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Brazil travel guide - Travel S Helper


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Brazil, formally the Federative Republic of Brazil, is South America’s and Latin America’s biggest nation. As the world’s fifth-biggest nation in terms of both territory and population, it is also the largest country with Portuguese as an official language, and the only one in the Americas. Brazil, which is bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, has a 7,491-kilometer-long coastline (4,655 mi). It has a land border with every other South American country except Ecuador and Chile and accounts for 47.3 percent of the continent’s land area. Its Amazon River basin is covered by a huge tropical forest that is home to a diversity of species, biological systems, and abundant natural resources spread over many protected areas. Brazil is one of 17 megadiverse nations as a result of this unique natural legacy, and is the topic of much worldwide attention and discussion over deforestation and environmental preservation.

Brazil was inhabited by many indigenous tribes prior to explorer Pedro lvares Cabral’s arrival in 1500, when he claimed the region for the Portuguese Empire. Brazil was a colony of Portugal until 1808, when the empire’s capital was relocated from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro. The colony was raised to kingdom status in 1815 as part of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves. In 1822, the Empire of Brazil was established as a unified state ruled by a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary system. The first constitution, ratified in 1824, resulted in the establishment of a bicameral legislature, currently known as the National Congress. In 1889, after a military coup, the nation became a presidential republic. In 1964, an authoritarian military junta took control and governed until 1985, when civilian government restored. Brazil is a democratic federal republic, as defined by the country’s current constitution, which was drafted in 1988. The federation is made up of the Federal District of Columbia, 26 states, and 5,570 municipalities.

As of 2015, Brazil’s economy was the ninth biggest in the world in terms of nominal GDP and the seventh largest in terms of GDP (PPP). Brazil, a BRICS member, was one of the world’s fastest growing major economies until 2010, thanks to economic reforms that earned the country unprecedented worldwide reputation and influence. Brazil’s development bank is critical to the country’s economic progress. Brazil founded the United Nations, the G20, the BRICS, Unasul, Mercosul, the Organization of American States, the Organization of Ibero-American States, the CPLP, and the Latin Union. Brazil is a regional power in Latin America and a medium power in international politics, with some experts predicting that it could emerge as a global power in the near future. Brazil, one of the world’s main breadbaskets, has been the world’s biggest coffee grower for the past 150 years.

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Brazil - Info Card




Real (R$) (BRL)

Time zone

UTC−2 to −5 (BRT)


8,515,767 km2 (3,287,956 sq mi)

Calling code


Official language


Brazil | Introduction

People In Brazil

Throughout its history, Brazil has absorbed many different peoples and practices. Brazil is a melting pot of diverse ethnic groups, which mitigates somewhat against ethnic prejudice and racial conflict, although the long slavery and even genocide of indigenous peoples has taken its toll. Prejudice is generally directed against different social classes rather than between races. Nevertheless, race, as referred to by skin colour, remains a divisive factor in Brazilian society, and it is noticeable that skin generally becomes darker as one moves down the social ladder: the upper class rich tend to be white; many members of the middle class are mixed race and the majority of the poor are black. Today, however, Afro-Brazilians and Amerindians are increasingly aware of their civil rights and rich cultural heritage, and can expect to achieve social mobility through education.

In general, Brazilians are a fun-loving people. While southerners may be considered a bit more chill and reserved, Rio’s northerners can boast a lively attitude and an appreciation for leisure.

Friendship and hospitality are highly valued by Brazilians, and family ties and social interactions are highly valued. To people they already know, or at least know their names, Brazilians are generally very open, friendly and sometimes even generous. Once introduced, a typical Brazilian will treat you as warmly as they would a best friend until they have a good reason not to. Brazilians are reputed to be one of the most hospitable people in the world and foreigners are generally treated with respect and often with genuine admiration. That said, tourism in Brazil, as in most countries of the world, brings out the darker side of humanity.

Attitudes towards foreigners may also be subject to regional differences:

  • The state of Santa Catarina welcomes its Spanish-speaking tourists with bilingual signs and welcome committees.
  • In Salvador, the largest city in the north-east, anyone who talks, acts or looks like a tourist (even other Brazilians!) can be charged higher prices, especially in car parks, restaurants, etc.

Most Brazilians are honest and genuinely nice, but many are used to small acts of corruption in everyday life, known as jeitinho brasileiro. If you obviously look like a tourist, you are a potential target; for example, a vendor may try to sell goods at higher prices, or a taxi driver may choose the longest route to your destination. This doesn’t mean that you can’t trust anyone, just that you should be a little more vigilant and careful, especially if someone seems too friendly.

While the ‘Western’ roots of Brazilian culture are largely European, especially Iberian, as evidenced by the colonial cities and historic buildings scattered among the new skyscrapers, there has been a strong trend in recent decades towards a more ‘American’ way of life, manifested in urban culture and architecture, mass media, consumerism and a positive attitude towards technological progress. Nevertheless, Brazil remains a nation that looks to the Atlantic rather than to Hispanic America, and the intellectual elites look to Europe, especially France, for inspiration rather than the United States. Many aspects of Brazilian society, such as the educational system, are inspired by the French and may, at first glance, seem alien to the North American visitor.

Brazilians are not Hispanic. Some may be offended if a visitor says so, or believe that Brazilians have Spanish as their main language. Visitors will be welcomed more warmly if they try to start a conversation in Portuguese. If the visitor speaks Spanish to Brazilians, they may respond in Portuguese.

The contrasts of this vast country fascinate and shock most visitors, especially Europeans, in equal measure. The indifference of many inhabitants to social, economic and environmental problems can be disconcerting to visitors who are used to dealing with these issues at home. While an elite of well-educated professionals and the political class share the comforts of modern society, even in cities blessed with economic growth and significant foreign investment, such as São Paulo or Rio, child labour, illiteracy and conspicuously substandard housing are still present.

While Brazilians recognise that their self-sufficiency in raw materials, agriculture and energy sources is a considerable advantage for the future, they agree that it will be difficult to escape poverty and underdevelopment without huge changes in education and access to entrepreneurship for all.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, Brazil has faced a growing wave of immigration from China, Bolivia and Haiti.

Weather & Climate in Brazil

Brazil’s climate encompasses a wide range of weather conditions over a vast area and varied topography, but most of the country is tropical. According to the Köppen system, Brazil has five main climate subtypes: equatorial, tropical, semi-arid, mountain tropical, temperate and subtropical. The different climatic conditions give rise to environments ranging from equatorial rainforests in the north and semi-arid deserts in the northeast to temperate coniferous forests in the south and tropical savannahs in central Brazil. Many regions have very different microclimates.

An equatorial climate characterises most of northern Brazil. There is no real dry season, but there is some variation in the time of year when it rains the most. Temperatures average 25°C, with greater variations between day and night than between seasons.

In central Brazil, rainfall tends to be seasonal, which is characteristic of a savannah climate. This region is the same size as the Amazon basin, but its climate is very different because it is further south at a higher altitude. In the interior of the Northeast, seasonal rainfall is even more extreme. This semi-arid region generally receives less than 800 millimetres of rain, most of which falls over a period of three to five months a year, sometimes less, resulting in long periods of drought. The Grande Seca (Great Drought) of 1877-78, the worst in Brazil’s history, caused about half a million deaths. An equally devastating drought occurred in 1915.

South of Bahia, near the coast, and further south in most of the state of São Paulo, the distribution of precipitation changes, with rainfall throughout the year. In the south, subtropical conditions prevail, with cool winters and average annual temperatures that do not exceed 18°C; winter frosts and snowfall are not uncommon in the higher areas.

Time zones In Brazil

Time zones can be confusing in Brazil. The country spans four standard time zones, from UTC-2 to UTC-5, in Brazilian terms “Brasilia time -2” to “Brasilia time +1”. As a general rule, the central and south-eastern states of the country observe daylight saving time (clocks are set forward one hour), while the others do not. Visitors from the northern hemisphere should also bear in mind that Brazil is south of the equator and that daylight saving time is applied at a very different time of year from what they are used to – from October to February.

  • Brasilia Time +1 (UTC-2): Fernando de Noronha and some other small islands in the Atlantic. There is no daylight saving time in this time zone.
  • Brasilia time (UTC-3): Southeast, South, Northeast, Goiás, Distrito Federal, Tocantins, Pará, Amapá. Daylight saving time is observed in Goiás, Distrito Federal and in the South-East and South regions.
  • Brasilia Time -1 (UTC-4): Roraima, Eastern Amazon, Rondônia, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul. The last two states observe daylight saving time.
  • Brasilia time -2 (UTC-5): Acre, Western Amazon. None of these places observe daylight saving time.

Tourism In Brazil

In Brazil, tourism is a growing sector and a key element of the economy in several regions of the country. The country welcomed 5 million visitors in 2010 and ranks as the second largest destination in South America and third in Latin America after Mexico and Argentina in terms of international tourist arrivals. International tourism receipts reached US$6 billion in 2010, showing a recovery from the 2008-2009 economic crisis, and historic records of 5.4 million visitors and US$6.8 billion in receipts were set in 2011.

Natural areas are the most popular tourism product, a combination of ecotourism with leisure and relaxation activities, mainly sun and beach, as well as adventure travel and cultural tourism. The most popular destinations are the Amazon rainforest, the beaches and dunes of the north-eastern region, the Pantanal in the central-western region, the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and Santa Catarina, cultural tourism in Minas Gerais and business travel in the city of São Paulo.

In relation to the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) 2015, which measures the factors that make it attractive to do business in each country’s travel and tourism industry, Brazil is ranked 28th in the world. Brazil’s main competitive advantages are its natural resources, which rank 1st of all countries considered for this criterion, and 23rd for its cultural resources, thanks to its many World Heritage sites. The TTCI report highlights Brazil’s main weaknesses: Land transport infrastructure remains underdeveloped (ranked 116), with road quality ranked 105; and the country continues to suffer from a lack of price competitiveness (ranked 114), partly due to high ticket taxes and airport fees, as well as high prices and taxes. Safety and security have improved considerably, ranking 75th in 2011, up from 128th in 2008.

According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), international travel to Brazil accelerated in 2000, particularly in 2004 and 2005, but slowed down in 2006 and international arrivals hardly increased in 2007-2008. Despite this trend, international tourism receipts continued to increase from US$4 billion in 2005 to US$5 billion in 2007, despite 330,000 fewer arrivals. This favourable trend is the result of the sharp depreciation of the US dollar against the Brazilian real that began in 2004, making Brazil a more expensive international destination. This trend changed in 2009, when visitor numbers and revenues declined due to the great recession of 2008-09. In 2010, the sector recovered and arrivals surpassed 2006 levels to reach 5.2 million international visitors, and revenues from these visitors reached US$6 billion. In 2011, the all-time record was set with 5.4 million visitors and US$6.8 billion in revenue.

Despite record revenues from international tourism, the number of Brazilian tourists travelling abroad has increased steadily since 2003, resulting in a negative net foreign exchange balance, as Brazilians spend more money abroad than international tourists visit Brazil. Tourist spending abroad rose from US$5.8 billion in 2006 to US$8.2 billion in 2007, an increase of 42%, resulting in a net deficit of US$3.3 billion in 2007. This trend is due to Brazilians taking advantage of the strong real to travel and spend abroad at a relatively low price. Brazilians who travelled abroad in 2006 represented 4% of the country’s population.

In 2005, tourism contributed 3.2% of the country’s revenue from the export of goods and services and accounted for 7% of direct and indirect employment in the Brazilian economy. In 2006, direct employment in this sector reached 1.9 million people. Domestic tourism is a fundamental market segment for the sector, as 51 million people travelled in the country in 2005 and the direct income of Brazilian tourists reached 22 billion dollars, 5.6 times more than the income of international tourists in 2005.

