Difference between revisions of "Brazil"
Revision as of 18:04, 8 April 2009
Brazil (Portuguese: Brasil), , is the largest country in South America. Famous for its football (us:soccer) tradition and its annual Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Recife and Olinda. 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.
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, the people have remained happy and festive.
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. African American slave roots
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 largest 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. 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). Prejudice is often directed towards different social classes rather than between races. Nevertheless, race (or simply 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, and social mobility is achievable through education.
In general, Brazilians are a fun-loving people. While Southerners 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.
Friendship and hospitality are highly praised traits, and family and social connections are strongly valued. To people they have met, or at least know by 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 warmly as he would treat a best friend. 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 found 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 up to Europe (especially France), not the U.S., as source of inspiration. Many aspects in Brazilian society, such as the educational system, are inspired by the French, and may seem strange at first to Anglo-Saxon visitors.
Brazilians are not Hispanic, and there are even some locals 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 locals towards the social, economic and ecological problems. Whereas an emerging elite of young, well-educated professionals indulge in amenities of modern society, child labor, illiteracy and subhuman housing conditions still exist even in regions blessed by economic growth and huge foreign investments such as Sao Paulo or Rio.
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.
Brazil has a growing Chinese population, made up significantly of immigrants from Macau.
Brasil is a huge country with different climate zones. In the north, near the equator there is a wet and a dry season; from about Sao Paulo down to the south there is spring/summer/fall/winter.
Holidays and working hours
Working hours are usually from 8am or 9am to 6pm or 8pm. Banks open Monday to Friday, from 9am to 3pm. Street shops tend to close at noon on Saturday and only re-open on Monday. Shopping malls normally open from 10am to 10pm, Monday to Saturday. Some malls also open on Sundays. And is also possible to find 24h stores and small markets that open even in the Sundays.
Brazil is the fifth largest country on earth. It is divided into five regions, mainly drawn around state lines, but they also 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:
The cheapest airfares are from February (after Carnaval) to May and from August to November. Tickets from New York, for instance, can cost as little as US$699.00 including taxes.
All U.S. Citizens with a passport will need to get a tourist visa from the local Brazilian Consulate (according to the reciprocity law). This can be processed by mail with an additional $20 charge; a third party can also apply for the visa for an additional fee of US$20. It can take up to 5 business days to process the visa and will cost a minimum of US$130. The visa must be used within 90 days and will be valid from six months to up to 5 years after it was used, depending on the determination of the consulate.
By far the largest international airport in Brazil is São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport (IATA: GRU ICAO: SBGR), the hub of TAM airlines , with connections to most of the capital cities in South America and major cities in the USA such as Chicago, Miami and Houston. Besides that, it also has connections to major cities in Europe, with Seoul (by Korean Air) and Dubai (by Emirates) the only connections in Asia.
The second largest airport in Brazil is Rio de Janeiro-Galeão International Airport, (IATA: GIG ICAO: SBGL) the home of Gol Transportes Aéreos , which flies to many regional destinations including Montevideo, Buenos Aires and Asuncion. United Airlines also flies to Washington D.C.
The main border crossings are at:
In certain border towns, notably Foz do Iguaçu/Ciudad del Este/Puerto Iguazu, you do not need entry/exit stamps or other formalities for a daytrip into the neighbouring country. These same towns are good venues if you for some reason want to croos without contact with immigration authorities.
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 Sāo Paulo and any foreign capitals are significant, and journeys on the road may take up to 3 days, depending on the distance and accessibility of the destination. 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 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.
The Brazilian airline scene completely changed at least twice over the last 10 years or so. The largest carriers are now TAM and Gol. The traditional Varig is now just another brand of Gol. Others include, WebJet , TAF , Oceanair and Azul. Portuguese TAP has a few domestic code shares with TAM. There are also a number of regional companies, such as NHT(Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina). Price differences, at least if a ticket is purchased on the internet well in advance, are so small that it´s rather meaningless to call any of these "low cost".
