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Occupying a unique position as the only Latin American state to speak Portugese not Spanish, Brazil is an enormous country with a landmass and population greater than that of the rest of South America put together. From the lush rainforests of the Amazon Basin to the teeming nightlife of Rio, Sao Paulo and Salvador, Brazil offers backpackers an experience that is unique in the sheer breadth of its variety.
Geographically speaking, Brazil offers vast inland savannah, marshlands teeming with exotic wildlife, colonial gold-boom towns, some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and much more. Brazilians are world-famous for their warmth, generosity and open minded, relaxed natures. A vibrant musical culture has consistently been the toast of New York and London since Bossa-nova took the world by storm in the 1950s – right up until today. With recent exports of Brazilian Funk, Samba and hit movies such as City of God headlining across Europe, these days everybody wants in on a piece of Favela Chic (Ghetto Cool). You’ll catch everyone from Madonna to your Mum sporting a pair of imported Havaianas (Brazilian beach sandals) and drinking Caiparinhas (lime and cane rum cocktail). So why not go to Brazil and catch the vibe for yourself?
- Currency: Brazilian Real (BRL) = 100 centavos
- Time Zone: Spans several time zones from GMT -2 to GMT -5
- Language: Portuguese
- Telephone Services: Country code +55, International access code 00
- Emergency Numbers: All services 0
- Check the universal currency converter for the latest exchange rate.
The climate in Brazil varies wildly depending on what area you are in; the central area is generally dry and arid scrubland, and there is the dense tropical rainforests of the Amazon jungle to the north featuring punctual daily downpours that you can set your watch by. The eastern coast offers a tropical beach climate.
There is a rainy season in Brazil, in the north this falls from January to April, in the north-east it is from April to July and in and around Rio it is November to March.
Things to see and do
Rio de Janeiro
By far the most popular draw to this country is Rio – a glittering jewel of high rise buildings and slums set amongst a spectacular primordial landscape of rugged mountains and jagged monoliths rising from the Atlantic coast. Flying into Rio by night will take your breath away, and you will see why the bay itself is featured as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. Home to the famous Christo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) and the Pau de Acucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) plus the teaming super-social beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema that feature as much in the daily lives of locals as the office grind. Rio is a city with lots to offer both in terms of sightseeing and nightlife.
Within a few of hours’ bus ride of Rio you can find tranquil seaside towns and beach resorts where locals flock to party or relax at the weekends. Fringed by lush sub-tropical Atlantic vegetation, even the journey along the Costa Verde is a pleasure. Spots worth checking out include Buzios, Angara dos Reis, Parati, Ilha Grande and Ubatuba.
The Amazon is the world’s largest natural resource, where around 30% of the surrounding biomass at any one time is composed of insects! Brazil’s Amazon is a jungle experience second to none. Fly into capital city Manaus, and after seeing the faded grandeur of the once great opera hall head out on a jungle expedition to stay in any one of a number of Amazon lodges. From here you can spot animals at night, visit local native villages by canoe and even go fishing for piranhas.
A vast marshland where you can find several species of wild cat, alligators and innumerate bird species. In comparison to the Amazon, where all the animals are hiding in trees, the Pantanal is a wild animal lovers paradise and you’ll very likely get more sightings for your money here. Reformed poachers with eagle-eyed vision will take you on tours by day and night on horseback, canoe or jeep. A pair of binoculars is essential!
Salvador da Bahia
Salvador da Bahia is a beating heart of Afro-Brazilian culture. Salvador is the home to the Orixas (African Pantheon of Gods), Candomble (the Brazilian substrate of the Voodoo religion) and a host of dance and musical styles that are prevalent throughout Brazil but with their greatest concentration here. Take lessons in Forro or Samba dancing, or the really adventurous could have a go at Capoeira – an Afro-Brazilian Martial Art featuring high flips and spinning kicks in a ludicrous combination of strength, skill and agility.
Around Salvador, travel the surrounding Bay of All Saints to discover forgotten sleepy towns such as Cachoeira, boat out to nearby islands or head inland to the roaming mountain-scape of Chapada Diamantina where you can trek for weeks at a time across great plateaus, through rocky gorges and ravines spotted with crystalline waterfalls and subterranean caves.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site was the main benefactor of Brazil’s 18th Century gold-rush. As a result, this pristine colonial jewel boasts some of the finest baroque churches you are ever likely to see, and you can stay in charming pousadas (family run hotels) set in old colonial residences. Take a tour of the mines, or simply wander up and down the cobbled hills of Ouro Preto lost in the maze of whitewashed buildings and red-tiled roofs resplendent of a lost age of luxury.
