Is this your first time travel to Brazil? here is what to expect for your upcoming amazing experience.
Now has never been a better time to go to Brazil (or Brasil). This year the country will host and potentially win the World Cup. Every February they celebrate the largest carnival on earth and in 2016 all eyes will drift their way for the Olympic Games. Brazil is my favourite country so far and it is the country I have spent the most time in other than my own. If you are packing your bags to soak up the football atmosphere live as it happens or if this country is on your bucket list, here is my opinion on what to expect:
Located in the southern hemisphere, Brazil’s summer is December – March and winter July – September. However, because the country is so big and the equator crosses through the northern region the temperature varies across the country. Summer temperatures can be as high as 40 degrees and winter as low as 10 degrees. Pack an umbrella or raincoat in your case for the rainy days can arrive any time of the year.
Each city distinctly different from the other with it’s individual style. It is a large country including a few time zone changes. The beaches are situated along the eastern coastline but many different landscapes can be found inland such as Foz do Iguaçu waterfall, the Pantanal tropical wetland and the Amazon rainforest. However, Brazil is not just limited to it’s natural attractions as the development of modern architecture led by the late Oscar Niemeyer can be found across around the country.
Wherever you are you will not be bored of things to see or do and places to visit. Do as much as you can. If your aim of your holiday is to only relax on the beach, you should go somewhere closer to home with less to do. The sports stadiums that will host the World Cup and Olympic games are in different states and travel between them will need to be planned way in advance due to availability. Carnival (Carnaval) is held in all states across the country.
What I love about Brazil is that anyone can appear Brazilian regardless of race. People in the south of the country tend to have Scandinavian or European roots. In the mid country east coast the population is mixed race and further west have a high Japanese population. In the west and north west people appear native Indian and further up north and north east have many African descendants. Clothing worn by locals is casual e.g. shorts, tshirts, sandals, dresses. They can be colourful or patterned but not usually heavily branded. The people are generally friendly, welcoming, proud of their culture but will be interested in yours.
Brazil runs on off-peak and on-peak depending on demand so price vary to reflect this. For large events and popular times, minimum stays are required e.g. carnival period. There are all sorts of accommodation such as hostels, b&b’s, hotels, home stays and apartments, that quickly fill up so give yourself enough time to research prices, quality and location. In my opinion the location is key. I prefer hostels because it is easier to meet people and take part in group activities.
Both poor and wealthy do not live far from each other in Brazil. Popular communities in Brazil are often referred to as the ‘favelas’ where a large proportion of the country reside. These provide homes, schools, churches and protection for many people but can also provide drugs, violence, abandonment and prostitution. As with most areas of the world there can be a sense of togetherness but at times a sense of division. I recommend a guided tour to see for yourselves but would not advise a night time wonder by yourself. You can often tell if you are walking towards a favela because the streets/paths become extremely narrow or you begin walking uphill and the quality of housing/pavements become lower.
Despite the wide variety of people, race, class and stereotyping are still major issues in Brazilian society today. This is evident from the education system, government statistics, personal and friends’ experiences.
All beaches are different so check with a local or refer to a guide book before you go. Eg. Recife has a high number of shark attacks in shallow water, Rio’s Copacabana beach outside the Palace Hotel is rife with male and female prostitution, some beaches in Florianopolis host international surf competitions. Brazilians are no shy regardless of size or shape, the less clothes worn on the beach the better so feel free to get your speedos and thong bikinis out. Buy Havaiana flip flops as soon as you arrive as it is likely you will live in them for the rest of the trip, future holidays and summers back home.
If you are in a city it is easy to blend in and adapt to the Brazilian culture. It is laid back and relaxed so if you are expecting something to be systematic, regimented or to be done with hast, you can forget about it. Take note of the dress code and don’t stray too far from it as you could make yourself a target being a noticeable foreigner. Stick to non-branded clothes and be sparse with displaying new technology or gadgets. If you are on a business trip a short sleeved shirt and trousers/knee-length skirt will suffice as it is often too hot for ties and blazers.
A few cities have train metro systems but most are served with public buses. Whilst these are safe forms of transport during the day and night they can feel eerie. Get a travel-card if you plan to take regular bus trips even if they are short ones. It takes a brave tourist to hire a car and wouldn’t advise it unless you are familiar with the roads and comfortable with frequent overtaking. Motorists do not stop at traffic lights when it is dark to avoid danger and indicators are not often used. Metered taxis are safe to use at night and feel free to ask the driver to slow down.
One comfort is that stricter drink driving laws are now in place. In some states more than one shot can result in a $1,000R fine and the removal of the car from the owner. Inter-state travel requires a domestic flight, expensive if travelling in a popular time or last minute. Some last minute internal flights can be more than the cost of your flights to and from Brazil. Or a long booked-bus journey with travel times such as 15 or 30 hours depending on the states you’re travelling between. Journeys are relatively comfortable with air con, on board toilet and push back chairs.
The official language of Brazil is Portuguese and the accent varies from region to region. If you are can speak in European Portuguese you will be understood. But don’t try to speak Spanish because they will not understand you unless they speak Spanish themselves or are from a city near the Argentine border. Make an effort to learn the basics of the language before you travel or carry a phrase book to help yourself. Don’t expect many people to speak English or understand your sign language if you are in need of directions.
