Accessible Travel

Travelers in wheelchairs don’t have an easy time in Brazil, but in the large cities there is a concerted effort to keep people mobile. Problems you’ll encounter include immensely crowded public buses, and restaurants with entrance steps. It pays to plan your trip through contact with some of the relevant organizations.

Rio is probably the most accessible city in Brazil for disabled travelers to get around in, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. The metro system has electronic wheelchair lifts, but these aren’t always operational. The streets and sidewalks along the main beaches have curb cuts and are wheelchair accessible, but most other areas do not have cuts. Many restaurants also have entrance steps. For transport around Rio, contact Coop Taxi.

Most of the newer hotels have wheelchair-accessible rooms, and some cable TV is closed captioned.

Useful Organizations

The Centro de Vida Independente can provide advice for those with disabilities about travel in Brazil.

Those in the USA may like to contact the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality, whose website is a resource for travelers with disabilities. Another website to check out is www.access-able.com.

Bargaining

A little bargaining for hotel rooms should become second nature. Before you agree to take a room, ask for a better price. ‘Tem desconto?’ (Is there a discount?) and ‘Pode fazer um melhor preço?’ (Can you give a better price?) are the phrases to use. There’s sometimes a discount for paying à vista (cash).

You should also bargain when shopping in markets, and if you’re about to ride in unmetered taxis, arrange the price before departing.

Dangers & Annoyances

Brazil receives a lot of bad press about its violence and high crime rate. Use common sense and take general precautions applicable throughout South America:

  • Carry only the minimum cash needed plus a fat-looking wad to hand over to would-be thieves.
  • Dress down, leave the jewelry at home and don’t walk around flashing iPhones, iPads and other expensive electronics.
  • Be alert and walk purposefully. Criminals home in on dopey, hesitant, disoriented-looking individuals.
  • Use ATMs inside buildings. Before doing so, be very aware of your surroundings. Thieves case ATMs and exchange bureaus.
  • Check windows and doors of your room for security, and don’t leave anything valuable lying around.
  • Don’t take anything unnecessary to city beaches (bathing suit, towel, small amount of cash – nothing else!).
  • After dark, don’t ever walk along empty streets, in deserted parks or on urban beaches.

Scams & Robbery Techniques

Distraction is a common tactic employed by street thieves. The aim is to throw potential victims off guard so that they’re easier prey. It may be something as simple as asking you for a cigarette or a light so that you slow down and take your attention off other people around you.

There have also been reports of druggings, including spiked drinks. While you’re temporarily unconscious or semiconscious as a result of some noxious substance being slipped into your beverage, you’re powerless to resist thieves. If you start to feel unaccountably dizzy, disoriented, fatigued or just mentally vacant not long after imbibing, your drink may have been spiked. If you suspect this to be the case, call for help, quickly extricate yourself from the situation and try to get to a safe place – your hotel room.

Exercise extreme caution when someone you don’t know and trust offers you a drink of any kind or even cigarettes, sweets etc. If the circumstances make you suspicious, the offer can be tactfully refused by claiming stomach or other medical problems.

Cut-rate Tour Operators & Touts

In Manaus, Cuiabá and other parts of the Amazon and the Pantanal, there’s a major problem with freelancers and shady operators selling cut-rate tours that turn out to be ecologically unsound, awful and/or unsafe. As a rule, never book a tour (or even accept help) from someone who approaches you unsolicited at the airport or on the street. Go directly to the offices in town, or book on websites ahead of time.

Government Travel Advice

The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on the security situation in Brazil and elsewhere.

Electricity

  • The electrical current is not standardized in Brazil and can be almost anywhere between 110V and 220V. The most common power points have two sockets, and most will take both round and flat prongs. Carry a converter and use a surge protector with electrical equipment.

Embassies & Consulates

Emergency & Important Numbers

Brazil country code55
Ambulance192
Fire193
Police190
International collect call0800-703-2111

Entry & Exit Formalities

Immigration and customs formalities are fairly straightforward, though you'll want to be sure to have your visa in order if you're from a country (like the USA, Canada or Australia) that needs it.

Customs Regulations

Travelers entering Brazil can bring in 2L of alcohol, 400 cigarettes, and one personal computer, video camera and still camera. Newly purchased goods worth up to US$500 are permitted duty-free. Meat and cheese products are not allowed.

