Brazil – What to know before you go

Paula Martinelli Blog, Everything you need to know, Image, Travel, Travel Tips 6 Comments

A guide of the essencials for your first trip to Brazil

Why are you waiting to book your next vacation in Brazil? The greatest news for world travelers is here: Starting June 17, American visitors will be able to stay for up to 90 days each year without a visa. But it‘s not just Americans who are getting in on visa-free entry: Canadian, Japanese, and Australian passport holders are included.

I am super excited about this change, since I love to see my friends exploring the beauties of Brazil. Yes, as you can tell, I am a proud Brazilian girl, and why not, since Brazil is one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in the planet (no bias here).

My mission now, is to help you to prepare for your visit to Brazil, and I will start with this ULTIMATE GUIDE OF THINGS TO KNOW, BEFORE YOU VISIT BRAZIL.

Natal in Northeast of Brazil offers gorgeous beaches
Natal in Northeast of Brazil offers gorgeous beaches

I'm a “brasileira” (Brazilian girl), and I have some good information to share with you. You could say I have the inside scoop!

Also, I get you, the traveler. It can be tough to pick a destination, since Brazil is so huge and it can be tough to make the most of your visit, know what itinerary to follow, how expensive it is, if it is safe, and so on.

This article is based on what I learned from people all over the world asking me questions about Brazil, and sharing their perceptions (and misconceptions). Here are things that you should know before you go to Brazil. Enjoy it, and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

When I say Brazil, what comes to your mind? Carnaval...Rio de Janeiro...Samba...Soccer (Futebol)...Beaches...Amazon? Most people have some association with Brazil from popular culture. I am here to EXPAND on those associations so that you can get to know this amazing country, diverse culture and incredible people.

Brazil is the largest country in South America

In fact, Brazil might be the largest country most of the world doesn't know a whole lot about.

Brazil is the 5th largest country in the world, at 8,511,965 km² with a population of 212,162,474 (2.75% of the total world population). Although Brazil covers an area equal to 88% of the US and therefore is almost as large, its vastness holds less sway over the imagination of non-Americans.

The coastline of Brazil measures 7,491 km, which makes it the 16th longest national coastline of the world. Throughout the coastal areas geographical features can be found like islands, reefs and bays.

Brazil's economy ranks 1st in South America,  2nd in the Americas, and 8th in the world.

If you are interested in seeing a comparison of the quality of life between Brazil and USA, click here.

This map shows how Brazil compares in size with some  countries
This map shows how Brazil compares in size with some countries
What is the distance between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro

 One of the most common questions I get is: What is the distance between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro? They are both located in the Southeast of the country 222 miles (357 kilometers) a part. Rio de Janeiro (city) is located in Rio de Janeiro (state). São Paulo (city) is located in São Paulo (state), similar to New York, NY.

You have 2 main options to travel between these great cities: Road trip (by car or bus) will take approximately 6 hours, or you can take a short 45 minute flight.

Southeast by State: SP (São Paulo), RJ (Rio de Janeiro), MG (Minas Gerais), ES (Espirito Santo)
Southeast by State: SP (São Paulo), RJ (Rio de Janeiro), MG (Minas Gerais), ES (Espirito Santo)

THERE IS SO MUCH MORE THAN SÃO PAULO AND RIO DE JANEIRO

While many people want to visit these two popular cities (for good reason), there are MANY beautiful and interesting places to discover throughout the country. Diversity is what makes Brazil such a great destination. Diversity is on display in regional cultures, people, geography, food and customs. While you can find great metropolitan adventures in both cities, or explore the famous Rio beaches, just a short drive from either city are amazing locations.

Outside of these metropolitan areas, you can find mountains, deserts, waterfalls, beaches, jungles, rivers, etc. Many Brazilians vacation in Brazil because of the diversity of country. I am here to give you some options that most foreigners are not aware of, and allow you to have a true Brazilian experience.

