You've heard the stories about Brazil. The hordes of brazen-skinned, beautiful people. Innumerable beaches meant to grace the fronts of postcards of paradise. That little patch of land known as the Amazon Rainforest that provides about one-fifth of the world's oxygen. Creatures like the caiman, anaconda, monkey, and even the poison dart frog. The upbeat energy of locally grown music like samba, forro, and Brazilian pop. The elegance and athleticism of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Capoeira. The celebration of excess that is Carnival. We could fill a book with the exceptional people, places, and activities. Then again, the darker side also weighs on us: the big city favelas where drugs and violence are the hard truth of everyday life, the seedy districts of forlorn souls that have outlasted occupations of the body... the media has given us a lot to ponder about the only Portuguese speaking nation in South America. The good news is that an Embark adventurer knows that these are only pieces of the puzzle and that a true reckoning of a country may only be reached through open-minded experience.
Depending on your preferences, visiting the largest country in South America during the soccer World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016 may be the best idea ever or an obnoxious distraction from true cultural immersion. No matter when you go, Brazil is impossible to thoroughly explore in even a year of traveling. You could drift down the Amazon River from Manaus to Santarem on a river-boat, falling asleep to chittering monkeys under a star-burgeoned sky. You could trawl the unfathomably large wetlands of the Pantanal alongside crocodiles and jaguars. You could stand in the spray of one the world's most epic waterfalls, Iguacu, and then jet to any of the dozens of locations that wildly celebrate the world-famous Carnival. You could interact with the tribal cultures (think loincloths and hand-made boats) that still thrive in the isolation of Xingu National Park. You could even take advantage of the thousands (yes, truly thousands; how do you narrow such a thing down?) of beaches, sipping coconut water straight from the coconut as you ladle the surf between your toes. The possibilities are near endless and we haven't even mentioned the truly exceptional cities that await.
Rio de Janeiro is an international city, known for the symbolic Christ the Redeemer statue, whose arms raise in welcome to all travelers. Sao Paulo epitomizes Brazil's place on the financial world stage, while from Porto Alegre to Fortaleza there are beach towns scattered nearly everywhere that have yet to be discovered by cruise ships and tourist zombies. Many of the major cities (Sao Paulo, Rio, Florianopolis, Salvador, etc.) have the level of quality and quantity of nightlife to cater to a multitude of tastes. Whether you are spending the evening sipping caipirinhas at a beach-side barraca (tent) or dancing all night at one of the greatest dance music parties on Earth (Green Valley), you won't be disappointed by your options in Brazil. Major metropolitan areas will also provide you with your fair share of good international and Brazilian cuisine, while the ubiquitous fruit bars selling acai drinks, the per kilo restaurants and buffets, and the churrascarias with their onslaught of prime cuts of meat are all a part of a definitive Brazilian experience.
For more on how certain areas of Brazil differ, including valuable information on the incredible activities available in each region, visit our adventure and various city pages. A final bit of travel advice: what happens in Brazil... is probably something you're going to want to rub in the faces of everyone who didn't go. Don't hold back, we're sure they deserve it.
A visa IS necessary when traveling to Brazil from the United States, costing upwards of $140. To ascertain further requirements, which can be quite extensive, consult the included website. Visitors from many South and Central American countries do not need visas or passports to enter Brazil, while visas are not necessary for select countries with which they have made visa agreements.
Stay up to the minute with the value of the Brazilian Real right here.
Known as "the Union," the Brazilian federal government is a constitutional republic based on a representative democracy. The president and the cabinet preside over the executive branch of government, the bicameral National Congress is the legislative body, and judicial proceedings are headed by the Supreme Federal Court. Although numerous government officials have stepped down from their positions due to corruption and many more have been known to flip-flop between parties, the government itself is quite stable.
English is not spoken widely in Brazil, and fluency rates are among some of the worst in developing countries. The caveat is that you'll find younger generations, service personnel, and businessmen in more tourist-friendly zones will be more apt to speak it. Veering off of the beaten path, which is not often recommended in a country like Brazil unless you are with a local friend or a tour group, will more than likely lead you into areas where English is spoken little to not at all. Then again, authentic Brazil does not cater to your needs, so some adaptation (and precautions) will be necessary if you want to avoid the same experience every tourist has.
