteworthy carriers include WebJet, Avianca, Azul, TRIP, Pantanal and Puma.

Booking domestic Brazilian flights online can be quite frustrating because the airlines require a CPF number (national identity number) to complete the booking process. Trying to book via the airline’s foreign website may do the trick but may attract higher rates in booking your Brazil tours.

Brazil has the most widespread road network in South America – totaling 1.6 million kilometres in total. The South and East of Brazil have well maintained roads and it’s a wonderful idea to explore historic sites and scenic coastal routes by car. Regions in the Amazon area, especially during the rainy season are difficult to navigate.

Bicycles are a popular way to get about in towns and small cities. Train services around the country are limited. Some of the most used train routes are the Serra Verde Express, São João del Rei to Tiradentes, Belarus Horizonte to Vitoria, São Luis to Parauapebas, Macapa to Serra Do National and Campinas to Jaguariuna.

If you have the time to spare, long distance bus travel is a cheaper alternative to air travel. State capitals are well connected to one another via bus. ANTT is a good land transportation authority and has a search engine, although in Portuguese, for bus travel. BrasilbyBus and ClickBus are two bus companies that bypass the requirement for a CPF number to book tickets.

Buses in the city are a popular way to travel, although you might need to wave one down to get onto it. Boat travel is commonly used in the Amazon region.

Accommodations in Brazil

There are plenty of hotels and accommodations for the Brazilian tourist in many regions around Brazil. They range from top-notch hotels to boat hotels, youth hostels and even Brazilian ranches called fazendas, which have guest facilities.

Hotels are ubiquitous in Brazil and range from luxury style ones and luxury beach resorts to more modest hotels that are inexpensive. Please check your hotel of choice for the services they provide as the star-rating used by international hotels are sometimes not in place here. The Belmond Copacabana Palace, Hilton Rio de Janeiro Copacabana, Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro, Palacio Tangara and Renaissance São Paulo Hotel are some high-end hotels to check out.

Accommodations called Pousada are guesthouses are even more common than hotels but offer lesser facilities than a typical hotel.

A boat hotel accommodates 2-3 people and can take enthusiastic fishers to sought after spots on the water. Such boat hotels usually have air conditioned rooms and an experienced guide.

Fazendas are to be found in the Pantanal wilderness areas and are Brazilian ranches with sleeping facilities.

We recommend looking for accommodation on Booking or Agoda.

What to Eat and Drink in Brazil

Brazilian food can vary quite considerably in different regions around the country. The national dish is considered to be feijoada – a hearty stew of pork and black beans, served with collard greens, rice and garnished with oranges. This delightful dish can be quite hard to digest, so eat it in small quantities. Seafood can be found in coastal towns, otherwise chicken, pork and beef are consumed.

Brazilian barbecue or Churrasco is rather famous. The meat is roasted on steel spits. Mineiro refers to the miner’s food of Minas Gerais. Pork and beans are cooked with vegetables to create a very comforting food.

Bahia cuisine on the northeast coast is rather spicy and has origins in East African and Indian cooking. Hot peppers, coconut and seafood are used in plenty. Moqueca is a tomato based seafood stew.

Amazonian food uses exotic fish and vegetables with lots of tropical fruit.

Some unique Brazilian food, drink and snack items to sample include:

  • Feijoada (pork and black bean stew served with rice, collard greens and oranges)
  • Empadas (a small pie – not the same as an empanada)
  • Coxinha (deep-fried batter coated chicken)
  • Pastel (fried turnovers)
  • Misto Quente (toasted ham and cheese sandwich)
  • Pao-de-queijo (a cheese roll made from manioc flour)
  • Churrasco (Brazilian barbecue)
  • Barreado (meat stew with slices of banana, slow cooked for 12 hours in sealed clay pots)

Read more about the food, drinks and bars to try while in Rio.

Things to Do and See in Brazil

Here are some of the top Brazil tourist attractions.

The multiple waterfalls at UNESCO World famous Iguazu National Park are a natural wonder. The vision of 275 individual waterfalls fanning out into a spectacular semi-circle is truly a sight to behold.

A cable-car ride to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain is a once in a lifetime chance to get a panoramic perspective of Rio, Copacabana Beach and views of Christ the Redeemer. See all of Rio’s attractions in this day tour – don’t forget about checking out downtown Rio de Janeiro. And when you’ve explored enough of the city, check out some of the best day trips from Rio.

The huge statue of Christ the Redeemer is considered one of the seven man-made wonders of the world. Standing tall at the top of Corcovado summit, the view from the top is best enjoyed at sunset.

The marine life and silver white sands of the beaches of Porto de Galinhas make for a truly relaxing break. Whether you choose to explore the shallow reefs, kayak or surf – a host of marine activities await you.

