Brazil is a backpacker’s paradise, with beaches, national parks, cheap food and parties galore. It is, on the other hand, so big that Europe would fit comfortably inside it, and still, when planning a Brazilian trip, people seem to think they can see the whole country in a matter of weeks.
I spent 9 months living and working in a tourism hotspot called Bonito in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, followed a month travelling around this country the size of a continent, so I got to know it reasonably well. Here are my top tips for anyone planning a budget adventure in this incredible country.
- Make like a Brazilian and take it slow.
No one is ever in a rush in Brazil, and you shouldn’t be either. Take the itinerary that has you staying somewhere different every night and burn it.
Brazil is all about life at a gentle pace, and as there is so much to see everywhere you go it’s a shame to only scratch the surface of lots of places rather than really get to know a few.
Remember, Brazil is vast and everything is further away than you think. Whenever you move on you’ll probably spend the best part of a day doing it, robbing yourself of valuable beach and samba time.
If you have two weeks or less, stick to one area. A great two week trip is a week in and around Rio de Janeiro and a few days in Paraty, a beautiful colonial town, and Ilha Grande, a stunning rainforest covered island ringed with sandy coves.
If you’d rather get a taste of the north, fly into Salvador, spend 2 days there and head out to one of the islands nearby (Morro de São Paulo is a popular choice amongst party animals) and then down do Itacaré, which is pure heaven on earth.
In a month a friend and I covered Florinanopolis, Curitiba, Rio, Ilha Grande, Paraty, Salvador, Morro de Sao Paulo and Itacare. We definitely felt like we were rushing at points, and would have happily stayed everywhere for a few extra days and in Itacaré for at least a week, if not forever…
Check out my two blog posts from the trip, Part 1 and Part 2, for a blow by blow account of how we got from A to B, where we stayed and how we whiled away our days!
- Consider domestic flights
When you think backpacking South America long haul buses probably come to mind, but Brazil is so mind-numbingly huge that flights are often cheaper than buses, and definitely a hell of a lot quicker. The general rule is that if a bus trip takes longer than 10 hours a flight is probably cheaper.
Look at it this way: a flight from the northernmost to the southernmost state of Brazil takes 4 hours, so imagine how long that would take on a bus! You could quite easily spend up spending the majority of your trip travelling between destinations.
The only issue with flights is that Brazilian websites usually demand a Brazilian registration number, and often reject foreign cards for security reasons. If you find a cheap flight online head to a travel agent to book as hours can be spent trying to book online to no avail. Travel agents will charge a small commission but it is more than paying worth it to avoid doing battle with the websites.
- Learn some Portuguese
The majority of Brazilians speak little or no English, even in touristy areas and so it is worth learning some basic Portuguese before you go.
Many people think that Portuguese is basically the same as Spanish. On paper it is, but spoken Portuguese sounds extremely different to Spanish. DuoLingo is a brilliant site to get you started with a bit of speaking, listening and reading.
You can get by with sign language anywhere in the world when it comes to checking into a hostel or ordering food, but being able to have basic conversations with locals adds a whole new dimension to the Brazilian experience. If you can make some local friends they’ll show you the best beaches, night spots and cheapest food!
Any attempt at speaking Portuguese will be greeted with delight by Brazilians, who are incredibly complimentary to anyone who makes the effort to speak their language! Even a basic ‘Tudo bem?’ (how are you?) will take you a long way!
4. Forget the diet
If you’re worried about your waistline, Brazil is the wrong destination. I would walk back to Brazil for a bowl of Acai (a kind of sorbet made from acai berries with banana and muesli) after a day at the beach, a Tapioca (indescribable but delicious and usually dripping with cheese) or Pastel (deep fried parcels with various deliciously decadent ingredients). Not forgetting Pao de Queijo – cheese bread.
The moral of the story is, most of it is deep fried and none of it is very good for you, but it’s bloody delicious.
Oh, and don’t forget the cocktails. Caipirinhas consist of cachaca (Brazilian rum), limes, ice and lots of sugar. Treat them with respect!
Have you been travelling in Brazil? Do you have any tips I should know about? Please comment!