In 2005, Rio de Janeiro, Foz do Iguaçu, São Paulo, Florianópolis and Salvador were the most visited cities by international tourists for leisure travel. The most popular destinations for business travel were São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre. In 2006, Rio de Janeiro and Fortaleza were the most popular destinations for business travel.

Geography Of Brazil

Brazil occupies a vast area along the east coast of South America and encompasses much of the interior of the continent. It is bordered by Uruguay to the south, Argentina and Paraguay to the southwest, Bolivia and Peru to the west, Colombia to the northwest, and Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and France (French overseas region of Guyana) to the north. It shares a border with all South American countries except Ecuador and Chile. It also includes a number of oceanic island groups, such as Fernando de Noronha, Rocas Atoll, the rocks of St. Peter and Paul, and Trindade and Martim Vaz. Its size, relief, climate and natural resources make Brazil a geographically diverse country. With its Atlantic islands, Brazil extends between latitudes 6°N and 34°S and longitudes 28° and 74°W.

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and the third largest in the Americas, with a total area of 8,515,767.049 km2 (3,287,956 sq mi), of which 55,455 km2 (21,411 sq mi) is water. It spans four time zones: from UTC-5, which includes the state of Acre and the westernmost part of the Amazon, to UTC-4 in the western states, to UTC-3 in the eastern states (the national time), and to UTC-2 in the Atlantic islands.

Brazil is the only country in the world crossed by the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn. It is also the only country with contiguous territory both inside and outside the tropics. Brazil’s topography is also diverse and includes hills, mountains, plains, highlands and scrubland. Much of the terrain lies between 200 and 800 m above sea level. The main upland area occupies most of the southern half of the country. The north-western parts of the plateau consist of a broad, rolling terrain punctuated by low, rounded hills.

The south-eastern part is more rugged, with a complex mass of ridges and mountain ranges that reach heights of up to 1,200 metres (3,900 feet). These ranges include the Mantiqueira and Espinhaço mountains and the Serra do Mar. To the north, the highlands of Guyana form a major watershed that separates the rivers flowing south into the Amazon basin from those flowing north into the Orinoco system in Venezuela. The highest point in Brazil is Pico da Neblina at 2,994 metres, the lowest is the Atlantic Ocean.

Brazil has a dense and complex river system, one of the largest in the world, with eight major river basins, all of which flow into the Atlantic Ocean. The main rivers are the Amazon (the second longest river in the world and the largest in terms of water volume), the Paraná and its main tributary the Iguaçu (with the Iguazu Falls), the Negro, the São Francisco, the Xingu, the Madeira and the Tapajós.

Demographics Of Brazil

Brazil’s population was approximately 190 million in 2008 according to PNAD (22.31 inhabitants per square kilometre or 57.8/km²), with a male/female ratio of 0.95:1 and 83.75% of the population defined as urban. The population is heavily concentrated in the South-East (79.8 million inhabitants) and the North-East (53.5 million inhabitants), while the two largest regions, the Centre-West and the North, which together represent 64.12% of the Brazilian territory, have only 29.1 million inhabitants.

The first census in Brazil took place in 1872 and recorded a population of 9,930,478. Between 1880 and 1930, 4 million Europeans arrived. Between 1940 and 1970, Brazil’s population increased significantly due to a decline in the mortality rate, although the birth rate declined slightly. In the 1940s, the annual population growth rate was 2.4%, rising to 3.0% in the 1950s and remaining at 2.9% in the 1960s, while life expectancy rose from 44 to 54 years and to 72.6 years in 2007. It has declined steadily since the 1960s, from 3.04% per year between 1950 and 1960 to 1.05% in 2008, and is expected to fall to a negative rate of -0.29% by 2050, completing the demographic transition.

In 2008, the illiteracy rate was 11.48% and 1.74% among young people (15-19 years). It was highest (20.30%) in the North East, where there is a large proportion of rural poor. The illiteracy rate was high in the rural population (24.18%) and lower in the urban population (9.05%).

Race and ethnicity

According to the 2008 National Household Sample Survey (PNAD), 48.43% of the population (about 92 million) identified themselves as white; 43.80% (about 83 million) as pardo (brown); 6.84% (about 13 million) as black; 0.58% (about 1.1 million) as Asian; and 0.28% (about 536 thousand) as Amerindian (officially called indígena), while 0.07% (about 130 thousand) did not indicate their race.

In 2007, the National Indian Foundation estimated that there were 67 different uncontacted tribes in Brazil, up from 40 in 2005. Brazil is considered the country with the largest number of uncontacted peoples in the world.

Since the arrival of the Portuguese in the 1500s, there has been considerable racial mixing between Americans, Europeans and Africans in all parts of the country (with European ancestry dominating by 65% to 77% nationally according to the vast majority of all autosomal studies conducted for the entire population).

Brazilian society is more divided along class lines, although there is a significant income gap between racial groups, so that racism and classism can be confused. Socially significant proximity to a racial group is considered on the basis of appearance (phenotypes) rather than ancestry, as complete siblings may belong to different ‘racial’ groups. Socio-economic factors are also important, as a minority of Pardos are likely to identify themselves as White or Black as they move up the social ladder. Skin colour and facial features do not entirely correspond to ancestry (in general, Afro-Brazilians are uniformly mixed and European ancestry is dominant among Whites and Pardos with a significant non-European contribution, but individual variation is high).

The brown population (officially called pardo in Portuguese, colloquially moreno) is a broad category that includes caboclos (assimilated Americans in general and descendants of whites and natives), mulatos (descendants of whites and Afro-Brazilians mainly) and cafuzos (descendants of Afro-Brazilians and natives). People with considerable Amerindian ancestry form the majority of the population in the northern, north-eastern and central-western regions.

Higher percentages of blacks, mulattos and triracials are found on the east coast of the northeast region, from Bahia to Paraíba, as well as in northern Maranhão, southern Minas Gerais and eastern Rio de Janeiro. From the 19th century onwards, Brazil opened its borders to immigration. About five million people from more than 60 countries immigrated to Brazil between 1808 and 1972, most of them of Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, German, Ukrainian, Polish, Jewish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Arab origin.


Religion in Brazil emerged from the confluence of the Catholic Church with the religious traditions of enslaved African and indigenous peoples. This confluence of beliefs during the Portuguese colonisation of Brazil led to the development of a variety of syncretic practices within the Brazilian Catholic Church, characterised by traditional Portuguese festivals and, in some cases, the spiritualism of Allan Kardec (a religion containing elements of spiritualism and Christianity). Religious pluralism increased in the 20th century, and the Protestant community reached over 22% of the population. The most widespread Protestant denominations are the Pentecostals and the Evangelicals. Other Protestant branches with a significant presence in the country are the Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Lutherans and the Reformed tradition.

Roman Catholicism is the predominant faith in the country. Brazil has the largest Catholic population in the world. According to the 2000 census (the PNAD survey does not ask about religion), 73.57% of the population is a follower of Roman Catholicism; 15.41% of Protestantism; 1.33% of Cardecist spiritualism; 1.22% other Christian denominations; 0.31% Afro-Brazilian religions; 0.13% Buddhism; 0.05% Judaism; 0.02% Islam; 0.01% Amerindian religions; 0.59% other religions, undeclared or undetermined; while 7.35% have no religion.

In the last decade, however, Protestantism, especially Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism, has become more widespread in Brazil, while the proportion of Catholics has decreased considerably. After Protestantism, people who do not profess any religion are also an important group, representing more than 7% of the population in the 2000 census. The cities of Boa Vista, Salvador and Porto Velho have the largest percentage of non-religious residents in Brazil. Teresina, Fortaleza and Florianópolis are the most Catholic in the country. Greater Rio de Janeiro, excluding the city itself, is the most irreligious and least Catholic peripheral region in Brazil, while Greater Porto Alegre and Greater Fortaleza are at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Language In Brazil

The official language of Brazil is Portuguese, which is spoken by the entire population (with the exception of some very remote tribes). In fact, Brazil has been home to immigrants from all parts of the world for centuries, whose descendants now speak Portuguese as their mother tongue.

Brazilian Portuguese has a number of pronunciation differences from that spoken in Portugal (and within regions, between regions, there are quite extreme accent and slang differences), but speakers of both languages can understand each other. However, European Portuguese (Luso) is more difficult for Brazilians to understand than the other way round, as many Brazilian TV programmes are broadcast in Portugal. Note that some words can have completely different meanings in Brazil and Portugal, mainly slang words. For example, “rapariga”, which means “young girl” in Portugal and “prostitute” in Brazil.

English is not widely spoken, except in some tourist areas. Don’t expect bus or taxi drivers to understand English, so it may be a good idea to write down the address you are going to before you take a taxi. In most large luxury hotels, it is very likely that the taxi fleet speaks some English. If you really need to converse in English, look for younger people (under 30) as they usually have better language skills and will be happy to help you and practice their English.

Spanish speakers generally do well in Brazil, especially in the south. While written Portuguese may be quite similar to Spanish, spoken Portuguese differs considerably and is much more difficult to understand. Compare the number 20, which is veinte (BAYN-teh) in Spanish, with vinte (VEEN-chee) in Brazilian Portuguese. Even more different is gente (people), pronounced “HEN-teh” in Spanish and “ZHEN-chee” in Brazilian Portuguese. The letters CH, D, G, J, R, RR and T are particularly difficult for Spanish speakers to understand, even without considering the vowels. The pronunciation of the letter “R” at the beginning of most words is often confusing for Spanish and even English speakers. Common first names like Roberto, Ronaldo and Rolando are not pronounced the way you think: The “R” is pronounced like an “H”. This is how you say Hoberto, Honaldo, and Holando. If you address Ronaldo with a perfect Spanish pronunciation, he will most likely look at you with a puzzled look and wonder who or what you are addressing.

Non-verbal communication

Brazilians use many gestures in informal communication, and the meaning of certain words or expressions can be influenced by these gestures.

  • The thumbs up gesture is used to mean that everything is fineyes, or even thank you. Avoid using the OK hand gesture for these meanings, as it may be considered obscene.
  • If you wiggle your index finger back and forth and/or click your tongue behind your teeth two or three times, it means no…
  • If you pull on one of your lower eyelids with your index finger, be careful.
  • Running your thumb over your two largest fingers is a way of saying that something is expensive.
  • Slamming a few times means it’s been a while.
  • Touching the lips and then brushing them is delicious; pinching the earlobe is the same in some regions.
  • Making a fist with the thumb between the index and middle fingers, called figa, is a sign of good or bad luck, depending on the region.
  • If I touch my palm with my thumb and make a circular movement with my hand, it means that I am being robbed/robbed in certain areas.
  • The gesture of silence is considered extremely impolite, a bit like shouting “Shut up!” at someone.
  • An informal way to get someone’s attention, similar to a whistle, is to make a whistle, “Pssiu! It is not considered rude, but becomes very annoying if repeated too often.

Internet & Communications in Brazil

By telephone

Brazil has an international telephone code of 55 and two-digit area codes, and telephone numbers are eight or nine digits long. Some regions used seven digits until 2006, which means you can still find old phone numbers that don’t work unless you add another digit. (Most of the time, try adding a 2 or 3 at the beginning, or if it is an eight-digit number that starts with 6 to 9, try adding a 9 at the beginning.)

Eight-digit numbers beginning with the digits 2 to 5 are landline phones, while eight- or nine-digit numbers beginning with the digits 6 to 9 are mobile phones.

All cities use the following emergency numbers:

  • 190 – Police
  • 192 – SAMU (Mobile emergency service)
  • 193 – Firefighters

However, if you call 911 while in Brazil, you will be directed to the police.

To dial to another area code or country, you must select a network operator with a two-digit network operator code. The operators available depend on the area you are calling from and the area you are calling to. Operator 21 (Embratel) is available in all areas.

