Travel Tips: Brazil Travel Guide

General Comments

Like almost everyone I have met who has traveled to Brazil, I loved my experience here. It is a huge country, diverse in land, people, culture and even language. When I first started thinking of my South America plans I considered skipping Brazil precisely because it was so huge and because I wanted to concentrate on improving my Spanish, but as I finish my maximum six months tourist visa stay here I am really glad I changed my mind.

Despite what others might tell you, Portuguese is not basically Spanish with a few differences. Even if you speak excellent Spanish don’t expect that you will understand the Brazilians when they talk. Also, my experience was that the population is fairly split in their English abilities. I met many Brazilians who speak excellent English and many who don’t speak at all. You won’t have any problems getting around using English but if you will spend some time in the country I do recommend you try to learn some Portuguese basics as it is an interesting language and it will enhance your overall experience.

As the world spotlight gets ready to shine on Brazil for the upcoming World Cup and Olympics, my impression is that Brazil is a country in transition. It is already the world’s sixth largest economy and all the luxuries one would expect of a major economy can be found. And, as any backpacker you meet will quickly tell you, the prices are very high here, probably the highest in all of South America (not counting French Guyana as not many go there). As in many capitalistic countries, there seems to be huge income disparities with terrible poverty and incredible wealth coexisting, sometimes literally side by side, as you can witness with the favelas being located next to wealthy communities. Transportation is generally good in the country and, if you plan ahead, you can sometimes find cheap internal flights for not much more than the price of a bus (though see my post about the difficulties of buying a flight online).

A few places in Brazil had very good Internet speeds but overall I was surprised and disappointed at how slow my connections in hostels usually were. I have no explanation for it either. Perhaps another aspect of that country in transition idea.

One useful thing to keep in mind when visiting Brazil is that many bank ATMs are not connected to the worldwide systems like Plus/Visa/Cirrus. This includes the major Brazilian banks. Generally, you have better luck with the foreign banks like HSBC.

Another useful tip: if you generally stay in hostels get a Hosteling International (HI) card. More than any country besides Uruguay, HI seems to dominate in Brazil. The price savings for card holders quickly pays for the card. Most HI hostels can sell you a card, but not all. It is good for one year.

One thing that I noticed differentiated Brazil significantly from Latin American places colonized by the Spanish was the lack of an organized grid layout for towns and cities. In some places it can be a challenge to navigate without a good map and those experiences made me realize how much I appreciate the Spanish grid system.

Below I will list some other observations from my time in Brazil with no particular order or relevance to anything:

  • Halls is candy here! (reference Halls is NOT Candy, Brazil Mystery #3 – Why do Brazilians eat Halls like candy?, and Ask a Brazilian: Lozenge or Candy?) According to Wikipedia, in some parts of the world, including Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and the Philippines, Halls is advertised as a mentholated hard candy and is not recognized as a medicine for coughs.
  • I am not sure about other places, but in Salvador it is acceptable to run red lights late at night and on weekends if the streets are deserted. This is a common-sense policy because with high crime rates it can be dangerous to stop at a light.
  • I did see small signs that environmental concerns are increasing in the country and generally I found the places I went to be freer of garbage than most other Latin American countries, but I believe most places still don’t have widespread recycling programs in place.
  • The water is generally not safe to drink in most places.
  • As in most of Latin America, beer on tap (usually called chopp) is fairly rare and I have no idea why. The major brands of popular beer change a bit by region though I think Skol is the most popular nationwide.
  • Self service (per kilo) restaurants are a good deal but for regular restaurants plates for two to share are very common.
  • Most establishments that take credit cards (e.g., restaurants) use portable, wireless card readers. I don’t know if this is because cards weren’t popular until recently and it just follows that more modern technology would be more present or if it is also related to security issues as people can feel better knowing nothing untoward happened with their card when it was brought by the wait staff to a machine out of sight.
  • Related to the credit card security comment, I thought it strange that at a bar the wait staff doesn’t take away used bottles but just lets them pile up on the floor next to the table. I asked a friend why and the answer was that patrons don’t trust that the waiters will keep an honest tally of what was drunk at the table and the bottles provide tangible proof to counter any disagreements. This probably works also with the idea that most people share 600ml bottles of beer rather than each ordering separate drinks. Thus, it could be beneficial for the bar/restaurant as well since when people order shared bottles they might miscount and try to argue about their own mistake.
  • There are a lot of regional rivalries but based on what I saw and what a friend told me, Pernambuco seems to have the most regional pride. Regardless, the general consensus seems to be that the prettiest women are from the South, though I do not share this opinion.
  • I’ve never seen more people with tattoos than here in Brazil, especially women. In fact, woman with tattoos probably outnumber the men.
  • A friend is a big fan of an old (from the 80’s) telenovela called Roque Santeiro and said it was the best of its kind and especially interesting and beloved because of its focus on Brazilian culture. I never gave it a try but if your Portuguese is up for the challenge maybe you should.