If you are planning to visit Rio de Janeiro and/or São Paulo, here are some places to consider to visit with a short drive distance from the main cities in Brazil:

  • Angra dos Reis (RJ) – take a sailboat ride around this gorgeous bay with hundreds of islands
  • Parati (RJ) – take a step back in time to a Portuguese port city
  • Buzios and Arraial do Cabo (RJ) – stay at a pousada (bed and breakfast) and enjoy a laid back beach life
  • Ilhabela (SP) – take a ferry out to this beautiful island and relax
  • Campos do Jordão (SP) – visit this Swiss style village and enjoy the mountains
  • Brotas (SP) - Plan some outdoor adventure activities.
Parati - Just between SP and RJ
Parati - Just between SP and RJ
Cabo Frio in RJ also knowing as the Brazilian Caribean
Cabo Frio in RJ also knowing as the Brazilian Caribean
Brotas is the outdoors adventure city
Brotas is the outdoors adventure city

THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE IS PORTUGUESE

I lost count on how many times I let people know, “We speak Portuguese and not Spanish” – Yes, Brazil is the only country in South America that speaks Portuguese, because a Portugese guy called Pedro AIvares Cabral discovered Brazil and said “Terra a vista” – “Land ho!”.

Before the Portuguese “discovered” Brazil, the natives (“indios”) spoke tupi-guarani. Unfortunately we do not learn this language at school, but we did incorporate some words in Brazilian Portuguese, such as “arara” (the colorful macaw parrots).

Not to compete, but the most spoken language in South America is Portuguese, not Spanish. Brazilians account for 51% of the population of South America. More details here.

Luz railway station in São Paulo - dated from 1867
Luz railway station in São Paulo - dated from 1867

THE FOOD IS AMAZING….AND YOU WILL LOVE IT!

Maybe you are already family with the Brazilian steakhouse. Yes, steak is very popular in Brazil, it seems that every weekend you will have at least 2 invites for a churrasco (barbecue) at your family or friend’s house. A churrasco usually includes sausages and several different cuts of meat, grilled over hardwood charcoal, sliced to bite size pieces and eaten hot off the cutting board.

In addition to churrascos, there are many other delicious Brazilian foods to experiment with:

  • Açai – an antioxidant super fruit gaining popularity outside of Brazil – açaí bowls are very popular
  • Guaraná – the Brazilian soda – loaded with caffeine from the guaraná plant
  • Petit gateu – molten lava cake served with ice cream
  • Creme de papaya – perfect ending to a big meal, papaya helps digestion.
  • Polenta frita – fried polenta
  • Brazilian Pizza - My vote goes to the Brazilian pizza. Want to know the difference between the Brazilian and the American pizza? Read more...
  • Feijoada – Brazilian comfort food, which is a slow-cooked black bean, beef and pork stew served with rice – a truly must try traditional dish
Moqueca - Fresh fish cooked in coconut milk
Moqueca - Fresh fish cooked in coconut milk
Brazil offers a huge variety of fruits
Brazil offers a huge variety of fruits
Churrasco or BBQ - meat cooked to perfection!
Churrasco or BBQ - meat cooked to perfection!

BRAZILIAN PEOPLE ARE THE COOLEST PEOPLE ON THE PLANET

I know…I know….I am a Brazilian girl and of course I think so. But actually, you can check out this CNN article to see that I am not the one saying this.

IT IS ALWAYS TIME TO PARTY

I remember talking to a French friend, who lived in Brazil and moved to the USA. He said to me, “I had a big culture shock when I moved to the US from Brazil because no one celebrated my birthday in the office”. I thought it was a very interesting point. Then I realized that Brazilian people use any opportunity to party. Birthdays are a big deal, graduations are a big deal, a job promotion is a big deal, a birth of a baby is a big deal….and of course, celebrating a weekend with churrasco is a big deal, why not?

Hanging out with friends is a big deal!
Hanging out with friends is a big deal!
When I visit my family it is a big deal!
When I visit my family it is a big deal!

