Difference between revisions of "Brazil"
Revision as of 22:15, 28 March 2007
Brazil (Portuguese: Brasil) is the largest country in South America. Famous for its soccer tradition and its annual carnival in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, it is a country of great diversity. From the bustling urban mosaic of São Paulo to the infinite cultural energy of Pernambuco and Bahia, the untouched wilderness of the Amazon rainforest and world-class landmarks such as the Iguaçu Falls, there is plenty to see and to do in Brazil.
Brazil is the fifth largest country on earth. So large it is that, for economic planning purposes, it had to be divided into five regions. The five regions (below) are drawn around state lines, but they more or less follow natural, economic and cultural borderlines.
See also: List of Brazilian states
Brazil has many exciting cities, ranging from pretty colonial towns and coastal hideouts to hectic, lively metropolises; these are a few of the more prominent travel destinations:
History and Economy
Until 1500, Brazil was inhabited solely by indigenous people, mainly of the Tupi and Guarani ethnic groups. Actual settling by the Portuguese began later that century, with the extraction of valuable pau-brasil wood, from which the country draws its name. The following four centuries saw further exploitation of the country's natural riches (gold and rubber) besides the rise of an economy based on agriculture (sugar and coffee) and slave labor, millions of Africans taken to the new world in a forced diaspora. Meanwhile, extermination or Christianizing of natives kept its pace, and the 19th century saw a second wave of European (mainly Italian and German) immigration, adding to this unique and complex set of factors that generated today's equally complex and unique Brazilian culture and society.
Following three centuries under the rule of Portugal, Brazil became an independent nation in 7 September, 1822. By far the largest and most populous country in South America, it has also overcome more than two decades (1964-1988) of military intervention in the governance of the country to pursue a democratic ruling, while facing the challenge of keeping its industrial and agricultural growth and developing its interior. Exploiting vast natural resources and a large labor pool, today Brazil is South America's leading economic power and a regional leader. Highly unequal income distribution remains a pressing problem. A consequence of this is a high crime rate, specifically in large cities.
After 20 years of democracy, the country has grown strong, and despite the social problems of the unequal income distribution, its people remains a happy and festive people.
Owing to Brazil’s continental dimensions, varied geography, history and people, the country’s culture is rich and diverse. It has several regional variations, and in spite of being mostly unified by a single language, some regions are so different from each other that they could have become different countries altogether.
Music plays an important part in Brazilian identity. Styles like choro, samba and bossa nova are considered genuinely Brazilian. Caipira music is also in the roots of sertanejo (the national equivalent to country music). MPB stands for Brazilian Popular Music, which mixes several national styles under a single concept. Forró, a north-eastern happy dancing music style, has also become common nationwide. New urban styles include funk - name given to a dance music genre from Rio's favelas that mixes heavy electronic beats and often raunchy rapping - and techno-brega, a crowd-pleaser in northern states, that fuses romantic pop, dance music and caribbean rhythms.
A mixture of martial arts, dance, music and game, capoeira was brought to Brazil by African slaves. Distinguished by vivacious complicated movements and accompanying music, it can be seen and practiced in many Brazilian cities.
Candomble and Umbanda are religions with African roots that have survived prejudice and persecution and still have a significant following in Brazil. Their places of cult are called terreiros and many are open for visitation.
Indigenous traits can be found everywhere in Brazilian culture, from cuisine to vocabulary. There are still many indigenous groups and tribes living in all Brazilian regions, although many have been deeply influenced by "western" culture, and several of the country's surviving indigenous languages are in danger of disappearing completely. The traditional lifestyle and graphic expressions of the Wajãpi indigenous group from the state of Amapá were proclaimed a Masterpiece of the World's Intangible Heritage  by UNESCO.
Globo, the national television network, also plays an important role in shaping the national identity. Nine out of ten households have a TV set, which is the most important source of information and entertainment for most Brazilians followed by the radio broadcast. TVs broadcast sports, movies, local and national news and telenovelas (Soap Operas)– 6-month-long series that have become one of the country’s main cultural exports.
Throughout its history, Brazil has welcomed several different peoples and practices. The lack of British or Dutch-style puritanism in colonial history has contributed that Brazil constitutes a melting pot of the most diverse ethnic groups thus mitigating ethnic prejudices and preventing racial conflicts (though long lasting slavery and genocide among indigenous populations have taken their toll). Nevertheless, race (or, better saying, skin colour) is still a dividing factor in Brazilian society and you will notice the skin typically darkens as the social class gets lower: wealth and middle-class are mostly white; many middle-class are mixed; and the majority of poor people are black or indian. Nowadays, however, Afro-Brazilians and Amerindian populations are increasingly aware of their civil rights and of their rich cultural heritage.
In general, Brazilians are a fun-loving people. While attitude in the South may be somewhat colder and more reserved, from Rio upwards people usually boast a captivating attitude towards life and truly enjoy having a good time. Some may even tell you that beer, football, samba and barbecue is all they could crave for.