Border and Visa Issues

Only a small number of countries are required to get a formal tourist visa to visit Brazil, including Canada, the United States and Australia. The price differs but is essentially is reciprocal. In the case of U.S. citizens it is roughly $150. A tourist visa lasts for 90 days but can be extended for up to 90 days more inside the country at a federal police station for a fee. See my post, How to Renew a Tourist Visa in Brazil, for more information.

Transportation in Brazil

In-country flights are often about as cheap as a bus thanks to numerous low-cost airlines but flying into and out of the country is usually quite expensive. One problem for foreign visitors is that you cannot easily purchase a ticket online because a CPF number is required. See my post, Booking (and Paying for) Flights Online in Brazil, for more details. To find cheap flights you can check the individual low-cost airline sites:

Likewise, you can use one of the following aggregator search sites:

For buses there are several sites you can use, including of the numerous individual companies, but by far the most useful is Busca Onibus. Another good one, but hard to use, especially if you don’t know Portuguese is the official ANTT site (see this article for instructions on how to use it). For information about the various bus stations (rodoviárias) around Brazil check out Rodoviariaonline. Finally, for more info check out this useful article on bus transportation in Brazil.

Carnaval

Brazil is famous for many things but perhaps nothing more so than its Carnaval celebrations. I had the good fortune to enjoy Carnaval in Recife and Olinda, one of the five “best” places to celebrate Carnaval in the country (the others being Rio de Janeiro, Salvador da Bahia, São Paulo, and Ouro Preto). Carnaval in Recife/Olinda focuses on Frevo music instead of Samba and is more accessible to the average person thanks to numerous blocos and multiple musical stages set up around the city. I highly recommend it. If you do attend, the city of Recife publishes a useful overall schedule that can be picked up at the tourist office or online at Acontece no Recife. Other than that I won’t bore you with my personal Carnaval experience but instead will highlight some interesting relevant posts  I found from around the blogosphere.

Music

Whenever I arrive in a new country and start to make some local friends I always ask for music recommendations. Some countries are richer sources than others and Brazil is certainly one of them. Below are some artists that I have listened to and like and thus recommend for other travelers. Feel free to comment with your own suggestions.

  • Caetano Veloso
  • Cartola
  • Chico Buarque
  • Céu
  • Dorival Caymmi
  • Eddie
  • Gilberto Gil
  • João Gilberto
  • Jorge Ben Jor
  • Lenine
  • Los Hermanos
  • Marisa Monte
  • Martinho da Vila
  • Otto
  • Pato Fu
  • Paulinho da Viola
  • Skank
  • Teresa Salgueiro
  • Venessa da Mata
  • Zeca Pagodinho

Language

I have spent a long time working on my Spanish in Latin America but when I arrived in Brazil I thought it only fair to give Portuguese a fair shot. It turns out I quite like the language. There are many advantages to learning Portuguese when you already know Spanish but there are also some drawbacks. Regardless, I was just self-studying rather than taking classes and I spent a fair amount of time researching useful online learning resources. Subscribe to my newsletter or RSS feed or follow me on Facebook or twitter for a future post detailing some of my study materials and tips.

Florianópolis (a.k.a. Floripa, part of Ihla de Santa Catarina)