Booking online for domestic flights can be frustrating for non-Brazilian citizens. Often, you will be asked for your CPF national identity number while paying by credit card. Of course, as a foreigner, you don't have one. Some airlines such as GOL will accept American Express cards (but not VISA or Master Card) without a CPF. One trick that often will work is to visit one of the airlines' foreign websites (such as Gol´s in Argentina) If all else fails, try calling or e-mailing the airline and ask how to proceed.
Be aware that many domestic flights have so many stops that some, inluding yours, may be missing from the listings in the airports. Double check your flight number and confirm with ground staff.
Some 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 upon arriving internationally (with their passport and visa stamp).
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 scenic areas, e.g. the historic cities of Minas Gerais, the Rio-Santos highway, or the beaches in North-East Brazil. There are the usual car rental companies 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 regions there are also gravel and dirt roads for which an off-road vehicle can be strongly recommended. This especially applies to the Amazon area where many roads are difficult or not at all passable during the rainy season from November to March. This is why it is advisable to travel with a good map and to be well informed about distances, road conditions and the estimated travel time. Road maps of the brand Guia 4 Rodas (can be bought from most newstands in Brazil) provide not only maps and distances but also information about current conditions of the roads. On the web, the site of cochera andina publishes useful information on almost 300 routes in the country. In theory, the driving rules of Brazil resemble those of Western Europe or North American. In practice, driving in Brazil can be quite scary if you are used to European (even Mediterranean) or North American road culture, due to widespread violations of driving rules, and the toleration thereof.
Distances kept to other vehicles are kept at a bare minimum, overtaking whenever close to possible, and changing lanes without much of a prior signal. Many large cities also suffer from hold-ups when you wait at a red light in the night. Even if there is no risk of robbery, many drivers (including of city buses) run red lights or stop signs at night when they do not see incoming traffic from the cross street. Drivers also indulge in "creative" methods of saving time, such as using the reverse direction lanes. In rural areas, many domestic animals are left at the roadside, and they sometimes wanders into the traffic. Pedestrians take enormous chances crossing the road, since many drivers do not bother to slow down if they see pedestrians crossing. The quality of the paving is very varied, and the presence of enormous potholes is something that strongly discorages night-driving. Also consider the risk of highway hold-ups after dark, not to mention truck drivers on amfetamine (to keep awake for days in a row).
In rural areas in Brazil the bicycle is a common means of transport. This does not mean that cyclists are usually respected by cars, trucks, 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. Two exceptions are Rio de Janeiro and Recife 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. The bus terminal (rodoviária) in cities play a role akin to train stations in many countries. You should check travel distance and time while traveling within Brazil, going from Rio de Janeiro to the south region could take more than 24 hours, so it may worth going by plane if you can afford it.
Brazil has a very good long distance bus network. Basically, any city of more than 100.000 people will have direct lines to the nearest few state capitals, and also to other large cities within the same range. Pretty much every and any little settlement has public transport of some kind (a lorry, perhaps) to the nearest real bus station. Mostly you have to go to the bus station to buy a ticket, although some of the large companies now have internet sales. In a few cities you can also buy a ticket on the phone and have it delivered to your hotel for an extra charge of some 3-5 reais. Some companies have also adopted the airlines´ genius policy of pricing: In a few cases buying early can save you more than 50%. The facility of flagging a bus and hopping on (if there are no available seats you will have to stand, still paying full price) 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.
Most major bus companies make reservations and sell tickets by Internet but you must pick-up your ticket your ticket with some time in advance. There is no one bus company that serves the whole country. Therefore you need to identify the company that connect two cities in particular bu calling the bus station of one city. ANTT, the national authority for land transportation, has a search engine (in Portuguese) for all available domestic bus lines.
Bus services are often sold in three classes: Regular, Executive and First-Class (Leito, in Portuguese). Regular may or may not have air conditioning. For long distances or overnight travels, Executive offers more space and a folding board to support your legs. First-Class has even more space and only three seats per row, making enough space to sleep comfortably.