Almost everyone can dance and Brazilians are usually at ease with their bodies. While talking, they may stand closer to each other than the regular American or Northern European, and also tend to touch each other more. It’s not uncommon to touch each other on the shoulder or arm occasionally while speaking and visitors should not take this as impolite or as a violation of personal space.
Friendship and hospitality are highly praised traits in the Brazilian society. Family values and social connections are also strongly valued and the distinction between known and unknown people may acquire a significant weight in day-to-day interaction. To people they have met, or at least they know the name, Brazilians are usually very open, friendly and sometimes quite generous. Once introduced, until getting a good reason not to, a typical Brazilian may treat you as trustfully as he would treat a best friend. This may have an agreeable impact, but it also means that outsiders not always get the same special treatment as locals. Nevertheless, Brazilians are reputedly one of the most hospitable people in the world and foreigners are usually treated with respect and often with true admiration.
Attitudes towards foreigners may also be subject to regional differences:
Whereas the "Western" roots of Brazilian culture are largely European (evidenced by its colonial towns and even sporadic historic buildings between the skyscrapers...), there has been a strong tendency in the last decades to adopt a more "American Way of Life" which is manifest in urban culture and architecture, mass media, consumerism and a strongly positive feeling towards technical progress. In spite of that, Brazil is still a nation faced to the Atlantic, not to Hispanic America, and the intellectual elites are likely to look for Europe (especially France), not the US, as source of inspiration. Many aspects in Brazilian society (such as educational system) are borrowed from French and may seem strange to Anglo-Saxon visitors.
Brazilians are not Hispanic, and there even those who question whether Brazil is part of Latin America.
The contrasts in this huge country equally fascinates and shocks most visitors, as well as the indifference of many inhabitants towards the social, economic and ecological biases. Whereas an emerging elite of young, well-educated professionals indulge in amenities of modern society, child labor, illiteracy and inhuman housing conditions still exist even in regions blessed by economic growth and huge foreign investments.
As much as Brazilians acknowledge their self-sustainability in raw materials, agriculture, and energy sources as an enormous benefit for the future, most of them agree that without huge efforts in education there will hardly be a way out of poverty and underdevelopment.
Holidays and working hours
Working hours are usually from 8 am or 9am to 6 pm. Street shops tend to close at noon on Saturday and only open again on Monday. Shopping malls normally open from 10 am to 10 pm from Monday to Saturday. Some also open on Sunday afternoons. There is no siesta (that's Hispanic usage, not Portuguese).
When you are travelling from certain tropical regions to Brazil you need a yellow fever vaccination and the certificate showing you had this. 
It is illegal to bring in animals, meat, dairy, seeds, plants, eggs, honey, fruit, or any kind of non-processed food without a permit. Contact [email protected] for more information.
Most travelers from other continents will land in São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. There are also regular flights from Europe (Lisbon) to Recife, Fortaleza, Natal, and Salvador. Some regional airports such as Belem and Manaus are also served by flights from Miami, French Guiana, Suriname and Guadeloupe. Besides, weekly 4-hour flights connect Fortaleza to Cape Verde (with further connections available to Senegal).
Charter tourism flights from Europe often land directly in Salvador, Recife, Fortaleza, and Natal. Direct flights from Sao Paulo and/or Rio de Janeiro to Lisbon, Porto, Madrid, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Milan and Zurich are also available. North American cities served by direct flights include Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Miami, New York, Toronto and Washington.
Varig airlines was the country's largest, and it is now recovering some of its routes. Check carefully before making reservations and always reconfirm before travel. As of January 2007, however, it is no longer a member of the Star Alliance code-sharing consortium (which includes United Airlines, Lufthansa, Air Canada, USAirways, and other major carriers). Check all code shares carefully before booking. TAM is now the largest company, with flights from Paris, London, Miami, New York, Lima and Mercosul capitals. GOL flies from several South American cities.
Direct flights are available to most South American capitals (Buenos Aires, Santiago, Montevideo, Asunción, La Paz, Lima, Bogotá, Caracas), as well as to other regional hubs (Córdoba, Rosario, Santa Cruz de la Sierra). Other Latin American cities with direct connection to Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro include Mexico City and Panama City.
South African Airways offers direct flights from Sao Paulo to Johannesburg or Cape Town, with onward connections to Australia, New Zealand and the Far East. TAAG Angola Airlines also has two weekly direct flights from Rio de Janeiro to the Angolan capital of Luanda.
Asian cities with connections to Brazil include Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka (Japan), and Seoul (Korea).
The main border crossings are at:
The conection from Colombia to Brazil has no continuity inside both countries, and traffic is restricted to the twin-cities area (Leticia and Tabatinga).
Long-distance bus service connects Brazil to its neighboring countries. The main capitals linked directly by bus are Buenos Aires, Asunción, Montevideo, Santiago de Chile, and Lima. Direct connections from the first three can also be found easily, but from Lima it might be tricky, though easily accomplished by changing at one of the others. Those typically go to São Paulo, though Pelotas has good connections too. It should be kept in mind that distances between Sao Paulo and any foreign capitals are significant.