The international number format for calls to Brazil from other countries is +55-(area code)-(telephone number).


  • To dial another area code: 0-(operator code)-(area code)-(telephone number)
  • To call another country: 00-(operator code)-(country code)-(area code)-(telephone number)
  • Collect local call: 90-90-(phone number)
  • Collect call to another area code: 90-(operator code)-(area code)-(call number)
  • International collect call: 000111 or via Embratel on 0800-703-2111

Public payphones use single-use prepaid cards with 20, 40, 60 or 75 credits. The discount for purchasing cards with larger denominations is marginal. Phone boxes can be found almost everywhere, and all cards can be used in all booths, regardless of who owns the phone company. The cards can be bought in many small shops, and almost all news agencies sell them. Farmácia Pague Menos sells them at the official (telephone company) price, which is slightly cheaper. Calls to mobile phones (even local ones) use up your credit very quickly (almost as expensive as international calls). Calls to the US cost about one real per minute. All international and Brazilian phone codes can be found on the DDI and DDD phone codes.

With the mobile phone

When travelling in Brazil, although it may seem preferable to take your mobile phone with you, don’t overlook the benefits of phone cards for calling your loved ones. Buy a Brazilian phone card when you plan your trip. Brazil phone cards [www]

Brazil has four national mobile operators: Vivo (Telefónica Group), Claro (Telmex/América Móvil Group), OI and TIM (Telecom Italia Group), all of which operate GSM, HSDPA/HSPA+ and LTE networks. There are also smaller operators, such as Nextel (NII/Sprint Group) (with iDEN Push-To-Talk and HSPA+), CTBC-ALGAR (GSM and HSDPA in the Triangulo Mineiro region (Minas Gerais)) and Sercomtel (GSM and HSDPA in Paraná)

Prepaid SIM cards for GSM phones are widely available in places such as kiosks, pharmacies, supermarkets, retail shops, etc. Vivo uses 850/1800/1900 MHz frequencies, while other operators use 900/1800 MHz (and in some specific cases 1900Mhz). 3G/HSDPA coverage is available mainly in the major cities of the south-eastern states and in the capital cities. Some states use 850MHz, while others use 2100MHz for 3G/HSDPA. For LTE, all states and operators use the European frequency 2600Mhz (B7) (700Mhz B28 is currently being tested).

If you prefer, you can use international roaming with any operator (subject to roaming agreements). In this case, if you want to call Brazil, you must call the number directly, as shown above, or use the standard method, such as +, to call abroad.

All major operators (Vivo, Claro, TIM and Oi) can send and receive text messages (SMS) and phone calls to/from abroad. Some operators (such as Vivo, Claro and TIM) can send and receive international SMS.


Internet cafes (lan houses) are becoming more and more common, and even in small towns there is often at least one place with more or less decent connections.

More and more hotels, airports and shopping centres are also offering hotspots where you can use Wi-Fi with your laptop or smartphone.


The Brazilian Correio [www] is fairly reliable and post offices are everywhere. Be aware, however, that if you ask how much it costs to send a letter, postcard or parcel, you will automatically be told the ‘priority’ price (prioritário) instead of the normal price (econômico). You may think it’s quicker with priority, but that’s not always true; sometimes the delay is as long as with the normal rate, so make sure you ask for the “Econômico” price for everything you want to send.

Economy Of Brazil

Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America, the eighth largest economy in the world at market exchange rates and the seventh largest in purchasing power parity (PPP), according to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Brazil has a mixed economy with abundant natural resources. After rapid growth in previous decades, the country fell into a prolonged recession in 2014 amid political corruption scandals and nationwide protests.

GDP per capita (PPP) was US$15,048 in 2016, ranking Brazil 77th in the world, according to the IMF. Brazil is active in agriculture, mining, manufacturing and services, with over 107 million workers (6th in the world) and an unemployment rate of 6.2% (64th in the world).

The country has expanded its presence in international financial and commodity markets and is part of a group of four emerging economies known as the BRIC countries. Brazil has been the world’s leading coffee producer for 150 years. It is now the fourth largest automotive market in the world. Major exports include aircraft, electrical equipment, automobiles, ethanol, textiles, footwear, iron ore, steel, coffee, orange juice, soybeans and corned beef. Overall, Brazil ranks 23rd in the world in terms of export value.

Brazil pegged its currency, the real, to the US dollar in 1994. However, following the East Asian financial crisis, the Russian default in 1998 and the series of negative financial events that followed, the Brazilian central bank temporarily changed its monetary policy to a managed float, while it experienced a currency crisis until it finally adopted a floating exchange rate regime in January 1999.

Brazil received a $30.4 billion rescue package from the International Monetary Fund in mid-2002, a record amount at the time. The Brazilian central bank repaid the IMF loan in 2005, although it was not due until 2006. One of the problems the Brazilian central bank has faced recently is the excess of speculative short-term capital inflows into the country, which may have contributed to the decline in the value of the US dollar against the real during this period. Nevertheless, foreign direct investment (FDI), which refers to long-term and less speculative investment in the manufacturing sector, is estimated at $193.8 billion in 2007. Inflation monitoring and control currently play an important role in the central bank’s role in setting short-term interest rates as a measure of monetary policy.

Between 1993 and 2010, 7012 mergers and acquisitions with a total known value of USD 707 billion involving Brazilian companies were announced. The year 2010 was a new record in terms of value with USD 115 billion worth of transactions. The largest transaction involving Brazilian companies was Cia Vale do Rio Doce’s acquisition of Inco in a takeover bid worth USD 18.9 billion.

Corruption costs Brazil alone almost $41 billion a year. 69.9% of the country’s businesses see this issue as a major obstacle to successful global market penetration. Corruption in local government is so widespread that voters only perceive it as a problem when it exceeds a certain level and local media, such as a radio station, publicise the results of corruption allegations. Initiatives such as this exposure raise awareness, as shown by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranked Brazil 69th out of 178 countries in 2012. Purchasing power in Brazil is absorbed by the so-called cost of Brazil.

How To Travel To Brazil

Get In - By air

The cheapest airfares are from February (after Carnival) to May and from August to November. Tickets from New York, for example, can cost as little as US$699 including taxes. Many underbooked flights within Brazil are available at low prices.

São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport (IATA: GRU) is by far the largest international airport in Brazil. It is the hub of the airline TAM, which offers direct flights to many South American capitals. Other direct flights include:

North America: New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Dallas, Washington, D.C. and Toronto.

Europe: Lisbon and Porto with TAP, Madrid with Iberia, Air Europa, TAM and Air China, Barcelona with Singapore Airlines, Amsterdam and Paris with KLM-Air France and TAM (Paris), London with British Airways and TAM, Frankfurt with Lufthansa and TAM, Munich with Lufthansa, Zurich with Swiss, Rome with Alitalia, Milan with TAM, Istanbul with Turkish Airlines.

Asia: Seoul with Korean Air (via LAX), Doha with Qatar Airways, Abu Dhabi with Etihad, Dubai with Emirates, Singapore with Singapore Airlines (via BCN), and Beijing with Air China (via MAD).

Africa: Luanda with TAAG, Johannesburg with SAA, Addis Ababa with Ethiopian.

Brazil’s second busiest airport is Rio de Janeiro-Galeão International Airport (IATA: GIG), home to Gol Transportes Aéreos, which serves many regional destinations including Montevideo, Buenos Aires and Asuncion. Other direct flights include North America: Delta Air Lines serves Atlanta and New York, United Airlines Washington, D.C. and Houston, and American Airlines Charlotte, Miami, Dallas and New York. Africa: Taag Angola to Luanda about 3 times a week. Europe: Paris with Air France, Rome with Alitalia, London with British Airways, Madrid with Iberia, Amsterdam with KLM, Frankfurt with Lufthansa, Lisbon and Porto with TAP Portugal.

The northeastern capitals have slightly shorter flight times to Europe and North America:

Natal: Direct flights to Lisbon with TAP, Amsterdam with Arkefly.

Recife: Direct flights to Lisbon with TAP, to Miami with American Airlines and to Frankfurt with Condor.

Salvador: Direct flights to Lisbon with TAP, to Madrid with Air Europa, to Frankfurt with Condor and to Miami with American Airlines.

Fortaleza: Direct flights to Lisbon with TAP, Cabo Verde with TACV, and Rome with Air Italy.

In addition to the above-mentioned destinations, TAP has direct flights to Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Campinas and Porto Alegre. TAP Portugal is the foreign airline with the most destinations in Brazil, departing from Lisbon and Porto, and offers numerous connections to Europe and Africa.

Air travel in Brazil has increased exponentially in recent years, due in part to the poor condition of many Brazilian roads(qv) and the lack of a viable rail network (see India). Air travel is still relatively inexpensive, sometimes even a bargain, and is simply the best option for long-distance travel within the country. However, some major airports, notably São Paulo and Rio, are very congested.

Get In - By car

The main border crossings are at :

  • with Uruguay: Chuy/Chuí, Bella Unión/Barra do Quaraí, Artigas/Quaraí, Aceguá/Aceguá, Río Blanco/Jaguarão, and between Rivera/Santana do Livramento
  • with Argentina: Paso de los Libres/Uruguaiana, Santo Tomé/São Borja, Bernardo de Irigoyen/Dionísio Cerqueira, Tobuna/Paraíso (Santa Catarina), Comandante Andresito/Capanema, and between Puerto Iguazu/Foz do Iguaçu
  • with Paraguay: Ciudad del Este/Foz do Iguaçu, Salto del Guaira/Guaíra, and between Pedro Juan Caballero/Ponta Porã
  • with Bolivia: Puerto Suarez/Corumbá, Cobija/Brasileia/Epitaciolandia, San Matías/Cáceres and between Riberalta/Guayaramerin/Guajará-Mirim (the bridge over the Mamoré river will be ready in 2007)
  • with Peru: Iñapari/Assis Brasil
  • with Colombia: Letícia/Tabatinga No road links on either side of the border.
  • with Guyana: Lethem/Bonfim

In some border towns, notably Foz do Iguaçu/Ciudad del Este/Puerto Iguazu, you don’t need entry/exit stamps or other formalities for a day trip to the neighbouring country. These same cities are good places to go if, for whatever reason, you want to cross without contacting the immigration authorities.

Get In - By bus

This long-distance bus service connects Brazil with its neighbouring countries. The main capitals directly connected by bus are Buenos Aires, Asunción, Montevideo, Santiago de Chile and Lima. Direct connections from the first three are also easy to find, but from Lima it can be tricky, although it’s easy to do if you change at one of the other cities. They usually go to São Paulo, although Pelotas also has good connections. It is worth remembering that the distances between Sāo Paulo and all foreign capitals are considerable, and road journeys can take up to 3 days, depending on the distance and accessibility of the destination. The National Land Transport Authority has lists [www] of all international bus routes in operation, and Green Toad Bus [www] offers bus passes between Brazil and neighbouring countries, as well as around Brazil itself.

Get In - By boat

The Amazon boats connect northern Brazil with Peru, Venezuela and Colombia. The journey, however, is a gruelling 12 days upstream. From French Guiana, you can cross the Oyapoque River, which takes about 15 minutes.

Get In - By train

In the interior of Brazil, there are virtually no train services. There are exceptions to the rule, however, including the Trem da Morte, or death train, which runs from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to a small town just over the border in Corumbá, Mato Grosso do Sul. From there, there is another train line to São Paulo, which is not currently in operation, but bus services to São Paulo via the state capital, Campo Grande, are plentiful. The journey itself is notorious for being full of thieves who might steal your backpack or its contents, but security has been stepped up recently and the journey can be made without too much difficulty. It passes through Bolivia’s agricultural belt and along the way you can see a technophobic religious community similar in many ways to the Amish in the USA.