All travels with more than 4 hours are covered by buses with bathrooms and the buses stop for food/bathrooms at least once every 4 hours of travel.
Be aware that some big cities like São Paulo and Rio have more than one bus station, each one covering certain cities around. It is good to check in advance to which bus station you are going.
Brazilian bus stations, known as rodoviária or terminal rodoviário, tend to be located away from city centers. They are often in pretty sketchy areas, so if you travel at night be prepared to take a taxi to/from the station. There will also be local bus lines.
Even if you have a valid ticket bought from elsewhere, some Brazilian bus stations may also require a boarding card. This can be obtained from the bus company, often for a supplement fee. If you buy a ticket in the departure bus station you will also be given this boarding card.
Rodoviárias include many services, including fast-food restaurants, cafés, Internet cafés, toilets and left luggage. As a general rule, the larger the city, the more expensive the services (e.g. leaving a suitcase as left luggage in a smaller city may cost 1 R$, but in Recife in might cost you 5 R$).
When buying tickets, as well as when boarding the bus, you may be asked for proof of ID. Brazilian federal law requires this for interstate transportation. Not all conductors know how to read foreign passports, so be prepared to show them that the name of the passport truly is the same as the name on the ticket.
In the Amazon region as well as on the coast west of Sao Luis, boat travel is often the only way to get around.
Most cities have extensive bus services. Multiple companies may serve a single city. There is almost never a map of the bus lines, and often bus stops are unmarked. Be prepared for confusion and wasted time.
Bus have a board behind the windshield that advertises the main destinations they serve. You may have to ask the locals for information, but they may not know bus lines except the ones they usually take.
In most cities you have to wave to stop the bus when you want to take it. This in itself would no pose a problem, however, in big cities there may be dozens of bus lines stopping at a given bus stop and bus stops are not designed to accommodate so many vehicles. Frequently one cannot observe the oncoming buses due to other buses blocking the view. Bus drivers are reluctant to slow down for a bus stop if they are not sure someone will take their bus, so it is common to miss your bus because you could not see it coming to wave on time or the driver did not see you waving in between buses already at the stop. Some people go into the middle of a busy street to wait for their bus to make sure they see it and the driver sees them. In some places, like Manaus, drivers even tend to ignore stop requests (both to get on and to get off) if it is not too easy to navigate to the bus stop.
Most city buses have both a driver and a conductor. The conductor sits behind a till next to a turnstile. You have to pay the conductor, the price of the bus is usually advertised on the windshield. The turnstiles are narrow, and very inconvenient if one carries any kind of load (try balancing a heavy backpack over the turnstile while the bus is running). Larger buses often have a front section, before the turnstile, meant in priority for the elderly, handicapped and pregnant women - you can use it but you still have to pay! Typical prices are around 2 R$.
You can try asking the conductor to warn you when the bus is close to your destination. Depending on whether he or she understands you and feels like helping you, you may get help.
In addition to large city buses, there are often minibuses or minivans (alternativo). You pay the driver when exiting.
The official language of Brazil is Portuguese, spoken by the entire population (except for a few, very remotely located tribes). Indeed, Brazil has had immigrants from all parts of the world for centuries, whose descendants now speak Portuguese as their mothertounge.
Brazilian Portuguese has a number of pronunciation differences with that spoken in Portugal (and within, between the regions there are some accent and slang differences), 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, usually slang words. An example of this is "Rapariga" which in Portugal means young girl, and in Brazil means prostitute.
