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Experience diversity: A local Brazil travel guide.
Nestled in a tropical region, home to incredible biodiversity, dotted with modern architecture and colonial buildings, and full of lively cities glittering all over this unique land, Brazil is not only the biggest country in South America but also one of its most dazzling.
So grab a beer and sit back. You’re about to learn lots of useful information about this incredible country. And the best part is that this isn’t a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide to Brazil. Oh, no.
This Brazil Travel Guide was written by a local born and raised in São Paulo.
Brazil travel guide
Brazil is a pretty large country. We have five regions and 26 states spreading across four time zones. From rainforests with unique wildlife to concrete jungles and untouched beaches, we have them all.
And because Brazil is so vast, the five regions are very different from each other. In fact, each region’s history plays a significant role here because it influenced local cuisine, architecture, and traditions.
If you travel from the state of Bahia to Santa Catarina, you might even think you’re in a different country – culture- and climate-wise -, but you are not.
With this in mind, I’ve laid out all the information you need to know before traveling to Brazil, such as travel tips, the best time to visit Brazil, which regions are there in the country and their main aspects, itineraries, how to get around, places to visit in Brazil, things to do, and more.
So far, I’ve traveled extensively through Brazil, but there’s still a lot to see, and a lot that I want to experience as a Brazilian myself.
Anyway, even if you’re planning to visit Brazil for a short period or for business, this travel guide will still be pretty useful.
So, wanna know more about Brazil travel? Read on!
Table of contents
Brazil fact sheet
- Country of Brazil: Federative Republic of Brazil
- Language: Portuguese
- Currency: Brazilian Real (BRL or R$). US$1 = approx R$4
- Drinkable tap water: No
- Voltage: 127v and 220v
- Power plug type: N (two pins and a grounding pin)
- Dialing code: +55
- Time zones: Fernando de Noronha (GMT-2), Brasilia (GMT-3), Amazon (GMT-4), and Acre (GMT-5)
Brazil travel guide for visa and entry requirements
Brazil has a reciprocity agreement with most countries around the world when it comes to visa requirements, meaning if your country asks a visa from our citizens, Brazil asks a visa from your citizens.
However, in 2019 Brazil waived the visa requirement for four countries expecting to increase Brazil tourism: Australia, Canada, Japan, and the US. So citizens of these countries only need their passports to travel to Brazil.
Namely, Brazil has three categories of entry requirements:
- Citizens that need a visa
- Visa-free citizens who only need a passport
- Visa-free citizens who only need an ID (Most of the South American countries except for French Guiana, Guyana, and Suriname.)
Brazil travel tips
Essentials for your Brazil trip
As a mostly tropical destination, traveling to Brazil will require a few essential items to ensure you stay healthy, connected, and safe.
Is Brazil safe for tourists?
The short answer: Yes.
The long answer: Although Brazil has many favelas and dangerous areas, these places aren’t on tourists routes. Meaning, be sensible, use common knowledge, and avoid the things I’ll mention below.
Look, by ignoring this advice you’ll just become an easy target for scammers. Show them you’re not that.
Things to avoid in Brazil:
- Waiving your mobile/camera around
- Wearing expensive watches/jewelry/sunglasses/purses
- Taking taxis when you don’t know the way, choose Uber instead (Taxi scams are common worldwide.)
Further out, Brazil isn’t the war zone the 8 PM news portrays on television. Granted, violent crimes happen more often here than in Western Europe, but if you use common knowledge and take a few small precautions, you’re honestly good to go.
The probability that something will happen to you in Brazil is the same in most countries around the world.
Moreover, be sure to wear repellent at all times to avoid mosquitoes bites. Depending on where you’re traveling in Brazil, it can be an area more susceptible to dengue or zika.
Solo female travelers, as usual, take care of your drinks at all times in all countries, including your hometown.
And finally, drugs of any kind and prostitution are illegal in Brazil, although we all know many people simply don’t care and you might get even offered some, say “no, thanks” and walk away.
Don’t get yourself into problems in a foreigner country.
Travel insurance for Brazil
For these and other reasons, be sure to purchase travel insurance as this is an essential item for any trip to Brazil you make – short or long.
- You can get sick, and it would ruin your trip – you don’t want to rely on Brazilian public hospitals, trust me.
- Your mobile or backpack can get stolen – well, it happens.
- You might need to cancel your trip before or during the journey itself – it happens too.
- The airline can cancel your flight, but you can’t cancel your hotel anymore – travel insurance will have your back.
Best time to visit Brazil
All year long! But seriously, first things first: Most part of Brazil is in the Southern Hemisphere, which means seasons in that area are reversed in comparison to North America and Europe.