How To Travel Around Brazil

Get Around - By air

Brazilian Air Passport
If you are planning to visit different cities in Brazil, consider buying a Brazil Air Pass offered by TAM or Gol – you buy between 4 and 9 tickets that can be used at any time to any destination in Brazil served by the airline. The price of a 4-ticket pass is about US$580, while the full 9 tickets cost about US$1150. In addition, Gol also offers a cheaper airline pass that is only valid for travel in the northeast region of the country. These passes can only be purchased prior to arrival in the country, and you will need to prove that you have already purchased return international tickets or tickets for onward travel.

Air travel covers a large part of Brazil. Note that many flights make numerous stopovers en route, especially in hubs such as São Paulo or Brasilia. Most airports with regular passenger traffic are operated by the state-owned Infraero. [www]. They have a very useful website, with an English version. It lists all the airlines that operate at each airport and also provides up-to-date timetables.

There are now several Brazilian booking engines that are good (if not perfect) for comparing flights and prices between different airlines. They usually have extra charges, so it is cheaper to book on the airline’s website.

The Brazilian airline landscape has changed completely at least twice in the last ten years or so. The largest airlines are now TAM [www] and Gol [www], which share over 80% of the domestic market. The traditional Varig is now just another brand of Gol. The others are WebJet [www], Avianca [www] and Azul [www]. TRIP [www] offers short-haul flights to smaller airports in the country, and Pantanal [www] and Puma [www] are developing in the same segment. The Portuguese airline TAP [www] operates some domestic flights in codeshare with TAM. There are also a number of regional carriers, such as NHT [www] (Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina). The price differences, at least if you buy a ticket in time on the internet, are so small that it is pointless to call any of these airlines ‘low cost’, although WebJet and Azul have recently been slightly cheaper on domestic flights.

Booking on national airline websites can be frustrating for non-Brazilian citizens. You will often be asked for your CPF (national identity number) when paying by credit card. Even if you are a foreigner with a CPF, the sites often do not recognise it. Gol now accepts international cards, but the system is imperfect (Oct 2010). One trick that might work is to visit one of the foreign airline websites, although prices may vary. Many flights can also be found on foreign booking engines where CPF is not required. If you book several weeks in advance, most airlines offer you the option of paying by bank deposit (boleto bancário), which can actually be paid in cash not only in banks but also in many supermarkets, pharmacies and other shops. Buying a ticket at a travel agency usually costs R$30 more, although some special offers can only be found online.

Be aware that many domestic flights have so many stopovers that some, including yours, may not appear in the airport lists. Check your flight number and have it confirmed by ground staff.

Some domestic flights in Brazil are “international”, which means that the flight has arrived from abroad and continues without all passengers going through customs and immigration. This means that ALL passengers must do so at the next stop, including those who boarded in Brazil. DO NOT fill in a new immigration form, but show what you received when you arrived in Brazil.

Get Around - By car

Brazil has the largest road network in Latin America, with over 1.6 million kilometres. A car is a good idea if you want to explore picturesque areas, such as the historic cities of Minas Gerais, the Rio-Santos highway or the beaches of northeast Brazil. You’ll find the usual car rental agencies at the airports.

Many roads are in good condition, especially in the east and south of the country and along the coast. In other areas and outside the metropolitan areas, there are also gravel and dirt roads for which an off-road vehicle may be strongly recommended. This is particularly true in the Amazon region, where many roads are difficult or impossible to use during the rainy season from November to March. It is therefore advisable to travel with a good map and to be well informed about distances, road conditions and estimated travel time. Guia 4 Rodas road maps (available at most kiosks in Brazil) provide maps and distances as well as information on current road conditions. Cochera andina [www] publishes useful information on almost 300 roads in the country. In theory, driving rules in Brazil are similar to those in Western Europe or North America. In practice, driving in Brazil can be quite frightening if you are used to European (or even Mediterranean) or North American road culture, due to widespread violations of driving rules and their tolerance.

The distance to other vehicles is reduced to a minimum, people overtake whenever possible and change lanes without much warning. In many large cities, people are also assaulted when waiting at a red light at night. Even when they are not at risk of being assaulted, many drivers (including city bus drivers) run red lights or stop signs at night when they cannot see the traffic ahead. Drivers also engage in “creative” methods to save time, such as using oncoming traffic lanes. In rural areas, many pets are left on the side of the road, and sometimes they get lost in traffic. Pedestrians take a huge risk when crossing the road, as many drivers do not bother to slow down when they see pedestrians crossing. The quality of the pavement varies greatly, and the presence of huge potholes is a major disincentive to night driving. Also consider the risk of highway robberies after dark, not to mention truckers on amphetamines (to stay awake for days).

  • In Brazil, cars are driven on the right side of the road.
  • A flashing left signal means that the car in front of you is warning you not to overtake for some reason. If the car in front of you wants to show you that it is safe to overtake, it will turn on the right hand signal. The right hand signal is the same as the one that indicates that you are going to stop at the side of the road, so it means that you are going to slow down. On the other hand, the left signal is the same signal to indicate that you are going to overtake the car in front of you, which means that you are going to go faster.
  • The flashing and flickering headlights of cars coming from the other side of the road mean that you should be careful on the road. It usually indicates the presence of animals, police officers or speed cameras.
  • Keep the doors locked when driving, especially in large cities, as stop sign and red light assaults are quite common in some areas. You will make it easier for the thief if he can open the door and sit down. Also be careful not to leave your windows wide open, as someone could get their hands inside your car and steal a wallet, for example. Keep your handbags and valuables out of sight.

Get Around - By bike

In small towns, cycling is a common mode of transport. This does not mean that cyclists are generally respected by drivers of cars, trucks or buses. But you can find good roads with little traffic outside the cities. It is also easy to get a ride in a van or to get your bike on a long-distance bus. Cycle paths are almost non-existent in the cities, except on certain stretches of beach, such as in Rio de Janeiro and Recife.

There are cycling groups all over the country, such as the Sampa Bikers in São Paulo, which meet weekly.

Get Around - By train

The Brazilian railway system was largely demolished during the military regime. Today, only a few passenger lines remain:

  • The Serra Verde Express [www] from Curitiba to Paranaguá. This 150 km panoramic railway connects the capital of Paraná with the coastal towns of Morretes and Paranaguá, passing through the beautiful forest-covered mountains of Mata Atlântica de la Serra do Mar. The tour lasts about 3 hours and is accompanied by bilingual guides. Trains leave daily at 08:15 and prices start at around R$50 (return).
  • São João del Rei to Tiradentes – This 35 minute steam train ride is almost like stepping back in time. The train runs from Friday to Sunday, with departures from São João at 10am and 3pm and from Tiradentes at 1pm and 5pm. The round trip costs R$16.
  • Belo Horizonte to Vitória – Companhia Vale do Rio Doce [www] daily trains leave Belo Horizonte at 7.30am and Vitória at 7.00am. The journey time is approximately twelve and a half hours. Tickets are sold at the stations and a single ticket in 2nd class costs about R$65 (and R$89 for first class). Seats are limited and it is not possible to book, so it is advisable to buy in advance from the Vale’s website: [www]. The railway is almost 700 km long and is the second longest passenger line in Brazil.
  • From Ouro Preto to Mariana – panoramic trains on weekends (and public holidays) operated by Compania Vale do Rio Doce and ABPF (Associação Brasileira de Preservação Ferroviária). The train leaves Ouro Preto (or Mariana) at different times depending on the day or holiday (it is advisable to check the timetable before booking or buying tickets). The train serves both cities with two departures per day (sometimes three), and passes through pristine, unspoilt Atlantic forest reserves with stunning scenery. The journey takes about 1 hour and is 16 km long. As of 2016, prices start at R$40 (or R$58 if you buy the return ticket).
  • São Luis to Parauapebas – interesting because part of the route passes through the Amazon rainforest and it is the longest passenger railway in Brazil, almost 900km long.
  • From Macapá to Serra do Navio
  • From Campinas to Jaguariuna. Part of the old Ferrovia Mogiana, built to facilitate coffee exports in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Entertaining guided tours. Weekends and holidays only. Some steam trains. Reasonably priced. About 1 hour each way.

Get Around - By intercity bus

Long-distance buses are a convenient, inexpensive and sometimes (usually when you buy the more expensive ticket) quite comfortable way to travel between regions. Bus terminals (rodoviária) in cities play a similar role to railway stations in many countries. When travelling within Brazil, check the distance and duration of the journey. A trip from Rio de Janeiro to the southern region can take more than 24 hours, so it may be worth flying if you can afford it.

Brazil has a very good long-distance bus network. Basically, every city with more than 100,000 inhabitants has direct lines to the next few state capitals, as well as to other large cities in the same radius. Almost every small village has some kind of public transport (maybe a truck) to the nearest bus station.

Most of the time you have to go to the bus station to buy a ticket, although most of the major bus companies make reservations and sell tickets on the Internet, provided you buy your ticket some time in advance. In some cities you can also buy a ticket by phone and have it delivered to your hotel for an additional cost of about R$3-5. Some companies have also adopted the ingenious pricing policies of the airlines: in some cases you can save more than 50% by buying early. The option of flagging down a bus and boarding (if there is no free seat, you will have to stand and pay the full fare) is very common in the country. It works less well on some routes where armed robberies are common, such as the border with Paraguay and towards Foz do Iguaçu.

There is no single bus company that serves the whole country. So you have to identify the company that connects two cities in particular by calling the bus station of a city. ANTT, the national land transport authority, has a search engine (in Portuguese) for all available domestic bus routes. Be aware that some major cities, such as São Paulo and Rio, have more than one bus station, each covering specific cities within a given radius. It is a good idea to check in advance which bus station you are going to.

Bus services are often sold in three categories: Regular, Executive and First Class (Leito, in Portuguese). Regular may or may not be equipped with air conditioning. For longer distances or overnight trips, Executive offers more space and a folding board to rest your legs. First Class has even more space and only three seats per row, leaving plenty of room to sleep.

All journeys of more than 4 hours are made in buses equipped with toilets, and the buses stop at least once every 4 hours to eat or go to the toilet.

Brazilian bus stations, called rodoviária or terminal rodoviário, are usually located away from the city centres. They are often located in fairly congested areas, so if you are travelling at night, be prepared to take a taxi to and from the station. There will also be local bus routes.

Even if you have a valid ticket purchased elsewhere, you may need a boarding pass at some Brazilian bus stations. This can be obtained from the bus company, often for an additional fee. If you buy a ticket at the departure station, you will also receive this boarding pass.

Rodoviárias include many services, including fast food restaurants, cafes, internet cafes, toilets and luggage storage. In general, the larger the city, the more expensive the services (for example, leaving a suitcase as luggage can cost R$1 in a small city, but R$5 in Recife).

You may be asked for identification when buying tickets and when boarding the bus. This is required by Brazilian federal law for inter-state transport. Not all drivers can read foreign passports. Be prepared to show them that the name on the passport matches the name on the ticket.

Get Around - With the city bus

Most cities have an extensive bus service. Several companies may serve the same city. There is almost never a map of bus routes, and often stops are not marked. Be prepared for confusion and loss of time.

Buses have a sign behind the windscreen indicating the main destinations they serve. You may need to ask local people for information, but they may not know of any bus routes other than the ones they usually use.

In most cities, you have to signal to stop the bus if you want to catch it. This would not be a problem in itself; however, in large cities, dozens of bus lines may stop at one stop, and bus stops are not designed to accommodate so many vehicles. Often you can’t look at incoming buses because other buses are blocking your view. Bus drivers are reluctant to slow down at a stop unless they are sure that someone is on their bus. It is therefore common to miss your bus because you did not see it arrive in time to wave, or because the driver did not see it wave between two buses that were already at the stop. Some people walk in the middle of a busy street to wait for their bus to make sure that they see it and that the driver sees them. In some places, such as Manaus, drivers even tend to ignore requests to stop the bus (both to get on and off) if the walk to the stop is not too easy.

