Brazil is a country the size of an entire continent that pulses to the samba beat of carnival and the fiery drumbeat rhythm of frevo and the Carioca spirit. Dancing, partying and a cheerful, passionate lust for life is a way of life in Brazil, and this spirit is infectious to the traveller who will find it hard not to get sucked into the way of life.
The famous Amazon river winds its way through Brazil and helps feed some of the lushest wetlands and most diverse ecosystems on the planet, including the lush Amazon rainforest. With new species being discovered all the time, including a recent discovery of an entirely unknown species of pink dolphin, unexplored jungle, vast waterfalls, tropical islands and powdery white sand beaches making Brazil perhaps one of the most captivating places on the planet for wildlife spotters, adventure seekers, partiers and those looking for a relaxing paradise alike. Brazil truly does have something for everyone.
Brazil is an eclectic mixture of indigenous and imported cultures. Native Brazilians are supplanted with a heavy Portuguese and African culture thanks to the country’s history of colonialism, along with large waves of Spanish, German and Japanese immigrants too. Roman Catholicism is the largest religion by far, but a variety of other religions from Shinto to Buddhism and Islam. This has led to one of the most ethnically diverse and multicultural countries in South America, celebrated every year in the seemingly continuous display of carnivals and celebrations.
The Brazilian government has a reciprocal relationship with most other governments of the world. That means whatever the visa requirements of your home country toward Brazil, they reciprocate with the same requirements. At the time of writing the UK and most of Europe do not need a visa to enter Brazil as a tourist for up to 90 days, but most others – including the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – do. Check with the Brazilian embassy or consulate website to see what the situation is with your own country. If you need to buy a visa it will set you back between $40 USD to $60 USD depending on your country of origin, or $100 USD if you are from the USA.
There are no specific vaccinations required for Brazil, although certain boosters or vaccines such as Hepatitis A and Tetanus are recommended if you have not had them or are in a high risk group.
Pharmacies are widely available throughout Brazil, particularly in larger towns and cities, and should be your first port of call for any minor complaint. Prescriptions are not needed. Hospitals and clinics however may not be of the highest quality and are generally overcrowded. If you do need to see a doctor or need medical treatment then seek out a private clinic or hospital, and make sure that your insurance is up to date as you will be charged.
Malaria and Dengue fever are rife in Brazil. Mosquito avoidance measures are absolutely essential everywhere so make sure you take plenty of DEET spray and sleep under nets, especially in non air conditioned rooms, at the very least. The risk of malaria is low to no risk in Rio or other cities, Manaus, Santarem and Belem. However if you plan on spending any amount of time in rural areas or especially on or around the Amazon, then you will need prophylaxis as the risk is very high.
If you develop any of the symptoms of malaria whilst in Brazil, flu like symptoms such as muscle pains, lethargy and joint pain, then get yourself to one of the SUCAM clinics. SUCAM is an anti malaria agency who are extremely good at spotting and treating malaria, and treatment is free.
Crime and Safety.
Brazil has an unfortunate reputation as an extremely dangerous country to travel in, and whilst this reputation is not exactly undeserved it is important that you keep things in perspective. Brazil does have relatively high crime rates, yes, but they are still a fraction of those in most Western countries and in fact it is statistically much more dangerous in half of Europe, the UK and especially the USA which has the highest crime rates in the world. So be alert and take precautions but do not allow that caution turn into unnecessary paranoia or fear.
The infamous drug wars in the favelas will generally have very little impact on your visit to Brazil other than you seeing it on the news. There are certain areas to avoid, in particular certain border towns that are known to be gang controlled, but otherwise any trouble is highly localised and generally away from anywhere you should want to visit.
Take adequate security precautions in keeping your stuff safe, use hotel safes when possible or a pacsafe and steel cable lock. Be alert for thieves and pickpockets in transit stations or places where tourists tend to be, especially in Rio or Salvador, and finally use the same common sense reasonable precautions you would do at home. Don’t put yourself in situations where you are alone or vulnerable, especially at night. Stick to well lit, crowded areas, do not get so drunk you have no control and by the same effect be very careful of open drinks. Take licensed taxis and don’t go around flashing a load of expensive jewellery, watches or the latest tech gadgets, and certainly don’t look as if you have a lot of money. You may as well just paint a target on your back.
These are basic common sense precautions, no more so than you would use at home, but that really is all you need. Stay alert, use reasonable security precautions and you should be absolutely fine. Be especially alert at any time during transit when you are carrying all your gear and particularly in transit points like airports and train stations where you are more likely to be targeted if you are seen carrying a laptop, expensive camera equipment or branded luggage or packs. Scams are also much more prevalent in these areas, be especially wary of anyone approaching you and string up a conversation, even if they are in uniform and claim to be the police. If a uniformed officer does approach you and asks you to accompany them or hand over your belongings then remember that in general real officers tend to leave gringos alone and insist that you go to the airport security office or find another security guard first.
If something does happen to you then remember that your personal safety is your number one priority, if you have to lose a bit of cash or kit, as annoying as it is it is better than the alternative. Never fight back in any altercation or mugging.
