A guide of the essencials for your first trip to Brazil
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.
Also, 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.
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.
Is Brazil safe to visit?
Let's start with a million dollar question. Every time I engage on a conversation with someone, I am asked this question.
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 pickpocket. 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.
Check out this great 13 Safety Tips for Brazil and stay safe you'all!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, that every time I cook it and invite my friends to try, they leave asking me for the secret recipe.
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.
We are really friendly, we are optimists and love to focus on the positive side, we are very social people and we would love to show our amazing country and invite you for a churrasco at our house.
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 made me feel special and celebrated my birthday in the office with colorful balloons and clapping while singing Feliz aniversário (happy birthday)”. I thought it was a very interesting point.
Then I realized that Brazilian people use any opportunity to party, they are all a big deal in Brazil: Birthdays, graduations, a job promotion, a birth of a baby, ….and of course, celebrating when I am visitng my friends in Brazil is a big deal too, why not?
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.
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!
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.