Given the size of the country, the fastest and most effective way of getting around Brazil is by air. The main national carriers, all of which have an extensive route network, are Tam, Varig and Vasp. There are also a number of low-cost carriers such as Gol, Fly and Ocean Air. If you are going to travel extensively around Brazil, you should consider buying an airpass (see Airpass section below) prior to arriving in the country. Like the US, the Brazilian carriers use certain airports as major hubs for serving regions of the country. Visitors are often surprised that in the south east, São Paulo (GRU), rather than Rio de Janeiro (GIG), is the main hub. Other hubs include Porto Alegre (POA) and Curitiba (CWB) in the south, Brasília (BSB) in the central west, and Salvador (SSA), Recife (REC) and Fortaleza (FOR) in the north east.
As many visitors plan their trip to Brazil around Rio de Janeiro, some of the most popular internal flight times are:
- Rio de Janeiro - Belo Horizonte: 50m
- Rio de Janeiro - Brasília: 1h 30m
- Rio de Janeiro - Campo Grande: 3h 30m
- Rio de Janeiro - Curitiba: 1h 30m
- Rio de Janeiro - Fortaleza: 4h 25m
- Rio de Janeiro - Foz do Iguaçu: 3h
- Rio de Janeiro - Manaus: 5h
- Rio de Janeiro - Natal: 3h
- Rio de Janeiro - Porto Alegre: 2h
- Rio de Janeiro - Recife: 2h 45m
- Rio de Janeiro - Salvador: 2h
- Rio de Janeiro - São Paulo: 55m
It is also worth remembering that most scheduled flights from Europe fly first to São Paulo and then on to Rio de Janeiro. The return flights are the reverse so visitors looking to fly on to other cities in Brazil or return from them, should look for connecting flights with São Paulo. Airpass Visitors who are intending to travel on from their point of entry to explore the rest of Brazil should consider investing in a Brazilian Airpass before arriving in the country.
The Airpass can only be sold outside of Brazil and to non-residents with a return air ticket. It can be purchased for the flights of Varig, Tam or Vasp, each pass only being valid for the flights of the issuing carrier. The price of the Airpass varies, but considering the size of Brazil and the high cost of domestic air travel, it offers excellent value for money.
Currently the cost of the basic Airpass is $399 for up to four internal flights. The pass is valid for 21 days from the first internal flight and can include up to nine stops. There is also a South American Airpass which allows the holder to travel economically throughout Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay. The cost of the South American Airpass is based on the number of miles flown. Prices start from just $225 for up to 1,900 miles. Airports
Most international flights from Europe and the US land at the international airports of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife or Salvador, where there are connecting flights to most other major Brazilian cities.
Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo also have airports closer to the city centre which are used for the 55 minute air-shuttle between the two cities and a number of other short regional services. Rio's airports are Galeão (GIG) for international and Santos Dumont (SDU) for the shuttle; while São Paulo's are Guarulhos (GRU) for international and Congonhas (CGH) for the shuttle.
Most of the major banks are Brazilian but many foreign banks will have an agreement with one or more of the major players. Banks operate Monday to Friday between 10am and 4pm.
Despite the distances involved, it is possible to travel from Brazil to another country by bus. The journey to Buenos Aires from Rio de Janeiro, for example, takes 44 hours and covers some 1,800 miles (2,900 km). Reservations should be made in advance through a travel agent or at the bus terminal. Immigration formalities take place at the respective borders.
Nationally, there is an extensive internal bus service linking all the main Brazilian cities. While this is an inexpensive way to view the country, distances can be considerable. Fortaleza, the capital of the state of Ceará in the north east, for example, is as far from Rio de Janeiro as Buenos Aires.
The distance by road from Rio de Janeiro to some of the main Brazilian cities: Belém (2,014 miles/3,240 km); Belo Horizonte (275/442); Brasília (711/1,140); Curitiba (520/835); Fortaleza (1,771/2,900); Foz do Iguaçu (932/1,500); João Pessoa (1,600/2,575); Manaus (2,741/4,410); Natal (1,709/2,680); Porto Alegre (963/1,555); Recife (1,529/2,460); Salvador (1,051/1,726); Santarém (2,404/3,856); Santos (311/500); São Paulo (266/429); Vitória (319/525). By comparison, London is 413 miles (664 km) from Edinburgh and 202 miles (325 km) from Manchester. Brazil has over one million miles of roads.