Lodging

I stayed at Hilltop Florianópolis, which was quite new (about a month old) when I was there. The owner, Zohar, is one of those guys who was made to own a hostel. The property itself is very nice and is well located in Barra da Lagoa. I can’t say how the hostel will develop over time or how it might be different in the high season (I was there in October) but I’ll tell you a few reasons I liked it. First, the prices are much lower than the competition (Sunset backpackers a few hundred meters away was about R$40 I believe while I paid R$15). Even better, when I arrived I was told by Zohar that his policy is to give the best room available for the lowest price (e.g., if all the dorms were available he would put you in the more expensive one but charge you for the cheapest) . Thus, I was given a great private room for just R$15. Of course, if someone booked the private rooms I would have to move, but being new and low season that didn’t happen. I doubt this will happen much in the future as the reputation gets established, but the point is the attitude demonstrated. Second good point: the breakfast. Zohar personally cooked me an excellent egg breakfast every morning, made to my liking. Occasionally he made Shakshuka. There was always fruit, tea, juice, coffee and sometime there were other items like a cake, french fries, mini pizzas, etc. Third good point: like most of the hostels in Floripa, you can use the surf boards, snorkel, fishing equipment, etc. free of charge. Fourth good point: Zohar occasionally will take people out on his boat (not at all a fancy boat, but still a nice activity). Note that there is a bar in the hostel but it doesn’t actually sell alcohol (I don’t know if there are plans to change that). Instead, Zohar will encourage you to buy whatever you want and he will occasionally “open” the bar and have a party. Likewise with the BBQ. Want any kind of advice about Brazil or anywhere in South America? Zohar has been almost everywhere and has lots of advice to share. Want to learn some basics of Portuguese? There are occasional mini lessons for free. Oh, and by the way, it isn’t just Zohar. When I was there I also had the pleasure of knowing Ariana (Zohar’s right hand) and Raquel, both super nice. Finally, no worries about language: Ari and Zohar speak good English, Portuguese and Spanish.

Update: Ariana and Raquel have both left the hostel (I met up with Ariana several times in and around Salvador) and I have since heard and read that the hostel has become much more of a party hostel than was the case in the early days. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but do keep it in mind if you generally avoid places like that.

Other

Most people really like Floripa and I was no exception. It is a lovely place with multiple nice hikes and beaches, decent surfing and you can even go sandboarding. You can stay in laid back spots or party hard. The city is a bit inconvenient in terms of distance and time, but the buses are easy to navigate. Do keep in mind that this far south in Brazil the weather does get cold in winter so you may want to skip Floripa if you are not there in season.

Photos

Foz do Iguaçu

Lodging

I stayed one night at HI Paudimar Falls, which is a fine, but not exceptional hostel. I was annoyed that the price I had to pay without reserving online was higher, even though I have a HI card. I really hate when hostels do that. They are even worse in that you cannot book less than two nights in advance. It wasn’t too difficult to get to the hostel from the bus station via local buses (pretty well explained in Lonely Planet) but the town of Iguaçu is really nothing special. My recommendation is stay just a night if you are already arriving from somewhere else in Brazil and want to take a relaxed approach to seeing the falls. Otherwise, if you arrive early enough, see the Brazilian side when you arrive (you only need a few hours) and then get on a bus to the Argentine side where the town is much nicer and the selection of places to stay much greater. See my Argentina travel tips post for more details.

Other

Many others have said that the Argentine side of the falls is much better. I don’t know if I would go that far, but I would definitely agree that there is much more to see there so if you have limited time and/or money and only wish to do one side, definitely visit Argentina. If, on the other hand, you have plenty of money, consider doing the helicopter tour. I didn’t do it but I have read it is quite good and can only be done from the Brazil side.

Getting to Argentina is easy. Just catch the “Puerto Iguazu” bus across from the local bus terminal or at any bus stop along Av Juscelino Kubitschek. It passes approximately every 30 minutes (50 on Sunday) until 19:00. At the Puerto Iguazu bus station transfer to a bus for the falls. You can also arrange direct transport from any Iguaçu hostel but they tend to leave a bit later than I would personally prefer and thus you will have less time to enjoy. Plus, they are a bit pricey in my opinion.

If you need to buy any electronics or other brand-name goods, take a bus to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, which is a tax-free zone. I bought some new running shoes for about half the price I would have paid in Argentina or Brazil and I also found a place to repair my broken laptop and buy a new laptop battery and memory for my computer and camera. The Lonely Planet warns about robberies on the bridge to Ciudad del Este but I crossed in the morning when there was a lot of pedestrian traffic and had no problems. Speaking of the morning, apparently all the shops in Ciudad del Este close relatively early in the day (around 14:00 I believe) so go early.

If you have extra time in your journey, definitely consider a tour of the Itaipu Dam.

Photos

Curitiba

Lodging

There are really only a couple of hostel options in Curitiba, Hostel Roma and Curitiba Eco Hostel. I stayed in the former, which is conveniently located about 5 blocks from the main bus terminal. It isn’t the cheapest place (R$38 or R$31 with an HI card) and it lacks warmth, probably because I think it was formerly a regular hotel turned into a hostel. Still, it is clean and functional and I did meet some nice travelers, mostly Brazilian, there.