The national land transport authority has listings on all operating international bus lines.
Amazon river boats connect northern Brazil with Peru, Venezuela and Colombia. The ride is a gruelling 12 days upriver though. From French Guiana, you can cross the river Oyapoque, which takes about 15 minutes.
Train service within Brazil, let alone from other countries, is almost nonexistent. However, there are exceptions to the rule, and the most famous way to enter Brazil by train is on the Trem da Morte, or Death Train, which goes from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to a small town just over the border from Corumbá in the State of Mato Grosso do Sul. There is still a train line from there all the way to São Paulo which at the moment is not in use, but bus connections to São Paulo via the state capital, Campo Grande, are plentiful. The journey itself is reputedly replete with robbers who might steal your backpack or its contents but security has been increased recently and the journey can be made without much difficulty. It goes through the Bolivian agricultural belt and along the journey one may see a technologically-averse religious community which resembles the American Amish in many ways.
Air service connects all major areas of Brazil. Note that not all air routes are as direct as they would seem on a map, and are often required to go through hubs such as Brasilia or Sao Paulo. Besides the traditional airlines Varig (see bankruptcy notice above) or TAM, there are also cheaper "no frills" airlines such as BRA, Gol and Webjet booking over the internet. For international travelers, air passes for in-country flights may be available while buying your flight to Brazil.
Beware of flight listings at the airport which only show the final city in route (which you're probably not aware of). Always know and check your flight NUMBER, not just the city you're flying to (it might not be listed). Expect that a more distant city might be the only one listed for your flight, but the plane will still stop at the airport for which you have a ticket. Strangely, international flights are just the opposite, with only the first destination in Brazil shown -- even though the same flight may go directly to other cities.
Many domestic flights in Brazil are considered "international," giving flyers a chance to purchase items at a "duty free" store in the airport. (There may be passengers on board from other South American countries who have not yet cleared customs.) Also, you must go through immigrations and customs again upon arrival, even though you never left Brazil. Foreign travelers on flights within Brazil do NOT fill out a new immigration form, but show the carbon copy of the one completed on arriving in Brazil the first time of same visit (with their passport and visa stamp).
The atlas called "Guia de Estradas" can be bought in several newstands. It provides not only maps and distances but also information about current conditions of the roads (which can be indeed very bad). There are the usual car rental companies at the airports. A car is a good idea if you want to explore scenic areas, e.g. the historic cities of Minas Gerais, the Rio-Santos highway, or the beaches in North-East Brazil.
Driving anywhere in Brazil requires a maximum amount of attention. In a recent year, Brazilians won first, second, and third place at the Indy 500 auto race -- which should give you an idea on how they drive -- Velozes e Furiosos! If you're bold enough to drive at all in Brazil, at least consider avoiding night-time driving. The problem behind Brazil's roads is the presence of potholes (mainly because of lack of investments from the government) and animals (which are left free near roads by the locals). When driving you should be carefull and aware of this, as it is the primary source of road accidents.
In rural areas in Brazil the bicycle is a common means of transport. This does not mean that cyclists are respected by car, truck, or bus drivers. But you may find good roads with little traffic outside the cities. It is also easy to get a lift by a pickup or to have the bike transported by a bus. Cycling is not very stimulated in big cities. Three exceptions are Rio de Janeiro, Recife and Fortaleza where there are cycle tracks along the beaches.
Brazil's railway system was mostly wrecked during the military regimes. Today there are few passenger lines left:
Long-distance buses are a convenient, economical, and sometimes (usually if you buy the most expensive ticket), rather comfortable way to travel between regions. Bus terminals in cities play a role akin to train stations in many countries.
Brazil has a very good bus transport system, Basically, long distance routes depart from capital cities or economical centers, so if the city is big it will have connections to neighbouring capitals at the very least. One can expect just about any town to have a bus route to the capital or a regional economic center. Generally speaking bus tickets are bought at bus terminals at the end points or at the scheduled stops along the route. The facility of flagging a bus and hopping on (if there are available seats) is widespread in the country. This is less likely to work along a few routes where armed robberies have happened frequently, such as those leading to the border with Paraguay and to Foz do Iguaçu.
ANTT, the national authority for land transportation, has a search engine (in Portuguese) for all available domestic bus lines.
In the Amazon region as well as on the coast west of Sao Luis, boat travel is often the only way to get around.
The official language of Brazil is Portuguese, spoken by the entire population (except a few very remotely located Indian tribes, and some recent immigrants). Brazilian Portuguese has a number of pronunciation differences with the language spoken in Portugal, but speakers of either can understand each other. However, European Portuguese (Luso) is more difficult for Brazilians to understand than the reverse, as many Brazilian television programs are shown in Portugal.
Note that a few words can have a totally different meaning in Brazil and Portugal. An example of this is "Rapariga" which in Portugal means young girl, and in Brazil mean prostitute.
