Brazil has a reciprocal visa system. If you are arriving from a country that requires Brazilians to have a visa to travel to your country, then you are required to obtain a visa to enter Brazil. These countries include the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Citizens of the UK, Ireland, South Africa and most European Union nations are not required to have a visa. In order to obtain a visa, you should look up the website of the Brazilian consulate closest to where you live, which should have information on that office’s requirements for obtaining the visa. The visa must be obtained in person, but you can hire a visa service to handle the details and appear for you to obtain it. This generally involves filling out a form and then mailing your passport to the visa service; they will obtain the visa at the consulate and then mail the passport back to you. There are numerous passport and visa service companies, which you can see by googling “Brazil visa.”
Upon entrance to Brazil all tourists are required to fill out a cartao de entrada/saida or entrance/exit card. The immigration officials will keep one half of the card while you keep the other half, which you will then give to the immigration officials upon your departure. Please keep this card in a safe place so as not to lose it. The international airport departure tax for Brazil is approximately $36 (subject to change).
For more information, visit the Department of State´s website and choose Brazil: http://travel.state.gov/travel/
In Rio the summer months can be quite humid with temperatures reaching into the mid 80’s, and this is the wettest time of year. Most of the precipitation during the summer months comes in the form of quick downpours lasting 1-2 hours before clearing up. During the winter months the temperatures drop a bit to the mid 70s, with a mix of rain and sun. These weather conditions hold true for much of Brazil’s coast line north of Rio, with slightly higher temperatures in the northern cities such as Salvador, Recife and Fortaleza.
In Sao Paulo and to the south the weather has a larger variation in the climate, with winter month temperatures often falling into the 40s and 50s.
The Amazon and Pantanal receive the most rain, with high precipitation throughout most of the year and temperatures consistently in the 80s and 90s in the Amazon and slightly lower than that in the Pantanal. The Pantanal and Amazon generally experience a dry period from around July to September, when there is significantly less rain.
Iguazu has a sub-tropical climate, and is surrounded by rainforest, with temperatures varying from the 60s and 70s (June and July) up into the 80s and 90s (December and January). It is also an area of high precipitation. April to July is the period of least rain, and during this time the falls can diminish in size.
For more detailed information including up to date weather forecasts in all the major cities in Brazil, please visit the following website: http://www.accuweather.com/en/br/brazil-weather
Laundry Service: All hotels have laundry service, with the exception of some jungle lodges, which generally do not provide laundry services.
Other essential gear:
Medical Kit Suggestions
Photo and Video Equipment
You will receive local contact information, including 24 hour emergency contact numbers, with your Final Itinerary.
U.S. Embassy in Brazil Contact Information
Address: SES 801 – Avenida das Nacoes, Lote 3, Brasilia, Brazil
Emergency after-hours telephone: 011-55-61-3312-7400
Vaya Adventures Contact Information
Phone: (510) 548-8487
After hours: (510) 809-6261
Bringing your smartphone
If you plan to bring a smartphone to use for making calls while traveling, you should contact your carrier prior to travel to let them know and find out if they have any traveler plans that provide discounted roaming rates in the countries you will be visiting. Without some type of discounted plan, roaming fees can be very high, and the phone settings (specifically whether you have the phone set up just for Wi-Fi or also for roaming) can make a huge difference in the costs you will incur. Your specific carrier should be able to give you detailed information about how to avoid costly roaming rates and how to adjust the settings on your particular smartphone.
You can make local calls from your hotel or from local telephone calling centers, which can be found in the major tourist areas and larger towns. You will get considerably better rates at the calling centers. You can ask at any hotel where they are located and they will be able to tell you. Pre-paid calling cards are also available in many convenience stores and can be a convenient way to avoid needing change to make calls.
The cost of making international calls from your hotel can be very high, often $5 a minute or more. You will get much better rates at the local telephone calling centers, which you will be able to find in the larger towns and tourist centers. You can make collect calls back to the U.S. from almost any phone by dialing an international operator. Again, these rates will probably be very high. If you are bringing a laptop or even just a Wi-Fi enabled smartphone, probably the easiest way to call back to the U.S. is via Skype. You should set up your account prior to traveling and be sure you have some credit on it; you can then make calls through any Wi-Fi network. If you don’t have a computer or smartphone with Wi-Fi, probably the best option is to ask at your hotel or in a store where the closest calling center is if you plan to make many international calls. If you speak some Spanish, another good option if you plan to make a lot of international calls is to buy an international pre-paid calling card (rates are generally very low). These can be purchased in many convenience stores or magazine kiosks and then used at payphones to call internationally (though instructions will usually only be in Spanish).
Fax machines are generally available at hotels and businesses. Just ask at the hotel for the closest available fax.