English is not widely spoken except in some touristy areas. One can always find a way to get around, especially among students and in high income areas. Don't expect bus or taxi drivers to understand English, though, so it may be a good idea to write down the address you are heading to before getting the cab. 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. While written Portuguese can be quite similar to Spanish, spoken Portuguese may be much harder to understand. Compare the number 20 which is veinte (BAYN-teh) in Spanish to vinte (VEEN-chee) in Brazilian Portuguese. Even more different is gente (people), pronounced "HEN-teh" in Spanish and "ZHEN-chee" in Brazilian Portuguese. Letters CH, D, G, J, R, RR, and T are particularly difficult for those who know some Spanish, and that's without even considering the vowels. Spanish speakers (European or Latin American) usually find European Portuguese slighty easier to pronounce than the Brazilian one.
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-EYES'), abbreviated BRL, or just R$. One real is divided into 100 centavos. Prices are written as R$1,50 (means one and fifty cents) for example.
Foreign currency such as US Dollars or Euros can be exchanged major airports and luxury hotels (bad rates), exchange bureaux and major branches of Banco do Brasil (no other banks). The latter allegedly has the best rates, but you need your passport and your immigration form.
Look for an ATM with your credit/debit card logo on it. Large branches of Banco do Brasil usually has one, and most all Bradesco, Citibank, BankBoston and HSBC machines will work. Banco 24 Horas (not a bank) operates a network of ATMs which accept foreign cards, however, additional fees are levied for the use of these machines. Withdrawal limits are mostly R$ 600 (Bradesco) or R$ 1000 (BB, HSBC), per transaction, and in any case R$ 1000 per day. The latter can be circumvented by several consecutive withdrawals, choosing different "accounts", i.e. "credit card", "checking", "savings". Note that most ATMs will only give you R$ 100 after 10 PM.
In smaller towns, it is possible that there is not a single ATM that accepts foreign cards. You should therefore always carry sufficient cash.
Wiring money to Brazil seems to be difficult without a brazilian bank account (you may receive Western Union transfers and pick it up at a Banco do Brasil branch in most cities. Check the Western Union web page for details).
Travellers' cheques can be hard to cash outside major airports.
A majority of Brazilian shops now accept major credit cards. Beware, however, that frequently enough you can find places that sport the VISA or MasterCard logos but accept only Brazilian-issued credit cards. This is true especially for smaller companies or places where there are fewer foreign tourists. As noteworthy example is the GOL airline where payments with foreign cards are not accepted.
Coins are R$0.05 (copper and silver), R$0.10 (bronze and silver), R$0.25 (bronze and silver), R$0.50 (silver) and R$1 (silver with a golden border). Bills come in the following denominations: R$1 (green, being phased out), R$2 (blue), R$5 (purple), R$10 (red and plastic red/blue), R$20 (yellow) R$ 50 (orange) and $100 (blue).
The Real is a free-floating currency and has recently become stronger. Especially for Americans, prices (based on exchange rates) have increased quite a bit in the past few years. As of March 2009, R$1.00 is worth about:
There are many federal regulations for dealings with foreign currency and many exchange offices operate in a shady area. In addition, exchange offices are almost impossible to find outside of big cities. Currency other than USD and EUR is hard to exchange and the rates are ridiculous. If you would like to exchange cash at a bank, be prepared to pay a hefty comission. E.g., Banco do Brasil collects US$15 for each transaction (regardless of amount) (2007 rate).
The real is almost impossible to get rid of once you leave the 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 make tourists - especially those in Hawaiian 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. However, this does not apply to any foreign brand as imports are burdened by high import taxes - therefore, do not expect to find any good prices on brands like Diesel, Levi's, Tommy Hilfiger, etc. To figure your Brazilian trousers 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).
Brazilian-made appliances and electronics are usually expensive or of poor quality. All Electronics are extremely expensive compared to European or US prices.
Brazil uses a hybrid video system called "PAL-M." It is NOT at all compatible with the PAL system of Europe and Australia. Television 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. However, the newly-introduced digital TV standard is not compatible with that of most other countries. Digital video appliances such as DVD players are also compatible with NTSC (all digital colour is the same worldwide), but make sure the DVD region code(s), if any, match your home country (Brazil is part of Region 4). Prices for imported electronic goods can be quite expensive due to high import tax, and the range of domestic electronic gadgets is not very wide. Also, be aware that the term "DVD" in Brazil is both an abbreviation for the disc itself and for its player, so be specific to avoid confusion.
