Getting there & away
For high-season travel, which basically means flying to Brazil between mid-December and the end of February, tickets cost about US$300 more than they do during the rest of the year.
Rio de Janeiro is Brazil’s most popular international gateway, and has many travel agents. For student fares, try the Student Travel Bureau (STB; 0xx21-2512 8577; www.stb.com.br; Rua Visconde de Pirajá 550, Ipanema), which has some 30 branches around the country. Discount agencies in São Paulo include US Tour (0xx11-3815 8262; www.ustour.com.br). Websites with cheap flights include www.passagembarata.net.
The passenger-boat service on the Rio Paraguai between Corumbá (Mato Grosso do Sul) and Asunción (Paraguay) has been discontinued. You might be able to travel this route using a sequence of cargo and/or naval boats, but it would take time and luck.
Fast passenger boats make the 400km trip (US$50 to US$80, eight to 10 hours) along the Rio Amazonas between Iquitos (Peru) and Tabatinga (Brazil). From Tabatinga you can continue 3000km down the river to its mouth.
There’s direct land access to Brazil from nine countries. Several border towns can also be reached by air or river.
International buses travel between Brazil and Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, along decent roads. Prices of bus tickets between countries are substantially more than you’d pay if you took a bus to the border, crossed on foot and caught another on the other side, but you’ll lose a lot of time that way. If arriving by bus, make sure your papers are in order.
At the border you will be asked to sign a bond called a termo de responsabilidade, which lists the owner’s identification details and home address, destination, and description of the vehicle (make, model, year, serial number, color and tag number). You will also be asked to pay a bank guarantee (the amount to be determined by customs) and sign a statement agreeing that if you stay for more than 90 days, you will contact customs in the area where the entry was registered to apply for an extension for the permit. This must be presented to customs at the time of departure. If your vehicle overstays its permitted time in Brazil, it is liable to be seized and the bank guarantee forfeited. It’s illegal to sell the vehicle in Brazil.
The main border point used by travelers is Puerto Iguazú–Foz do Iguaçu, a 20-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires. Further south, you can cross from Paso de los Libres (Argentina) to Uruguaiana (Brazil), which is also served by buses from Buenos Aires.
Brazil’s border with Bolivia is its longest. Most of it runs through remote wetlands and lowland forests, and it’s much-used by smugglers. The main crossings are at Corumbá, Cáceres, Guajará-Mirim and Brasiléia.
Corumbá, opposite the Bolivian town of Quijarro, is the busiest crossing point. Corumbá is a good access point for the Pantanal and has bus connections with São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Campo Grande and southern Brazil. The Bolivian train service between Quijarro and Santa Cruz is known as the Death Train (because of what happens to some of those who attempt to ride free on the roof), but it’s a beautiful ride.
The Bolivian border town of San Matías is 115km southwest of Cáceres in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Cáceres has several daily bus connections with Cuiabá, 215km east. A daily bus runs between Cáceres and Santa Cruz in Bolivia (R$120, 24 hours). The Cáceres–San Matías trip takes two hours (R$30).
Guajará-Mirim, in Rondônia (Brazil), is a short boat ride across the Rio Mamoré from Guayaramerín, Bolivia. Guajará-Mirim has daily bus service to Porto Velho (5½ hours), and buses run between Guayaramerín and the Bolivian towns of Riberalta, Cobija, Trinidad, Santa Rosa, Reyes, Rurrenabaque and La Paz. From late December to late February, rains can make the roads very difficult.
Brasiléia, a 4½-hour bus ride from Rio Branco, in Brazil’s Acre state, stands opposite Cobija, Bolivia, which has bus connections to Riberalta, Guayaramerín and La Paz. This route is less direct than the Guayaramerín–Guajará-Mirim route between Bolivia and Brazil, and buses face the same wet-season difficulties.
Chile does not share a border with Brazil, but direct buses run between Santiago and Brazilian cities such as Curitiba (R$340, 52 hours), Porto Alegre (R$280, 36 hours), São Paulo (R$350, 56 hours) and Rio de Janeiro (R$362, 72 hours).
Leticia, on the Rio Amazonas in far southeast Colombia, is contiguous with Tabatinga, Brazil. You can cross the border by foot, Kombi van or taxi. From within Colombia, Leticia is only really accessible by air. Tabatinga is a quick flight (or a several-day Amazon boat ride) from Manaus or Tefé.
The Brazilian town of Oiapoque, a rugged 560km bus ride north of Macapá (R$130, 12 to 24 hours depending on weather conditions), stands across the Rio Oiapoque from St Georges in French Guiana. An unpaved road from St Georges to Régina, about halfway to the French Guiana capital of Cayenne, was recently cut through the jungle, though you’ll find that travel along it is still arduous. Taxi-buses between Régina and Cayenne cost around US$10. Flights from St Georges to Cayenne cost around US$70.
Lethem, in southwest Guyana and Bonfim, in Brazil’s Roraima state, are a short boat ride apart. You can travel between Lethem and the Guyanese capital of Georgetown by plane or truck. The latter takes between two days and two weeks depending on weather conditions. Bonfim is a two-hour bus ride from Boa Vista, the Roraima state capital.
