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Traveling Tips to Brazil
Visas to Brazil
Most Asian, Australian, American and French citizens are required to arrive with a visa; Britons and Germans are not. Your passport will normally be stamped for a 90-day stay.
Banks and hotels will exchange U.S. Dollars into real (R$) at the official rate, but do not usually exchange traveler's checks and cannot change any leftover reais back into dollars at the end of your stay. Money exchangers at special shops (casas de câmbio) or at tourist agencies will give you the parallel exchange rate for both buying and selling currency.
Unless you don't have the time, it's obviously best to exchange money at the parallel rate. Ask at your hotel where the nearest money exchange is located. Try to calculate so as not to have too much reais left at the end of your stay or you will be "buying" your foreign currency back at the highest rate (higher than you exchanged them for).
Brazil does not normally require any health or inoculation certificates for entry, nor will you be required to have one to enter another country from Brazil. If you plan to travel in areas outside of cities in the Amazon region or the Pantanal in Mato Grosso, however, it is recommended for your own comfort and safety, that you have a yellow fever shot (protects you for 10 years, but is effective only after 10 days, so plan ahead).
It is also a good idea to protect yourself against malaria in some jungle areas and although there is no vaccine against malaria, there are drugs that will provide immunity while you are taking them. Consult your local public health service and be sure to get a certificate for any vaccination you have taken.
How to dress
Brazilians are very fashion-conscious, but actually quite casual dressers. What you bring along, of course, will depend on where you will be visiting and your holiday schedule. São Paulo tends to be more dressy; small inland towns are more conservative.
If you are going to a jungle tour, you will want sturdy clothing and perhaps hiking boots. However if you come on business, a suit and tie for men, and suits, skins or dresses for women are the office standard. If you come during Carnival, remember that it will be very hot to begin with and you will probably be in a crowd and dancing non-stop. Anything colorful is appropriated.
It is considered bad taste for man to walk around with no shirt, except by the beaches and swimming areas or in the house.
You will be given a declaration form to fill out in the airplane before arrival.
Brazil is a federal republic with 27 states, each with its own state legislature. Since the federal government exercises enormous control over the economy, the political autonomy of the states is very restricted. The overwhelming majority of government tax receipts are collected by the federal government and then distributed to the states and cities. The head of government is the president with executive powers and, in fact, exercises more control over the nation than the American president does over the United States. The legislative branch of the federal government is composed of a Congress divided into a lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, and an upper house, the Senate.
In February 1987, however, the Federal Congress was sworn in as a National Constitutional Assembly to draft a new federal constitution for Brazil. The Constituent Assembly completely revised Brazil's constitution in 1987-88. The new constitution, approved in 1988, opened the way for direct presidential elections held in November 1989, with a new president taking office in March 1990. Each presidential terms lasts four years and one re-elections is permitted.
Despite the fact that Brazil covers such a vast area, over 50 % of the country is in the same time zone and it is in this area, which includes the entire coastline, that most of the major cities are located. The western extension of this zone is a north-south line from the mouth of the Amazon River, going west to include the northern state of Amapá, cast around the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul and back west to include the south. This time zone, where Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belém and Brasilia are located, is three hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Another large zone encompassing the Pantanal states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, and most of Brazil's north, is four hours behind GMT. The far-western state of Acre and the westernmost part of Amazonas state are in a time zone five hours behind GMT.
In jungle region, the climate is humid equatorial, characterized by high temperatures and humidity, with heavy rainfall from February to July. Temperature varies form 22° C to 36° C (71° F to 94° F) all year round.
The eastern Atlantic coast from Rio Grande do Norte to the state of São Paulo has a humid tropical climate, also hot but with slightly less rainfall than in the north and with summer and winter seasons.
Most of Brazil's interior has a semi-humid tropical climate, with a hot, rainy summer from December through March and a drier, cooler winter (June - August).
Mountainous areas in the Southeast have a high-altitude tropical climate, similar to the semi-humid tropical climate, but rainy and dry seasons are more pronounced and temperatures are cooler, averaging from 18° C to 23° C (64° F to 73° F).
Part of the interior of the Northeast has a tropical semi-arid climate - hot with sparse rainfall. Most of the rain, falls during three months, usually March - May, but sometimes the season is shorter and in some years there is no rainfall at all. Average temperature is 24° C to 27° C (75° F to 80° F).
Brazil's South, below the Tropic of Capricorn, has a humid subtropical climate. Rainfall is distributed regularly throughout the year and temperatures vary from 0° C to 10° C (32° F to 4O° F) in winter, with occasional frosts and snowfall (but the latter is rare) to 21° C to 32° C (70° F to 80° F) in summer.