"Legal" (leh GAL) is slang meaning that something is "great" or "cool" -- not that it's lawful to do. It could be very illegal! Also, "no" doesn't mean "no" as in English and Spanish, but rather "in the" as a contraction of em + o (en el in Spanish). Não falo Inglês no Brasil. I don't speak English in Brazil.
English is not widely spoken except in some tourist areas. One can always find a way to get around, especially among students and in financial zones. Don't expect bus or taxi drivers to understand English, though. In most big and luxurious hotels, it is very likely that the taxi fleet will speak some English.
Spanish speakers are usually able to get by in Brazil, especially towards the south. Whereas the written language is quite similar to Spanish, spoken Portuguese may be much harder to understand by those who know some Spanish. Compare the number 20 which is veinte (VAYN-tay) in Spanish to vinte (VEEN-chee) in Brazilian Portuguese. Even more different is gente (people), pronounced HEN-tay in Spanish and GEN-chee in Brazilian Portuguese.
Brazilians use a lot of body gestures in informal communication, and the meaning of certain words or expressions may be influenced by them.
Brazil's unit of currency is the Real (pronounced 'hay-AHL'), plural Reais ('hay-AYS'), abbreviated BRL, or just R$. One real is divided into 100 centavos. Prices are written as R$1,50 (means one and fifty cents) for example.
Bank Machines often take VISA and other non-Brazilian credit cards. Check for the Cirrus or Visa Plus logo. Shell Petrol/Gas stations with a shop might also have an ATM which does. Banco do Brasil may have many ATMs but usually only one per branch which accepts foreign credit/debit cards. There is often a long line of people waiting, as the machines are used by locals to pay bills. BankBoston, HSBC, Bradesco, and Citibank also accept PLUS and Cirrus ATM cards and usually have shorter lines. Credit card advance is through the ATMs (with the four digit PIN) ONLY -- no manual transactions.
Recently, it has become nearly impossible to wire money to Brazil from outside the country, unless the recipient is a resident with a bank account. Do not count on someone to able to send you any funds via Western Union, Moneygram, etc. should you run short. Those that are allowed are subject to a 38/100 of 1% tax if paid in Reais.
In terms of the most common form of payment, cash in small bills is king in Brazil. If you have too many large bills, especially in the small towns and tourist destinations, you will find vendors often don't have enough small bills to make change. Therefore, make sure you carry a lot of small bills. Further, traveler checks are not easily or cheaply cashed in Brazil, except at international airports, which almost every main city of each state has: Sao Paulo, Rio, Curitiba, Salvador, Fortaleza, etc only to name a few. Brazilian banks charge really big to cash traveler checks and the process can take a while, so don't try it if you are in a hurry. It's good to go informed before you use this kind of service as only a few Brazilians would know about how its done.
Brazil redesigned its money in 1997 or 1998, and old coins are still in circulation. Old coins look more like each other than new coins of the same denomination, so read the numbers.
There are R$0.01 coins (copper), R$0.05 (copper), R$0.10 (bronze), R$0.25 (bronze), R$0.50 (silver) and R$1 (silver with a golden border). Bills come in the following denominations: R$1 (green), R$2 (blue), R$5 (purple), R$10 (red), R$20 (yellow) R$ 50 (orange) and $100 (blue).
There are two different R$10 bills. One is reddish and made of the same paper as the other bills. The other one is blueish and made of plastic material. Although the blueish ones are still valid and fully accepted everywhere, they are no longer being printed and are slowly disappearing as banks replace them for the red paper ones.
The Real is a free-floating currency. As of January 2007, R$ 1,00 is worth about:
An exchange office is called a casa de câmbio. Some banks also exchange foreign currency, and you may be asked show your passport.
The Real can be difficult to sell after you leave South America, so convert any cash to US dollars if leaving the country for another continent.
It's not a bad idea to pack light and acquire a Brazilian wardrobe within a couple of days of arrival. It will make you less obvious as a tourist, and give you months of satisfied gloating back home about the great bargains you got whenever you are complimented on your clothing. Brazilians have their own sense of style and that makes tourists - especially those in Hawaian shirts or sandals + socks - stand out in the crowd. Have some fun shopping, and blend in. Another good reason for buying clothes and shoes in Brazil is that the quality is usually good and the prices often cheap. To figure your Brazilian pants size, measure your waist in centimeters, divide by 2, and round up to the next even number.
Store windows will often display a price followed by "X 5" or "X 10", etc. This is an installment-sale price. The price displayed is the per-installment price, so that, "R$50 X 10", for example, means 10 payments (typically monthly) of R$50 each. The actual price is almost always lower if you pay in cash.
Make sure any appliances you buy are either dual voltage or the same as in your home country. Brazil is 60Hz, so don't buy electric clocks or non-battery operated motorized items if you live in Europe or Australia. The voltage, however, varies by state (see Electricity below).
