Wednesday, May 5, 2021

How To Travel Around Brazil

South AmericaBrazilHow To Travel Around Brazil

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

By boat

Both in the Amazon region and on the coast west of Sao Luis, the boat is often the only way to 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)