Brazil is the largest country in South America.
Brazil is the fifth largest country on earth. The country is divided in five regions, more or less following natural, economic and cultural borderlines.
See also: List of Brazilian states
Brazil has many cities; these are a few of the more prominent travel destinations.
Following three centuries under the rule of Portugal, Brazil became an independent nation in 1822. By far the largest and most populous country in South America, Brazil has overcome more than half a century of military intervention in the governance of the country to pursue industrial and agricultural growth and development of the interior. Exploiting vast natural resources and a large labor pool, Brazil is today 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, especially in large cities.
Brazilians are a solidary people, but in a very peculiar way. For many of them, more important than having or not an irreproachable conduct is the distinction between known and unknown people. To people they have met, or at least they know the name, they are 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 agreable impact, but it also means it is better be cautious, for, on the other hand, if they are in an anonymous relationship, some Brazilians don't feel obliged to be decent, tending to think it is unknown people's duty to keep their eyes always wide open.
Brazilians like to have fun in general. The south of the country is colder and more European but from Rio and upwards you encounter a race who live to have a good time. They will often tell you that with their beer, football, samba and barbecue they have all they could want. Almost everyone can dance and Brazilians are very at ease with their bodies.
Whereas the roots of Brazilian culture are mainly European (evidenced by sporadic historic buildings between the skyscrapers...), there is 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. 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. Nowadays, however, Afro-Brazilians and Amerindian populations are increasingly aware of their civil rights and their rich cultural heritage.
The contrasts of 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 are prevalent even in those regions which are blessed by economic growth and huge foreign investments.
As much as Brazilians acknowledge their self-sustainability in raw materials, agriculture, and engergy sources as an enormous benefit for the future, most of them agree that without huge efforts for education there will hardly be a way out of misery and underdevelopment.
Most travelers from other continents will land in São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. Some regional airports such as Belem are also served by flights from Florida, French Guiana, Suriname and Guadeloupe. There are also regular flights from Europe (Lisbon) to Recife. Charter tourism flights from Europe often land directly in Salvador.
Long-distance bus service connects Brazil to its neighboring countries.
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, or better to arrive in Brazil by train is with the "Trem da Morte" or Death Train, which goes from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to a small town just over the border from Cuiabá in the State of Mato Grosso do Sul. There is still a train line from there all the way to Sao Paulo, but at the moment it is not in use, but bus connections to Sao Paulo via the state capital Campo Grande, are plentiful. The journey itself is reputedly replete of 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 one may see the technology averse religious community which resemble the American Amish in many ways, by the train along the journey.
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, VASP, TAM) there are also cheaper "no frills" airlines such as BRA and GOL (booking over internet). For international travelers, airpasses for in-country flights may be available while buying your flight to Brazil.
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 in big cities requires a maximum of attention. Avoid driving at night. The atlas "Guia de estradas" provides not only maps and distances but also informs about current conditions of the roads (which can be indeed very bad).
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. An exception is Rio de Janeiro where there are cycle tracks along the beaches.
Brazil's railway system was mostly wrecked during the military regimes. Today there are only two passenger lines left: Belo Horizonte - Vitoria and Sao Luis - Carajas. The latter one is interesting because part of is goes through the Amazon rainforest
Long-distance buses are the most convenient, economical, and 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.
Nationally 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 Paraguai and to Foz do Iguaçú.
In the Amazon region as well as on the coast west of Sao Luis, boat travel is often the only way to get around.
Spanish speakers may be able to get by in Brazil, specially towards the south. In general the Brazilians can make sense of Spanish but it's harder for Spanish speakers to understand the reply. Not all Brazilians will be able to speak English, but one can always find a way to get around
Brazil's unit of currency is the real (pronounced 'hay-AHL'), plural reais ('hay-AYS'). Prices are written as R$1.50, for example. The real can be difficult to sell after you leave South America, so convert any cash to US dollars if leaving the country for another continent.
Bank Machines often take VISA and other non-Brazilian credit cards. Check for the Cirrus/VISA logo. Shell Petrol/Gas stations with a shop may have an ATM which does.
In terms of the most common form of payment, cash in small bills is king in Brazil. If you have too many large bills, especially in the small towns and tourist destinations, you will find vendors often don't have enough small bills to make change. Therefore, make sure you carry a lot of small bills. Further, traveler checks are not easily or cheaply cashed in Brazil, except at international airports, which there are only a few: Sao Paulo, Rio, Curitiba, Salvador, etc. Brazilian banks charge an arm and a leg to cash traveler checks and the process can take a while, so don't try it if you are in a hurry.