Brazil uses a hybrid video system called "PAL-M." It is NOT at all compatible with the PAL system of Europe and Australia. Television began in black and white using the NTSC system of the USA and Canada, then years later, using PAL for its analogue colour -- making a totally unique system. Nowadays, most new TV sets are NTSC compatible. Digital video such as DVDs are also compatible with NTSC (all digital colour is the same worldwide), but make sure the DVD region code(s) - Brazil is part of region 4 - if any, match your home country's. Prices for imported electronic goods can be quite high, and the choice of domestic electronic gadgets may not be as wide as in developed countries.
Brazil's cuisine is as varied as its geography and culture. On the other hand, some may find it an unrefined melange, and everyday fare can be bland and monotonous. While there are some quite unique dishes of regional origin, many foods were brought by overseas immigrants and have been hybridized through the generations. In Brazil, Italian and Chinese food can often be as baffling as Amazonian fare.
Brazil's national dish is feijoada, a hearty stew made of black beans and pork (ears, knuckles, sausage and pieces of beef (usually dried). It's served with a side of white rice, garnished with collard greens and sliced orange. It's usually not served in restaurants, and ones that do, typically have it only twice a week (usually Wednesday and Saturday). A typical mistake made by tourists is to eat too much feijoada shortly after arriving. This is a heavy dish, you need to get used to it before you eat it. Even Brazilians usually eat it parcimoniously. While you are at it, try the caipirinha, Brazil´s signature drink made of wedged limes, sugar and cachaça.
Excellent seafood can be found in coastal towns, especially in the Northeastern part of the country.
In even the smallest most towns it is easy to find self-service restaurants with good food. Brazilian restaurants can have varying degrees of cleanliness. Customers are allowed by law to visit the kitchen and see how the food is being handled.
Most of the self-service restaurants offer two kinds of deals: an all-you-can-eat fixed price (called "rodízio"), or you go "por quilo" - pay-by-weight, very common during lunchtime throughout Brazil.
Brazilian snacks, called lanches, include a wide variety of pastries. Look for coxinha (deep-fried chicken balls), empadinha (a stuffed pastry, unrelated to Latin American empanadas: try out the palmito heart of palm variety), and pastel (fried turnovers). Another common snack is a misto quente, a ham-and-cheese sandwich. Pão-de-queijo, a roll made of cassava flour and cheese is very popular - pão-de-queijo and a cup of fresh Brazilian coffee is a classical combination.
Brazilian cuisine also has a lot of imports:
Eating out is a great bargain and a pleasure in Brazil. Service varies in quality but is usually inexpensive. Even in "expensive" Rio, and in the tourist areas where prices are marked-up, you can have an excellent meal at one of the better restaurants complete with drinks for US$10.
Note that the locals tip only 10% of total service amount. This value usually included in the bill. Use this as an opportunity to make somebody's day for extra special service. If you are going to stay for some time, choose a good reastaurant for everyday eating, make some friendship with a waiter (usually by giving him an extra tip) and you will enjoy excellent service.
Many inexpensive restaurants are buffet-by-weight, or por quilo. You pile up your plate with whatever you want, then place it on a scale at the counter, and pay by weight. These restaurants, being the least expensive, are those where Brazilians prefer to eat. Service may be hard to get if you can't speak Portuguese, but this is the place to go if you want to eat good and cheap.
Brazilian restaurants often serve only for two, and you can't order a portion for a single person. It's usually not even indicated on the menu, so you may have to infer from the price or just ask. Also, a Brazilian couple sitting at a restaurant table usually sits side by side, rather than across from each other.
Fast food is also very popular, and the local takes on hamburgers and hot-dogs ("cachorro-quente", translated literally) are well worth trying. Brazilian sandwiches tend to come in many varieties, including various combinations of ingredients like mayonnaise, bacon, ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato, corn, peas, raisins, french fries, ketchup, eggs, pickles, etc. The fast food chain Bob's is nationwide and has been around almost as long as McDonald's.
Brazilians handle sandwiches with napkins and use utensils to eat french fries.
Liquor and beer
Brazil's most famous alcoholic drink is cachaça (cah-shah-sah), an extremely potent sugar-cane liquor known to knock the unwary out quite quickly. It can be tried in virtually every bar in the country. Famous producing regions include Minas Gerais, where there are tours of distillers, much in the same way as you'd tour vineyards in the Sonoma Valley or in France, and the city of Paraty. Pirassununga is home to Caninha 51, Brazil's best-selling brand. In a city near Fortaleza there is a cachaça museum (Museu da Cachaça) where you can learn about the history of the Ypioca brand.
The strong flavor of cachaça - also known as aguardente ("burning water") - can be tempered (hidden?) in cocktails like the famous caipirinha, a combination of cachaça with sugar and lime juice. The same mixture using vodka instead of cachaça is nicknamed a caipiroshka or caipivodka; with white rum, it's a caipiríssima.
Another interesting concoction is called capeta, made with cachaça, condensed milk, cinnamon, guarana powder (a mild stimulant), and other ingredients, varying by region.