- Winter: June to September
- Spring: September to December
- Summer: December to March
- Fall: March to June
Naturally, the best time to visit Brazil for you will depend on the temperatures you are used to and where in Brazil you are going to.
All states in the southern half of Brazil have their rainy season between November and March, reaching its peak in January. Summers have those heavy showers at the end of the afternoon, and when they happen, you want to be sure you’re inside.
On the other hand, winter isn’t the same in these states. The states in the south region have chilly days and even snow in some cities. While the winter in the southeastern states isn’t really chilly for North Americans and Europeans.
In the northeast, you should expect rain between January and July at the end of the afternoon. Again, these are the infamous summer showers. However, the Brazilian Outback, in Bahia state and region, is naturally dry and sees little rain.
In the northern region (Amazon Rainforest), it rains a lot in the first semester, and rainfall starts decreasing in June through September to start increasing again. It’s important to note that the weather in this region is scorching, so be sure to drink a lot of water to avoid dehydration. (Tap water isn’t drinkable in Brazil, so don’t forget your water bottle with filter.)
Geographically, Brazil is divided into five regions: North, Northeast, Center-West, Southeast, and South. As said before, each one of them has its traditions which are completely different from the others.
For that reason, embrace diversity while traveling in Brazil because that’s where the country’s foundation lays. In its diversity. And honestly, you’ll love it, too.
North region, Brazil
Brazil’s North Region is rich in natural landscapes and culture. It’s made up of seven states: Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima, and Tocantins.
Furthermore, its population is highly miscegenated because, likely other areas in the country, its population is made up of Africans, Europeans, and even Asians.
However, the north is the only place where you’ll find Brazilian Indians more often, the very first people in our land.
Naturally, the strong indigenous presence in the north accounts for the abundant offer in ingenuous decoration items, commemorations, and food.
Northeast region, Brazil
The Brazilian Caribbean area (aka the northeast) is the second most visited area by international tourists, and it’s made up of nine states: Bahia, Pernambuco, Ceará, Sergipe, Alagoas, Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte, Piauí, and Maranhão.
Because of the slavery and consequent racism that still plays a role in the society, the northeast, which is home to the largest population of African descendants in Brazil, is the country’s most impoverished region.
However, it’s also one of the prettiest ones with paradisiac beaches and unique beauty.
Central-West region, Brazil
Made up by Goiás, Mato Grosso, and Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil’s central area is the seat of government in the projected city of Brasília.
This region is also home to many indigenous tribes as well as to people from Bolivia, Paraguay, and other southern Brazilian states.
The central-west region has a tropical climate, which ensures for diverse flora and fauna, especially in the area of the Pantanal.
The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland, where at least 12 sub-regional ecosystems have been identified, hence why this ecotourism hub welcomes nature lovers in search of unique experiences, incredible wildlife, and exotic landscapes.
Southeast region, Brazil
The Southeast is Brazil’s business hub, and therefore, the wealthiest area in the country, which is composed of the states of Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo.
Carnival and soccer (Go Brazil!) are essential in the Brazilian culture, but in the southeast, it’s a serious business.
Also, the samba schools parades in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are worldwide famous and rightly so because they’re a unique phenomenon which brings beautiful messages in its lyrics and costumes.
South region, Brazil
The second most prosperous region in Brazil is composed of three states only: Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul.
Because this is the coldest region of Brazil, the local traditions and food are strongly influenced by the European immigrants that moved to the country between 1824 and 1945 and preferred a climate similar to their homeland.
They even celebrate Oktoberfest in the south.
Brazil travel guide itineraries
Because the country is so vast, and public transportation isn’t excellent, many tourists choose to spend at least 2-3 weeks traveling Brazil.
But it’s important to note that even those spending a couple of weeks in the country, probably won’t visit the five regions above mentioned. Brazil is giant, guys!
I wanna travel Brazil. For how long? Forever.
Brazil travel guide to getting around
Brazil has around 2,500 airports spread throughout the 26 states that’s why getting here isn’t really a problem. Besides, most countries have direct flights to Brazil. (Except Australia.)
Although flights can be expensive, tickets to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are usually cheaper because of the big offer in flights to these cities.
Also, when planning your trip to Brazil, take into consideration the holiday calendar I posted below to avoid national holidays. The period around summer and carnival is considerably costly, but if you plan in advance (6 months+), you should find good deals.
To travel within Brazil, you can either go by bus, rent a car, or fly. Depending on the distance, going by bus is much easier.
Oh, and I don’t recommend you drive in the big cities, such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Traffic there is chaotic. Outside big cities, having a car will make your life much easier, especially when trying to get to national parks or secluded beaches.