Passports

By law you must carry a passport with you at all times, but many travelers opt to carry a photocopy (preferably certified) when traveling about town and to leave their passport securely locked up at their hotel.

Visas

Required for some nationalities, including Americans, Canadians and Australians.

Entry & Exit Cards

On entering Brazil, all tourists must fill out a cartão de entrada/saida (entry/exit card); immigration officials will keep half, you keep the other. They will also stamp your passport and, if for some reason they are not granting you the usual 90-day stay in Brazil, the number of days you are allowed to stay will be written in your passport.

When you leave Brazil, the second half of the entry/exit card will be taken by immigration officials. Don’t lose your card while in Brazil, as it could cause hassles and needless delays when you leave.

Extensions to Entry & Exit Cards & Visas

Brazil’s Polícia Federal, who have offices in the state capitals and border towns, handle visa extensions for those nationalities allowed to extend (Schengen region passport holders, for example, must leave for 90 days before re-entering for a second 90-days – extending is not an option).

Insurance

A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a good idea. The policies handled by STA Travel and other student-travel organizations are usually good value. Some policies offer lower and higher medical-expense options; the higher ones are chiefly for countries such as the USA that have extremely high medical costs. There is a wide variety of policies available, so check the fine print.

Some policies specifically exclude ‘dangerous activities,’ which can include scuba diving, motorcycling and even hiking.

You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than you having to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later, make sure you keep all documentation.

Check that the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home.

Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings. You can buy, extend and claim online any time – even if you’re already on the road.

Checking insurance quotes…

Internet Access

Many hostels and hotels, as well as some cafes and restaurants, provide wi-fi access (indicated in this book with the icon W). It's usually free, although pricier hotels sometimes charge for it.

Internet cafes are slowly disappearing, though you can usually find at least one in most destinations. Most places charge between R$5 and R$10 an hour.

LGBT Travellers

Brazilians are pretty laid-back when it comes to most sexual issues, and homosexuality is more accepted here than in any other part of Latin America. That said, the degree to which you can be out in Brazil varies greatly by region, and in some smaller towns discrimination is prevalent.

Rio is the gay capital of Latin America, though São Paulo and to a lesser extent Salvador also have lively scenes. Gay bars in Brazil are all-welcome affairs attended by GLS (Gays, Lesbians e Simpatizantes), a mixed heterosexual and homosexual crowd far more concerned with dancing and having a good time than anything else.

There is no law against homosexuality in Brazil, and the age of consent is 18, the same as for heterosexuals.

Maps

The best maps in Brazil are the Quatro Rodas series. These good regional maps (Norte, Nordeste etc) are available throughout Brazil. Quatro Rodas also publishes the Atlas Rodoviário road atlas, useful if you’re driving, as well as excellent street atlases for the main cities.

Media

  • The biggest Portuguese-language daily newspapers are Jornal do Brasil (www.jbonline.com.br) and O Globo (www.globo.com.br), both from Rio, and O Estado de São Paulo and Folha de São Paulo, out of São Paulo. The weekly Veja is a current-affairs magazine, and in Rio and São Paulo it comes with a good pullout guide to what’s happening locally. For English-language news in Rio, check out the Rio Times (www.riotimesonline.com).
  • TV programming revolves around sports, comedy shows and the nightly telenovelas (soap operas). O Globo is the largest nationwide TV network.
  • Brazil uses the PAL system for video/DVD.

Money

ATMs widely available. Credit cards accepted in most hotels and restaurants.

ATMs

ATMs are the easiest way of getting cash in big cities and are common. In many smaller towns, ATMs exist but don’t always work for non-Brazilian cards. Make sure you have a four-digit PIN (longer PINs may not work). In general, Citibank, Banco do Brasil and Bradesco are the best ATMs to try.

Cash

It might be handy to keep cash in reserve, though you’ll want to be exceptionally cautious when traveling with it. Cash should be in US dollars or euros.

Credit Cards

You can use credit cards for many purchases and to make cash withdrawals from ATMs and banks. Visa is the most widely accepted card, followed by MasterCard. Amex and Diners Club cards are less useful. Visa cash advances are widely available, even in small towns with no other currency-exchange facilities; you’ll need your passport, and the process can be time consuming, especially at the ubiquitous but bureaucratic Banco do Brasil.