Drinking cachaça straight, or stirring in only a dollop of honey, is a common habit on the Northeast region of the country.
If you enjoy fine brandy or grappa, try an aged cachaça. Deep and complex, this spirit is nothing like the ubiquitous clear liquor more commonly seen.
Beer in Brazil has a respectable history thanks to German immigrants. Draft lager beer is called chope or chopp ('SHOH-pee'). Most Brazilian beer brands tend to be less thick and bitter than actual German, Danish or English beer. The most popular domestic brands are Brahma, Antarctica and Skol. Traditional brands include Bohemia, Caracu and Itaipava. Brazilians like their beer nearly ice-cold. To keep the temperature down, it is often served in an insulated container and is drunk from small glasses. Served like this, the waiter may keep topping up the glasses and replacing the beer until you ask him to stop.
While imported alcohol is very expensive, you may find a large assortment of vodka, wine and rum brands in any local supermarket. They come relatively cheap and don't taste that bad. If you really want imported vodka, gin, or Scotch, your best bet is to buy this at the duty-free shop at the airport coming in (Brazil is one of the few countries where you can buy duty-free goods on your way in).
Rio Grande do Sul is the leading wine production region. The Sao Francisco Valley, along the border of the states of Pernambuco and Bahia, is the country's newest wine-producing region. Brazilian wines are usually fresher, fruitier and less alcoholic than, for instance, French wines. Popular brands like Sangue de Boi, Canção and Santa Felicidade and others with prices below R$ 6.00 are usually seen as rubbish.
If you happen to be in Minas Gerais, look for licor de jabuticaba (jabuticaba liquor) or vinho de jabuticaba (jabuticaba wine), an exquisite purple-black beverage with a sweet taste. Jabuticaba is the name of a small grape-like black fruit native to Brazil.
Coffee and tea
Brazil is known world-wide for its high-quality strong coffee. Café is so popular that it can name meals (just like rice does in China, Japan and Korea): breakfast in Brazil is called café da manhã (morning coffee), while café com pão (coffee with bread) or café da tarde (afternoon coffee) means a light afternoon meal. Cafezinho (little coffee) is a small cup of sweetened coffee which is usually served for free after meals in restaurants (just ask politely). Bottled coffee is being replaced by stronger espresso cups in more upscale restaurants.
Mate is an infusion, similar to tea, that is very high in caffeine. A toasted version, often served chilled, is consumed all around the country, while Chimarrão, the heated, bitter equivalent of mate, can be found in the south, and is highly appreciated by the gaúchos. Tererê is a cold version of Chimarrão, common in Mato Grosso.
If you're on the beach on a hot day, nothing beats coconut water, or água de coco - but be careful how you pronounce the word coco (hint: stress the first o as you would in the word orange, otherwise it will sound to them like you are ordering poo!).
If you want a Coca-Cola in Brazil, ask for coca, as "cola" means "glue", in Portuguese (but if you say "Coca-cola", everybody will understand).
Guaraná is a carbonated soft drink made from a berry (the guaraná) native to the Amazon area. The major brands are Antarctica, Kuat and Brahma.
Fruit juices are very popular in Brazil. There are fruit juice bars at nearly every corner. Açai (made of a fruit from the Amazon) is absolutely delicious and very nutritious on top of that. It is normally served cold and has a consistency of soft ice. Don't let the crazy purple color stop you from eating it! Maracuja (passion fruit) Caju (cashew) and Manga (mango) are also great juice experiences. Don't be afraid to try what you see on the menu. Brazilians have great taste when it comes to mixing juices. Be aware that orange juice in Brazil is called suco de laranja, which can confuse Spanish speakers who aren't careful.
High season in Brazil follows the school holidays calendar, December and January (summer) being the busiest months. New Year, Carnival (moveable between February and March, see Understand above) and Holy week are the peak periods, and prices can skyrocket, especially in coastal cities like Rio and Salvador. Also, during those holidays, many hotels restrict bookings to a 3 or 4-day minimum and charge in advance.
Hotels are plentiful in just about all areas of Brazil and can range from luxury beach resorts to very modest and inexpensive choices. The Brazilian tourism regulation board imposes specific minimum attributes for each type of facility, but as the 1-5 star rating is no longer enforced, check in advance if your hotel provides the kind of services you expect.
Pousada means guesthouse (the local equivalent of a French auberge or a British boarding house). They are common in smaller tourist towns and can be quite comfortable (or downright awful...). The term implies that things like 24-hour room service, hot meals throughout the day, etc, are not available. However, most pousadas offer common meals (comprised exclusively of what the owner likes). Pousadas also tend to impose restrictions like a curfew or forbidding taking people in with you.
In wilderness areas like the Pantanal, travelers usually stay in fazendas, which are ranches with guest facilities. In small towns of Minas Gerais people are fond of hotéis-fazenda (farm hotels) where you can swim, ride, walk, play football, and camp as well as sleep in picturesque barracks.