Other

I think Curitiba is a lovely city with a surprisingly large number of things to see. I recommend hitting up one of the two tourist information centers (there is one just outside of the main bus terminal) to get a very good city map listing all of the main sites. There is also a tourist bus that makes a route covering almost all of the main attractions. I walked almost everywhere but I only recommend that for someone who REALLY likes to walk as some of the distances are quite far. If you do take the tourist bus, your fare includes 5 tickets so you can get off an on the bus multiple times. Do note that this bus does not run on Mondays.

I happened to be in Curitiba during Virada Cultural which was a nice bonus experience with lots of free music around town. I don’t know if it is an annual event or not.

I really recommend a visit to the Jardim Botânico, which was inspired by the French gardens. It may not be very Brazilian but it is quite lovely, especially on a nice day. Of course, you’ll also want to check out the other main tourist attractions, including Rua das Flores (the first pedestrian-only street in Brazil), Paço da Liberdade, the Museo Oscar Niemeyer (MON, also known as “Museu do Olho”  or The Eye Museum), Torre Panaorâmica, Setor Histórico, and perhaps most well-known, the Ópera de Arame (wire opera).

Finally, a good option when visiting Curitiba is to take the Serra Verde Express train, which is one of the few trains still running in Brazil and which offers fantastic scenery en route. The train Leaves daily at 08:15 ending in the historic town of Morretes at 11:15. On Sunday the train keeps going to Paranaguá, arriving at 13:15. Prices have risen steadily since the last edition of Lonely Planet and an economy ticket now costs R$48 going and R$37 return and a tourist class ticket R$69 going and R$50 returning. Sit on left side for best views when going (obviously on the right if returning). If you are visiting Ilha do Mel, this train is a good option to get to Paranaguá to take the boat to the island. If you can’t get the Sunday train all the way, there are buses from Morretes to Paranaguá. Alternatively, save a bit of money by taking a bus to Paranaguá (or, even better, Pontal do Sul) to go to Ilha do Mel and then on the return take the train, paying the lower return fare. That’s what I did. One thing to keep in mind is that the economy class Sunday tickets from Curitiba sell out early so purchase in advance. It is basically the same quality but without a guide (Portuguese only) and drink. The train was practically empty when I took it from Morretes and, as a bonus, the four of us in my car were given a complimentary snack pack.

Photos

Around Town

Paranaguá and Morretes

Ilha do Mel

Lodging

Based on hostel sites I had planned to stay at Pousada Vaga Lume but had a hard time finding it and instead ended up at the HI hostel instead. I think it cost a bit more but it was actually quite nice and the staff were friendly and my WiFi actually worked (unlike a few other places I heard about). The breakfast was also good, though I was disappointed that the only boat option back leaves at 7:30 and breakfast doesn’t start until 8:00.

Other

I went to Ilha do Mel from Curitiba and I suppose most would have to do the same, even if just transiting. You can take a bus to Paranaguá (I believe that is the recommendation of the Lonely Planet), but instead you can go to Pontal do Sul which is actually slightly faster. Basically, the bus trip is about an hour longer to Pontal do Sul than Paranaguá, but the boat ride is much shorter (30 minutes vs. 2 hours). I was told to use the bus company Graciosa but I don’t know if there are other options (I am sure there are if going to Paranaguá but possibly not for Pontal do Sul).

There are 2 possible destinations on the island with piers: Nova Brasilia (for the lighthouse and Fortaleza) and Encantadas. I stayed at the latter but I think both are quite nice. The boat also stops at both locations so no worries there. No cars are allowed anywhere on the island, which I think is great. From Encantadas I did the somewhat long, but nice hike to the lighthouse and then further to the fort. Do check the tide times as passing one particular point can be challenging at high tide. Note that there are no ATMs on the island so bring extra cash.

Photos

Useful Links

São Paulo

São Paulo is the biggest city in South America. Frankly, it is too big to interest me. As I understand it, the main attraction of the city is cultural (museums) and culinary (great restaurants). I do like museums but not enough to make it the primary purpose of a visit. And I am not really a foodie. Also, be aware that the great cuisine comes at a fairly hefty price. All of which is to say I skipped SP and thus have nothing to share about it but people who do like large cities, museums and fine dining do tend to like it.