Always carry money in your bra, sock or in a hidden money pouch inside your shorts/trousers. Carry the money you need, plus a little extra in case of emergency as well as your bank card. Avoid carrying all your money on you at anyone time but if you have to split it up into different places. Money that is not kept on you can be split between a locked safe, locked suitcase at your accommodation. It is still a good idea to bring travellers cheques or pre paid debit cards although you will need to find bigger shops or malls where they are accepted.
Budgeted spending money per day depends on the type of traveller you are and the things you want to do. I fit in all the things I want to do staying in basic central accommodation and travelled around on foot or via public transport. Excluding flights, accommodation and day trips I can get by on £30 per day on food, drink and group travel. Carnival time lasts one week and is a bank holiday. All banks are closed and most street ATMs run out so organise your cash beforehand.
In a crowd there are often pick-pocketers, usually opportunistic kids who will give up once you brush their hand away. Some thieves are older and may threaten with weapons. Keep some notes separate in case you are robbed so you can hand money over without it being every penny (or real $R) you have. Stick to main routes, well lit areas and avoid the beach at night time.
Carry anti-bacterial hand wash, soap and cream as many toilets (banerihos) do not have any. Where soap is provided it may not be anti-bacterial. This is important to stop the spread of germs and lower the chances of illness or catching short term bugs.
Brazilians eat a lot of rice, beans and meat. There is no lamb/goat and all other meat can be described as ‘carne’ whether beef, pork, pepperoni etc sometimes individual descriptions are given. Only chicken (frango) is always described separately. You will find ham sneaked into a lot of dishes. Vegetarians can stick to rice, beans, spaghetti/pasta, cheese balls (pão de queijo), pasties (pastéis), pizza, vegetables and salad. But always ask for no meat ‘nao carne’. You can find fish fairly easily. It is not easy to find a lot of variation of food unless you go to a mall or buy ingredients to cook yourself. It is easy to find decent food at cheap prices and it is a good idea to try all the local dishes. Sushi is popular in Sao Paolo and it is quick and easy to find street food.
Sol is the main beer in Brazil. Cachaça is a very strong Brazilian rum that is not for the faint-hearted. Caipirinha is a popular cocktail, often made strong so after three I will be tipsy, at five it’s game over. Don’t leave the country without trying a native non-alcoholic fruit drink acaí or guaraná.
Most nightclubs charge $15-20R to get in and issue a plastic card on entry. This card is given for purchases inside the club and the fee is paid on exit. If the card is lost a fine will be payable. I tend to have more fun outside of big fancy nightclubs at local bars, local’s houses, the street parties such as Lapa in Rio or during the times of carnival.
As in most hot cities you’ll see cockroaches on the pavements mainly at night. During the day you can see small lizards, small insects. Stray cats and dogs are relatively calm. There are a lot more in the Pantanal or the Amazon rainforest (see below).
The most popular sport in the country is football. Brazilians can bring the party atmosphere anywhere so the stadiums electrify with drums, music, horns (vuvuzelas) and samba in the stands. It is loud, noisy, crowded and can take a long time getting in and out of the stadium and to get from the stadium back home. It is safer to not loiter around the stadium after the game has finished. You can head to the main road and try to flag down a taxi. In areas or events with a large amount of people it is common to loose mobile signal so have a plan b in place if you can not make a phone call or if you separate from your fellow travellers. For World Cup tickets go to the official FIFA website.
Check with your doctor or travel clinic what vaccinations you need before travelling depending on what areas you are travelling to. A yellow fever jab has been deemed compulsory in minimal cases around some borders of South America. If this concerns you, get the jab and save yourself the hassle if it becomes an issue on your travels. You do not need to take malaria tablets if you will stay in the cities. If you are visiting the rainforest there are two types you can get. Consult which are best for you with your doctor.
Bring mosquito repellent with a high DEET percentage as it’s useful to spray the lodge when you leave for the day. You may see larger animals e.g. dolphins, alligators, wild boars, piranhas, caterpillars, jaguars, wasps, crickets, snakes, spiders, armadillos, birds of prey etc so cameras at the ready.
Mosquito nets do not mean less bites. Ensure there are no holes in the net, that it fully covers your entire body and that there are no trapped mosquitoes before you settle down for the night. Pack I recommend taking Piriton for insect bites as it reduces swelling and itching allowing more comfort and quicker healing.
Bring a torch, malaria tablets, raincoat, trainers/study walking shoes, binoculars, camera, toiletries, repellent, refillable water bottle, sunglasses, sun cream, notepad. It is pitch black once the sun goes down and this can be as early as 6pm due to lack of artificial light. As it is near the equator the sun rises and sets quickly. There is no reception in the Amazon let alone wifi! No TVs or radio so get creative with how you spend your time. There is electricity depending where you stay e.g. in a lodge with electricity. If you are camping your tour guide should provide some equipment but check in advance. If possible leave your luggage at your accommodation in the city (Manaus is the closest city) and only take the necessities to the rainforest.
Wear long close-fit sleeved tops and full length trousers to minimise bites. Makes sure your clothes are 100% cotton as it is harder for the mosquitoes to bite through. It is cold at night so bring long pyjamas, socks and a jumper.
Most important: Not many people have the opportunity to travel to such diverse countries like Brazil. So Enjoy it, take many pictures, make lots of friends and have a ball!