Most city buses have a driver and a conductor. The driver sits behind a cash register next to a turnstile. You have to pay the driver; the bus fare is usually displayed on the windscreen. The turnstiles are narrow and very uncomfortable if you are carrying a load of any kind (try balancing a heavy backpack over the turnstile while the bus is moving). Larger buses often have a front area in front of the turnstile which is mainly for the elderly, disabled and pregnant women – you can use it, but you still have to pay! Typical prices are around R$3.00.

You can try asking the driver to warn you when the bus is approaching your destination. Depending on whether they understand you and want to help you, you may get help.

In addition to the buses in the major cities, there are often minibuses or minivans (alternativo). You pay the driver when you get on board.

Get Around - With e-hailing

There are several e-transport services in Brazil, of which Uber is the most important. The best known e-hailing services in Brazil are :

  • Uber (covers most major capitals and over 20 rural towns).
  • Cabify (covers some capitals)
  • T-81 (Brazilian application, covers some capitals)

Destinations in Brazil


Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world. It is divided into five regions, which are mainly oriented towards state borders, but also more or less follow natural, economic and cultural boundaries.

  • North (Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima, Tocantins).
    The Amazon, the rainforest and border life, with a notable Indian influence. Note that the state of Mato Grosso, in the Centre-West region (below), is also largely in the Amazon basin.
  • Northeast (Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte, Sergipe).
    Mainly Hick culture (Caipira), with a black culture in Bahia, mixed with early Iberian folklore and indigenous traditions. This region is often considered the most beautiful coast of the country and has the sunniest and warmest climate; but it is also the driest and poorest region of the country. Capital of the “Forró” musical style.
  • Centre-West (Distrito Federal (Federal District), Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul).
    The wetlands of the Pantanal, the large farms, the young cities, the Cerrado and the Federal District with its otherworldly modernist architecture. Birthplace of the “Sertanejo” musical style.
  • Southeast (Espirito Santo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo).
    The cosmopolitan heart of the country. São Paulo and Rio are the country’s largest cities and its economic and industrial centre; there are also some centuries-old colonial towns, especially in Minas Gerais.
  • South (Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, Santa Catarina).
    It is a country of valleys and pampas, where a strong gaucho culture (shared with Uruguay and Argentina) meets European influences. It has several medium-sized cities and rural settlements. Important German, Italian, Polish and Ukrainian movements took place in the region during the 19th century.


Brazil has many exciting cities to offer, from pretty colonial towns and coastal hideaways to bustling, bustling metropolises; here are some of the most important destinations:

  • Brasília – the capital of Brazil, and an architectural spectacle. Notable buildings include the basket-shaped cathedral, the beautiful Arches Palace (seat of the Ministry of Justice) and others.
  • Florianópolis – The city is located on an island in the Atlantic Ocean in the southern state of Santa Catarina, with lakes, lagoons, amazing nature and over 40 clean, beautiful and natural beaches. Important tourist destination for Argentines during the summer months.
  • Fortaleza – Brazil’s fourth largest city with beautiful beaches. This is where the Iracema Beach street market is held. A good base for exploring the beaches of the north-east coast, including Jericoacoara. Famous for its forró music and comedians.
  • Manaus – located in the heart of the Amazon, is the capital of the state of Amazonas and also the largest city in the Amazon. In Manaus, the Negro and Solimões rivers converge to form the Amazon River. It is the best place to visit the Amazon forest. It is a gateway to the Anavilhanas and Jaú National Parks.
  • Porto Alegre – a large city located between Argentina and São Paulo and the gateway to Brazil’s fabulous Green Canyons.
  • Recife – A large city in the northeast region, originally settled by the Dutch. Known as the “Brazilian Venice”, it is built on several islands connected by numerous bridges. Rich in history, art and folklore. Don’t miss the neighbouring towns of Olinda and Porto de Galinhas. The city is also a gateway to the amazing archipelago of Fernando de Noronha.
  • Rio de Janeiro – A beautiful and world-famous city that greets its visitors with the large statue of an open-armed Jesus on Corcovado Hill.
  • Salvador – Brazil’s first capital is home to a unique blend of indigenous, African and European cultures. Its carnival is famous, and the influence of African culture and religion is remarkable.
  • São Paulo – Brazil’s largest, richest and most cosmopolitan city, with strong ethnic influences including Italians, Koreans, Japanese, Germans, Russians, Caribbeans and Arabs.

Other destinations

  • Amazon – jungle tours, wildlife, driftwood, the secrets of the Amazon
  • Chapada Diamantina National Park
  • Chapada dos Veadeiros – Cerrado (tropical savannah), wild animals and breathtaking waterfalls.
  • Fernando de Noronha – a tropical paradise island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, protected as a marine national park and world cultural heritage site since 1997.
  • Ilha Grande
  • Iguaçu Falls – world famous waterfalls
  • Ilha do Marajó
  • Lençóis Maranhenses
  • Pantanal – the world’s largest wetland hosts a lot of ecotourism and enormous biodiversity, including caiman, jaguar, anaconda, giant anteater, primates, giant otter and piranha.

Accommodation & Hotels in Brazil

The high season in Brazil follows the school holiday calendar, with December and January (summer) being the busiest months. New Year’s Eve, Carnival (which can be moved between February and March, see understanding above) and Holy Week are the peak periods and prices can soar, especially in coastal cities like Rio and Salvador. Also, during these holidays, many hotels limit bookings to a minimum of 3 or 4 days and charge in advance.

Hotels are plentiful in almost every region of Brazil and can range from luxurious resorts to very modest and cheap options. The Brazilian Tourism Authority imposes certain minimum requirements for each type of establishment, but as the star rating (1-5) is no longer applied, you should check in advance whether your hotel offers the type of services you expect.

Pousada means guest house (the local equivalent of a French hostel or British guesthouse) and are generally simpler than hotels and offer fewer services (room service, laundry, etc.). Pousadas are even more common than hotels.

In wilderness areas like the Pantanal, travellers tend to stay in fazendas, which are ranches with facilities for visitors. In the small towns of Minas Gerais, people like fazenda hotéis (farm hotels) where they can bathe, ride horses, hike, play football and camp, as well as sleep in quaint shacks.

It is also great fun to do a boat hotel that will take you to inaccessible places on the rivers and lakes for great fishing trips or just to relax and watch and photograph the wildlife that is very abundant in the Pantanal. The boats are large, safe and comfortable with air-conditioned rooms (very necessary). Several small aluminium boats with outboard motors, carried by the hotel boat and driven by an experienced fisherman/guide, take 2 or 3 tourists to the best spots.

Motel is the local term for a “sex hotel”. There is no social stigma per se to staying there, but the room service and rates are geared towards adults who stay for a few hours in privacy.

Youth hostels (albergues da juventude) are becoming increasingly common.

Things To See in Brazil

A natural wonder

  • Amazon Rainforest – The Amazon basin is home to more than half of the world’s remaining rainforest, and more than 60 per cent of it is in northern Brazil – about one billion hectares of incredible biodiversity. The region is home to some 2.5 million species of insects, over 40,000 species of plants, 2,200 species of fish and over 2,000 species of birds and mammals. One in five bird species in the world lives in the Amazon rainforest, and one in five fish species live in the rivers and streams of the Amazon.
  • Atlantic Forest (Mata Atlântica) – A region of tropical and subtropical forest that extends along the Atlantic coast of Brazil, from the state of Rio Grande do Norte in the northeast to the state of Rio Grande do Sul in the south. The Atlantic Forest has a great diversity of vegetation, including many species of trees, such as the iconic Araucaria in the south or the mangroves in the northeast, dozens of species of bromeliads and orchids, and unique animals such as the Capivara. The forest has also been designated a World Biosphere Reserve and is home to a large number of highly endangered species, including the famous marmosets, lion tamarins and woolly nosed monkeys. Unfortunately, it has been largely cleared since colonial times, mainly for sugar cane cultivation and urban settlements – what remains is estimated to be less than 10% of the original settlement, and it is often fragmented into hilly islands. Large portions are, however, protected by hundreds of parks, including 131 federal parks, 443 state parks and 14 municipal parks, most of which are open to visitors.
  • Pantanal – A vast tropical wetland, one of the largest in the world, 80% of which is in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, but which also extends into Mato Grosso (as well as parts of Bolivia and Paraguay) and covers an estimated area of between 140,000 and 195,000 square kilometres. 80% of the Pantanal’s floodplains are inundated during the rainy season, which supports an amazing biodiversity of aquatic plants and helps sustain a multitude of animal species.
  • Waterfalls (Cachoeiras) – Brazil has an amazing array of waterfalls of all shapes and sizes. The Iguaçu Falls in eastern Parana is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world, a real treat for the eyes. The 353-metre-high Cachoeira da Fumaça in Bahia’s Chapada Diamantina National Park is the second highest waterfall in the country, after the almost inaccessible Cachoeira do Araca in the Amazon. Other famous waterfalls include Caracol Falls, in the Rio Grande do Sul State Park of the same name, near Canela; Itaquira Falls, an easily accessible 168-metre waterfall near Formosa, in the state of Goiás; and Parque da Cascata Gorge, near Sete Lagoas, in the state of Minas Gerais. In addition to the nationally known waterfalls, in many parts of the country, especially in the south, south-east and centre-west, one is rarely far from at least one locally known waterfall that is worth a short hike.


  • Colonial architecture – Many cities are reminders of Brazil’s colonial past, with churches, convents, forts, barracks and other structures still intact. Some of the most concentrated and well-preserved colonial buildings are found in former gold mining towns such as Ouro Preto and Tiradentes, but many other cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Petrópolis, Salvador, Paraty and Goiânia also have sizeable colonial centres.
  • The works of Oscar Niemeyer – Niemeyer, Brazil’s most famous architect, is a pioneer of modern architecture, exploring the aesthetic effects of reinforced concrete and using curves to create buildings with a unique sense of space. He is best known for designing many of the buildings for the construction of the new capital Brasilia in the 1950s, but his work is literally scattered throughout the country, with important works in Natal, João Pessoa, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro, Niterói, São Paulo, Londrina, etc.

Things To Do in Brazil


The world’s biggest festival takes place every year throughout the country and lasts for almost a week in February or early March. It is celebrated in a variety of ways, from the giant Boneco masks in Olinda and the Trios Elétricos in Salvador to the huge samba parades in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. For a relatively calm atmosphere, check out the university-style street party in Ouro Preto or the sporty beach party in Ilha do Mel. Don’t forget to make your reservations well in advance!

Gay travel

Due to the high level of acceptance and tolerance, gay travel is becoming increasingly popular. Brazil was the location of the first gay ball in America in 1754! Today, the main destinations for lesbians and gays are Rio de Janeiro, twice voted the world’s sexiest destination, São Paulo, which holds the world’s largest gay pride parade, Florianópolis, which is the trendiest gay hangout, and Recife, which is attracting more and more lesbian and gay tourists in search of fun and sun.


Almost the entire coastline is lined with fabulous beaches, and the beach lifestyle is an integral part of Brazilian culture. Nowhere is this more true than in Rio de Janeiro, with its laid-back, flip-flop lifestyle and famous beaches like Ipanema and Copacabana. Beaches in other parts of the country may not have the same immediate notoriety, but they are no less impressive. The northeast has gems such as Jericoacoara, Praia do Futuro, Boa Vista, Porto de Galinhas and Morro de São Paulo, which attract many travellers, especially from Europe. The landlocked Mineiros mingle with the rich and famous in Guarapari or dance the forró in the sand in Itaunas, while the Paulistas head to Caraguá or Ubatuba. In the south, weekenders head to Ilha do Mel or Balneário Camboriú, while the 42 beaches of Santa Catarina Island attract thousands of Argentine tourists every year. There are also hundreds of other beaches ready to be explored. Don’t forget the nudist beaches of Rio and São Paulo!