Banks: Monday to Friday between 10am and 4pm.
Offices: Monday to Friday between 9am and 6pm.
Petrol Stations are allowed to operate 24 hours a day, although not all of them do so.
Shopping Centres: Monday to Saturday between 10am and 10pm. The largest shopping centres, such as Barra Shopping and Rio Sul in Rio de Janeiro, and Morumbi Shopping in São Paulo, also open on Sunday between 3pm and 9pm.
Shops: Monday to Friday between 9am and 7pm, and Saturdays between 9am and 1pm.
Supermarkets: Monday to Saturday between 8am and 10pm. A limited number also open on Sundays or are open 24 hours.
Carnival, which takes place throughout Brazil, is a moveable feast that is tied to the religious calendar. A traditional pre-Lent celebration, it ends on Ash Wednesday. The main parade of the top samba schools, one of the highlights of Rio's carnival, traditionally takes place along the Passarela do Samba in Rio de Janeiro on the Sunday and Monday evenings of Carnival, with the victorious schools parading again the following Saturday night during the Winner's Parade. Organised by the League of Samba Schools and the Rio Tourist Board (RIOTUR), tickets for the parades can be reserved through most good tour operators who obtain the tickets with accredited ground operators in Rio de Janeiro. Tickets only go on sale towards the end of the year and must be reserved in advance. At the time of carnival, tickets are as hard to come by in Rio. The dates for Carnival (Friday - Wednesday) through 2010 will be the following:
- 2008: 1 - 6 February
- 2009: 20 - 25 February
- 2010: 12 - 17 February
The Brazilian monetary unit is the real (R$) (plural, reais). There are 100 centavos to the real. Most major international credit cards are accepted in Brazil. Credit card receipts from stores and restaurants will be priced in reais although you will be billed in the currency of your own country, the official exchange rate having been taken into consideration. The official exchange rate is published daily in the newspapers. For today's rate, visit Bloomberg Currency Calculator. The US dollar is by far the most widely accepted foreign currency in Brazil.
At immigration, non-Brazilians must have their passport, visa (if required) and any other immigration formalities checked. Like most airports, the airports in Brazil have different lines for national passport holders and foreign visitors. Foreign passport holders should make sure they get their passports stamped and that they retain half of the immigration form they fill in on arrival. Visitors who miss getting their passport stamped or who lose the form will have to get clearance from the Federal Police to leave the country and may have to pay a fine. Customs officials normally inspect the baggage of around 30 per cent or more of incoming passengers. Besides clothing and personal effects, tourists entering Brazil may bring in one of each of the following items: radio, tape/CD player, typewriter, notebook computer, movie and still camera.
Distances in Brazil are measured in kilometres. One mile is equivalent to 1.609 kilometres. For a quick conversion of kilometres into miles, divide by eight and then multiply by five.
All along the Brazilian coast there are many exceptional diving sites. Equipment for diving can normally be rented locally. Locations rated among the best in the world for diving include the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, the coast of Pernambuco around Recife, and the marine park of Abrolhos off the southern coast of the state of Bahia.
Brazilians, even in the major cities, dress casually outside the office. None of the country's top restaurants insist on collar and tie although the occasional club does. Collar and tie still predominate in formal office and business surroundings in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and most workingwomen wear dresses or skirts. Ladies should remember to pack a jacket or shawl when coming to Brazil as some of the buildings and restaurants can be a little over enthusiastic with the air conditioning. When packing, keep in mind that cities like Rio and São Paulo are big, fashionable, cosmopolitan cities and not a small tourist resorts. If you forget to bring some item of clothing with you, you will certainly be able to find what you forgot in any of the big shopping centres.
Brazil's international airports are unusual in that they offer duty free goods on arrival and visitors, on presentation of their passport and ticket, will be allowed to purchase up to US$500 worth of duty free products, including drink and tobacco. It is worth noting, especially when visitors are leaving Brazil, that by law the duty free stores are not allowed to accept Brazil's own currency, the real, but will be happy to accept all other major international currencies and credit cards. As in most other countries, travellers under 18 years of age are not allowed to buy any alcoholic drinks, tobacco products or similar restricted goods.
In Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the current is 127 volts (60 cycles) but many of the larger hotels also offer 220 volts. If there is any doubt, check with the front desk of the hotel or the owner of the house or apartment. Transformers to boost the current from 110 volts to 220 volts are available in most good electrical supply stores.