Culture and Regligion
While handshaking is a common practice, here it is customary to greet not only friends and relatives but also complete strangers to whom you are being introduced with hugs and kisses. The "social" form of kissing consists usually of a kiss on each cheek except between man, for those, a handshake with a smile is sufficient. There is a spread out superstition that adding a 3rd kiss on the cheek improves one's change to get married soon. Between the second and third kiss you should say "treis pra casar" meaning: three to get married.
Brazil is considered to be the largest catholic country in the planet, but this should be taken with a grain of salt, since most people are catholic and something else. In the last 40 years or so, the protestant movement has gain a lot of ground, but they to are victim from the multi-religion custom. The African religions, such as Candomblé, Umbanda, among others, although more widespread in Bahia, are largely accepted and celebrated country wide. The "Espiritismo," Buddhism, Judaism, Muslim and many others religions divide peoples heart among themselves without causing any social conflict whatsoever.
To understand the addresses, here's what the Portuguese words mean:
- Alameda (Al.) = boulevard
- Andar = floor, story
- Avenida (Av.) = avenue
- Casa = house
- Centro = the central downtown business district also frequently referred to as cidade or "the city"
- Conjunto (Cj.) = a suite of rooms or a group of buildings
- Estrada (Estr.) = road or highway
- Fazenda = farm, ranch, also a country lodge
- Largo (Lgo.) = square of plaza esplanade
- Lote = Lot
- Praça (Pça.) = square or plaza
- Praia = beach
- Ramal = secondary or not a through road or telephone extension.
- Rio = river
- Rodovia (Rod.) = highway
- Rua (R.) street
- Sala = room Ordinal numbers are written with ° or a degree sign after the numeral, so that "3° andar" means 3rd floor.
- BR followed by a number refers to one of the federal interstate highways, for example: BR 101.
- Telex/telephone numbers are given with the area code for long-distance dialing in parentheses. For example: (084) 9160-3242 or 84 9160-3242 or yet including the country's code: +5584 9160-3242
Most restaurants will usually add a 10% service charge onto your bill. If you are in doubt as to whether it has been included, it's best to ask (0 serviço está inctuido?). Give the waiter a bigger tip if you feel the service was special. Although many waiters will don a sour face if you don't tip above the 10% included in the bill, you have no obligation to do so.
Hotels will also add a 10% service charge to your bill, but this doesn't necessarily go to the persons who were helpful to you.
Tour agencies do not add this service fee, so tour guides are used to receive tips.
Electric voltage is not standardized throughout Brazil, but most cities have a 127-volt as is the case of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Belém, Belo Horizonte, Corumbá and Cuiabá, Curitiba, Fóz do Iguassú, Porto Alegre, Salvador and the Amazon. The electric usage is 220 volts in Brasilia, Florianópolis, Fortaleza, Recife, Natal and São Luis. The city of Manaus uses 110-volt electricity.
Business hours for offices in most cities are 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Lunch "hours" may last literally hours. Banks open from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Brasilia's Time, Monday through Friday. The "Casas de Câmbio" currency exchanges operate usually from 9 am. - 5p.m. or 5.30 pm.
In the Amazon, most businesses close for lunch from 12 noon to 2 p.m.
Brazilians has way too many holydays. The following list shows only the most important ones.
- New Year's Day (national holiday)
- Good Lord Jesus of the Seafarers (four- day celebration in Salvador; starts off with a boat parade)
- Epiphany (regional celebrations, mostly in the Northeast)
January (3rd Sunday)
- Festa do Bonfim (one of the largest celebrations in Salvador)
- Yemanjá Festival in Salvador (the Afro-Brazilian goddess of the sea in syncretism with Catholism corresponds with Virgin Mary)
- Carnival (national holiday; celebrated all over Brazil on the four days leading up to Ash Wednesday. Most spectacular in Rio, Salvador, Recife/Olinda. São Paulo has been improving lately)
- Easter (Good Friday is a national holiday; Colonial Ouro Preto puts on a colorful procession; passion play staged at Nova Jerusalem)
- Tiradentes Day (national holiday in honor of the martyred hero of Brazil's independence - celebrations in his native Minas Gerais, especially Ouro Preto)
- Labor Day (national holiday)
- Corpus Christi (national holiday)
- Santarém County Fundation. (county holiday)
- Festas Juninas (a series of street festivals held in June and early July in honor of Saints John, Peter and Anthony, featuring bonfires, dancing and mock marriages. In Santarém, the folkloric Carimbó dance groups competition is really impresive)
- Amazon Folk Festival (held in Manaus)
- Bumba-Meu-Boi (processions and street dancing in Maranhão are held in the second half of June and beginning of July)
- In the Amazon, Festa do Boi in Parintins is rivaling Rio's carnival.