Crime and Safety:
You've probably heard the horror stories about Brazil, particularly cities like Rio, Sao Paulo, and Fortaleza. ATM muggings at gunpoint, kidnappings, belongings stolen from hotel rooms; these incidents are enough to deter most travelers. These cities and others have shown a huge disparity between the have's and have-not's, and with such a huge population of "have-not's," there are going to be people that turn to targeting tourists as a way of getting ahead. This is a reality we shouldn't and won't sugarcoat; but the truth is, if you use common sense, avoid standing out with flashy clothing, accessories, or behavior, and are careful with your belongings, there is very little chance that you'll have any issues in Brazil.
Statistics have consistently proven a high rate of thievery and muggings in particular, and while homicide has dwindled in recent years, it and other violent crimes have proven to be an issue more in the impoverished favelas than in the usual traveler-friendly neighborhoods promoted on this website. Also, the further away from these metropolitan areas you find yourself (say your looking to enjoy the Pantanal or the Amazon or any of the incredible national parks), the less likelihood there will be of encountering the criminal element. Safer cities in Brazil include Florianopolis, Minais Gerais, Brasilia, and a number of other moderately sized cities; you'd be surprised that smaller towns aren't always as safe as intuition would tell you, so do plenty of research ahead of time for wherever you'll be stopping.
This page does a great job breaking down all of the little things you can do while in Brazil to stay safe. It'll tell you to lock your stuff in a hotel room safe, don't wear gaudy jewelry or watches, travel in groups in neighborhoods that you've researched, and do your public transport via taxi (they are actually cheap and the buses are a frequent setting for petty crimes). It may seem like a lot, but a sense of security is a big part of making the most of an adventure. Just don't let our precautions scare you! There is so much worth seeing and doing in Brazil that it would be a pity to avoid going.
Modes of Transportation:
The majority of Brazil is well served by long-distance busing and airplanes. Most cities do not have particularly consistent busing, often with a lack of proper signage or mapping, making it hard to know sometimes when a particular bus will be coming or if you're on the right one. Also, bus depots can often be in sketchy neighborhoods. Depending on your needs, we suggest taking a taxi or renting a car when visiting.
Due to its massive size and collection of diverse ecosystems, Brazil's climate is quite varied. The northern part of the country is on the equator, while many of the coastal destinations range from tropical to subtropical climates buffered by elevation, ocean winds or even cold fronts originating from Antarctica. The Amazon Rainforest to the far north and the major city of Manaus straddle the equator, providing tropical conditions like frequent hot temperatures and high rainfall year round, although summer gets less rainfall than other seasons. The northeast, where you'll visit destinations like Recife and Fortaleza, has generally little rainfall and hot temperatures, although the winter months of June and July can have temperature averages in the 60's (Fahrenheit). In the southeast, where destinations like Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Belo Horizonte draw international travelers, has a sizable temperature range due to varied elevations and coastal proximity; inland temperatures can average in the 60's (Fahrenheit), while coastal cities may average a good ten degrees higher. Even further south in Florianopolis or Curitiba it is more temperate, with more seasonally influenced warmth and cold that is lower than the aforementioned regions that includes winter frost in higher inland altitudes. The middle-west is the final adequately inhabited area worth mention. Including cities like Cuiaba and Brasilia, this region is known for moderate rainfall (except in the winter months) and average to high temperatures that vary little year round. For more information on weather and climate in Brazil, browse this website.
Eating and Tipping:
When in Brazil, expect to see that lunch is an quite an occasion. Considered the biggest meal of the day, it is when most restaurants wheel out their specials and when most Brazilians dine out. You'll still see locals at cafes, bakeries, and snack bars in the morning, but 12-2pm rush is when you'll see Brazilians eating together. Unlike some other big business countries, lunch is never a quick bite at your cubicle, but a chance to take a mid-day break and converse with friends or co-workers. Dinner, usually occurring after 6pm, is an equally social affair.
The majority of traditional meals, including the feijoada and prato feito, usually consist of white rice and black beans combined with a source of protein, which will vary depending on what part of the country you are visiting. You'll also find fresh fruit is quite ubiquitous, with papaya, acai, guava, pineapple, and whole range of other delicious options that we've never even heard of. One thing to remember, even if you're stopping for a quick sandwich at a juice bar, is that Brazilians stop what they're doing and eat. It's actually considered rude if you don't take your meal and eat it "on-the-go." Also be aware that coffee is a staple of every meal, usually had at the end. Tipping is not expected since 10% gratuity is often included in the bill when dining out, although tipping in general is good practice when dealing with most service related industries that go out of their way to assist you (hotels, beach services, etc.). For further information, this food blog does a fantastic job breaking down what to expect when eating in Brazil.