Paraty

Lodging

I arrived in Paraty right before a long holiday weekend and found that most places were booked. I was able to get the first two nights at Backpacker’s House which turned out to be a great choice. The owner, Pablo, is a very friendly Argentine (from Mar del Plata) and the hostel is very comfortable and has a homey feel. Unfortunately, after the first two nights it was booked so I moved to Aventure Hostel (which Pablo helped arrange; it had been booked but thanks to some cancellations I was able to get a bed). The girls working there weren’t so good with English but were very nice. One big disadvantage of Aventure is that the WiFi doesn’t work in the rooms or the common area so instead you have to go to the reception area to use it, but that is a very small and not so comfortable place to work. Considering that Backpacker’s House is cheaper (R$25 vs. R$30), friendly, cozy, has a very good breakfast, has a pool, and WiFi works everywhere, that is a pretty clear choice.

Other

I really like Paraty. I would say it was the one of the nicest colonial towns I saw in South America. The beaches are nothing special by Brazilian standards, but there are some to visit. You can also rent bicycles (from Pablo actually) and do a nice day trip. There are also a couple of other nice beaches near Paraty which can be reached by bus, though others are better reached by car. I do recommend you try some of the sweets sold by cart vendors on the streets of the old town.

Photos

Useful Links

Ilha Grande

Lodging

I stayed one night at Over Nativa for R$25 but as it was booked the following days I switched to Studio Beach. Over Nativa had a great vibe and good, inexpensive dinners (R$13 for all-you-can-eat). I actually returned a couple of nights for dinner even though I was no longer staying there. I will say that I wasn’t impressed with the room I was in, with a broken window and no mosquito netting. Studio Beach, on the other hand, had a pretty great room, basically a mini-apartment, with four beds downstairs and three (one bunk and one double) upstairs. There was a full bath upstairs and a half bath downstairs and there was even a fairly functional mini kitchen, though there was also a complete common kitchen for use as well. And, it was one of the cheapest options on the island at only R$20 per night (R$17 if you booked online). It lacked a good vibe, but I think it was more because it was low season (I know, strange that Over Nativa was booked in low season and Studio Beach almost empty). Both places had a pretty good breakfast as well. For another alternative, I did hear pretty good reports about Aquario.

Other

I should say that I did like Ilha Grande and I enjoyed some hikes and the beaches there. I liked that it has no cars, but I would also say that it seems a bit over-hyped in my opinion. For my money, I preferred the smaller, more laid back Ilha do Mel, but if you want a good tourist and party scene, Ilha Grande will be more suitable. To each his own.

Like Ilha do Mel, there are no ATMs on the island so bring extra cash. Many people choose to stay longer than they originally plan.

Photos

Rio de Janeiro

Lodging

There are a ton of hostels in Rio to choose from in multiple areas of the city. I stayed at a new hostel called Stand Fast, mostly because a friend I had met in Patagonia was staying there and he liked it and I wanted to meet up with him. It is owned by a mother/daughter pair (Rosanna and Cloud) who are both friendly and helpful and both speak excellent English. The hostel is definitely one of the nicer facilities I have stayed in with lots of modern touches, like automated control of the in-room air conditioner units and keycards for the door locks and lights. The dorm rooms are ensuite but there are also shared bathrooms. The place was always clean and the kitchen was good. The hostel occasionally has meal nights (pizza night, hot dog night, a weekly BBQ, etc.) and even went the extra mile to make a homemade Thanksgiving dinner complete with Turkey as I was there during that particular US holiday. A possible negative is the location as some people don’t want to stay in Botafogo, especially if you want quick and easy access to the beaches, but that wasn’t a concern for me.

I met two travelers who stayed at Casa 579 and both said nice things about it, including praise for its fantastic views. One thing to consider however, is that while its location provides excellent views, it is not convenient, especially for coming home later at night. And, apparently, the neighborhood isn’t the safest.

Other

There are a million guides to Rio so I won’t bother with specific tips. I will say that the experiences at Corcovado (the Christ the Redeemer statue) and Pão de Açucar are very weather dependent so don’t bother going to either on a crap day. Also, if you are up for the exercise and want to save some money, climb the first part of Pão de Açucar and just take the cable car from there to the top (R$26.50).

I am not a big party person so I discounted the Lapa buzz, but I went anyway and did enjoy the spirit and energy (and the steps are a must-visit).

Rio does have a reputation for crime and you should definitely take all the standard precautions, but don’t let the reputation prevent you from enjoying the city. I spent several days just wandering around town taking photos (with my cheap point-and-shoot). I tried to stick to main streets and went during daylight hours and had no problems.

If you are in Rio on a Sunday, be sure to check out the 11:00 concert at Teatro Municipal. The theater is very impressive and so is the music, which was free when I went (I had read it was R$5 and someone else told me it is R$1 so I don’t know the full story but in any case it is not expensive).