  • Football – Wherever you are in Brazil, football is the talk of the town, and the country is full of great teams and players. While Rio de Janeiro’s famous Maracanã stadium is currently being renovated, you can still catch a game in other great stadiums like the Mineirão in Belo Horizonte or the Morumbi stadium in São Paulo.
  • Volleyball – While football is the main sport in Brazil, volleyball is also very popular. In addition to the standard indoor sport known worldwide, there are several other variations that you can play or watch in Brazil:
  • Beach volleyball – On beaches, you will often find places where you can play beach volleyball. However, this version of the sport has a different set of rules than indoor volleyball (for example, instead of six players, only two can be played per team).
  • Footvolley – This challenging sport was developed in Brazil. It is essentially beach volleyball played with a ball and following the rules of football without hands.
  • Biribol – Another Brazilian original, Biribol, named after the town of Birigüi where it was invented, is an aquatic version of volleyball played in a 1.3 metre deep pool with 4 players per team and a ball similar to water polo.

Food & Drinks in Brazil

Food in Brazil

Brazilian cuisine is as diverse as its geography and culture. On the other hand, some may find it a half-baked concoction, and everyday dishes can be bland and monotonous. Although there are some fairly unique dishes of regional origin, many dishes have been brought by immigrants from overseas and adapted to local tastes over generations. Italian and Chinese cuisine can often be just as amazing in Brazil as Amazonian cuisine.

The standard Brazilian lunch is called prato feito, with its siblings comercial and executivo. Rice and brown beans in sauce, plus a small steak. Sometimes farofa, spaghetti, vegetables and chips are added. Beef may be replaced by chicken, fish or other.

Excellent seafood can be found in the coastal towns, especially in the north-east.

  • Brazil’s national dish is feijoada, a hearty stew of black beans, pork (ears, shanks, chops, sausages) and beef (usually jerky). It is served with rice, garnished with kale and orange slices. It is not served in all restaurants; those that do serve it usually do so on Wednesdays and Saturdays. A typical tourist mistake is to eat too much feijoada the first time. It is a heavy dish – even Brazilians usually eat it sparingly.
  • Brazilian snacks, lanches (sandwiches) and salgadinhos (almost anything else), include a wide selection of pastries. Look out for coxinha (fried chicken coated in batter), empada (a tiny cake, not to be confused with empanada – empadas and empanadas are completely different products) and pastel (fried rolls). Another common snack is misto quente, a ham and cheese sandwich pressed and grilled. The pão-de-queijo, a bread roll made of cassava flour and cheese, is very popular, especially in the state of Minas Gerais. Pão-de-queijo and a cup of fresh Brazilian coffee are a classic combination.
  • Farofa: cassava flour fried with pieces of bacon and onion; the standard carbohydrate side dish in restaurants, along with white rice.
  • Feijão verde : Green beans with cheese au gratin
  • Paçoca: minced beef mixed with cassava flour in a pilão (large mortar with a large pestle). Traditional cowboy food
  • Pastel: fried dough filled with cheese, minced meat or ham.
  • Tapioca (or more precisely “tapioca beiju”): is made from cassava starch, also called tapioca starch. When heated in a frying pan, it bubbles up and becomes a kind of dry, slice-like pancake or cake. Some people serve it folded in half, others roll it up in the shape of a pancake. The filling varies, but it can be prepared sweet or savoury, the most traditional flavours being : Coconut flakes/condensed milk (sweet), beef jelly/charcoal cheese, cheese and butter (salty). More recently, however, it has become a ‘gourmet’ food that needs to be treated creatively; Nutella, chocolate, napolitano (pizza cheese/ham/tomato/ oregano) and shredded chicken breast/catapa cheese are almost standard options nowadays.

Regional cuisines

  • South – Churrasco is Brazilian barbecue and is usually served ‘rodizio’ or ‘espeto corrido’ (all you can eat). Servers carry huge pieces of meat on steel skewers from table to table and cut slices from them onto your plate (use tongs to grip the slice of meat and do not touch the edge of the knife with your cutlery to avoid dulling the edge). Traditionally, you will receive a small block of wood coloured green on one side and red on the other. When you are ready to eat, place the green side up. When you are too full to tell the waiter that you have eaten enough, you put the red side up…..churrascarias) also serve other types of food, so you can go with a friend who does not like meat. While churrascarias tend to be quite expensive places (by Brazilian standards), they are generally much cheaper in the north, centre and rural areas of the country than in the south and big cities, where they are frequented by the less fortunate.
  • Mineiro is the “miner’s cuisine” of Minas Gerais, based on pork and beans, with some vegetables. Goiás dishes are similar, but use some local ingredients such as pequi and guariroba. Minas Gerais cuisine is not considered particularly tasty, but it has a “family” touch that is very popular.
  • The cuisine of Bahia, on the northeast coast, has its roots across the Atlantic in East Africa and Indian cuisine. Coconut, dende palm oil, hot peppers and seafood are the main ingredients. Tip: hot (“quente”) means lots of pepper, cold (“frio”) means less or no pepper. If you dare to eat spicy food, try acarajé (shrimp-filled fritters) and vatapá (black bean soup to drink).
  • Espírito Santo and Bahia have two different versions of moqueca, a delicious tomato-based seafood stew prepared in a special type of clay pot.
  • Amazonian cuisine is inspired by indigenous foods, including various exotic fish and vegetables. There is also an amazing variety of tropical fruits.
  • Ceará’s food features a wide variety of seafood and is known for having the best crabs in the country. It is so popular that every weekend thousands of people go to Praia do Futuro, in Fortaleza, to eat fish and fried crabs (usually followed by a cold beer).

Brazilian cuisine also has many imports:

  • Pizza is very popular in Brazil. In Sāo Paulo, travellers will find the highest rate of pizza restaurants per capita in the country. The variety of flavours is extremely wide, with some restaurants offering over 100 varieties of pizza. It is interesting to note the difference between European “mozzarella” and Brazilian “mussarela”. They differ in taste, appearance and origin, but buffalo mozzarella (“mussarela de búfala”) is also often found. The Brazilian “mussarela”, which tops most pizzas, has a yellow colour and a stronger flavour. In some restaurants, especially in the south, the pizza has no tomato sauce. Other dishes of Italian origin, such as macarrão (macaroni), lasanha and others are also very popular.
  • Arabic and Middle Eastern (actually Lebanese) food is widely available. Most options offer high quality and variety. Some types of Middle Eastern food, such as quibe and esfiha, have been adapted and are available in snack bars and fast food outlets around the country. You will also find shawarma (kebab) stands, which Brazilians call “churrasco grego” (Greek barbecue).
  • Japanese restaurants in São Paulo serve a lot of tempura, yakisoba, sushi and sashimi. The selection is good and prices are generally very attractive compared to Europe, the US and Japan. Most Japanese restaurants also offer the rodizio or buffet option, with the same quality as if you were ordering from the menu. However, sometimes there is a departure from the original. The same applies to Chinese food, again with some deviations from tradition. Japanese restaurants (or those serving Japanese food) are much more common than Chinese ones and can be found in many Brazilian cities, especially in the state of São Paulo.


  • All restaurants add a 10% service charge to the bill, and this is the only tip a Brazilian will ever give. It is also what most waiters make a living from, but it is not compulsory and you can ignore it, although it is considered extremely rude. In some tourist areas they may try to ask you for extra tips. Remember that you will look like a jerk if you over-tip, and stingy and disrespectful if you don’t tip. 5 to 10 reais is considered a good tip.
  • There are two types of self-service restaurants, sometimes with both options in one place: All-you-can-eat buffets with barbecue served at the table, called rodízio, or prices by weight (por quilo), very common at lunchtime throughout Brazil. Fill up at the buffet and put your plate on the scale before eating. In the south, there is also the traditional Italian “galeto”, where you are served different types of pasta, salads, soups and meat (usually chicken) at the table.
  • Customers are legally allowed to visit the kitchen and see how the food is processed, although this is very unusual and likely to be seen as strange and rude.
  • Some Brazilian restaurants serve meals for only two people. Portion sizes may not be listed on the menu, ask the waiter. Most restaurants in this category allow a “half portion” of these plates (meia-porção), at 60-70% of the price. Also, in restaurants, couples often sit next to each other, not across from each other; pay attention to the waiter’s directions or express your preference when seated.
  • Fast food is also very popular, and the local versions of hamburgers and hot dogs (“cachorro-quente”, literally translated) are worth trying. Brazilian sandwiches come in many varieties, with ingredients such as mayonnaise, bacon, ham, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, peas, sultanas, chips, ketchup, eggs, pickles, etc. The brave may want to try the traditional full hot dog (ask for a completo), which includes everything on display except the bun and sausage. The ubiquitous X-burger (and its variants X-salad, X-tudo, etc.) is not as mysterious as it sounds: the pronunciation of the letter “X” sounds like “cheese” in Portuguese, hence the name.
  • The big chains: The fast-food hamburger chain Bob’s is present throughout the country and has been around almost as long as McDonald’s. There is also a national fast-food chain called Habib’s, which, despite its name, serves pizza as well as Arabic food (the founder is Portuguese, by the way). There is also a national fast food chain called Habib’s, which despite its name serves pizza as well as Arabic food (the founder is Portuguese by the way). Newer additions, though less widespread, are Burger King and Subway.

Drinks in Brazil


Brazil’s national drink is cachaça (cah-shah-sah, also known as aguardente (“burning water”) and pinga), a 40% sugarcane alcohol known to knock out the unwary quickly. It can be enjoyed in almost any bar in the country. The best known production regions are Minas Gerais, where tours of distilleries are offered, and the city of Paraty. Pirassununga is the home of Caninha 51, the best-selling brand in Brazil. Outside Fortaleza, there is a cachaça museum (Museu da Cachaça) where you can learn about the history of the Ypioca brand.

It is common to drink cachaça neat or simply mixed with a little honey or lime juice in the North East, but the strength of cachaça can be hidden in cocktails like the famous caipirinha, where it is mixed with sugar, lime juice and ice. The use of vodka instead of cachaça is called caipiroska or caipivodka; with white rum, it is a caipiríssima; and with sake, it is a caipisaque (not in all regions). Another interesting concoction is called capeta (“devil”), made with cachaça, condensed milk, cinnamon, guarana powder (a mild stimulant) and other ingredients that vary by region. If you like brandy or grappa, try an aged cachaça. This deep, complex, golden-coloured spirit is nothing like the ubiquitous clear liquor you see more often. A fun excursion is to visit a ‘still’, a local distillery, of which there are thousands throughout the country. Not only can you see how the alcohol is made from raw cane sugar, but you’ll probably get a better price.

Brazilian whisky is worth trying! It is actually 50% imported scotch – the malt component – and about 50% Brazilian grain alcohol. Don’t be fooled by American-sounding names like “Wall Street”. This is not bourbon. Good value and indistinguishable from the usual British blends.

While imported alcohol is very expensive, many international brands are produced under licence in Brazil, making them widely available and fairly cheap. You can buy tax-free alcohol after landing at Brazilian airports, but it is usually more expensive than buying outside airports.


Beer in Brazil has a respectable history due to German immigrants. Most brands of Brazilian beer tend to be much less thick and bitter than German, Danish or English beer. Over 90% of the beer consumed in Brazil is Pilsner, and it is usually consumed very cold (close to 0°C). The most popular national brands are BrahmaAntarctica and Skol. Traditional brands include BohemiaCaracu (a stout), Original and Serra Malta (another stout). They are easy to find in bars and worth trying, but they are generally more expensive than the popular beers. There are also top quality national beers that are only available in certain bars and special supermarkets; if you want to try a good Brazilian beer, look for Baden Baden, ColoradoRailroadPetraTheresopolis and others. There are also international beers produced by national breweries such as Heineken and Stella Artois, which taste slightly different from the original beers.