- Independence Day (national holiday)
September 2nd Week (movable)
- Çairé (Alter do Chão’s pagan festival celebrating the river dolphin seduction of young virgins…)
- Oktoberfest in Blumenan (put on by descendants of German immigrants)
- Nossa Senhora de Aparecida (national holiday honoring Brazil's patron saint)
- All Saints Day
- All Souls Day (national holiday)
- Proclamation of the Republic (national holiday)
November Last Sunday - Santarém main cathedral procession.
- Christmas (national holiday)
- New Year's Eve (on Rio de Janeiro beaches, gifts are offered to Yemanjá)
A daily English-language newspaper, the "Latin America Daily Post," circulates in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, carrying international news from wire services, including sports and financial news, as well as domestic Brazilian news.
The Miami Herald, the Latin America edition of the "international Herald Tribune"
The "Wall Street Journal" are available on many newsstands in the big cities, as are such newsmagazines as "Time" and "Newsweek."
Post offices generally are open from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. - noon on Saturday and are closed on Sunday and holidays. In large cities, some branch offices stay open until later. (The post office in the Rio de Janeiro International Airport is open 24 hours a day.)
Post offices are usually designated with a sign reading "Correios" or sometimes "ECT" (for Empresa de Correios e Telégrafos = Postal and Telegraph Company).
Pay phones in Brazil use phone cards which are sold at newsstands, bars or shops, usually located near the phones. Ask for Cartão Telefônico. Each cartão is good for several pulses, after which your call will be cut off. To avoid being cut off in the middle of a call, get cards with sufficient pulses for your call - unused pulses will remain in the card after you hang up, so you can use them later.
The sidewalk telefone público is also called an orelhão (big ear) because of the protective shell, which takes the place of a booth. As you can see in the picture at the right, Santarém public phones are very creative.
You can also call from a posto telefônico, a telephone company station (most bus stations and airports have such facilities), where you can either buy tokens, use the phone and pay the cashier afterward, or make a credit card or collect call.
Domestic long-distance rates go down 75% every day between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. They are 50% less expensive between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. and 8 and 11 p.m. on weekdays and between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Saturday and between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. on Sunday and holidays.
Long distance calls in Brazil starts with "0" (zero) then you dial two digits for the carrier you like to use (15 for Telefônica, 21 for Embratel, 31 for Telemar, among others.) then you dial two digits for the area code and finally the local phone number. Local number can be 7 or 8 digits long.
Usually the phone number are given as: (093) 3522-4847. Remember that you need to dial the carrier between the initial zero and the two digits area code. Some people give their number in the format: (0xx93) 3522-4847 where xx must be replaced for the carrier code of your choice.
Should you need a doctor while in Brazil, the hotel you are staying at will be able to recommend reliable professionals who often speak several languages. Many of the better hotels even have a doctor on duty. Your consulate will also be able to supply you with a list of physicians who speak your language. In Rio de Janeiro, the Rio Health Collective (English-speaking) runs a 24-hour referral service, Tel: (021) 325-9300 ramal or extension 44 for the Rio area only. Check with your health insurance company before traveling - some insurance plans cover any medical service that you may require while abroad. Some doctors are able to attend in English.
While traveling don't drink tap water anywhere is the main rule. Although water in Brazil is treated and is sometimes quite heavily chlorinated, people normally filter water in their homes. Any hotel or restaurant will have inexpensive bottled mineral water, both carbonated (corn gas or "with gas") and uncarbonated (sem gas or "without gas"). If you are out in the hot sun, make an effort to drink extra fluids.
What to Eat
A country as large and diverse as Brazil naturally has regional specialties when it comes to food. Immigrants, too, influence Brazilian cuisine. In some parts of the south, the cuisine reflects a German influence; Italian and Japanese immigrants brought their cooking skills to São Paulo. Some of the most traditional Brazilian dishes are adaptations of Portuguese or African foods. But the staples for many Brazilians are rice, beans and manioc.
Lunch is the heaviest meal of the day and you might find it very heavy indeed for the hot climate. Breakfast is most commonly café com leite (hot milk with coffee) with bread and sometimes fruit. Supper is often taken quite late.
Although not a great variety of herbs is used, Brazilian food is tastily seasoned, not usually peppery - with the exception of some very spicy dishes from Bahia. Many Brazilians do enjoy hot pepper pimenta) and the local malagueta chilis can be infernally fiery or pleasantly nippy, depending on how they're prepared. But the pepper sauce (most restaurants prepare their own, sometimes jealously guarding the recipe) is almost always served separately so the option is yours.