Internet access is readily available in all the tourist areas and larger population centers, and at most hotels they now provide free internet access and have computers available in common areas for guests to use (so you generally don’t need to bring a laptop if all you want to do is check your email online).
Generally, Brazil is a safe place to travel. The most common ailment to affect travelers to any destination in South or Central America is traveler’s diarrhea, and while it is a less common occurrence in Brazil than in some other South American countries, it can still occur. The best way to avoid it is to be careful about what you eat. Some basic rules:
For additional information about health issues in specific places, including recommended vaccinations and inoculations, you can visit www.tripprep.com, a non-governmental site that contains health related information on other nations. Another option is the website of the Center for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov. Please keep in mind that the CDC errs on the side of caution, and that there may be varying opinions on the need for specific vaccinations and inoculations. The standard immunizations for typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, and polio are generally recommended for travel to South and Central America. You may already have received these shots or boosters and don’t need them. If you have any doubts, you should visit a travel health specialist and begin to have all of your vaccinations recorded on an International Health Certificate.
Note: If you are traveling to the Amazon please go through the links provided above or visit a tropical medicine specialist to find out what current vaccinations they recommend or may be required.
We strongly recommend that all of our travelers purchase travel insurance. Travel insurance can help cover many things, including baggage loss, missed connections, trip interruption, and medical emergency (including medical evacuation costs), resulting from a wide variety of circumstances, including illness or extreme weather that results in the cancellation of your trip. It can also help protect you in the event of loss of non-refundable trip deposits and payments that result from cancellation or trip interruption. Families traveling together, in particular, can benefit from traveler’s insurance, due to the high investment in the trip and the increased risk of one person’s illness resulting in the entire trip being cancelled. There are many companies that provide trip insurance. We offer insurance through Allianz, and their most popular plan is the Classic Plan. You can view details of this plan by clicking on this link: Allianz Classic Plan, or by visiting the Allianz website at www.allianztravelinsurance.com.
In restaurants, a 10% tip is customary. Cabs do not generally expect tips, but rounding off fares upward is fairly typical or tipping a small amount of $1 or so if they help you with your bags. In Brazil, tipping in US dollars is generally not recommended unless it is an international restaurant or hotel.
Guides/drivers: If you have a private guide for a full day, an average tip would be somewhere in the range of $10-$12 per day, per person. It can be less, it can be more, but this is a typical range. If you go on a shorter trip of a half day, the tip would basically be proportional to what proportion of the day you spent with the guide. If half a day, $5-$8 per person would be a typical range. If there are additional people involved, drivers, crew of a boat, etc., you may want to give them something as well. About 1/3 of what you give the guide himself would be an appropriate benchmark for each of these individuals. For families with children, we suggest giving 50% of the normal per person amount for each child. This is completely at your discretion and you should give what you feel comfortable giving.
A Death in Brazil, by Peter Robb. Written by a man who has spent over 20 years in Brazil, Robb delves into Brazil’s history while including many of his own more recent experiences and travels.
Through the Brazilian Wilderness, by Theodore Roosevelt. An account of a 9 month expedition up a previously unexplored tributary of the Amazon by the former president in 1914. Not a literary masterpiece but makes for interesting reading.
Rebellion in the Backlands, by Euclides de Cunha. Recommended. Published in 1902, a Brazilian classic that is part anthropology, part geology, part history, and part sociology. It tells the incredible story of the Canudos rebellion that took place in northeast Brazil in the late 19th century.
The War of the End of the World, by Mario Vargas Llosa. An historical novel by the renowned Peruvian author that tells the story of the Canudos rebellion.
Traveler’s Tales Brazil, edited by Anette Haddad. A collection of stories, articles and excerpts on Brazil. A good introduction to the people, culture and traditions of the country as seen through the eyes of modern writers.
Gabriela, Clove & Cinnamon, by Jorge Amado. A comic novel set in the 1920s on the frontier cacao plantations in the area of Bahia. Jorge Amado is probably Brazil’s best known novelist; another well known title of his is Dona Flor and Her Two Sisters. The novels have a certain soap opera quality but are entertaining, and shed light on many aspects of Brazilian society.
The Brazilians, by Joseph Page. An overview of the country, covering politics, history, economics, culture, and character. Comprehensive, but a bit on the long side at almost 600 pages.
The Lost City of Z, by David Grann. A history of the Amazon expeditions of legendary explorer Percy Fawcett, as well as the many people who followed in his footsteps trying to find El Dorado. Highly recommended for anyone going to the Amazon.
1491, New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann. A former best-seller that covers the recent and surprising theories among anthropologists and archeologists on the size and nature of pre-Columbian societies in the Americas.
Prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in 1500, Brazil had been inhabited by a variety of indigenous tribal peoples, descendants of the original settlers of the Americas who are believed to have arrived by way of the Bering Strait between 10 and 20,000 years ago. Unlike some other pre-Columbian civilizations that established empires and monumental architecture, it is generally believed that the early inhabitants of Brazil were in large part semi-nomadic and never developed large urban centers, written records, or monumental architecture. There is very little in the way of archaeological remains that could provide insight into the history of Brazil prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in 1500. Some newer research suggests that perhaps the number of people and level of organization of the pre-Columbian societies in Brazil was much greater than previously thought (an interesting book on this subject is 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann).
The Arrival of the Portuguese
The first Europeans to arrive to Brazil were the Portuguese, led by Pedro Alvares Cabral, on April 22nd, 1500. Cabral arrived with a fleet of 13 ships, carrying some 1200 men. The historical accounts vary as to how Cabral ended up landing in Brazil. One version is that he had been sent out with orders to exert Portuguese dominance and rule over the trade routes from India, and had drifted westward off course while trying to get to the Cape of Good Hope. Another possibility is that he set out from the start with a secret commission from the Portuguese crown to try to discover new lands south of those already discovered by the Spanish. Cabral and his men set anchor off the shores of Brazil in 1500 and were received quite well by the native population. After erecting a large wooden cross made of native trees, the Portuguese loaded their ships with fresh water, fruit, and firewood, and departed just ten days after arriving in hopes of exploiting the spice, ivory and diamond markets of Asia and Africa. Over the next three decades only a few trading posts were put in place by the Portuguese, mainly to export wood (which contained a much prized red dye) back to Europe. It was this red dye and the tree that produced it that eventually gave Brazil its name (from the Brazilwood tree). In 1531 King John III of Portugal decided it was time to impose more order on the vast territory, and he sent off a convoy of 400 settlers under the leadership of Martin Afonso de Sousa.
Martin Afonson de Sousa was charged with the tasks of driving out any French settlers, exploring and mapping the territory, and founding permanent Portuguese settlements. The first two tasks were realized quite quickly while the third remained quite a challenge. After establishing a colony in the north named Bahia and two in the south, one near Santos and the other near Sao Paulo, King John III did not see how these colonies, separated by some 1500 miles, could possibly survive. To more thoroughly colonize Brazil, the King divided the coast into 15 captaincies, awarding lands to various Portuguese nobles who would rule over the land and help to develop the territory for Brazil. Progress was difficult due to the climate and continuing clashes with natives as well as with recent Dutch and French settlers. In 1549 the king sent Tome de Sousa to be the first governor of Brazil and to centralize authority. Sousa founded Salvador as his base, and that city remained the capital of Brazil until 1763 when it was changed to Rio de Janeiro.
Starting in the 17th century, sugarcane, grown in plantations known as engenhos along the northeast coast, became the basis of Brazil’s economy and led the way to the African slave trade. After failing to enslave the local population to work these plantations, Portuguese land owners turned to Africa, importing approximately 4 million slaves over the next two hundred years. Some estimate that as much as 40% of the overall African slave trade went to Brazil. Long before the end of slavery in 1888 this large African population began to merge with the European population.
Throughout the 17th century both the French and Dutch challenged Portugal’s power in Brazil, though neither was able to exert permanent control over any territory.
In 1808, fleeing from Napolean during the Peninsular War, the Portuguese court moved to its then colony of Brazil, setting up in Rio de Janeiro. For 13 years King John IV ruled his empire from afar, and came to enjoy Brazil so much that he stayed for several years after it was already safe to return. Eventually, he felt the need to return as it became too difficult to administer the empire from afar. With his departure, he left his eldest son Pedro behind to rule over Brazil. In Brazilian lore, only a year later Pedro pulled out his sword and cried “Independencia ou morte!” (Independence or death), and with that declared Brazil’s independence and himself Emperor. Dom Pedro proved to be an incompetent leader and after just 9 years was forced to flee, returning to Portugal and leaving his 5 year old son behind to rule. His son was formally acclaimed emperor in 1840 at the age of 14. Emperor Pedro II ruled until 1889 when he was ousted by a coup which instituted the Brazilian republic.
From 1889 to 1930, Brazil was ruled by its first de facto president, and the country changed its name to the United States of Brazil. From 1930-1964, the country was governed by alternating dictatorial and democratic rule. The general instability eventually led to a military coup and a despotic junta that governed the country from 1964 to 1985. During this time inequality and political repression increased greatly, as did the national debt. In 1985, Tancredo Neves was elected president in an indirect election, returning Brazil to civilian rule, which has lasted to the current day. Dilma Rousseff, the former Minister of Energy under Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was elected president in 2011 becoming the first woman to lead the Republic. Brazil’s economy has shown remarkable growth in the last few years, in both agricultural exports and high tech industries such as aircraft production.