There are two ways to drink beer in bars: on draught or in bottles. Cask lager is called a ‘SHOH-pee’ and is usually served with an inch of foam, but you can complain to the barman if the foam is consistently thicker than that. In bars, the waiter usually collects empty glasses and bottles from the table and replaces them with full ones until you ask him to stop, on a ‘tap’ loading system. For bottled beer, the bottles (600ml or 1l) are shared among all guests and poured into small glasses instead of being drunk straight from the bottle. Brazilians like their beer almost ice cold – so beer bottles are often kept in an insulated polystyrene container on the table to maintain the temperature.


Rio Grande do Sul is the main wine-producing region. There are a number of wineries open to visitors and wine tastings, as well as wineries that sell wine and fermented grape juice. One such winery open to visitors is the Salton Winery, located in the town of Bento Gonçalves. The São Francisco Valley, on the border of the states of Pernambuco and Bahia, is the youngest wine region in the country. Brazilian wines tend to be fresher, fruitier and less alcoholic than, for example, French wines. Popular brands such as Sangue de BoiCanção and Santa Felicidade and others priced below R$6.00 are generally considered junk.

In Minas Gerais, look for licor de jabuticaba (jabuticaba liqueur) or vinho de jabuticaba (jabuticaba wine), an exquisite purple-black drink with a sweet taste. Jabuticaba is the name of a small black grape-like fruit from Brazil.

Coffee and tea

Brazil is known all over the world for its strong, high-quality coffee. Coffee is so popular that it can give its name to meals (just like rice in China, Japan and Korea): in Brazil, breakfast is called café da manhã (morning coffee), while café com pão (coffee with bread) or café da tarde (afternoon coffee) refers to a light afternoon meal. Cafezinho (small coffee) is a small cup of strong, sweet coffee, usually served after the meal in restaurants (sometimes free, just ask politely). In high-end restaurants, bottled filter coffee is replaced by stronger espresso cups.

Chá, or tea in Portuguese, is most often found in its Assam version (orange, light in colour). Some of the more specialised tea shops and cafés also offer Earl Gray and green tea.

Mate is a tea-like brew with a very high caffeine content. The roasted version, often served chilled, is consumed throughout the country, while chimarrão (also known as maté in neighbouring Spanish-speaking countries) is the hot, bitter equivalent found in the south and is popular with gaúchos (inhabitants of Rio Grande do Sul). Tererê is a cold variant of chimarrão, common in Mato Grosso do Sul and the state of Mato Grosso.

Non-alcoholic beverages

Nothing beats coconut water (água de coco) on a hot day. (Emphasis on the first o, otherwise it translates as “poo” (cocô)). It is usually sold as coco gelado in the coconut itself, drunk through a straw. Ask vendors with machetes to cut the coconut in half so you can eat the flesh after drinking the water.

If you want a Coke in Brazil, ask for Coca or Coca-Cola, because “Coke” means “glue” in Portuguese.

Guaraná is a soft drink made from the guaraná berry, native to the Amazon. The main brands are Antarctica and Kuat, the latter belonging to Coke. Pureza is a lesser-known Guaraná soft drink that is particularly popular in Santa Catarina. There is also a “Guaraná Jesus” which is popular in Maranhão. Almost every region of Brazil has its own local varieties of guaraná, which may differ from the standard “guaraná” for better or worse. If you travel to the Amazon, be sure to try a cold “Baré”, which has been bought out by “Antarctica” due to its popularity in Manaus and is increasingly available throughout northern Brazil.

Tubaína is a soft drink that used to be very popular among Brazilians (especially those born in the 70s, 80s and early 90s) and is now extremely difficult to find. It used to be mass-produced by “Brahma” before it was focused solely on beers. If you find a place that sells it, try it.

Mineirinho (or Mate Couro) is also a popular soft drink made from guaraná and a typical Brazilian leaf called Chapéu de Couro. Although most Brazilians say it tastes like grass, older people (+70 years) claim that this drink has medicinal properties.

Fruit juice

Fruit juices are very popular in Brazil. In some cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, there are juice bars on almost every street corner.

  • Acai (a fruit from the Amazon) is delicious and nutritious (rich in antioxidants) and is widely consumed in all countries. In the Amazon, it is used as a supplement to the daily diet and is often eaten with rice and fish as the main meal of the day. Outside the Amazon, it is usually drunk in combination with guarana powder (a stimulant) and a banana to help you recover after a long night of partying. It is served cold and has the consistency of soft ice cream. Acai ice cream is also available.
  • Passion fruit (be careful if you have an active day as it has a relaxing effect)
  • Caju (cashew fruit) and
  • Garapa: freshly squeezed sugar cane juice
  • Mangoes are also a popular fruit juice.
  • Mangaba
  • Umbu
  • Vitamina: Milkshake with fresh fruit

Brazilians have great taste when it comes to mixing fruit juices.

Money & Shopping in Brazil


The Brazilian unit of currency is the real (pronounced “hay-AHL”), plural reais (“hay-ICE”), abbreviated BRL, or simply R$. One real is divided into 100 centavos. To illustrate how prices are written, R$1.50 means one real and fifty centavos.

Foreign currency such as US dollars or euros can be exchanged at major airports and luxury hotels (poor rates), exchange offices and major branches of Banco do Brasil (not other banks), where you will need your passport and entry form.


Look for an ATM with your credit/debit card logo. Larger Banco do Brasil branches (which charge R$6.50 per withdrawal) usually have one, and most Bradesco, Citibank, BankBoston and HSBC ATMs work. Banco 24 Horas is a network of ATMs that accept foreign cards (and charge R$10 per withdrawal). Withdrawal limits are generally R$600 (Bradesco) or R$1,000 (BB, HSBC, B24H), per transaction and, in any case, R$1,000 per day. This last point can be circumvented by making several consecutive withdrawals by choosing different “accounts”, i.e. “credit card”, “current account”, “savings account”. Note that most ATMs stop working after 10pm or only dispense R$100.

In small towns, there may not be an ATM that accepts foreign cards. You should therefore always carry enough cash with you.

Money transfers to Brazil can be made through Western Union, which can be withdrawn at a Banco do Brasil branch in most cities, as well as at some exchange offices.

Travellers’ cheques can be difficult to cash where there is no bureau de change.

The majority of Brazilian shops now accept all major credit cards. However, some online shops only accept cards issued in Brazil, even if they carry the international logo of these cards.

The coins are R$ 0.05, R$ 0.10, R$ 0.25, R$ 0.50 and R$ 1. Some denominations have several different designs. Notes are available in the following denominations: R$2, R$5, R$10, R$20, R$50 and R$100.

Exchange rates

There are many government regulations regarding the handling of foreign currency. Trading in any currency other than the real is considered illegal in Brazil, although some places in the major cities and neighbouring towns accept foreign money and many currency exchange offices operate in a shady area. In addition, currency exchange bureaus are almost impossible to find outside the major cities. Currencies other than USD and EUR are difficult to exchange and the rates are ridiculous. If you want to exchange cash at a bank, be prepared to pay a high commission. Banco do Brasil, for example, charges US$15 for each transaction (regardless of the amount).


While tips may sometimes be given for certain services, supplies or tourism, gratuities are very rare. It is not generally expected in taxis, although rounding up is sometimes done. It should be noted that many restaurants charge a 10% delivery fee on the bill, with no further gratuity. This charge is often community-based. Tipping bartenders is not common.


As in the rest of Latin America, you can find handmade jewellery everywhere. In areas largely populated by Afro-Brazilians, you will find more African-influenced souvenirs, including black dolls. Havaianas jandals are also affordable in Brazil, and supermarkets are often the best place to buy them – small shops tend to carry fakes. If you have room in your pockets, a Brazilian woven cotton hammock is also a nice and functional purchase. Another interesting and fun item is the peteca, a kind of hand-held shuttlecock used in the traditional game of the same name, similar to volleyball.


It’s not a bad idea to pack light and build up a Brazilian wardrobe a few days after you arrive. It makes you less conspicuous as a tourist and gives you months of satisfaction when you return home to brag about the bargains you’ve made every time you get compliments on your clothes. Brazilians have their own sense of style, which allows tourists – especially those wearing Hawaiian shirts or sandals with socks – to stand out in a crowd. Have fun shopping and blend in. Another good reason to buy clothes and shoes in Brazil is that the quality is generally good and the prices are often reasonable. However, this is not true for all foreign brands, as imports are subject to high import taxes. So don’t expect cheap prices for brands like Diesel, Levi’s, Tommy Hilfiger, etc. To find your Brazilian trouser size, measure your waist size in centimetres, divide by 2 and round up to the nearest even number.

Shop windows often display a price followed by “X 5” or “X 10” and so on. This is an instalment price. The price shown is the price per instalment, i.e. “R$50 X 10” means for example 10 instalments (usually monthly) of R$50 each. The actual price is often lower if you pay in cash.

Make sure the appliances you buy are either dual voltage or the same voltage as in your home country. Brazil has a 60 Hz frequency, so don’t buy electric clocks or motorised appliances without batteries if you live in Europe or Australia. However, the voltage varies from state to state and even from region to region within a state.

Brazilian-made appliances and electronics are expensive. If not, they are usually of poor quality. All electronics are expensive compared to European or American prices.

Brazil uses a hybrid video system called “PAL-M”. It is NOT at all compatible with the PAL system of Europe and Australia. Television started out in black and white with the NTSC system of the US and Canada, then years later with the PAL system for its analogue colour – a totally unique system. Today, most new television sets are NTSC compatible. However, the recently introduced digital television standard is not compatible with that of most other countries. Digital video devices such as DVD players are also compatible with the NTSC system (all digital colours are the same worldwide), but make sure that the regional code(s) on the DVD, if any, correspond to your home country (Brazil is part of region 4). Prices for imported electronics can be quite high due to the high import tax, and there is not much choice of domestic electronics. Also note that the term “DVD” in Brazil is an abbreviation for both the disc itself and its player, so be precise to avoid confusion.

Although the strength of the Real means that shopping in Brazil is no longer cheap, there are still plenty of bargains to be had, especially in leather goods, including shoes (but remember that sizes vary). Clothing in general is a good buy, especially for women, for whom there are many stylish pieces. Street markets are also a very good option, but avoid brands like “Nike” – you will pay more and it will probably be fake. Don’t be afraid to ‘smell’ an item. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not a fake! Beware of the dreaded “Made in China” label. If it’s not there, it’s probably Brazilian, but beware: some products made in Brazil are less robust than their American or European counterparts.

Festivals & Holidays in Brazil

Brazil has the following 13 public holidays:

  • New Year – 1 January
  • Carnival – February/March (moveable – 7 weeks before Easter. Monday and Tuesday are the actual public holidays, but the festivities usually start on Saturday and last until Ash Wednesday at noon, when shops and services reopen).
  • Holy Week – March/April (mobile) two days before Easter Sunday
  • Tiradentes – 21 April
  • Labour Day – 1 May
  • Corpus Christi – May/June (mobile) 60 days after Easter Sunday
  • Independence Day – 7 September
  • Patron Saint of Brazil and Children’s Day – 12 October
  • All Saints’ Day (Finados) – 2 November
  • Proclamation of the Republic – 15 November
  • Christmas – 25 December

Traditions & Customs in Brazil

Brazilians tend to be very open and talk freely about their problems, including political and other issues. They also use a lot of self-deprecating humour. This allows you to make jokes about Brazil’s problems when they talk about these topics, in a playful way. When you point out something bad to them, they often give answers like “It’s nothing. Look at that. That’s so much worse.” But don’t copy them, as they may be offended if you criticise certain areas like the outdoors or football. In some small towns, local politics can be a sensitive subject and you need to be careful when talking about it. Always be polite.