Anyway, for whatever transportation you choose, always book in advance to avoid headaches.
Accommodation in Brazil
Most tourists choose to stay in hotels when traveling to Brazil because of their facilities. Remember that summers can be really warm, and if there’s no air conditioning in your room, you might feel really uncomfortable. That’s why I recommend using Booking.com to find good value hotels.
In case you want to backpack Brazil and don’t mind trading comfort and privacy for budget accommodation. Use Hostelworld to find the best hostel deals.
For those traveling in groups or in families, you might consider renting a whole place at Airbnb. It’s probably much more affordable and comfortable in this case.
Also, accommodations are naturally subject to seasonal rates. Refer to the Major Events and Holidays Calendar section below to understand the seasonality in Brazil.
It’s also good to know that high season in the Brazil travel sector is during summer (between December-March). Then it increases back again in the North American/European summer.
Top 10 best places to visit in Brazil
Because I want to this Brazil travel guide to be complete, I’ll go over the 10 places to visit in Brazil, besides having described the regions above.
But note that it was extremely challenging to choose only ten cities as Brazil is a unique country, and a bunch of its towns are mind-blowing too. See this list as the top of the iceberg. Only Brazil’s highlights. If I were to tell you for real which places you should visit, pff…we’d stay here talking for a while.
Rio de Janeiro
Famous for its natural landscapes, beautiful people walking on the promenade with their uncovered and highly-trained bodies, and cool samba bars (the best you can find in Brazil), Rio de Janeiro is a unique place everyone should visit at least once.
With a progressive art scene, sophisticated style, and skyscrapers going as far as the eye could see, São Paulo is the country’s business hub and my beloved hometown.
No, the city isn’t nearly as pretty as Rio de Janeiro, but as the new core of Brazil, São Paulo won’t disappoint you either.
The birthplace of Brazil’s cultural diversity and also its first capital, Salvador is a place where you can hear the music coming from every corner – from the radio, drum, or just someone singing. The city lives.
But seriously, the lively essence of Salvador makes it an exceptional place not only in Brazil but in the world. Oh, and the food! The food in Bahia is out of this world.
Nestled among hills, dotted with colonial constructions, and jam-packed with history, Ouro Preto is one of the prettiest well maintained colonial towns in Brazil.
Fernando de Noronha
A UNESCO World Heritage with unparalleled biodiversity, Fernando de Noronha is the perfect spot for nature lovers.
The archipelago is a top destination to experience wildlife at its best and see rare moments without disturbing the animals, such as turtles hatching on the beach.
Boasting the world’s largest river in volume and outstanding wildlife, the Amazon is not only the largest rainforest, but nearly two-thirds of it are in Brazil.
Also, this area houses more species of animals and plants than any other terrestrial ecosystem on Earth.
An unpretentious hidden paradise straight out of a bucket list book, Jericoacoara, or Jeri, has a pristine beach, a beautiful national park filled with dunes and little lagoons, and a magical, bigger lagoon called Paradise. Still wondering why that name? You got it right. This place is ridiculously pretty.
Porto de Galinhas
A major tourist destination that shouldn’t be left out of any Brazil travel guide, Porto de Galinhas is often a well-deserved honeymoon spot. That’s because the region has spectacular beaches with clear, blue water, where fishes simply swim between your legs. It’s so pretty!
Florianópolis is the perfect combination of a modern city, old town center, and beautiful beaches. From hikes with unique views to natural swimming pools, the city is an excellent vacation destination in the south of the country.
Iguazu Falls need no introduction. Although two-thirds of this New 7 Wonders of Nature are in Argentina, the city of Iguazu is a quick flight away from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Surprisingly, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the result of a volcanic eruption, and it’s pretty big. In fact, it happens to be taller than Niagara Falls and twice as wide.
Fun fact: Legend has it that once Eleanor Roosevelt saw the Iguazu Falls she said “Poor Niagara.”
What to do in Brazil
Well, Brazil is a vast country with small towns, modern cities, pristine (and sometimes crowded) beaches, mountains, lakes, wetlands, rainforests, deserts, you name it.
Besides watching a soccer match (this is a must!) and celebrating carnival on the streets (another must!), there’re lots of other interesting attractions/activities in the whole country. Surely you won’t run out of things to do in Brazil.
The national drink is not only refreshing but it’s also delicious. This cocktail of rum, lime, and sugar on rocks is the best beverage one could wish for while sunbathing or having fun in a bar.
While caipirinha is the national drink, feijoada is the national dish. This traditional Brazilian food is a stew of black beans with pork served with rice and collard greens, which fills up very well.