The two major border crossings are Foz do Iguaçu–Ciudad del Este and Ponta Porã–Pedro Juan Caballero. Use the latter if you’re going to/from the Pantanal. Direct buses run between Asunción and Brazilian cities such as Curitiba (US$40, 14 hours), São Paulo (US$45, 20 hours) and Rio de Janeiro (US$60, 24 hours).
Peru and Brazil share a long border in the Amazon basin, but there are few land routes between them. The most accessible route is at the southeastern end of the border. Iñapari (Peru) is a four-hour minibus or truck ride north of Puerto Maldonado (Peru). From Iñapari, cross the Rio Acre by ferry or bridge to the small Brazilian town of Assis Brasil, which is a three- to four-hour bus trip from Brasiléia.
The crossing most used by travelers is Chuy–Chuí. This is actually one town, with the international border running down the middle of its main street.
Heading west along the border, other crossings are Río Branco–Jaguarão, Isidoro Noblia–Aceguá, Rivera–Santana do Livramento, Artigas–Quaraí and Bella Unión–Barra do Quaraí. Buses link Jaguarão with Pelotas and Santana do Livramento with Porto Alegre.
Roads from northern Venezuela go southeast to Ciudad Bolívar, Ciudad Guayana and Santa Elena de Uairén, on the border near Pacaraíma, Brazil. From here, a paved road heads south to Boa Vista (215km) and Manaus (990km). Buses run to Manaus and Boa Vista from as far north as Venezuela’s Puerto La Cruz. Santa Elena has buses to and from Caracas.
Most travelers start their Brazilian odyssey by flying down to Rio, but this is only one of many ways to arrive. The country has several other gateway airports and land borders with every other country in South America except Chile and Ecuador.
The most popular international gateways are Aeroporto Galeão (GIG) in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo’s Aeroporto Guarulhos (GRU). From both, connecting flights to airports throughout the country leave regularly. Salvador (SSA) and Recife (REC) receive a few direct scheduled flights from Europe.
Since the downsizing of Varig, TAM is now Brazil’s main international carrier, with flights to New York, Miami, Paris, London and seven South American cities. The US Federal Aviation Administration has assessed TAM as Category 1, which means they are in compliance with international aviation standards.
Airlines flying to/from Brazil are listed below. All numbers that begin with 0xx11 numbers are in São Paulo.
Aerolineas Argentinas (AR; 0800-707 3313; www.aerolineas.com.ar; Buenos Aires)
British Airways (BA; 0xx1-4004 4440; www.britishairways.com; London)
Lufthansa (LH; 0xx11-6445 2499; www.lufthansa.com; Frankfurt)
Penta (5P; 0300-789 2029; Belém, Brazil)
Suriname Airways (PY; 0xx91-3210 6284; Paramaribo)
Swissair (LX; 0xx11-3049 2720; www.swiss.com; Zurich)
Lan Chile and several of its codeshare partners (including Qantas) fly from Sydney to São Paulo, stopping in Santiago, Chile; some flights also pass through Auckland. Round-trip fares start at A$2800. If you’re planning a longer trip through Latin America, an open-jaw (into one city, out of another) or even an around-the-world ticket will be your best bet.
Air Canada flies to Brazil, but many routings are with US airlines, involving a change of planes in the US.
A variety of European and Brazilian airlines fly direct to Rio and São Paulo. There are also less-frequent flights connecting Salvador with Madrid (Spanair) and Lisbon (TAP Air Portugal). From Lisbon you can also fly to Recife (TAP Air Portugal) and Fortaleza (TAP Air Portugal).
Fares are pretty similar from starting points across Western Europe, with fares to Rio or São Paulo starting around €800, and usually several hundred euros more for most other destinations.
In addition to flights between South American capitals and the major Brazilian cities, shortish cross-border flights provide alternatives to some overland routes into or out of Brazil.
Meta, a Brazilian regional airline, flies from Georgetown (Guyana), Paramaribo (Suriname) and Cayenne (French Guiana) to Belém and Boa Vista. French Guiana carrier Air Caraïbes also flies between Belém and Cayenne. Puma, a Brazilian carrier, flies from Macapá to Oiapoque, just across the border from St Georges, French Guiana.
From Bolivia, Gol flies from Santa Cruz to Campo Grande. TAM and Aerosur fly from Santa Cruz and Cochabamba to São Paulo. Inside Bolivia, Aerosur and Aerocon fly from other Bolivian cities to Cobija, Guayaramerin and Puerto Suárez, across the border from the Brazilian towns of Brasiléia, Guajará-Mirim and Corumbá respectively.
Varig and British Airways offer direct flights from London. Fares on average range from UK£750 to UK£900. You can often find cheaper fares on flights from Europe. At the time of writing, there were no direct flights from Ireland. The cheapest fares from Dublin are currently with Lufthansa, via Frankfurt.
Nonstop flights to Brazil arrive from New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Atlanta. Prices can range from US$800 to US$1100. If you don’t want to arrive in Rio or São Paulo, you can also fly to Fortaleza and Recife, though you’ll have to connect through São Paulo or Rio.