Be aware that racism is a very serious offence in Brazil. Most Brazilians disapprove of racism (at least in public), and even if you are only joking or think you know your society, it is advisable to refrain from anything that could be perceived as racism. According to the Brazilian constitution, racism is a crime for which there is no bail and which carries a prison sentence of 6 months to 8 years. This is taken very seriously. However, the law only seems to apply to statements and actions that are openly and unquestionably racist. Therefore, be aware and respectful when discussing race relations in Brazil; do not assume that you understand the history of racial inequality and slavery in Brazil better than a Brazilian person of colour.

Remember that Portuguese is not Spanish, and Brazilians (and other Portuguese speakers) will be offended if you don’t bear this in mind. The two languages may be mutually intelligible to some extent, but they differ considerably in phonetics, vocabulary and grammar. It is not a good idea to mix Portuguese and Spanish; don’t expect people to understand what you are saying if you insert (intentionally or not) Spanish words into Portuguese sentences.

It should also be noted that Brazilians are football (soccer) fanatics, so there are clashes (sometimes violent) between teams from different cities, and walking around with a team’s jersey in certain areas can be considered controversial, even dangerous. Saying bad things about the Brazilian national football team is not considered an insult, but you should never praise the Argentine team or compare the two.

Brazil is open to LGBT tourists. São Paulo boasts the largest LGBT pride parade in the world, and most major cities have gay scenes. Be aware, however, that homophobia is widespread in Brazilian society and Brazil is not the sexual paradise many foreigners perceive it to be. Couples who do not conform in any way to traditional heterosexual expectations should expect to be verbally harassed and stared at if they show affection on the street, although some areas of most major cities are very welcoming to the LGBT population and LGBT-oriented bars and clubs are common. It is best to ask around to find out which areas are more conservative and which are more progressive.

Social label

  • Cheek kissing is very common in Brazil, both between women and between women and men. When two women, or the opposite sexes, meet for the first time, it is not uncommon for them to kiss. Two men want to shake hands. A man kissing another man’s cheek is extremely odd by Brazilian standards (unless it is a family relationship, special Italian offspring and very close friends). The kiss is appropriate for informal occasions, to introduce oneself or to get to know someone, especially among young people. The handshake is more appropriate for formal occasions or between women and men when no intimacy is desired. Attempting to shake hands when offered a kiss is considered odd, but never rude. On the other hand, clearly refusing a kiss is a sign of contempt.

When you meet for the first time, depending on the location, you kiss once (São Paulo), twice (Rio de Janeiro) or three times (e.g. Florianópolis and Belo Horizonte) alternately on the right and left cheek. Note that when you do this, you should not kiss each other on the cheeks (as in Russia), but simply touch the cheeks and make a kissing sound while kissing the air, as putting your lips on a stranger’s cheek is a clear sign of sexual interest. If you do not follow these rules, you are unlikely to be considered rude, especially if it is known that you are a foreigner.

  • Many Brazilians can dance and Brazilians are generally comfortable with their own bodies. When talking, they may stand closer to each other than North Americans or Northern Europeans and also tend to touch each other more, e.g. shoulder or arm, hugs, etc. This is not necessarily flirtatious in nature.
  • Brazilians love to drink and going to pubs and bars is an integral part of social life – sometimes even for those who do not drink alcohol. However, alcoholic beverages are not allowed in some places, such as football stadiums, and drink-driving laws have become increasingly strict and rigorously enforced.
  • Brazilians do not usually take off their shoes as soon as they arrive at home, nor do they expect their visitors to do so. Therefore, only remove your shoes when visiting if your hosts ask you to or if you see them doing so.

Table etiquette

Except in very formal situations, Brazilians generally do not pay attention to their tone when eating or talking. Restaurants tend to be relatively noisy and cheerful environments, especially if there are tables with large groups of people.

Most meals are eaten with a fork/spoon and knife, but there are some things you can eat with your hands. If you’re not sure whether to cut things a little shorter with the knife or just grab something with your hands, observe the behaviour of people around you and imitate them – or just ask.

Burping is considered impolite unless you are with very close friends or relatives. Brazilians usually place the knife and fork parallel on the plate to signal that they have finished.

If you order a beer or a soda and there is a cup with it, the waiters may refill it for you from time to time when they see it being emptied. They usually collect the empty bottles and cans without asking you.

Culture Of Brazil

Because of Brazil’s continental dimensions, its diverse geography, history and population, the country’s culture is rich and varied. It has several regional variations, and despite being mostly united by one language, some regions are so different that they look like different countries.

Music plays an important role in the Brazilian identity. Styles such as chorosamba and bossa nova are considered authentically Brazilian. Caipira music also has its roots in sertanejo, the national equivalent of country music. MPB is the acronym for Brazilian popular music, which groups several national styles under one term. Forró, a lively dance music style from the northeast, has also spread throughout the country. New urban styles include funk – the name given to a genre of dance music from Rio’s favelas that mixes heavy electronic beats with often raunchy rap – and techno-brega, a popular crowd pleaser in the northern states that fuses romantic pop, dance music and Caribbean rhythms.

A mixture of martial arts, dance, music and games. Capoeira was brought to Brazil by African slaves, mainly from the Portuguese colonies of Angola. It is characterised by spirited and complex movements, accompanied by music, and can be seen and practised in many Brazilian cities.

In classical music, the modern period is particularly notable for the works of composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos and Camargo Guarnieri, who created a typically Brazilian school by mixing elements of traditional European classical music with Brazilian rhythms, while other composers such as Cláudio Santoro followed the guidelines of the Second Vienna School. In the Romantic period, the biggest name is Antonio Carlos Gomes, author of some Italian-style operas with typically Brazilian themes, such as Il Guarany and Lo Schiavo. In the Classical period, the most prominent name is José Maurício Nunes Garcia, a priest who wrote sacred and secular music and was greatly influenced by the Viennese Classical style of the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Candomble and Umbanda are religions of African origin that have survived prejudice and persecution and still have many followers in Brazil. Their places of worship are called terreiros and many are open to visitors.

Indigenous traits are everywhere in Brazilian culture, from cuisine to vocabulary. Numerous indigenous groups and tribes still live in all regions of Brazil, although many of them have been heavily influenced by Western culture and several of the country’s surviving indigenous languages are in danger of disappearing completely. The traditional way of life and graphic expressions of the Wajãpi indigenous group in the state of Amapá have been declared a UNESCO Masterpiece of the World Intangible Heritage.

Globo, the largest national television channel, also plays an important role in the formation of national identity. Nine out of ten households own a television set, which is the main source of information and entertainment for most Brazilians, followed by radio broadcasts. Television broadcasts sports, films, local and national news, as well as telenovelas (soap operas) – 6-10 month series that have become one of the country’s main cultural exports.

Stay Safe & Healthy in Brazil

Stay Safe in Brazil

The law requires everyone to carry a piece of photo identification with them at all times. For a foreigner, this is your passport. However, the police will usually be pragmatic and accept a laminated colour photocopy.


Even the most patriotic Brazilian would say that the country’s biggest problem is crime. Brazil is one of the most criminalised countries in the world; as a result, the crime rate is high, even for a developing nation. Pickpocketing and robberies are common, but perhaps even more frightening to visitors – and also sadly common – are the robberies at gunpoint that target both locals and tourists. Armed criminals sometimes rob hotels (from guesthouses to luxury resorts) and even tourist buses, or commit armed robberies in broad daylight in busy areas.

Most visitors to Brazil travel without incident, and a few precautions can greatly reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime. However, even with these precautions, the likelihood of a bad incident may not be negligible. Read the articles on different cities/regions for advice on specific cities or locations. In general, with the exception of some wealthy rural areas and small towns (especially in the south of the country), most parts of Brazil are not particularly safe. It is therefore advisable not to display valuables in public places, to avoid deserted streets at night, and especially to avoid poor, run-down towns or neighbourhoods. Brazilians and tourists are sometimes shot without warning as they enter certain areas, either by car or on foot. If you wish to visit a favela (shanty town) or an indigenous village, use a reputable, licensed tour operator.

Intercity buses are generally safe, but in large cities, intercity bus terminals are often located in run-down and unsafe parts of the city. It is therefore advisable to take a taxi to and from the terminal rather than walk. In tourist areas, tourists are often seen as “fair game” for criminals, so it is best not to look like a tourist. For example, avoid being seen with a large camera or guidebook (leave them in a backpack and use them discreetly only when necessary), or dressing in a way that is radically different from the locals. It is perfectly normal to stop locals sometimes to ask questions, but avoid looking distressed and vulnerable in public.

Road safety

Murder is probably the number one fear of visitors to Brazil, but traffic fatalities are in fact almost as common as murders. In fact, the risk of a traffic fatality in Brazil is comparable to that of countries with a poor road safety record, such as Malaysia or Vietnam. This may come as a surprise, as traffic in Brazil, especially in the big cities, seems relatively well organised compared to these countries. Brazil has its share of irresponsible drivers who do not respect speed limits, drive under the influence of alcohol and sometimes ignore traffic lights. So always keep your eyes open when crossing the road, even if the pedestrian lights are green and the cars have stopped – you never know when a motorbike might pop up between two cars.

In some parts of the country, especially in the north, roads are often poorly maintained and traffic enforcement is rather lax. Although sometimes unavoidable, very long road journeys within the country should not be neglected if it is possible to fly instead.

Stay Healthy in Brazil

Food from street and beach vendors has a bad reputation for hygiene in Brazil. The later in the day, the worse it is. Bottled or canned drinks are safe, although some people insist on using a straw to avoid contact with the outside of the container.

Be aware of heat and humidity when storing perishable foods.

Tap water varies from place to place (it can be contaminated, salty or chlorinated, or simply drinkable) and Brazilians themselves generally prefer to have it filtered.

Water fountains (bebedouro) are often found in airports, bus stations, cheap hotels and shopping centres, but they are not always safe. In hostel kitchens, look for the tap with the cylindrical filter attached. More expensive hotels often don’t have publicly accessible fountains, and rooms have minibars that sell you mineral water at extremely inflated prices – buying bottled water from the shop is always the best alternative.

Yellow fever vaccination and anti-malarial medication may be required if you are travelling to the central-western (Mato Grosso) or northern (Amazon) regions. If you are arriving from Peru, Colombia or Bolivia, proof of yellow fever vaccination is required before entering Brazil. Some countries, such as Australia and South Africa, require proof of yellow fever vaccination before allowing entry if you have been in any part of Brazil in the previous week. Check the requirements of each country you will be travelling to from Brazil. The Brazilian coast is also at risk of dengue fever, and the ongoing (since 2016) outbreak of the Zika virus in Latin America has hit Brazil hard, with over 60,000 confirmed cases.

Public hospitals are generally overcrowded and terrible, but they treat all kinds of people, including foreigners. Most cities with at least 60,000 inhabitants have good private health care.

Dentists are numerous and much cheaper than in North America and Western Europe. In general, the quality of their work is consistent, but ask a local for advice and recommendations.

The emergency number is 190, but you must speak Portuguese.

Note that the air conditioning in airports, intercity buses, etc. is often very strong. Take long-sleeved clothing for air-conditioned places.

Although Brazil is widely known as a country where sex is freely available, it is sometimes misunderstood when it comes to HIV. Brazil has one of the best HIV prevention programmes and, as a result, a very low infection rate compared to most countries. Condoms are heavily promoted through government campaigns during Carnival and distributed free of charge by local public medical services.



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