It's wise to pack light and acquire a Brazilian wardrobe within a couple of days of arrival. It will make you less obvious as a tourist, and give you months of satisfied gloating back home about the great bargains you got whenever you are complimented on your clothing. Brazilians of almost any economic status to dress quite stylishly. This makes tourists, particularly Americans, stand out in the crowd. Have some fun shopping, and blend in.
Store windows will often display a price followed by "X 5" or "X 10", etc. This is an installment-sale price. The price displayed is the per-installment price, so that, "$R50 X 10", for example, means 10 payments (typically monthly) of $R50.
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). 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).
Brazilian cuisine also has a lot of imports:
Eating out is a great bargain and a pleasure in Brazil. Service is excellent. 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.
Many inexpensive restaurants are buffet-by-weight, or por kilo. You pile up your plate with whatever you want, then place it on a scale at the counter, and pay by weight.
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.
Liquor and beer
Brazil's most famous alcoholic drink is cachaça, an extremely potent sugar-cane liquor known to knock the unwary out quite quickly. A great place to visit in Rio de Janeiro's neighbourhood of Leblon is Academia da Cachaça. There are also tours of distillers in Minas Gerais, much in the same way as you'd tour vineyards in the Sonoma Valley or in France, with the added bonus of their famous regional cuisine.
The strong flavor can be tempered (hidden?) in cocktails like the famous caipirinha, a combination of cachaça with sugar and lemon juice. The city of Paraty gave its name to the drink: parati is a synonym for cachaça. Other words for it include: pinga, caninha, branquinha, malvada, aguardente ("burning water"). The same mixture using vodka is called a caipiroshka; with white rum, it's a caipiríssima.
Beer in Brazil has a respectable history thanks to German immigrants. Draft lager beer is called chope or chopp ('SHOH-pee'), and the most popular domestic brands are Brahma, Antarctica and Skol.
Imported alcohol is expensive! If you drink 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.)
The production of wine is very strong on the north, but most of the wine appreciators live on the south. Rio Grande do Sul also has a great wine production. Some somelliers consider the wine from the south of Brazil even better than French Wines
Coffee and tea
Brazil is recognized world-wide for its high-quality and strong coffee. Cafezinho (little coffee) is a small cup of sweetened coffee which is usually served for free after meals in restaurants (just ask politely). Breakfast in Brazil is called café da manhã (morning coffee), while café com pão (coffee with bread) is a synonym for a light evening meal.
Mate is a type of tea that's very high in caffeine, and often served chilled. It has been losing popularity over time, but is still consumed all around the country. Chimarrão is the heated equivalent of mate. It can be found in the south, and is highly appreciated by the gaúchos. Unlike mate, chimarrão is still very popular. Be careful though; it's usually taken very hot! Terere 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: pronounce 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). Or, say it in Portuguese - it sounds like "quacka qwalla".
Guaraná is a carbonated soft drink made from a berry (the guaraná) native to the Amazon area; It is as popular as Coca-Cola and 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. Maracuja (passion fruit) is also a great juicy experience. Best is to try your way through the list and name your personal favorite.
Hotels are plentiful in just about all areas of Brazil.
In wilderness areas like the Pantanal, travelers usually stay in fazendas, which are ranches with guest facilities.
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 airconditioned 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.
Pousada means guesthouse (maybe something like a French auberge). They are common in coastal resorts 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. Brazilian tourism regulation board imposes specific minimum m attributes for each type of facility.
One of the unfortunate sides of travel in Brazil is the epidemic of violent street crime. Brazil's large cities are notorious for attacks against foreigners and locals alike. Take extra precautions to keep yourself safe while travelling in Brazil.
Do not walk around big cities at night - take taxis. On no account ever try to enter a favela without a guide and do not walk down shadowy streets at night.
Use your hotel's safe for any valuables, or, better yet, leave anything you don't really need safe at home. 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.
You don't need to use the passport to walk in the city but if you like this, use a little pocket inside your clothes (you can buy in airport mall).
It's probably best to avoid the food peddled by vendors on the beach (before you buy any food from them, take a look of their hygiene and cleanness). 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.
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.
Vaccination against malaria and yellow fever may be necessary if you are traveling to central-western (Mato Grosso) or northern (Amazon) regions. If you're arriving from Peru, Colombia and Bolivia countries, the vaccination of yellow fever is necessary also (you cannot leave these countries if your destination is Brazil without your vaccination card). Some countries, such as Australia, 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.
Brazil has international country telephone code 55 and two digit area codes. Most phone numbers are eight digits long, but some are still seven digits long. The number of digits was 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).
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 a prepaid card with a number of credits. The cards cannot be recharged. Some payphones might not be able to do international calls. You can buy these cards in shoppings, gas stations, post office, etc.