I have heard mixed reviews about the favela tours, but I met a Dutch guy who was living in one of the smaller ones. He actually ended up living there after taking one of the favela tours. Afterwards, my friend found out the guy who runs the tour (with his foreign girlfriend) had a spare room in his house to rent. Anyway, talking with this friend I was assured that the people of the favelas actually appreciate the tours as they provide an opportunity to dispel some common misperceptions about life there and because they bring in tourist dollars. That’s a limited sample size for an opinion on the matter so please provide your own thoughts in the comments if you have something to add.

Google maps/directions does seem to be tied in to the Rio public transportation system but seems to only list certain options when often many are available for the same route. A friend gave me the following guidelines for understanding the buses – use at your own risk:

bus number starts withRoute Covers
1South / Downtown
2North / Downtown
3West / South
5within the South
6North / West
7City outskirts
8within the West

Photos

Around Town

Pão de Açucar

Lapa Stairs

Teatro Municipal

Useful Links

Salvador

Lodging

I rented a room in an apartment in Salvador so I can’t offer any opinions on hostels though I can say the HI hostel in Porto da Barra is conveniently located and I heard it has a good breakfast.

Other

The two main highlights of Salvador are the beach area of Barra and the historic center of Pelourinho. As beaches go, Barra beaches aren’t among the best in Brazil, but there is definitely something attractive about a large city that has so much coastline and accessible beach area. The energy, music and dance (as well as Capoeira) in Pelourinho are definitely worth a visit as well. If you stay a while and/or have a car there are some other nearby beaches worth a visit.

For other ideas on things to see and do in Salvador, make sure to pick up the tourist pamphlet in the tourist office or visit their site online. Some of the main suggestions include: modelo market and Lacerda elevator, monument to Castro Alves, church and convent of Santa Tereza, church and monastery of São Bento, clock of São Pedro, obelisk to the regent Prince D. João VI, acclamation palace and public promenade, campo grande, São Diogo fort, milestone of the arrival of Thomé de Souza (aka the cross of Porto da Barra), forts of Santa Maria and Santo Antônio da Barra, the fat girls statues at Ondina, Castro Alves theater, convent of Our Ladies of Exile, the Dyke of Tororó, the lighthouse of Itapuã, and the Bomfin church.

Photos

Beaches around Salvador

Around Town

Imbassai and Praia do Forte

Lodging

I stayed at the HI hostel in Imbassai. It is owned by an Argentine man and it is rustic and charming, with a large open palapa.

Other

Imbassai is small but nice. I went with some friends by car, but I believe it is two or three hours by bus. Praia do Forte is some kilometers before you reach Imbassai and is also meant to be quite nice but I only passed through the shopping area which wasn’t my thing. I believe there is a turtle preservation effort and/or sanctuary in Praia do Forte but I didn’t visit it.

Photos

see Beaches around Salvador photos above

Recife and Olinda

Lodging

I made a Brazilian friend from Recife when I was in Montevideo and I stayed with him so I can’t speak to any of the hostels.

Other

I’m not sure how popular Recife and Olinda are on the backpacker circuit, but I really enjoyed both. Olinda is a nice old colonial town that can pretty much be seen in a day, though I guess many people base themselves there. Recife is a reasonably large city and has both gritty and pretty areas, the latter especially around the historic central part and the various bridges and rivers. The Boa Viagem area is quite reminiscent of the Copacaban/Ipanema/Leblon stretch of beaches in Rio, including the wide stone tiled boardwalk and long, wide beach. I think the combination of old colonial Olinda with the beach area of Boa Viagem is a great combination. The one downside is that it can get quite hot in this part of Brazil.

My friend told me the catamaran tour is quite nice but I got a bit lost when I tried to go and missed it. I also had hoped to visit the Oficina Cerâmica Francisco Brennand but never made it.

Photos

Recife

Olinda

Carnaval in Recife & Olinda

Porto de Galinhas

Lodging

I went to Porto de Galinhas as a day trip.

Other

I think this was once voted one of the prettiest beaches in Brazil. I wasn’t impressed enough to agree with that, but it is a pleasant beach that makes a nice day or overnight trip from Recife. I don’t know if it was an isolated incident or a common one, but I met a German traveler who was robbed on the beach here during the daytime (though there weren’t many people around) so take precautions.