Brazil is blessed with great biodiversity. This biodiversity is at its best in the Amazon Rainforest. If you enjoy wildlife spotting, take a boat from the town of Manaus and see exotic creatures that you may have not seen in the wild before. There are several other things to do in Manaus.

The Rio Carnival is arguably one of the greatest shows on Earth. Prepare to be bedazzled with dance troupes, samba dancers and wild street parties, if you visit during this time.

Shopping in Brazil

Some traditional items to buy in Brazil are:

  • Hand-crafted jewelry particularly using Brazilian soapstone
  • African-influenced souvenirs
  • Havaianas sandals
  • Woven cotton hammocks
  • Brazilian football shirt
  • Emeralds from Minas Gerais
  • Bottled butter used for pouring in small quantities over dishes for that extra indulgent flavour
  • Brazilian swimwear
  • Cangas – a Brazilian beach towel which can have multiple uses. As a scarf, beach dress, skirt or as fabric.
  • Cachaca- the national spirit made from sugarcane.

There are many great places to shop in Brazil. São Paulo has a lot of different shopping options.

For luxury clothes shopping in São Paulo head to Daslu which is a boutique department store. It’s a good place to have a coffee and also indulge in some retail therapy. A place with designer options and low end retail options is the Shopping Patio Higienopolis. Rua 25 de Marco has everything from toys, clothes and gadgets at cheap prices. Prepare for the crowds though!

Rio de Janeiro has shops, markets and malls in plenty. Visconde de Piraja is a region in Ipanema with a high concentration of malls. Forum Ipanema, Galeria Astor, Galeria Beco de Ipanema and more are to be found here.

Shopping Lebanon has 200 or more stores and restaurants, which allows for a satisfying shopping experience with food and shopping. The Santa Teresa district has a number of art stores and cafes.

Brazil’s Nightlife

The two best places in Brazil to experience the nightlife are Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

In Rio de Janeiro there is unparalleled nightlife but it helps to know exactly where to find it. You can find everything here from underground samba to nightclubs spread on multiple levels.

Lapa is the nightlife hotspot of Rio and is popular with the students and young crowd. Apart from the bars, samba clubs and nightclubs you can also experience outdoor parties with live samba music and Latin beats. The best places to find these are Praca XV and Rua do Ouvidor. Join this pub crawl in Lapa.

Santa Teresa is the bohemian neighbourhood of Rio. Head there for the caipirinhas and bar snacks at the bar of the Hotel Santa Teresa.

Copacabana is home to Rio’s iconic beach and has quite a few good bars to socialize in.

The Jungle Garden Pub in Botafogo is a cool bar with a fun theme.

Skye is one of São Paulo’s most fashionable bars with a great view onto the skyline of the glittering city.

If you are looking for a chilled way to enjoy the nightlife in São Paulo, look not further than Rabo de Peixe, a typical Brazilian pub with an outdoor patio. Relax with a chilled beer and Brazilian pub food.

Safety Tips for Brazil

There is no denying that the crime rate in Brazil is quite high, in fact much higher than most countries. The murder rate is four times higher than some countries that are considered developed. Carjacking, pickpocketing, armed robberies and burglaries are some common crimes.

Do not accept items of jewelry from locals. They may be used to mark vulnerable tourists. Always ask people at your hotel or accommodation for advice before visiting unknown neighbourhoods or establishments. Many of the locals will only be able to converse in Portuguese, so this may be your handicap if you don’t speak the language.

It’s wise not to display flashy jewelry, expensive phones or large amounts of cash when out and about in Brazil. This may make you a target for crime. It is advisable not to enter favelas. They may be used by gangs for nefarious activities.

Tap water quality varies from place to place in Brazil. In general, it is advisable not to drink tap water without filtering.

Conclusion

Brazil is the largest and most populous country in South America. The capital is centred at Brasilia, with São Paulo being its most populous city.

Anyone who has ever wanted to visit Brazil, will undoubtedly have been allured by the beauty of Rio de Janeiro, its sun drenched beaches, Copacabana coming to mind. Travel to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain for unparalleled panoramic views of Rio and the vision of the monumental statue of Christ the Redeemer.

If you are a music lover you will be wooed by the beat of Samba and if you time your visit correctly, you may be treated to the spectacle of the lively Rio Carnival. With over 2 million people attending the festival, it is truly a sight to behold.

If you are a nature lover, a trip to the Amazon Rainforest is a sure way to view wildlife like tens of thousands of plant species, birds, reptiles, mammals and fish. Brown-throated sloths, Emperor tamarins, jaguars, bald uakari are some special species to keep an eye out for.

Brazilians count as some of the most friendly and hospitable people in the world. Enjoy your trip to one of the most fun-loving and lively countries in South America – Brazil.

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