If you need help or assistance, there are numerous police forces that are a little confusing to the first time visitor. The Policia Militar are the guys in blue or green uniforms, you will generally have very little to do with these guys unless your bus or coach is searched near a border. Generally they leave gringos in peace. The Policia Civil don’t wear a uniform and generally deal with all the admin, although the terms ‘work’ and ‘hurry’ take on entirely new meanings. If you do need the police then the guys you should look out for are the Policia de Turismo, Brazil’s tourist police. They are concentrated in Rio but can be found dotted throughout the country and generally speak good English, head to them if you need assistance. Above them are the Policia Federal. Brazil’s FBI basically, who tend to deal with anything visa related and are a good bet to head to if you need any help.
Costs and money.
The Brazilian currency is the Real, which is made up of 100 centavo. USD are also widely accepted in major hotels, tour companies or other businesses associated with tourists, but you may not get the best exchange rate, you are always better off using local currency. Currency exchange booths are frequent and easily accessed, just make sure they are an official one.
Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are everywhere and easily accessed. However most ATMs stop dispensing cash after 2000 hours for security reasons. Only airport ATMs dispense cash 24 hours a day.
Brazil is far from a budget destination, but budget travellers can get by here reasonably well. Outside of the major tourist spots and cities, things tend to be quite cheap. However in the major cities and tourist spots prices can start to creep up quite rapidly. Prices shoot up at peak tourist times, particularly canival, and are set to shoot up even further when the World Cup and the Rio 2016 Olympics are on.
With the exception of Rio, where prices tend to be a lot higher, most budget travellers can get by on around £20 GBP a day for a basic dorm room and street food or a few meals in small, family run businesses. If you want a private room with a few meals in nicer casual restaurants you will be looking anywhere between £30 – 60 GBP a day depending on the location and quality. From there the sky is the limit in terms of luxury. Transport is actually quite reasonable if you stick to overland options such as long distance buses. Flying is very expensive, so it is best to limit this option if you have to stick to a budget. Activities tend to be pretty reasonable too, with some of the best and most popular attractions and activities being free or no more than £5 or £10 GBP or so. Major activities such as Amazon river cruises can be very expensive though so budget well if you want to include these in your trip.
When to go.
Brazil is almost the size of an entire continent and therefore has a range of climates to suit. The extreme South can get pretty cold, whilst the North remains hot throughout the year, with most of the coastal land in between basking in a tropical climate. The rainy season is from April or May to roughly July in the North and October to January in the South, but they are not really bad times to visit either, with the rains coming in short bursts and other benefits such as off season prices and less people. Basically speaking there is no bad time to visit Brazil, just plan your wardrobe depending on which part of the country you go to.
Rio de Janeiro.
One of the largest cities in the world, you can spend much more time here than you originally planned for and still only scratch the surface. Most people come here for the iconoclastic statue of Christ the Redeemer, but it is worth staying for the fantastic architecture, culture and nightlife too, if your wallet can stretch to it!
Christ the Redeemer.
Not only are the views from the Corcovado mountain absolutely spectacular, this statue is one of the new Wonders of the World and is as much a symbol of Brazil as the Pyramids are of Egypt, the Staue of Liberty is of New York or the Taj Mahal is of India. Anyone who heads to Brazil has to have seeing this statue right at the top of there list!
Recife is one of Brazil’s largest cities and home to some of its most stunning beaches filled with deserted stretches of white sand paradise and spots for great surfing or watersports. The city itself shouldn’t be ignored though, it is full of picturesque historic buildings and winding streets, perfect for stopping at one of the many cafes and small eateries.
This vast stretch of wetland is one of the largest in the world and is paradise for birdwatchers and nature lovers. Don’t let the fact that it is the worlds biggest swamp put you off, this amazing landscape is teeming with wildlife and an unmissable sight.
Chapada Dos Veadeiros National Park.
Just outside of Brazilia, the Chapada Dos Veasdeiros is an awe inspiring national park perfect for hiking and wildlife spotting, filled with stunning waterfalls, hiking trails, caves and rock formations.
Take a slow boat down the Amazon.
Do not miss your chance to sail down one of the most famous rivers in the world and do a bit of wildlife spotting. Just being on the Amazon itself is an experience to boast about.
Visit a Churrascaria.
Basically the Brazilian equivalent of a barbecue house, you can get some seriously amazing meat feasts here for next to nothing! Go there with an empty stomach, some stretchy pants and fall in love with grilled strips of pork, chicken, beef, lamb and more! This is not a place for vegetarians!
Take in a Football game.
Football is more than a game here, it is more than a cultural obsession, it is a religion to be worshipped! If you ever need a way to connect with the locals in Brazil? This is it! Even if you don’t like the game it is worth going to see a match to take in the atmosphere, especially with the 2014 World Cup coming up!
Dance at the Carnival!
The Carnival at Rio is like nothing else on earth as entire streets open up to dancing, partying and a celebration of life, love and everything in between. The streets are filled with music, drink and people all dancing to the hypnotic rhythm of Brazilian Samba and it will sweep over you like a tidal wave! If you get the chance to visit during Carnival time, then forget the extra jacked up prices, it is well worth it!
Take a Capoeira class or simply watch a demonstration.
Capoeira is not just a dance as many people mistakenly assume, it is actually the national martial art of Brazil. It was disguised as a dance so that slaves could practice their combat techniques. It is highly acrobatic and takes a lot of skill, so if you are up for a fitness challenge there are many schools where you can join in. If that isn’t your thing you can simply watch for free, there are also many impromptu displays all over Brazil where you can get a free show!