Tipping

In restaurants the 10% service charge will usually be included in the bill.

On jungle trips, it’s customary to tip your guide at the end, and certainly appreciated if you can give a little to the assistant or boat operator(s).

Tipping is also optional for low-wage earners such as hotel housekeepers, juice-bar baristas, beach vendors, hair stylists and shoe shiners.

Parking assistants receive no wages and are dependent on tips, usually R$2 or more.

Most people round up taxi fares to the nearest real, but tipping is not expected.

Fraud Warning

Credit-card and ATM fraud is widespread in Brazil, especially in the Northeast. Card cloning (Clonagem in Portuguese) is the preferred method: an entrepreneurial opportunist sticks a false card reader into an ATM that copies your card and steals the PIN when you come along and withdraw money. Shazam! A few hours later, $1500 disappears from your account in Recife while you and your card are safe and sound sipping caipirinhas on the beach in Natal!

To combat fraud, restaurants will bring the credit-card machine to your table or ask you to accompany them to the cashier to run a credit-card transaction. Never let someone walk off with your card. Other tips:

  • Use high-traffic ATMs inside banks during banking hours only.
  • Always cover the ATM keypad when entering personal codes.
  • Avoid self-standing ATMs whenever possible and never use an ATM that looks tampered with.

Exchange Rates

ArgentinaR$1R$0.42
AustraliaA$1R$2.83
BoliviaB$1R$0.56
CanadaC$1R$2.98
Euro zone€1R$4.45
Japan¥100R$3.28
New ZealandNZ$1R$2.52
UKUK£1R$6.11
USAUS$1R$3.94

Opening Hours

Banks 9am–3pm Monday to Friday

Restaurants noon–2.30pm and 6–10:30pm

Cafes 8am–10pm

Bars 6pm–2am

Nightclubs 10pm–4am Thursday to Saturday

Shops 9am–6pm Monday to Friday and 9am–1pm Saturday

Public Holidays

April 19, the Dia do Índio (Indigenous Day), is not a national holiday but is nevertheless marked by festivities in indigenous villages around the country.

  • New Year’s Day January 1
  • Carnaval February/March (the two days before Ash Wednesday)
  • Good Friday & Easter Sunday March/April
  • Tiradentes Day April 21
  • May Day/Labor Day May 1
  • Corpus Christi late May/June (60 days after Easter Sunday)
  • Independence Day September 7
  • Day of NS de Aparecida October 12
  • All Souls’ Day November 2
  • Proclamation of the Republic November 15
  • Christmas Day December 25

Telephone

Domestic Calls

You can make domestic calls – intercity or local – from normal card pay phones on the street and in telephone offices. The phone cards you need are sold in denominations of 20 to 100 units (costing between R$5 and R$20) by vendors and at newsstands and anywhere you see advertising cartões telefônicos.

For calls within the city you’re in, just slide the card into the phone, then check the readout to see if it’s given you proper credit, and dial the eight-digit number. Local fixed-line phone calls cost only a few units.

For calls to other cities, you need to precede the number with 0, then the code of your selected carrier, then the two or three digits representing the city area code. City codes are therefore usually given in the format 0xx-digit-digit, with the ‘xx’ representing the carrier code. A long-distance call usually eats up between five and 10 phonecard units per minute.

You need to include the city code (0xx-digit-digit) when calling to another city, even if that city has the same city code as the one you’re calling from.

To make a chamada a cobrar (intercity collect) call, stick a 9 in front of the 0xx. To make a local collect call, dial 9090 and then the number. A recorded message in Portuguese will ask you to say your name and the name of the state where you’re calling from, after the beep.

Brazilian City Codes & Carriers

Brazil has several rival long-distance telephone carriers. When making a long-distance call (either between cities or internationally), you have to select a carrier and include its two-digit código de prestadora (code) in the number you dial. Brazilian city codes are commonly quoted with an xx representing the carrier code, eg 0xx21 for Rio de Janeiro or 0xx71 for Salvador.

This construction may look complicated, but in practice it’s straightforward. For one thing, you can use the main carriers, Embratel (21) or Oi Telemar (31) for any call; for another, other major carriers usually have their names and codes widely displayed in their localities, particularly on public phones.