Also there is great fun in going on a boat hotel which will take you to inaccessible places on the rivers and lakes for great fishing trips or for simply relaxing and watching and photographing the wildlife which is very abundant in the Pantanal. The boats are large, safe, and comfortable with air-conditioned rooms (very necessary). Several small aluminum boats with outboard motor, carried by the boat hotel, driven by experienced fisher/guide will take 2 or 3 tourists to the best "points".
Motel is the local term for a "sex hotel", so be aware of the implications. There's no social stigma per se in staying in one, but the room service and rates are geared to consenting adults staying for 4 to 6 hour periods (alta rotatividade) with utmost discretion and privacy.
Youth hostels (albergues da juventude) are becoming increasingly common too.
Because Portuguese is not as visible worldwide as English or Spanish, it is not easy to find Portuguese courses for foreigners in Brazil -- especially in medium to small cities. A good alternative is to befriend language students and exchange lessons. Brazilians are usually interested in learning foreign languages and are very patient to teach their difficult, but very cherished language.
If you come to Brazil with some initial notions of Portuguese, you will see that people will treat you much better and you will get by much easier. Spanish and standard Italian are easily understood, especially in São Paulo or the South, but English is of no use unless the person specifically knows how to speak it.
Working in Brazil is much easier than in Europe, Japan or the U.S., mostly because there is much more informality. In theory, you must have a permit (carteira de trabalho) to be allowed to have a job. However, to obtain one you must be sponsored by an employer before entering the country, and the Brazilian government has made it prohibitively expensive for almost all but the international companies to sponsor you. Add to this the country's high rate of unemployment and low average wages and you will find it fairly difficult to find a job, and possibly not worth the trouble. If you are a native English speaker, you may be able to find an English-teaching part-time job; but don't expect that to save your holidays. The pay will be under-the-table without contract, so there are risks as well.
Although not in every large city, but one of the unfortunate sides of travel in Brazil is the epidemic of violent street crime. Brazil's large cities, especially of the north, northeast and southeast states, are notorious for attacks (against foreigners and locals alike), but do not let that deter you. Taking extra precautions to keep yourself safe while travelling in Brazil will let you enjoy your stay like millions of visitors do every year.
Do not walk around big cities at night -- take taxis. On no account ever try to enter a slum ("favela") without a guide and do not walk down shadowy streets at night. If you cannot depend on a Brazilian friend or relative to be your guide, consult a travel book to learn which areas of the city to avoid and when, as well as other safety tips.
Use your hotel's safe for any valuables, or, better yet, don't bring to Brazil anything you don't really need. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash, wearing expensive or expensive-looking jewelry, and carrying any unnecessary electronic gear, loose purses or bags. Try to stash some extra money in a hidden spot on your person -- such as a shoe or money belt -- to make sure you can get back to your hotel. Pay attention to the way the locals dress and buy similar clothes for yourself: looking like a foreigner (e.g. dark socks with bermudas) is not wise as thieves will be after you for your money if they instantly see you are a gringo.
Always carry a small amount of cash that you can hand over quickly in a case of a mugging. However, don't keep it somewhere easily seen such as in a men's shirt pocket, as that will greatly increase your risk. Under no circustances try to run away or resist. Do not carry "deterrence" weapons. Stay calm and comply with their demands, and you're unlikely to be hurt. Muggers will almost certainly outnumber and outsmart you, and "trying to be a hero" will achieve nothing apart from injury or death.
You don't need to carry your passport to walk in the city but if you like this, use a little pocket inside your clothes (you can buy in airport mall). But be sure to have a photocopy of your passport with you at all times as required by law (Brazilian police are entitled the right to request identification, i.e. documents, from anyone behaving suspiciously).
It's probably best to avoid the food peddled by vendors on the beach (before you buy any food from them, take a look at their hygiene and cleanliness). A sanduíche natural (natural sandwich) may or may not be organic as represented, but if you buy one late in the day a tummy-ache or worse is a likely result. Food and drink in formal restaurants is safe, excellent, and inexpensive.
If you are going to rent a flat and live on your own, store perishable foodstuffs with extra care, as the hot climate can make them rot quite soon.
Only buy closed drinks sold from street vendors (like cans and bottles). Always use a straw or rinse the drink container with fresh water, because the water used to cool the drinks is sometimes not fit for consumption. Unless you have been in the country for a few weeks or more, avoid all ice in drinks. Mineral water is normally safe. The quality of tap water, on the other hand, may vary from place to place (from contaminated, saline or soaked with chlorine to plain drinkable) and Brazilians themselves usually prefer to have it filtered.
Vaccination against yellow fever and taking anti-malaria medication may be necessary if you are traveling to central-western (Mato Grosso) or northern (Amazon) regions. If you're arriving from Peru, Colombia or Bolivia, the vaccination of yellow fever is required (i.e. you cannot leave these countries if your destination is Brazil without your vaccination card). Some countries, such as Australia and South Africa, will require evidence of yellow fever vaccination before allowing you entry if you have been in any part of Brazil within the previous week. Check the requirements of any country you will travel to after Brazil.