Photos

Useful Links

Praia da Pipa

Lodging

I stayed in SugarCane Hostel which was, overall, a nice hostel. One night I had the optional BBQ dinner and that was a good value as well. The vibe was friendly and laid back when I was there but I think that was slightly before high season so I can’t say if that was typical or not.

Other

Praia da Pipa is a fairly popular destination and fairly touristy, but it is still a quaint place that is quite laid back. The beaches are nice, with many backed by cliffs. Guiana dolphins rest and play in the bay at Praia dos Golfinhos. I did see them, but they were being shy I guess as they didn’t come too terribly close to shore as apparently they do sometimes.

Photos

João Pessoa

Lodging

I only did a quick (just a couple of hours) visit to João Pessoa when I was returning from Pipa to Recife.

Other

Apparently, João Pessoa is home to the eastern most point in the Americas. It’s historic center is also very charming and worth a quick visit if you happen to be passing nearby, as I was.

Photos

Lençóis (Chapada Diamantina)

Lodging

Lençóis is a small town but it is mostly a tourist town so there are several hostel options. I stayed at the HI Chapada because I knew someone working there and because they have WiFi (though the Internet is painfully slow). The reviews are also quite good online. My impression was neutral. It is a decent and clean hostel with friendly staff and owners. The breakfast is good though it is only available from 07:30 to 09:00, which can be bad since the first bus out of town leaves at 07:30 and since people returning from treks might be tired and want to sleep late. The big complaint about the place from many of the other guests I talked with was about the feeling that everything was about money. Extra if you arrive early or leave late (almost a necessity based on the limited bus times in and out of town). Charging to store your bag. Charging for a towel. In fact, the charges aren’t really that bad but I think it was the general feel of being just revenue rather than a guest that bothered some. Also, I met another guest who did a 3-day trek and left his bag with the hostel and when he got back they said he had to pay for the nights he was gone even though that is not their policy and he had checked before leaving. I don’t know the whole story but he suspected it was because he did the tour with an agency he found himself rather than the one the hostel recommends. I don’t know if that was true or not but regardless the situation didn’t seem right. Finally, again on the negative side, all of the chairs in the place were incredibly uncomfortable. There were a few hammocks which weren’t bad but the chairs were terrible.  Don’t misunderstand me though. This is a fine enough hostel and you most likely will enjoy a stay here, and meet some great fellow travelers, even if it doesn’t make your favorite hostel list.

If you want an alternative I heard pretty good things about pousada Daime Sono.

Other

You come to Lençóis for the hiking and nature. I didn’t do enough to give very good advice or reviews, but it is definitely a beautiful area. One thing that bothered me about the place though is that there is fairly little you can just do on your own. Most of the worthwhile things to see can only be reached by car and/or with a guide and the tours are generally not cheap. For example, one of the most popular one-day tours is R$90 plus two entrance fees of R$15 each and an optional donation at a third spot. Plus, at one of the locations visited you can (and should) rent snorkel equipment for R$20 (for about a half hour of use). Then you need to bring your own lunch as well. For a vacationing Westerner R$140+ might not be too bad, but for a backpacker this is quite steep, especially compared to the prices of hiking in other parts of Latin America. To save money, get a group together and rent a car. On the most popular tour that I took the guide was a nice guy but was basically a glorified driver. Likewise, two of the most popular spots to visit are poço azul and poço encantado, both of which are a fair distance from Lençois, but accessible by car. On foot without a guide make sure to visit the cachoeira Sossego, the buracos (water holes) of Serrano and the natural water slide at Riberão do Meio. I also heard good things about Cachoeira Haley. Perhaps the most famous location is the waterfall Fumaça but as I went at the end of a long dry season there was no water to see so I skipped it. Others say in season it is phenomenal.

Photos

Places I Missed but Want to Visit

  • Unlike São Paulo which I skipped on purpose, Ouro Preto was a town I actually wanted to visit but didn’t. Next time. I heard it is great.
  • Fernando de Noronha is supposed to be quite a paradise but is famous as well for being very expensive. Maybe in the future when I have more funds.
  • Lençóis da Maranheses. Just look at the pictures found on Google images and you’ll see why this is perhaps the place I most regret not visiting. The convenient access city is São Luís, which itself is meant to be a very nice place to visit.
  • Jericoacora is a place that everyone raves about but didn’t really excite me much. Still, I can’t imagine everyone being mistaken so I definitely hope to see it on a future trip.
  • The Pantanal (and, in partiular, Bonito) seem like a terrific place but the logistics and costs of visiting, plus the variability of conditions based on season, made me skip it.
  • Oktoberfest at Blumenau was something I actually could have done while I was staying in Florianópolis but didn’t, mostly because the only person I met who had gone gave it a somewhat unenthusiastic review. Plus, I’m not a big drinker and apparently there isn’t much in the way of budget lodging in the city.
  • Morro de São Paulo and Itacaré are two famed places to visit in Bahia and I did originally plan to go to each. In the end I didn’t go simply out of laziness. Something else to leave for my next visit to Brazil.
  • Nearer to Rio, I was undecided about visiting Arraial do Cabo, Búzios and Petrópolis, but I think they might be worth a visit in the future, especially to do the 30km Petrópolis-Teresópolis trek. Of course, all would be nicer if visiting in a decent season, unlike the nonstop rain I enjoyed when in Rio.