Not all of Brazil is 127 volts, however. Salvador and Manaus, for example, are, while Recife and Brasília are 220 volts.
For most electric appliances Brazil uses a two-round-pinned socket.
Brazil's cuisine is the product of tradition. Each region of Brazil – depending on its indigenous culture, which European group colonized it, nearness to rivers or the ocean, annual rain and soil conditions – developed its own very diverse cuisine. The cuisine from Bahia, for example, dates back to the time of feijoadaslavery when the masters saved the leftovers from the previous day's meal to give to their slaves. In the Amazon region a favourite dish is pato no tucupi which consists of pieces of duck in a rich sauce that is loaded with a wild green herb that tingles the stomach for hours after eating. In Rio Grande do Sul churrasco is the main dish. It consists of pieces of beef, skewered onto a metal sword, and roasted outdoors over hot coals. There is a tomato and onion sauce to go over it. Churrascarias (barbecue houses) can be found throughout Brazil.
If there is one dish that typifies Brazilian cooking it is probably feijoada. It is a complicated bean dish prepared with air-dried beef, smoked sausage, tongue, pig's ears and tails, garlic, and chilli peppers. It is customary to fill a plate with white rice and spoon feijoada over the top, covered with farofa (cassava flour) to thicken the sauce. The whole dish is garnished with spring greens and slices of oranges.
The legal age to purchase alcoholic beverages in Brazil is 18. Brazil produces or imports most of the major international brands. Brazilian beer is a very good lager which is served in draught form (chopp) or bottled. The national drink is cachaça, made from crushed sugar cane, which is the basis of the popular caipirinha. Cachaça is also the basis for batidas, a mix of cachaça and fresh fruit juices. Soft drinks are no less spectacular and the most popular is Guaraná. Brazil is, of course, the world's largest coffee producer.
Most of the major guidebook series publish titles that cover Brazil. Many also produce a separate guide for Rio de Janeiro. It should be possible to find a selection of the guides listed below in most good book stores in the US. If not, they are easy enough for the shops to order or they can be bought over the Internet. It is highly recommended that visitors take the time to read at least one guidebook before arriving in Brazil.
If you are going to be touring in Brazil you should, on arrival, get hold of a copy of the Quatro Rodas Guia Brasil, published by Editora Abril. This is essentially Brazil's Michelin guide and is simple enough to follow even if you don't speak Portuguese. If you do speak Portuguese, check Abril's travel website.
Brazil has an excellent network of private hospitals in the major metropolitan centres. Private medical care is expensive, so it is advisable that all visitors take out medical insurance prior to their arrival.
Even without insurance, Brazil has a public health service that will look after foreign visitors in an emergency.
Most hotels in Brazil offer web access and there are cyber-cafes in many of the main shopping centres.
Brazil has many fine newspapers but the size of the country dictates that the majority must be regional. In Rio de Janeiro, the big three are O Globo, Jornal do Brasil and O Dia, while in São Paulo they are Folha de São Paulo, Estado de São Paulo and Folha da Tarde.
Foreign newspapers and periodicals are not difficult to find in Brazil. The international editions of the Miami Herald, USA Today and Herald Tribune are flown in each morning from Miami and distributed by noon to most hotels and selected newsstands in Rio and São Paulo. Time, Newsweek and The Economist can also be bought at most quality newsstands.
One of the urban myths that surrounds Brazil and can put people off a visit is the question of safety and security. In fact, Brazil, including the main cities of Rio, Salvador and São Paulo, is no more dangerous than anywhere in Europe or North America and violent crimes against tourists or foreign visitors are extremely rare, hence the headlines if they do happen. Brazil is also politically stable with no natural enemies and no terrorist activities.
Being sensible and streetwise is the key to a trouble-free and enjoyable stay in Brazil. However, just like in London, Paris, New York or any other major metropolitan and tourist centre, petty crime in Brazil is an unfortunate fact of life. The crime tourists are most likely to fall victim to in Brazilian cities is robbery and the target of most petty pilfering is the bag. If a bag is left unattended, the chances are that somebody else will try to pick it up.
The postal service in Brazil is very efficient but at least a week should be allowed for postcards and letters mailed in each direction. The opening times of Correios (Post Offices) vary, but is usually 8 am to 6 pm, Monday through Friday and until noon on Saturday.
The express door-to-door mail service in Brazil is known as SEDEX and operates from most of the main post offices. There is also an Express Mail Service (EMS) for international mail and this is often as fast as a courier service and a lot cheaper.