Oh, and it’s exceptionally well served in the most unpretentious bars throughout the country.
Watch a soccer match
Soccer wasn’t invented here, but it certainly is in Brazilian’s souls. The energy you feel in a stadium is unique and you won’t feel something like this in many countries out there.
Yes, take your time to learn how to dance samba, and you’ll surely have lots of fun in Brazil. It can either be in a samba school rehearsal or a simple bar.
You’ll feel the incredibly good energy that Brazilians have. It is contagious.
Let the Brazilian landscapes inspire you
I started this Brazil travel guide saying this is the country of diversity. And that is true in every sense of the word: people, religion, music, races, food, weather, sports, and landscapes.
Unsurprisingly, Brazil has jaw-dropping waterfalls, natural pools, dunes, forests, deserts, to name a few. So take your time to visit a few of these habitats.
What to read before traveling to Brazil
- The Alchemist: Paulo Coelho is perhaps the most famous Brazilian writer and The Alchemist might be one of the world’s most-read books. The story is about a Spanish boy who goes in the pursuit of his destiny and learns lots of things about life. Beautiful!
- Captains of the Sands: A surprisingly interesting book about a gang of orphans and runaways who live in the streets of Salvador, Bahia.
- Dom Casmurro: One of my favorite books, Dom Casmurro is about the romance between Bento and Capitu, and Bento’s most daunting doubt: Is Ezekiel, their son, really his?
- The Hour of the Star: Clarice Lispector’s last book is about Macabéa, a young woman who lives in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and has everything to feel miserable and depressive, but who is still inwardly free.
- The Slum: Another book among my favorite ones, The Slum is about a myriad of social tensions across different levels from the people who live in this slum. The story has incredible vividness, wonderful prose, and memorable characters.
What to listen before traveling to Brazil
- Caetano Veloso: He’s one of my favorite MPB singers. MPB stands for Música Popular Brasileira, Popular Brazilian Music.
- Zeca Pagodinho: Samba singer. He has great songs most Brazilians know and love to dance after a beer or two.
- Ivete Sangalo: Learn axé with this great singer. Axé is a local music style with West African roots. It’s very popular in the Northeast region.
- Marília Mendonça: She sings sertanejo, a local music style originated in the southern half of the country.
- Anitta: She is world-famous, and you’ve probably heard a few of her songs. Anitta sings funk, which is popular in a few areas of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
What to watch before traveling to Brazil
- Elite Squad
- A Dog’s Will
- Last Stop 174
- Two Sons of Francisco
Series on Netflix
- The Mecanism
- Most Beautiful Thing
- Vai Anitta
- Blood Pact
Holidays in Brazil
It’s essential to know the holiday calendar from other countries as tourist attractions or the beach, for example, can be jam-packed with locals.
So here goes the Brazilian holiday’s calendar. The bolded items are national holidays, meaning many attractions might be closed.
- January 1st: New Year’s Day
- Somewhere in February/March: Carnival celebrations from Friday-Tuesday
- Somewhere in April: Good Friday and Easter Sunday
- April 21st: Tiradentes Day
- May 1st: Labor Day
- 2nd Sunday of May: Mother’s Day
- June 12th: Valentine’s Day
- Somewhere in May/June: Corpus Christi
- 2nd Sunday of August: Father’s Day
- September 7th: Independence Day
- October 12th: Our Lady of Aparecida and Children’s Day
- October 15th: Teacher’s Day
- November 2nd: All Souls’ Day
- November 15th: Republic Proclamation Day
- November 20th: Black Consciousness Day
- December 24 Christmas Eve
- December 25th: Christmas Day
- December 31st: New Year’s Eve
Major events in Brazil
Carnival (February/March) – This event needs no introduction, of course. Carnival in Brazil takes place from Friday to Tuesday, and people go back to work on Wednesday afternoon. There are celebrations in every city and these festivities are different in every one of them.
Bienal (March/April) – This is a major art event that happens every two years (even years) in São Paulo city and involves many excellent museums and institutes in the city.
Virada Cultural (May) – This is an event in São Paulo city, where free concerts take place throughout the city for 24 hours (Saturday-Sunday). The municipality releases the line-up every year.
June Party – São João (June) – The world’s largest São João party, which receives over 100k people, takes place in Campina Grande, Paraíba State, but there are June Parties throughout the whole country. In these parties, expect to see fireworks in a few days, concerts, typical June party dances, and lots of foods.
Festival Folclórico de Parintins (Late June/July) – From Friday to Sunday, thousands of people watch the theatrical parade of boi-bumbá in Parintins, Amazonas. This is a folkloric party about two bulls that represent different religious ideologies.