For example, to call from Rio de Janeiro to Fortaleza (city code 0xx85), in the state of Ceará, you dial 0 followed by 21, 23, 31 or 85 (the codes of the four carriers that cover both Rio and Ceará), followed by 85 for Fortaleza, followed by the number.

For an international call, dial 00 followed by either 21, 23 or 31 (the international carriers), followed by the country code, city code and number.

International Calls

Brazil’s country code is 55. When calling internationally to Brazil, omit the initial 0xx of the area code.

For international a cobrar (collect) calls, secure a Brazilian international operator by dialing 0800-703-2111 (Embratel).

Mobile Phones

Local SIM cards can be used in unlocked European and Australian phones, and in US phones on the GSM network.

Useful Telephone Phrases

I would like to make an international call to… Quero fazer uma ligação internacional para…

I would like to reverse the charges. Quero fazê-la a cobrar.

I am calling from a public (private) telephone in Rio de Janeiro. Estou falando dum telefone público (particular) no Rio de Janeiro.

My name is… Meu nôme é…

The area code is… O código é…

The number is… O número é…

Time

Brazil has four time zones:

Most of the country is GMT/UTC minus three hours. This includes Rio, São Paulo, the South, Northeast, Brasília and half of the Amazon.

Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul and most of the Amazon are one hour behind Brasília time (GMT/UTC minus four hours).

A tiny part of Amazonas state and all of Acre are two hours behind Brasília time (GMT/UTC minus five hours).

The Fernando de Noronha archipelago is one hour ahead of Brasília time (GMT/UTC minus two hours).

Brazilian daylight-saving time runs from mid-October to mid-February, during which period clocks are advanced one hour – but only in the Southeast, South and Central West.

Toilets

Public toilets are not common but can be found at every bus station and airport in most cities and towns; there’s usually a charge of around R$0.50 to R$1. People will generally let you use the toilets in restaurants and bars. As in other Latin American countries, toilet paper isn’t flushed. There’s usually a basket next to the toilet to put paper in.

Tourist Information

Tourist offices in Brazil are a mixed bag. Some offices have dedicated, knowledgeable staff, and others have little interest in helping tourists.

Embratur (www.visitbrasil.com), the Brazilian tourism institute, provides limited online resources.

Travel With Children

Long distances in Brazil can make family travel challenging, but the rewards are considerable: endless fun on sun-kissed beaches, walks in rainforests, boat and train rides, and abundant wildlife-watching opportunities. Best of all is the warm reception from Brazilians themselves – who go out of their way to make kids feel welcome.

Best Regions for Kids

Rio de Janeiro state

Funicular rides and scenic views in Rio city, island-exploring on vehicle-free Ilha Grande, wandering cobblestone streets and taking schooner cruises off Paraty. You can even get a taste of mountain scenery in Parque Nacional do Itatiaia, and visit imperial sites in Petrópolis.

Minas Gerais

Time-travel to the 18th century in the colonial mountain town of Ouro Preto, which is near an old gold mine you can visit. You can also ride an old steam train from São João del Rei to Tiradentes. Don't miss the Santuário do Caraça to take swims in waterfalls and see the maned wolf come in at night.

Bahia

Lots of great food, music and street entertainment in Salvador. Catch the hydrofoil to car-free Morro de São Paulo for pretty beaches, a zipline and panoramic views from a hilltop lighthouse. Head inland for the canyons, waterfalls and swimming holes of Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina.

Brazil for Kids

Brazil is a family-friendly country that has a wide range of attractions for kids. Travel here with kids does require some advance planning, but most Brazilians will do their best to make sure children are well looked after.

Children’s Highlights

Top Picks for Children & Families

Coastal Highlights

Ilha Grande (west of Rio de Janeiro) A tropical rainforest-covered island, an old abandoned prison, boat trips, snorkeling, lovely beaches, howler monkeys – and all of it completely free from traffic.

Balneário Camboriú (Santa Catarina) This resort town has many attractions for kids, including an aerial tram, beaches and a roller coaster, all with proximity to the Beto Carrero World amusement park.

Porto Belo (Santa Catarina) Another laid-back resort spot in the South, Porto Belo has lovely snorkeling, plus a scenic nature reserve and eco-museum at an island just offshore.

Arraial d’Ajuda (Bahia) This low-key beach-lovers' town has the usual coastal attractions, plus you can rent a buggy for exploring sandy coastal paths around the area.