WE KISS ON THE CHEEK

It is very common for members of the opposite sex and for women to greet each other with a kiss on the cheek (one side in São Paulo, both sides in Rio de Janeiro). If you are introduced to someone in Brazil, be prepared for a kiss on the cheek...even in a business environment!

Brazilians communicate in close proximity. They may even maintain physical contact by touching arms, hands or shoulders during a conversation. Brazilians are extremely friendly, open and outgoing, and physical interaction is an extension of how they communicate – do not back away. Enjoy the experience and engage with them in the conversation.

SAFETY

Safety is a big concern for Brazilians. Drug gangs control certain territories, police corruption is not uncommon, and if you are not aware, you could become a victim of theft or potentially worse. With that being said, Brazil is not a dangerous place, and tourists should not avoid Brazil for fear of crime.

As with travel in any country, being aware of your surroundings, what you are doing and where you are, are the keys to avoiding trouble. Most thieves look for victims who are not aware of their surroundings, who are flashing wealth, or putting themselves in bad situations. Thieves look for easy targets.

Favellas (slums), which in the past were dangerous places to go, have become tourist attractions. You can sign up for a tour of a Favella and see how the poor communities live. There is a wide gap between those who have and those who have not in Brazil, but that is changing. The middle class is growing and reducing corruption and crime are in the spotlight.

Rio de Janeiro is the second largest city in Brazil
Rio de Janeiro is the second largest city in Brazil

Is it expensive to visit Brazil?

If you are going to use US Dollar or Euro, with the conversion rate you will probably find it pretty affordable.

  • Food: You can have a great breakfast at some nice bakeries around US$5. Lunch and dinner can be found from US$10. Of course, the price vary depending on the neighborhood, kind of restaurant and amount of food.
  • Transportation: Taxis can be a little bit tricky as sometimes, depending on traffic (which can be very heavy) will become more expensive than you can imagine. I recommend to use apps since you can pay beforehand for the ride. If you are not with a local, I wouldn't recommend using public transportation in big cities, it can be a little crazy and very busy. Rental cars are around US$25 per day. Domestics flights run around US$300.
  • Accommodation: Check AirBnB and TripAdvisor for affordable places to stay and reviews in each area. You can find options from fancy Hotels at around US$300 per day to a Pousada (B&B) for around US$30 per day.
  • Tips: in Brazil we don't give tips, but we have what we call a service fee and it's around 10% of the final price of your bill.

SO, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Brazil is a large, diverse, complex and fascinating country. When you visit Brazil, you will encounter a unique culture that is a blend of Portuguese, African, European and undeniably Brazilian way of living life. There is so much to see and so much to explore (jungles, dry steppes, mountains, beaches, waterfalls, food, history, etc.), that you could visit Brazil every year and not see or experience everything it has to offer.

Let’s get started on exploring some of the highlights through my blog and giving you some ideas for your upcoming visit to Brazil!

Carnival Parade - the largest party in the planet
Carnival Parade - the largest party in the planet
Futebol (or soccer) is the national passion
Futebol (or soccer) is the national passion

Paula wants to know

What questions do you have about Brazil? What have you heard? If you have been to Brazil, I would love to hear your experience.

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Comments 6

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      Author
  1. I’ve always wanted to go to Brazil, but got lost in the vastness. This is so helpful, thank you!

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      Author

      It is hard to pick a destination when you are going to a big country. There is so much to explore in Brazil. My recommendation is start with São Paulo and/or Rio de Janeiro e explore the surrounding. You should go with me sometime 😉

  2. Nice post Paula. I have always loved Brazil since childhood – from their football! 🙂 Someday I would like to visit the Amazon rainforest and the Iguazu falls in this large diverse country. Do you plan to write about these destinations?

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      Author

      I am so happy you liked my post and that you loved Brazil. Yes, I am planning to cover every special corner of the country on my blog and planning to write about Amazon and Iguaçu also. I saw you have some great content on Peru and I cannot wait to go back and explore more, I will be using your blog for reference.

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