Don’t miss out on the biggest party on the planet – Carnival! Rio is famous for its week-long display of show-stopping samba. Consisting mostly of partially naked men and women dressed as huge peacocks, mermaids and other wild fantasy figures dancing frenetically aboard equally inventive juggernauts of sound. Or head to Salvador for a more involved experience – if you do, make sure to join a Bloco (a carnival block), as the pipoca (popcorn) experience outside of the human security cordon is not for the uninitiated!!!
The buses are excellent in Brazil, although be prepared to spend quite a hefty amount of time on them as Brazil is a huge country. The same cannot be said for the roads however, especially inland and up north. With everyone driving on the same side of the road (whichever one has less potholes), bus rides can be a hair-raising experience.
There are many regional companies operating. Some of the better ones are Electrobus and Tres Amigos, the first of which runs a Sao Paulo area based service and the second runs a tourist based Sao Paulo to Rio service with plenty of stops at tourist locations along the way. Long distance buses run at several different classes and for a few extra pounds you can travel in considerably greater comfort. Be sure to take a jersey on board as they love to crank up the air-con to near freezing!
Due to the massive distances involved (Rio to Salvador takes two days for instance) it is often worth flying. Several budget airlines now operate within Brazil including TAM, BR, Gol and Varig. You can buy a bargain TAM air pass prior to departing the UK with a preset amount of flights based on destinations or mileage.
Accommodation is readily available in charming family hotels known as Pousadas. Albeurges (youth hostels) offer cheaper rates of 20 BRL and below, often with breakfast included. Accommodation varies massively in price from as little as 20 to 150BRL a night depending on location, facilities and style. Cheaper pousadas or Albeurges are unlikely to have hot water showers, while in premium destinations you can stay in the lap of luxury with private sunken plunge-pools looking out across the ocean and room complexes interconnected by water. Brazilian hotel breakfasts consisting of cakes, cereals, cold meats, cheeses, tropical fruits, various juices and breads plus hot dishes are a law unto themselves.
It is recommended to get vaccinated for Hepatitis, Polio and typhoid before going to Brazil. These vaccinations can be supplied by your local GP and will cost under �50. Malaria is confined mostly to the Amazon. Dengue fever is common within cities; avoid areas of stagnant water where the larvae breed. Rabies also exists in South America. Check with your local travel clinic.
You will need comprehensive travel insurance; in particular you should ensure that your policy covers the cost of repatriation since medical care in Brazil is not up to the standard of most western countries. You will need to provide a yellow fever vaccination certificate at entry point if you have previously been to some at risk regions of South America and Africa. For further details of mandatory vaccination requirements please visit the website of the Brazilian Ministry of Tourism at: www.turismo.gov.br.
Crime and Personal Security
Crime is rife in all major cities with Sao Paulo, Rio and Recife topping the list in street crime and violent assault. Favelas fringe all major metropolitan centres and are best avoided by tourists. Crime is less of a problem in smaller towns and seaside resorts though you must always remain vigilant of your personal belongings and stay aware of your surroundings. The best way to avoid trouble is to not make yourself a target. Detachable non-necessary items such as watches, cameras, flashy mobile phones, stuffed day-packs and sunglasses make you number one on a robber’s hit-list but a young singleton without any of these confections will quickly be passed over for a juicier target. Just as you would in any major city use common sense – avoid dark streets at night and check with locals where it is safe to go. Avoid travelling around by night alone, taxis are cheap and plentiful.
Do not become involved in drugs whilst in Brazil, although hard drugs like cocaine are widely available, police entrapment of foreigners is common and prison sentences are harsh and prison conditions are even harsher.
- Brazilian Embassy in London offers lots more information and advice on travelling to Brazil.
- Kasbah.com offers cheap accommodation in Brazil, with reservations available online.
- Tres Amigos runs a tourist service between Sao Paulo and Rio with many stops on route. The site is in Portuguese so you might want to use Babelfish.