Let me warn you, this guide is very long. But hopefully, it will answer most of the questions you will run across when planning a trip to Brazil. Throughout the guide I have linked more in-depth articles for you to continue reading. I’ve also linked hotel or restaurant recommendations within the guide directly to google maps to better orient yourself.
Largest country in South America
Brazilians speak Portuguese and it is not uncommon to encounter locals who don't speak any English. Although Spanish is similar to Portuguese don't think you can use it as a replacement.
Do You Need a Visa For Brazil?
Yes - you will most likely need a visa for Brazil. It is not hard to apply and receive the visa (but is slightly expensive). You can read my full article on Brazilian visas here.
Thank you to one of my readers for reaching out about the new Brazilian visa system.
As of yesterday, June 17, 2019, a visa is no longer required to visit from the US.
You can read more here.
Regions in Brazil
Brazil is the fifth largest country on earth - there are many different things to see and do in this large country and understanding the different regions will help you narrow down where you want to travel. The massive country is divided into five main regions, each with its own distinct landscape and culture.
The Amazon is the main draw in this region. Manaus is the largest city and also the gateway to the Anavilhanas and to Jaú National Park.
Considered the countries most beautiful coastline it also has the sunniest and hottest climate. Beware it is also the driest and poorest region. Big cities include Fortaleza - which is the fifth biggest city in Brazil and home to beautiful beaches - and Salvador, the first capital of Brazil and a unique blend of cultures.
Younger new developing cities dominate this region. There are also wetlands and farms across the land. Big cities include Brasilia, the new capital of Brazil.
You will most likely fly into the Southeast region of Brazil. Big cities include São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro which are economic and industrial hubs in their own right.
Check out my full Rio de Janeiro travel guide here.
The South region of Brazil is where you will find Iguazu Falls - a sight you shouldn’t miss when visiting Brazil. The falls share a border with Argentina and contain over 230 waterfalls stretching nearly 3 kilometers. The south region has the highest standard of living. Large cities in this area include Curitiba and Porto Alegre.
What Are Temperatures Like In Brazil?
This is definitely not a one size fits all answer. Brazil is a huge country - literally largest in South America - with many different climates throughout.
In the North, mostly near the equator, you'll find a wet and a dry season in place of the typical seasons most of us think of.
From São Paulo down to the south there is a more common spring/summer/fall/winter.
Throughout the country though, the weather constantly changes and is oftentimes a surprise. It can be scorching hot in the morning, cool down rapidly hours later, only to be very cold at night. Rain showers out of nowhere are quite common. I experienced sunny skies followed by rain and thunder and then back to clear blue skies in the span of 15 minutes.
International Travel - Best airports into Brazil
The largest international airports in Brazil are São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport (Code: CGH) and Rio de Janeiro-Galeão International Airport (Code: GIG). Both airports have many international flights from around the world.
In general, The cheapest airfares you'll find are from February (after Carnival) to May and then less so (but still cheapish) from August to November. If you are traveling from a major hub, like New York or Miami for instance, you'll sometimes find tickets for as low as US$699 including taxes.
Once in Brazil you can fly to many cities via smaller airlines. We flew from Rio to Iguazu Falls - a relatively tiny airport - and had no trouble. We used the regional airline Gol.
Traveling around Brazil
Touring Brazil by Plane
There are a good number of flights connecting all of Brazil through air service. Flights to smaller cities are best bought from large hubs like São Paulo, Rio, or Brasilia. The largest carriers in Brazil are now LATAM (owned by United) and Gol. We flew both while in Brazil and had no complaints.
Traveling Brazil by Car
Brazil has over 1.6 million kilometers of road - the largest network in Latin America. Cars are driven on the right-hand side of the road making it easier on most tourists. Renting a car is readily available at most major airports. Driving is a good option if you want to explore scenic areas and make multiple stops along the way.
You'll find that most roads in Brazil (especially in the east and south and along the coast) are in good to great condition. Do be aware that driving in Brazil can be a scary experience. There are widespread breaches of driving laws and rarely any policing of speed limits and other signage. Running of red lights, reversing in oncoming traffic, and overtaking whenever possible is typical of most drivers in Brazil.
Can you travel Brazil by Train?
I wouldn't recommend it. Brazil's railway system was essentially wrecked during the military regimes. Today there are few passenger lines left. I have no experience with trains in Brazil so I will leave it at that.
Should I get a Brazil Air Pass?
Maybe. It is a good way to save money. Let me explain the system:
If you expect to travel extensively in Brazil and visit various cities you may want to consider getting a Brazil Air Pass. These passes are offered by TAM or Gol. Basically, you purchase between 4 - 9 flight tickets which can be used at any time for any destination within Brazil served by the airline. A 4-ticket pass starts at around $580. A full 9 tickets will set you back over $1000. Both of these prices are in US Dollars. Gol airlines also offers a cheaper flight pass for travel used only throughout the Northeast. All of these passes can only be bought BEFORE arrival into Brazil. In addition, you must provide evidence of international return (or onward travel) trip tickets.
Is Uber in Brazil?
In some Brazilian cities, Uber is available and is a great option. While in Rio we almost exclusively used Uber to get around and found it quite easy to flag down drivers and explore the sprawling metropolis. Most cab drivers in Rio barely spoke English, so Uber made the experience much smoother since our destination was already in the app. We also enjoyed the added safety and peace of mind that comes with using Uber as it pertains to your route.
Best things to see and do in Brazil
More than half of the world's remaining rainforest lies within the North of Brazil. You'll find approximately one billion acres to explore with incredible biodiversity.
Iguazu Falls - also known as Iguaçu Falls
The most famous waterfall in Brazil is Iguazu Falls, which stretches for 3 kilometers and includes over 200 waterfalls total. Iguazu shares a border with Argentina and can be viewed from either side. I visited Iguazu during my time in Brazil and can vouch for how unbelievable beautiful it is. Don't miss it. I have a full guide on everything you need to know to plan a trip to Iguazu here.
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro is the second largest city in Brazil and is located on the South Atlantic coast. You'll probably recognize the famous beaches there: Copacabana and Ipanema. The city is famous for its breathtaking landscape, its laid-back beach culture, and of course the annual festivities surrounding its celebration of carnival.
Also known as the biggest party in the world, Carnival takes places across the country every year in February or early March. It lasts a full week and is celebrated in a wide variety of ways. You'll see giant boneco masks of Olinda and the trios elétricos of Salvador to the massive samba parades of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. You'll want to make any reservations well in advance!
What to pack for a trip to Brazil
If you are heading to Brazil for vacation I have compiled a huge list of things you should be packing. Check it out and save yourself the worry of leaving any essential items behind.
Do I need a converter for Brazil?
Outlets in Brazil usually accept both flat (North American), and round (European) plugs. Be careful because Brazil uses both 110 and 220 volts for everyday appliances. We even saw different voltages within the same building - sometimes even in the same room. There is no physical difference in the electric outlets for the two voltages - but they are usually labeled.
One last thing... even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a travel guide for Brazil along with you. Here are some of the best travel guides I recommend...
And of course, if you have any questions DO NOT hesitate to reach out to me via Instagram, Twitter, or just shoot me an email (tessajuliette at gmail dot com).