Jungle Highlights

Foz do Iguaçu & Around (Paraná) The thundering waterfalls are quite family-friendly, with discount entry for kids, and kids stay and eat free all over town; there are also various wildlife adventures and boating activities.

Serra Verde Express (Paraná) This memorable train ride traverses lush forests with sweeping views down to the coast.

Bonito (Mato Grosso do Sul) Bonito has caves, lush rainforests, tree-top canopy walks and crystal-clear rivers that you snorkel down.

Planning

For general advice on traveling with young ones, see Lonely Planet's Travel with Children. Don't forget to arrange visas (if needed) before you depart.

What to Bring

If you plan on renting a car, bring your own car seats with you as availability is unreliable with most rental agencies.

Diapers (nappies) are widely available in Brazil. You may not easily find creams, baby foods or familiar medicines if you are outside larger cities. Bring insect repellent, sunscreen and other essentials, as prices for these things, are much higher here.

Baby food is available in most supermarkets.

When to Go

To beat the worst of the crowds, but still enjoy warm beach weather, plan on coming from November through January or late March and April.

Accommodation

Children under five typically stay free. Under 12s often pay half price. Cribs (cots) are not always available, so have an alternative plan before arriving.

Babysitters are readily available in most hotels.

Health & Safety

If you are planning a trip outside of the main coastal cities, you'll need to enquire about vaccines and anti-malarial medications (particularly for the Amazon).

Eating Out

Dining out isn't usually a problem, even for fussy eaters. Ubiquitous per kilo places are a good place for a meal: children will have a huge range of options, and you can get in and out without a lot of fuss. Familiar food – pizza, burgers, ice cream – is widely available, and sometimes takes fun new forms (pizza with chocolate, or with bananas and cinnamon). Food courts in shopping malls are excellent spots for quick meals.

Juice bars are handy for snack breaks. At these ubiquitous spots, you can order dozens of tangy juices, as well as grilled burgers, sandwiches, pão de queijo (cheese-filled bread) and other bites.

Most sit-down restaurants will have a cadeira alta (high chair), though few have menus for kids. Portions however are huge, so kids can share what their parents order. Bring crayons, paper or other amusement, as Brazilian restaurants don't provide these things.

Transport

Given the great size of Brazil, transport presents challenges. You'll either spend long hours on buses or have to rely on pricier flights. Sticking to one or two regions is the best way to keep your holiday hassle-free. Renting a car can save you cash and help you move about more efficiently.

Children typically fly free or pay half-fare for flights if under two, and pay 10% to 25% of the fare if age two to 12. On buses, it's all or nothing: they ride free if sitting on a lap and full fare if they take up a seat.

Jungle Lodges

Many jungle lodges near Manaus offer fairly low-impact excursions, making them good for families with kids. High-water season may be best, as you do more canoeing than hiking. Black-water areas have far fewer mosquitoes and much lower risk of malaria.

Volunteering

RíoVoluntário, headquartered in Rio de Janeiro, supports several hundred volunteer organizations involved in social work, the environment and health care.

Rio-based Iko Poran links the diverse talents of volunteers with needy organizations. Iko Poran also provides housing for volunteers.

Elsewhere in Rio state, Regua accepts volunteers from all over the world for reforestation and other conservation work.

The UK-based Task Brasil (www.taskbrasil.org.uk) is another organization that places volunteers in Rio.

Weights & Measures

  • Brazilians use the metric system for weights and measures.

Women Travellers

Depending on the region, women traveling alone will experience a range of responses. In São Paulo, for example, where there are many people of European ancestry, foreign women without traveling companions will scarcely be given a sideways glance. In the more traditional rural areas of the Northeast, where a large percentage of the population is of ethnically mixed origin, blonde-haired and light-skinned women, especially those without male escorts, will certainly arouse curiosity.

Flirtation – often exaggerated – is a prominent element in Brazilian male-female relations. It goes both ways and is nearly always regarded as amusingly innocent banter; no sense of insult, exploitation or serious intent should be assumed.

Work

Visitors who enter the country as tourists are not legally allowed to take jobs. It’s not unusual for foreigners to find English-teaching work in language schools, though. It’s always helpful to speak some Portuguese, although some schools insist that only English be spoken in class. Private language tutoring may pay a little more, but you’ll have to do some legwork to get students.