Brazil has a population of approximately 180 million people and is the most populous country in South America. Approximately 6% of the population is over 65 years of age and about 30% of the population is under 15 years of age. Sao Paulo has a population approaching 20 million, making it one of the largest cities in the world. Rio de Janeiro has a population of just over 10 million and is Brazil’s second largest city. Most of the population is concentrated in the southern Atlantic regions of the country and the nearby inland areas. Vast areas of the north and west of the country are very sparsely populated.
Brazilians are mostly descendants of colonial and post-colonial Portuguese settlers and immigrants, African slaves and Brazil’s indigenous peoples, along with several other groups of immigrants who arrived in Brazil mostly from the 1820s until the 1970s. Most of the immigrants were Italians and Portuguese, but also significant numbers of Germans, Spaniards, Japanese, as well as smaller numbers of Lebanese and Syrians.
Section of town: Santa Teresa
Address: Rua Aprazível 62
Description: Ana Castilho has been running this restaurant out of her home since 1996 after hosting a community event. She serves up a variety of great Brazilian dishes, with an emphasis on tropical flavors. Great views of the older sections of Rio, in a charming, comfortable atmosphere.
Section of town: Santa Teresa
Address: Rua Almirante Alexandrino 264
Description: great location with a patio overlooking the hillsides of Santa Teresa; combines traditional Brazilian dishes with modern updates and also emphasizes Amazonian cuisine.
ZaZa Bistro Tropical
Section of town: Ipanema/Leblon
Address: Rua Joana Angelica 40
Description: A funky place, very well-liked for creative dishes reflecting South American roots with Asian influences. Colorful, fun.
Section of town: Copacabana, Copacabana Hotel
Address: Av. Atlântica 1702
Description: Known as one of Rio’s best restaurants, Cipriani serves northern Italian Cuisine. Good for a special occasion, more formal.
Section of town: Centro
Address: Rua Uruguaiana 226
Description: A café/deli/lunch spot this is a good place to stop if you are exploring the center of Rio de Janeiro, as much for the atmosphere as for the food. Around since 1907, it’s an institution.
Section of town: Botafogo
Address: Rua Visconde de Caravelas 113
Description: A Brazilian bistro that put its owner into the ranks of the celebrity chefs. One option is a tasting menu, where you can try many different dishes.
Walking around in Ipanema and Leblon: One good option is to walk the streets and beachfront of Ipanema and Leblon (particularly Ipanema). It’s a quieter and more pleasant area than Copacabana. A fairly compact area, it’s great for a couple hours of strolling to see the stores and the beach scene and the different crowds that gather at the different “Postos” (lifeguard stands). Each one has its own type of crowd as you go down the beach (you can walk on the wide, pleasant, mosaic covered walkway the entire length of the beach). The commercial area of Ipanema and Leblon is just a few short blocks in from the beach and is also a pleasant place to walk around, window shop, people watch, and browse. There are a good number of cafes and restaurants in this area as well.
Botanical Garden: The Jardim Botanico (Botanical Garden) is a worthwhile place to visit. It’s a sprawling place containing over 5,000 varieties of plans, and was designed in 1808. A popular family place on weekends, it’s also a good spot to see locals enjoying a day out.
Niteroi: Across the bay from Rio de Janeiro and home to a modern art museum designed by Brazil’s most famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer (who designed the capital of Brasilia), this island is accessible by ferry from Rio de Janeiro. The museum is more noteworthy for the building than the collection, but they do sometimes have good traveling exhibitions and the building itself and views of Rio are exceptional.
Samba: for a night out to see some live music, where you can see locals mixing with tourists, a good option is the Carioca de Gema in Lapa (close to downtown Rio). It’s a fairly small place and it generally turns into a dance party. If you want to see live music, the best thing to do is talk to your local guide about what is playing where on the nights you are in town. In general, the places for live music and dancing are clustered in Lapa. This is a bohemian area with a very wide mix of people in the clubs and on the streets, so it’s good to know where you are going rather than just strolling around. There are also music venues in Copacabana and Leblon, and if you are interested in any particular type of music it is good to speak to the local guides to see what is available during your travel dates.
Futebol (Soccer): Rio is home to one of the world’s most famous soccer stadiums, the Maracana, which once hosted 200,000 fans when Brazil hosted the world cup. It is possible to go to games and if there is one in town at the time you are there, it’s a pretty incredible thing to witness. You should speak with your local guide about the options for going to games and he or she can help you get tickets. In general, travelers go to the game as a group and sit together. Highly recommended if you get the chance.