The passenger rail network in Brazil is extremely limited and not a viable option for travelling around the country. There are, however, a number of scenic routes. Brazil has only 17,500 miles of railways compared to over one million miles of roads.
Religion Catholicism is Brazil's largest religion. Protestantism, Judaism, Evangelism and Afro-Brazilian religions, such as Macumba, Candomblé and Umbanda, are all present and practiced in Brazil.
Since air travel has become so popular, there is no scheduled boat service between Brazil and the rest of the world, although some cargo lines, such as Grimaldi Freighters, do offer a limited service from Europe. Rio is one of the prime ports of call for cruise ships, especially at Carnival time. Besides Rio de Janeiro, popular ports of call in Brazil include Manaus, Belém, Fortaleza, Recife, Salvador and Vitória.
Brazil has a well developed telephone network and it is relatively simple to direct dial to anywhere in Brazil or internationally. You can dial direct (DDI), which is cheaper, to most countries in the world, by first dialling 00, the long distance operator code (21 for Embratel or 23 for Intelig) and then the country's own code followed by the area code and the number you want to contact. Should the area code start with a zero, the zero must be dropped. Therefore the number of the Embassy of Brazil in London would be dialled as 00-(21 or 23)-44-20-7399-9000.
The local telephone directories have a full list of country codes as well as the major area codes but this information is also available free of charge from the international operator on 000333. The operators speak English and also offer a free translation service in French, Japanese, German, Italian and Spanish on 000111.
If you already know the number you wish to call, but want to make the call person-to-person, use your telephone credit card, or call collect, you must first call the operator on 000111.
On 30 June 2001 there were changes to the telephone numbers in the Brazilian states of Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo and Pará. In Rio de Janeiro, the digit 2 has been added to numbers starting with 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7, except for the prefixes 460 and 461, which now start with 3. For example, the number 207 1234 is now 2207 1234 and the number 460 1234 is now 3460 1234. Most guide books in circulation or information in print does not yet reflect these changes.
It is now possible to use foreign mobiles within Brazil but you should first check with your service provider as to exactly what coverage to expect because it does vary from state to state and from one service provider to another. As does the cost.
To dial internationally from your mobile, you may have to follow the same procedure as a land line and choose a long distance operator. For example 00 (for international) followed by 21 (for Embratel), followed by the number of the country you wish to talk to and the full telephone number.
If you mobile phone is not compatible to work in Brazil, it is also possible to rent a handset in Brazil. This can be delivered to your hotel or picked up at the airport.
The parts of Brazil most popular with foreign visitors lie within the Brazilian standard time zone, three hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. The states of Amazonas, Roraima, Rondônia, Pará, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul are a further one hour behind Brazilian standard time, while Acre is two hours behind. Fernando de Noronha and other oceanic islands are one hour ahead of Brazilian standard time.
In 1985 Brazil introduced daylight savings time. Brazilian summer time comes into effect in October and ends in early February. During this period of daylight saving time, Brazil's clocks go forward one hour in most of the south east. This when most of the Northern Hemisphere countries are putting their clocks back one hour and coming off summer time. So, from March to October, when Brazil is on normal time and the US is on its DLS time, the time difference between Brasilia and Washington will be one hour. This goes to three hours when Brazil goes on to summer time and the US comes off.
Nearly all hotels add a service charge to the bill, usually 10%. Most restaurants also add 10% or more to the total of the bill, but must make it clear that they have done so. Brazilians don't normally tip taxi drivers, although they may round the total up.
Although 90 per cent of Brazil is within the tropics, more than 60 per cent of the population lives in areas where altitude, sea winds, or polar fronts moderate the temperature. Plateau cities such as São Paulo, Brasília and Belo Horizonte have mild climates averaging 19°C (66°F). Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Natal and Salvador on the coast have warmer climates balanced by the Trade Winds. Rio, for example, has an average temperature of around 26°C (80°F) which will climb into the high 30s-low 40s (over 100°F) during the summer months. In the southern Brazilian cities of Porto Alegre and Curitiba, the subtropical climate is similar to parts of the US and Europe, with frosts occurring in the winter months (July-August) when temperatures can fall below freezing. Summers are hot, however.
Seasons in Brazil are the reverse of those in the US:
- Spring: 22 September to 21 December
- Summer: 22 December to 21 March
- Autumn: 22 March to 21 June
- Winter: 22 June to 21 September