Because of the great distances in Brazil, the occasional flight can be a necessity, and may not cost much more than a long-haul bus journey. If you intend to take more than just a couple of flights, a Brazil Airpass will probably save you money. Book ahead if traveling during busy travel times: from Christmas to Carnaval, around Easter, and July and August. Always reconfirm your flights, as schedules frequently change.
Airlines in Brazil
A Brazil Airpass is a good investment if you’re planning on covering a lot of ground in 30 days or less. Gol offers an air pass involving four/five domestic flights anywhere on its extensive network with prices starting at US$505/638, plus taxes and fees; each additional flight costs around US$120. Azul's air pass gives you up to four flights within a 21-day period for US$500.
Either of these passes must be purchased before you get to Brazil, and you have to book your air-pass itinerary at the time you buy it – or possibly pay penalties for changing reservations. Many travel agents sell the air pass, as does the Brazilian travel specialist Brol (www.brol.com).
If for any reason you do not fly on an air-pass flight you have reserved, you should reconfirm all your other flights. Travelers have sometimes found that all their air-pass reservations had been scrubbed from the computer after they missed, or were bumped from, one flight.
Domestic Departure Tax
Embarkation tax on domestic flights ranges from R$25 to R$45, depending on the airport (the bigger the airport, the bigger the tax). This fee is always included in the price of your ticket.
You don’t see many long-distance cyclists in Brazil. Among the hazards are crazy drivers, roads without shoulder room, long distances and the threat of theft.
If you’re determined to tackle Brazil by bike, go over your bike with a fine-tooth comb before leaving home and fill your repair kit with every imaginable spare part. There are several decent bike shops in Rio for buying equipment and gear as well as renting bikes (which average R$60 per day).
The Amazon region is one of the last great bastions of passenger river travel in the world. Rivers still perform the function of highways throughout much of Amazonia, with vessels of many shapes and sizes putt-putting up and down every river and creek that has anyone living near it.
Bus services in Brazil are generally excellent. Departure times are usually strictly adhered to, and most of the buses are clean, comfortable and well-serviced Mercedes, Volvo and Scania vehicles.
All major cities are linked by frequent buses – one leaves every 15 minutes from Rio to São Paulo during peak hours – and there is a surprising number of long-distance buses. Every big city, and most small ones, has at least one main long-distance bus station, known as a rodoviária (ho-do-vi-ah-ree-ya).
Brazil has numerous bus companies and the larger cities have several dozen rival agencies. ClickBus (www.clickbus.com.br) is a good app for consulting departures times, fares (which can be expensive) and purchases. Another good resource for searching national bus routes is Busca Ônibus (www.buscaonibus.com.br).
There are three main classes of long-distance bus. The ordinary convencional or comum is indeed the most common. It’s fairly comfortable and usually has a toilet on board. An executivo or semi-leito is more comfortable (with reclining seats), costs about 25% more and stops less often. A leito (overnight sleeper) can cost twice as much as a comum and has fully reclining seats with blankets and pillows, air-con and sometimes an attendant serving sandwiches, coffee, soda and água mineral (mineral water).
With or without toilets, buses generally make pit stops for food and bathroom breaks every three or four hours.
Air-con on buses is sometimes strong; carry a light sweater or jacket to keep warm.
Usually you can go down to the bus station and buy a ticket for the next departing bus. In general, though, it’s a good idea to buy the day before departure. On weekends, holidays and from December to February, advance purchase is always a good idea. If you have a PayPal account, you can buy tickets online at ClickBus (www.clickbus.com.br)
Car & Motorcycle
Especially in Rio, the anarchic side of the Brazilian personality emerges from behind the driver’s wheel as lane dividers, one-way streets, sidewalks and pedestrians are disregarded.
Bringing Your Own Vehicle
All vehicles in Brazil must carry the registration document and proof of insurance. To take a vehicle into or out of Brazil, you might be asked for a carnet de passage en douane, which is a kind of vehicle passport, or a libreta de pasos por aduana, which is a booklet of customs passes. Contact your local automobile association for details about all documentation.
Your home-country driver’s license is valid in Brazil, but because local authorities probably won’t be familiar with it, it’s a good idea to carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) as well. This gives police less scope for claiming that you are not driving with a legal license. IDPs are issued by your national motoring association and usually cost the equivalent of about US$15. It is illegal for foreigners to drive motorbikes in Brazil unless they have a Brazilian license.
Fuel & Spare Parts
Ordinary gasoline (called combustível or gasolina) costs around R$4.60 per liter. Travelers taking their own vehicles need to check in advance what spare parts and gasoline are likely to be available.