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12 Comments

    1. Glad to. If you have other useful posts that I missed and want to share, feel free to add them here. I have no problem with relevant self-promotion in the comments.

  1. The photos you got are remarkable! One of my friends who is currently in the States has just gone to Brazil and said that the place is really great! Hope i could visit there too especially in Rio.

    1. Thanks. I definitely recommend Brazil as a destination. And Rio is an especially great city for tourists. Some cities have energy and culture but otherwise aren't that interesting for visitors. I suspect São Paulo might be like that (I skipped it so I can't be sure) but Rio definitely has a lot to see and do. Plus, the beaches. Definitely go!

  2. Great guide Jeff! I really appreciate coming up with a quite comprehensive travel tips for Brazil. I can't wait to visit the country and spend a month long vacation in on its spectacular tourist spots!

  3. Interesting facts about Brazil. I was just chatting with my friend last night and she told me that Brazil is one of her dream vacation places. She told me that she was really amazed with the beautiful places in Brazil that she saw in photos. I think this post should encourage her more to go to Brazil. 🙂

  4. Very stunning falls, I want to see it personally. And There are lots of beautiful brazilian woman there..

  5. Hmmm….Got a great inspiration for going Brazil for a tour as early as possible!!! You know from my childhood the country I love most that is Brazil for traveling. Next month I will go to brazil with my whole family and I hope my small daughter will enjoy very much there. Thanks for this guide writing!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Jeff, your blog has been a gold mine! I just spent a week in Salvador, and went to the turtle sanctuary you mentioned in Praia do Forte. It was fantastic – only 16 reais, and I got to see baby sea turtles hatch right before my eyes! They also have several massive loggerheads, and even a shark (not in the same enclosures though, ha).

    I also quite enjoy the music of Caetano Veloso, who you mentioned, and got to see him live in concert at a pre-Carnival festival just outside Salvador, in Santo Amaro. For free, no less!

    I too have issues using my Visa at the ATM; however, my debit MasterCard has had no problems so far.

    Candomble, an Afro-Brazilian religion, keeps coming up on my travels here – not sure if it's the people I've met or what (in fact, there will be a festival tomorrow, honoring one of the spirits, Yemenja). I attended an "incorporating" ritual the other day where people fall into trance with their spirit, and dance to really intense percussions. It was fascinating.

    Additional note: Not sure if you're into Couchsurfing (I travel almost exclusive with it), but Brazil has an especially active Couchsurfing community. Whether or not one surfs, one is always welcome to attend Couchsurfing get-togethers and events. It's a great way to meet locals and other travelers alike.

    Anyway, thanks for writing so in depth about your travels in South America. I wish I had your blogging discipline! I'll be referencing your site as I wander the continent the next couple months. Currently in Trancoso, a stunning jungly beachy area – I highly recommend. Cheers!

    1. Thanks! And, how great that you got to see Caetano Veloso – and free! Your comment brings back memories, as I was in Salvador this time last year, and went to that Yemenja festival. I became friends with a local in Salvador who practices Candomble, but I never had the opportunity to experience its practices or rituals; very nice that you were able to.

      Also, thanks for the note about Mastercard. And, yes, I have been a fan of Couchsurfing for a while. I especially like it for the language exchange groups. There was a free Capoeira lessons group in Salvador as well.

      I heard good things about Trancoso – there is still a LOT of Brazil left for me to see so I need to get back there again! Enjoy the rest of your trip and your travels in South America. I'll check you out on your blog.

  7. Hmmm….Got a great inspiration for going Brazil for a tour as early as possible!!! You know from my childhood the country I love most that is Brazil for traveling. Next month I will go to brazil with my whole family and I hope my small daughter will enjoy very much there. Thanks for this guide writing!!!!!!!!!!!

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