Rock in Rio (September) – This world-famous festival takes place in Rio de Janeiro. Although it has the word “rock” in its name, lots of pop, funk, and axé singers present here, both national and international artists and bands.
Oktoberfest (October) – Because of the German influence in the South of Brazil, the city of Blumenau in Santa Catarina celebrates Oktoberfest every year.
Brazil travel phrases
- Good morning – Bom dia
- Good afternoon – Boa tarde
- Good night – Boa noite
- Hello, how are you? – Olá, tudo bem?
- See you later – Até logo
- Ok – Tá bom or beleza
- My name is Bruna – Eu me chamo Bruna
- Where is the toilet? – Onde fica o banheiro?
- How much? – Quanto custa?
- Do you speak English? – Você fala inglês?
- I don’t speak Portuguese – Eu não falo Português
- Sorry – Desculpa
- Thank you – Obrigada (women)/Obrigado (men)
Food in Brazil
West Africa and South Europe profoundly influenced Brazil cuisine, which is the result of centuries of slavery and immigration, and here are some of the most traditional Brazilian foods:
- Feijoada – black beans and pork meat stew.
- Churrasco – typical southern barbecue.
- Coxinha – chicken (sometimes with cheese) fried croquette.
- Acarajé com vatapá – fried cassava dough filled with a cream of bread, shrimp, coconut milk, and peanuts.
- Açaí – dark berries served in smoothie bowls, usually with grains and fruits.
- Pastél – thin crust dough with cheese, meat, or other filling fried in vegetable oil.
- Brigadeiro – soft chocolate truffle.
Drinks in Brazil
These are some of the most popular (and delicious) drinks in Brazil.
- Caipirinha – cocktail of local rum (cachaça), lime, and sugar on the rocks.
- Caldo de cana – juice extracted of sugar cane.
- Cerveja – beer is the second national drink, just after caipirinha, and it can be either popular brands, such as original, Brahma, and Skol, or craft beer.
- Batida – cocktail of rum (or vodka) and fruits mixed in a blender.
Brazil travel costs
Unfortunately, Brazil is the 2nd most expensive country in South America, only losing for Chile. Prices here are considerably high on touristic capitals, such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
However, some guided tours to remote areas tend to be pricey too, such as the Amazon River Cruises.
How much does it cost to vacation in Brazil?
Below I’ll describe the average typical costs that you should expect. But again, remember it can be much lower or higher depending on the popularity of where you are going.
Food – Small, family-owned restaurants are usually cheaper. Good sized meals average between R$10-15. On the other hand, the average prices in nicer restaurants range between R$20-40. Grocery shopping isn’t costly, in my opinion — a week worth of food with some drinks averages around R$170.
Accommodation – Most common accommodation types throughout Brazil are hotels or B&B, which I highly prefer in comparison to hostels. Overnight prices in a good hotel, nothing too special, can average between U$50-90, while hostels are naturally cheaper – around U$30-60.
Airbnb is also an option for groups of friends or families traveling together. Prices for a whole apartment range between U$40-90 in São Paulo and U$50-115 in Rio de Janeiro.
Transportation – Metro stations are available in a few of the biggest cities, and a one-way ticket costs about R$5, but usually, the local travel card has integration with some bus lines in a certain period of time. (1 or 2 hours.)
Further out, buses are good options to travel within and between cities. The route São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro is very common among locals, and tickets cost about R$100-230. The difference in price reflects the comfort available on the bus. Personally, I prefer to use Uber for inner-city transportation, which is quite affordable too.
Beer – Usually served in a can or a 355ml bottle, beer in restaurants costs between R$8-13, while a 1l bottle in bars costs about R$10.
Activities – Museums and art institutes cost about R$5-15, but often, they have a free day in the week. Soccer matches can vary a lot depending on the teams playing and your seat, but it starts at R$20. The sky is the limit.
For an Amazon river cruise, expect it to range somewhere between a couple of hundreds of dollars to a thousand. This is based on the length and comfort offered on your trip.
Wrapping up travel Brazil
Brazil is a country of diversity – in food, religion, people, and landscapes. Embrace these differences and plan thoroughly your trip to Brazil to experience a unique country!
Seriously, buy a swimsuit (hey, Brazil beaches are insane!), pack your bags, and chill out. Enjoy the food, the culture, the weather, and Brazilians, of course. That’s what your Brazil trip is all about. About feeling the place.
And it happens to be a place you will love.
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Bruna is founder and writer of I Heart Brazil. She was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, and traveled extensively throughout the country. She studied Economy in college and Brazilian Culture at home. Bruna is an entrepreneur, digital nomad, co-founder, and writer at other three websites.