A small four-door car with insurance and unlimited kilometers costs around R$100 a day (R$130 with air-con). You can sometimes get discounts for longer rentals.
To rent a car you must be 25 years old (21 with some rental firms, including Avis), have a credit card in your name and a valid driver’s license from your home country (not just an IDP).
Minimum insurance coverage is always tacked onto the cost of renting, though you can get extra protection (a wise idea) for another R$20 to R$40 per day.
In Brazil, 4WD vehicles are hard to come by and can be quite expensive (over R$200 per day). Motorbike rental is even harder to find. Riders planning a long trip might have better luck purchasing a bike in Brazil and reselling it at the end of the trip.
Road Rules & Hazards
Brazil is a dangerous place to drive, with over 43,000 people killed in automobile accidents each year. Some roads are especially hazardous, such as the busy highways between Rio and São Paulo. The cult of speed is insatiable.
Owing to the danger of robbery, at night many motorists don’t stop at red lights but merely slow down. This is particularly common in São Paulo. In big cities, keep your windows closed and doors locked when stationary.
Driving at night is particularly hazardous; other drivers are more likely to be drunk and, at least in the Northeast and the interior, the roads are often poor and unreliable. Poorly banked turns are the norm. To save a bit of fuel, some motorists drive at night with their headlights turned to low beam or turned off completely.
Brazilian speed bumps are quite prevalent. Always slow down as you enter a town.
Further headaches for drivers in Brazil are posed by poor signposting, impossible one-way systems, tropical rainstorms, drivers overtaking on blind corners, flat tires – common, but there are borracheiros (tire repairers) stationed at frequent intervals along the roads – and, of course, the police pulling you over for bogus moving violations.
For security, choose hotels with off-street parking; most midrange and top-end places offer this option.
Hitchhiking is never entirely safe in any country, and is not recommended. Travelers who decide to hitchhike should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. People who do choose to hitchhike will be safer if they travel in pairs and let someone know where they are planning to go.
Hitchhiking in Brazil, with the possible exception of the Pantanal and several other areas where it’s commonplace among locals, is difficult. The Portuguese word for ‘lift’ is carona, so ask ‘Pode dar carona?’ (Can you give us a lift?). The best way to hitchhike – practically the only way if you want rides – is to ask drivers when they’re not in their vehicles; for example, by waiting at a gas station or truck stop. It’s polite to offer to pay for your share of the gas in return for your lift.
Local bus services tend to be decent. Since most Brazilians take the bus to work, municipal buses are usually frequent and their network of routes comprehensive. One-way fares range from R$3 to R$4.50.
In most city buses, you get on at the front and exit from the back, though occasionally the reverse is true. Usually there’s a money collector sitting at a turnstile just inside the entrance.
Crime can be a problem: don’t take valuables onto the buses, and think twice about taking informal minibuses in Rio and other urban areas, which have seen a recent increase in attacks.
Both Rio and São Paulo have excellent metro systems, with Rio’s system expanded for the 2016 Olympics. These metros are a safe, cheap and efficient way of exploring the cities. One-way fares are R$4.30 in Rio and R$4 in São Paulo.
Taxi & Ride-sharing Apps
Taxi rides are reasonably priced, and a taxi is the best option for getting around cities at night. Taxis in cities usually have meters that start around R$5.50 and rise by something like R$2.50 per kilometer (more at night and on weekends).
In small towns, taxis often don’t have meters, and you’ll have to arrange a price – beforehand.
If possible, orient yourself before taking a taxi, and keep a map handy in case you find yourself being taken on a wild detour.
The preferred app for local taxi drivers is 99Taxis (www.99app.com), and is more convenient and safer than calling for a taxi or hailing one in the street. Ride-share services like Uber (www.uber.com) and Cabify are widely available.
Brazil’s passenger-train services have been scaled down to almost nothing, though there are a few journeys well worth taking. One outstanding trip goes from Curitiba to Morretes through the coastal mountain range, with memorable views. The Belo Horizonte–Vitória run, via Santa Bárbara and Sabará, is also scenic. There's also one remaining line operating in the Northeast, which runs from São Luís south through the interior of Maranhão to the southern reaches of Pará state, getting you close to Parque Nacional Chapada das Mesas.
Steam trains are affectionately known as Marias Fumaça (Smoking Marys), and several still run as tourist attractions. There’s a 13km ride from São João del Rei to Tiradentes in Minas Gerais. Another pleasant short trip, this time by electric train, is the 22km Ouro Preto–Mariana run.