If you get ill don't look for help in public hospitals, which tend to be crowded and not too good. In most cities of at least 60,000 inhabitants good healthcare is available at a fair price.
Dentists abound and are very cheap (so cheap indeed that people come from other countries to treat their teeth there). However, the quality of their work is not always the same. Absolutely don't trust "popular dentists".
The emergency number is 190, but you must speak Portuguese.
Brazil is one of a few countries that uses both 120 and 240 volts for everyday appliances. Expect the voltage to change back and forth as you travel from one place to the next -- even within the same Brazilian state, sometimes even within the same building. There is no physical difference in the electric outlets (power mains) for the two voltages. Outlets with 240 volts are supposed to have a red and white label indicating the higher voltage -- but don't bet any expensive equipment on it. Travelers from the USA, Canada, and other countries with 120V should always ask first before plugging in appliances.
Electric outlets usually accept both the flat blades of the USA and Canada, and the thin round pins used in Brazil and some other countries like North Europe. Some older installations may not accept flat blades, but adapters from flat blades to thin round pins are easy to find in any supermarket or construction materials shop. Outlets intended for thin rounds pins aren't big enough for the German "Schuko" plugs. Either bring an adapter intended for the USA and Canada with both prongs the same size and no third round grounding pin, or one with THIN round pins (slightly thinner than the Schuko). Even if you live in the USA/Canada you may need one of these adapters, as many appliances now use a polarized plug with one blade bigger than the other. These will not fit in all outlets in Brazil, and outlets with a third grounding pin are uncommon. Near the border with Argentina, you might occasionally find outlets for the Australia/New Zealand-type plug. If crossing the border, you'll definitely need this adapter also.
Like most countries in North America, frequency is 60Hz (regardless of voltage). Don't bring electric clocks from Europe and Australia as they will gain 12 minutes per hour. Blackouts do sometimes occur -- especially in the smaller cities and towns during the wet season.
Brazilians tend to be very open and talk freely about their problems, especially about political corruption and other problems. But don't imitate them, as they are likely to feel offended if you criticise their country or customs. In some small towns, local politics can be a sensitive issue and you should be careful when talking about it. Be polite, as always.
Brazil has international country telephone code 55 and two-digit area codes, and phone numbers are eight digits long. The number of digits has been increased from seven to eight recently in some areas, meaning you might still find some old seven-digit phone numbers which won't work unless you prepend another digit (which depends on the area code and the first digit of the original number. Mostly, try adding 2 or 3).
Eight-digit numbers beginning with digits 2 to 6 are land lines, while eight-digit numbers beginning with digits 7 to 9 are mobile phones.
All cities use the following emergency numbers:
To dial to another area code or to another country, you must chose a carrier using a two-digit carrier code. Which carriers are available depends on the area you are dialing from and on the area you are dialing to. Carriers 21 (Embratel) and 23 (Intelig) are available in all areas.
The international phone number format for Brazil is +55-(area code)-(phone number)
Public payphones use prepaid cards with a number of credits. Phone booths are nearly everywhere in the cities and do not accept coins, but the standard prepaid cards can be used in all booths, regardless of the owner phone company. These cards cannot be recharged, but are easily available in shopping centers, gas stations, post offices, etc. Calls to cell phones (even local) will use up your credits very quickly (nearly as expensive as international calls). Calling the USA costs about one real per minute.
Brazil has 4 main mobile operators (this may change depending on the region you go, some operators doesn't have presence in all brazil, but they may have deals withe the others so you can go on roaming), VIVO is the largest one and operates cdma, the others are OI, TIM and CLARO which operates GSM. Check the price rates they may have big differences between the companies. The price policy may also be very different. Mobiles use mainly the CDMA or GSM system (some remote regions may still use the old TDMA). It is possible to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card for GSM phones (this is called pré-pago (pre-paid)), but make sure your phone is unlocked and uses the same frequency of Brazilian mobiles (usually 800MHz or 1,8 GHz). Same thing applies to buying a phone in Brazil - make sure it is unlocked (usually not)so you can use another SIM card when you leave for a different country.
So far, only mobiles by TIM are able to send text messages to cell phones abroad.
Internet cafes and Lan houses are increasingly common, and even smaller tourist cities often have at least one spot with more or less decent connections.
If you attempt to send mail directly from a LAN house with your laptop, it may be bounced. Anyone, including a spammer, can do this. Use POP-before-SMTP or a securely authenticated connection to your home mail server.
The Brazilian Correio is fairly reliable and post offices are literally everywhere. Be sure to use PRIORITÁRIO (priority mail) or foreign letters and postcards will take a VERY long time to arrive. With this service you only pay for the actual weight -- not rounded up to the next full pound (half kilo) like in the USA. Rates are similar to first-class overseas airmail elsewhere. If mailing postcards, beware of the HUGE postage stamps which could cover your writing. Make it clear you want small stamps (selos pequenos) for postcards, not souvenirs for a stamp collection.