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 dishes were brought by overseas immigrants and have been adapted to local tastes 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, pork (ears, knuckles, chops, sausage) and beef (usually dried). It's served with rice, garnished with collard greens and sliced oranges. It's not served every restaurant; the ones that do typically offer it on Wednesdays and Saturdays. A typical mistake made by tourists is to eat too much feijoada upon first encounter. This is a heavy dish, -even Brazilians usually eat it parsimoniously.
The standard Brazilian set lunch is called Prato Feito, with its siblings Comercial and Executivo. Rice and brown beans in sauce, with a small steak. Sometimes farofa, spaghetti and vegetables will come along. Beef may be substituted for chicken, fish or others.
Excellent seafood can be found in coastal towns, especially in the North East.
Brazilian snacks, lanches(sandwiches) and salgadinhos(most anything else), include a wide variety of pastries. Look for coxinha (deep-fried, batter-coated, chicken), empada (a tiny pie, somewhat similar to empanadas: try out the palmito - heart of palm variety), and pastel (fried turnovers). Another common snack is a misto quente, a pressed,toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich. Pão-de-queijo, a roll made of manioc flour and cheese, is very popular - pão-de-queijo and a cup of fresh Brazilian coffee is a classic combination.
Brazilian cuisine also has a lot of imports:
Brazil's national booze is cachaça (cah-shah-sah, also known as aguardente ("burning water") and pinga), a 40% 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 distilleries, and the city of Paraty. Pirassununga is home to Caninha 51, Brazil's best-selling brand. Outside Fortaleza there is a cachaça museum (Museu da Cachaça) where you can learn about the history of the Ypioca brand.
Drinking cachaça straight, or stirring in only a dollop of honey or a bit of lime juice, is a common habit on the Northeast region of the country. Çafé Pingado' is coffee with some cachaça in it.
The strength of cachaça can be hidden in cocktails like the famous caipirinha, where it is mixed with sugar, lime juice and ice. Using vodka instead of cachaça is nicknamed caipiroska or caipivodka; with white rum, it's a caipiríssima.
Another interesting concoction is called capeta ("devil"), made with cachaça, condensed milk, cinnamon, guarana powder (a mild stimulant), and other ingredients, varying by region.
If you enjoy fine brandy or grappa, try an aged cachaça. Deep and complex, this golden-coloured spirit is nothing like the ubiquitous clear liquor more commonly seen.
While imported alcohol is very expensive, many international brands are produced under license in Brazil, making them widely available, and fairly cheap. You can buy booze in the tax-free after landing at brazilian airports.
Beer in Brazil has a respectable history because of the German immigrants. 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, Bavaria, and Skol. Traditional brands include Bohemia, Caracu and Itaipava. Other international brands available are Carlsberg, Stella Artois, Guinness, Miller, Budweiser and others. There are two ways of drinking beer in bars: draft or bottled beer. Draft lager beer is called chope or chopp ('SHOH-pee'), and is commonly served with one inch of foam, but you can make a complaint to the bartender if the foam is consistently thicker than that. In bars, the waiter will usually collect the empty glasses and bottles on a table and replace them with full ones, until you ask him to stop, in a "tap" charging system. In the case of bottled beer, bottles (600ml) are shared among everyone in the table and poured in small glasses, rather than drank straight from the bottle. Brazilians like their beer nearly ice-cold - hence, to keep the temperature down, bottles of beer are often kept in an insulated polystyrene container on the table.
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.
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 (small coffee) is a small cup of strong, sweetened coffee usually served after meals in restaurants (sometimes for free, just ask politely). Bottled filtered coffee is being replaced by stronger espresso cups in more upscale restaurants.