The legal drinking age in Brazil is 18. We suggest choosing not to drive if you are drinking, for arrests and large fines happen with a BAC equal to a minimum of a shot or a beer thanks to zero tolerance laws implemented in the last few years. Taxi services are relatively cheap and well-regulated in the majority of Brazil's metropolitan areas, so save yourself the potential ruination of your trip. As for what to drink, there are plenty of choices. The national mixed drink is the caipirinha, a mixture of the Brazilian liquor-of-choice, cachaca, sugar, and lime. Actually, cachaca and pretty much any fresh fruit juice are a worthy substitute when needed. Growing conditions are poor for cultivating wine except in the far south of the country in Rio Grande do Sul and anything other than a pilsener or light lager has very little chance in the Brazilian beer market. Speaking of beer, you'll want to order a chopp if you're looking for something freshfrom the tap, otherwise cerveja (literally "beer" in Portuguese) will get you a bottle or can. Unless you're visiting one of the few microbreweries, of which there is a hotbed in the German-settled city of Blumenau, you'll be drinking watered-down Skol, Brahma or Kaiser. If you really want to know all about beer in Brazil, this article, although slightly outdated, hits the nail on the head.
Interesting Cultural Fact:
Brazil has won more World Cups than any other nation... oh yeah, and they also have the world's biggest landfill (Jardim Gramacho), which has a whopping 321 acres of trash.
Peak season:December to February
Religion:Predominantly Roman Catholic
Often falling at the end of February and early March, Brazil's Carnival is the biggest party on Earth, a week where all of Brazil stops to enjoy a holiday originally celebrated with abstinence from vice during Lent. It is now synonymous with over-the-top costumes, parades, alcohol consumption, and music. In Rio de Janeiro, the world's most famous iteration of the festival that occurs all over Brazil, thousands upon thousands of revelers gather in the Sambodromo to watch competing Samba schools parade, while smaller versions of the parade happen throughout the city with an excess of libation and celebration. If you are anywhere in Brazil during this time it will be a party, but the truly extravagant celebrations happen in Rio, Ouro Preto, Recife, and Sao Paulo.
Translated as "the cultural turn," Virada Cultural is Sao Paulo's biggest party, happening annually on a weekend in April or May (May 19th in 2012). This festival of outdoor entertainment celebrates the best in Brazilian and international music, with performances ranging from heavy metal to axe to reggae to classical, with a turnout in the millions in the streets of Sao Paulo. There is also a popular comedy stage and even stranger attractions like professional wrestling. Check the official site for what will be happening when you're in town.
In most of Brazil, you'll find the only criteria for beer lovers be that it is cold. Really cold. Luckily, the city of Blumenau, located in the state of Santa Catarina, was settled by German immigrants and is home to a number of excellent breweries and the the largest Oktoberfest celebration in Brazil. With parades and music, as well as a wide assortment of brews, you'll be wondering if you'll ever need to visit Germany when you can get the best of biergartens and lederhosen over here for three weeks every October.
Parintins Folk Festival
The largest folk festival outside of Carnival, the Parintins Folk Festival (Boi Bumba) is the celebration of an age old tale centered around a prized bull, performed in various ways before the townsfolk by two competing teams. Held largely in the north and northeast of Brazil, the largest of these celebrations is held in Parintins on a three-day weekend in June. After each nightly performance, the city, which sits at the eastern end of the Amazon River, becomes a massive, colorful party in same fashion as Carnival.
Technically a Carnival celebration, the party in Salvador, although matching in energy and excitement, differs from Carnival in Rio in a few essential ways. The Bahia version has a greater variety of cultural influences, including African and Amerindian, which leads to a greater variety of music and cultural expression. The parade floats ride the city circuit with live musical acts called tres electricos providing the celebratory soundtrack. Believe it or not, Bahia Carnival is a much more massive undertaking than Rio, with miles of partying, where onlookers are much more a part of the celebration. Although lesser known internationally, this is actually the bigger party!