Chá, or tea in Portuguese, is most commonly found in its Assam version (orange, light coloured). Some more specialised tea shops and cafés will have Earl Gray and green tea available as well.
Mate is an infusion similar to tea that is very high in caffeine content. A toasted version, often served chilled, is consumed all around the country, while Chimarrão, the hot, bitter equivalent of mate, can be found in the south, and is highly appreciated by the gaúchos (Rio Grande do Sul dwellers). Tererê is a cold version of Chimarrão, common in Mato Grosso do Sul and Mato Grosso state.
Nothing beats coconut water (água de côco) on a hot day.(Stress the first o, otherwise it will come out as "poo"! (cocô) ). It is mostly sold as côco gelado in the coconut itself, drunk with a straw. Ask the machete-wielding vendors to cut the coconut in half so that you can eat the flesh after drinking the water.
If you want a Coke in Brazil, ask for coca or coca-cola, as "cola" means "glue", in Portuguese.
Guarana; is a carbonated soft drink made from the guarana berry, native to the Amazon area. The major brands are Antarctica and Kuat, the latter owned by Coke.
Fruit juices are very popular in Brazil. Some cities, notably Rio de Janeiro has fruit juice bars at nearly every corner. *Açai (a fruit from the Amazon) is delicious and nutritious(rich in antioxydants). Traditionally used blended in combination with guarana (a stimulant)powder,and a raw quail egg and sometimes a banana to re-energize from late-night partying It is served cold and has a consistency of soft ice.
Brazilians have great taste when it comes to mixing juices.
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), and are usually simpler than hotels, and will offer less services (room service, laundry etc.). Pousadas are even more widespread than hotels.
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". There's no social stigma per se in staying in one, but the room service and rates are geared to adults staying for a few hours with utmost discretion and privacy.
Youth hostels (albergues da juventude) are becoming increasingly common.
Plan>It Interactive Brazil Adventure Tours offers activities such as rockclimbing, river rafting, paragliding, hang-gliding, cascading, canyoning and more, along with a taste of Brazilian culture and its world famous nightlife. (In US 925 270 4190)
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.
Language schools have Portuguese courses from 2 weeks up:
If you are moving to Brazil to find work, or are thinking it will be easy to find a job, you may want to think again.
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. There is also a growing demand for Spanish language classes, especially in the major cities. In both cases, it's always much more lucrative to find work privately rather than through schools. This can be done by advertising in newspapers or weeklies or by putting up signs on the notice boards at universities.
Refer to the Ministery of Labour webiste for more detailed information.
Gringoes.com is the main online community of expat's living and working in Brazil.
One of the unfortunate sides of travel in Brazil is the endemic violent street crime. Brazil's large cities, especially of the north, northeast and southeast states, are notorious for attacks (against foreigners and locals alike). However, taking extra precautions and using common sense to keep yourself safe while travelling in Brazil will allow you to enjoy your stay without any incidents, like millions of visitors do every year.
By law, everyone must carry a photo ID at all times. For a foreigner, this means your passport. However, the police will mostly be pragmatic and accept a plastified color photocopy.
Food from street and beach vendors has a bad hygienic reputation in Brazil. The later in the day, the worse it gets. Bottled and canned drinks are safe, although some people will insist on using a straw to avoid contact with the exterior of the container.
Bear in mind the heat and humidity when storing foodstuff.
Tap water varies from place to place, (from contaminated, saline or soaked with chlorine to plain drinkable) and Brazilians themselves usually prefer to have it filtered.
In airports, bus stations, as well as many of the cheaper hotels, it is common to find drinking fountains (bebedouro). In hostel kitchens, look for the tap with the cylindrical filter attached. In more expensive hotels, there is often no publicly accessible fountain, and bedrooms contain minibars — selling you mineral water at inflated prices.
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, proof of yellow fever vaccination is required before you enter Brazil. Some countries, such as Australia and South Africa, will require evidence of yellow fever vaccination before allowing you enter the country if you have been in any part of Brazil within the previous week. Check the requirements of any country you will travel to from Brazil.
Public hospitals tend to be crowded and not too good. Most cities of at least 60,000 inhabitants have good private healthcare.
Dentists abound and are cheaper than North America and Western Europe. However, the quality of their work is not always consistent, so ask a local for advice.
The emergency number is 190, but you must speak Portuguese.
Beware that air conditioning in airports, intercity buses etc. is often quite strong. It is very possible to catch a cold by moving from the sweaty outside (especially if it has been raining) to a long-distance bus. Carry a long-sleeved garment for air-conditioned places.
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.
Electric outlets usually accept both flat (North American), and round (European) plugs. Otherwise adaptors from flat blades to round pins are easy to find in any supermarket or hardware shop. Some outlets are too narrow for the German "Schuko" plugs. The best makeshift solution is to buy a cheap T-connection and just force your "Schuco" in, -the T will break, but it will work. Very few outlets have a grounding point, and some might not accept newer North American polarized plugs, where one pin is slightly larger. Again, use the cheap T. Near the border with Argentina, you might occasionally find outlets for the Australia/New Zealand-type plug. If crossing the border, you'll probably need this adapter as well.
Frequency is 60Hz, which may disturb 50 Hz electric clocks. Blackouts are less and less frequent, but you always run a risk at peak of high season in small tourist towns.
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 criticize 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.
Be aware that racism is a very serious offense in Brazil. According to the Brazilian constitution of 1988, racism is a crime for which bail is not available, and must be met with imprisonment. This is taken very seriously.
Remember that Portuguese is not Spanish and Brazilians (as well as other Portuguese speakers) will apreciate if you know that. Both languages can be mutally intelligible to a wide extent, but they differ considerably in phonetics, vocabulary and grammar . Outside the major cities, it is not a good idea to mix Portuguese with Spanish, don't expect people to understand what you're saying if you (intentionally or unintentionally) insert Spanish words into Portuguese sentences.
When people first meet, they will kiss one (eg: São Paulo), two (eg: Rio de Janeiro) or three times, depending where you are, alternating right and left cheeks. Observe that while doing this you should not kiss on the cheeks (like in Russia) but actually beside it in the air, placing your lips on a strangers cheek will be perceived as odd.
Brazil has international telephone code 55 and two-digit area codes, and phone numbers are eight digits long. Some areas used seven digits until recently, meaning you might still find some old phone numbers which won't work unless you add another digit.(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 calls from other countries to Brazil is +55-(area code)-(phone number)
Public payphones use disposable prepaid cards, which come with 20, 40, 60 or 75 credits. The discount for buying cards with larger denominations is marginal. Phone booths are nearly everywhere, and all cards can be used in all booths, regardless of the owner phone company. Cards can be bought from many small shops, and almost all news agents sell them. The Farmácia Pague Menos sells them at official (phone company) price, somewhat cheaper. 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: VIVO operates CDMA (being phased out?) and GSM, -OI, TIM and CLARO are GSM only. Coverage is still growing, but GSM roaming should be available in most any populated corner of the country.
Pay-as-you-go (pré-pago) SIM cards for GSM phones are available from a range of news stand and small shops. Vivo uses 850/1900MHz, while other companies uses 900/1800 MHz frequencies. 3G/HSDPA is found on big cities, mainly on the southeast states and capitals. Some states use 850MHz but others use 2100MHz for 3G/HSDPA. If you need to unlock a phone from a specific operator, this can be done for R$ 5-10 in any phone shop.
So far, only mobiles by TIM are able to send text messages to cell phones abroad.
Internet cafes (Lan houses) are increasingly common, and even small towns often have at least one spot with more or less decent connections.
An increasing number of hotels, airports and shopping malls also offer hotspots for wireless internet access with your laptop compmuter.
For general tips on internet while travelling, see our travel topic: Internet access
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. 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.