Considered Brazil's national dish (although not found in all parts of the country), feijoada consists of black beans simmered with a variety of dried, salted and smoked meats. Originally made out of odds and ends to feed the slaves, nowadays the tail, ears, feet, etc. of a pig are thrown in. Feijoada for lunch on Saturday has become somewhat of an institution in Rio de Janeiro, where it is served completa with white rice, finely shredded collard-green (couve), farofa (manioc root meal toasted with butter) and sliced oranges.
The most unusual Brazilian food is found in Bahia, where a distinct African influence can be tasted in the dendê palm oil and coconut milk. The Bahianos are fond of pepper and many dishes call for ground raw peanuts or cashew nuts and dried shrimp. Some of the most famous Bahian dishes are:
Vatapá (fresh and dried shrimp, fish, ground raw peanuts, coconut milk, dendê oil and seasonings thickened with bread into a creamy mush);
moqueca (fish, shrimp, crab or a mixture of seafood in a dendê oil and coconut milk sauce);
xinxim de galinha (a chicken fricasse with dendê oil, dried shrimp and ground raw peanuts);
carurú (a shrimp-okra gumbo with dendê oil);
bobó de camarão (cooked and mashed manioc root with shrimp, dendê oil and coconut milk);
acarajé (a patty made of ground beans fried in dendê oil and filled with vatapá, dried shrimp and pimenta).
Although it is delicious, note that the palm oil as well as the coconut milk can be too rich for some delicate digestive tracts.
Seafood is plentiful all along the coast, but the Northeast is particularly famed for its fish, shrimp, crabs and lobster and the Amazon for its incredible variety of fish species and fish dishes. Sometimes cooked with coconut milk, other ingredients that add a nice touch to Brazilian seafood dishes are coriander, lemon juice and garlic. Try peixe à brasileira, a fish stew served with pirão (manioc root meal cooked with broth from the stew to the consistency of porridge) and a traditional dish served along the coast. One of the tastiest varieties of ocean fish is badejo, a sea bass with firm white meat.
A favorite with foreign visitors and very popular all over Brazil is the churrasco or barbecue, which originated with the southern gaucho cowboys who roasted meat over an open fire. Some of the finest churrascos can be eaten in the South. Most churrascarias offer a rodízio option: for a set price diners eat all they can of a variety of meats.
A few exotic dishes found in the Amazon include those prepared with tucupí (made from manioc roots) and jambú leaves, which have a slightly numbing effect on the tongue, especially pato no tucupí (duck) and tacacá broth with manioc starch. There are also many varieties of fruit that are found nowhere else. The rivers produce a great variety of fish, including Tucunaré, Pirarucú, Tambaquí and the famous piranha, which contribute to the uniqueness of the Amazonian cuisine.
Two Portuguese dishes that are popular in Brazil are bacalhau (imported dried salted codfish) and cosido, a glorified "boiled dinner" of meats and vegetables (usually several root vegetables, squash and cabbage and/or collard-green) served with pirão made out of the fish broth. Also try delicate palmito palm heart, served as a salad, soup or pastry filling.
Salgadinhos are a Brazilian style of finger food, served as appetizers, canapés, ordered with a round of beer or as a quick snack at a lunch counter - a native alternative to US-style fast food chains. Salgadinhos are usually small pastries stuffed with cheese, ham, shrimp, chicken, ground beef, palmito, etc. There are also fish balls and meat croquettes, breaded shrimp and miniature quiches. Some of the bakeries have excellent salgadinhos which you can either take home or eat at the counter with a fruit juice or soft drink. Other tasty snack foods include pão de queijo (a cheesy quick bread), and pastel (two layers of a thinly rolled pasta-like dough with a filling sealed between, deep-fried). Instead of French-fried potatoes, try aipim frito (deepfried manioc root).
What to Drink
Brazilians are great social drinkers and love to sit for hours talking, telling jokes and often singing with friends over drinks. During the hottest months, this will usually be in open-air restaurants where most of the people will be ordering chope, cold draft beer, perfect for the hot weather. Brazilian beers are really very good. Take note that although cerveja means beer, it is usually used to refer to bottled beer onlly. Canned beer is called latinha "little can".
Although most international soft drinks can be found in Brazil, the Guaraná is a unique Brazilian and, by far, the most popular soft drink in here. It is extracted from the Guaraná fruit, a coffee like fruit originated in the Amazon. The Portuguese learned it from the Indians and it has been tremendously popular ever since. The Coca-Cola Company recently took the Guaraná to Europe and the U.S. achieving immediate success. Try different brands of Guaraná, because some are too sweet. The Antártica brand and the Coca-Cola's Guaraná Kuat are found nation wide.
Brazil's own unique brew is cachaça, a strong liquor distilled from sugar cane, a type of rum, but with its own distinct flavor. Usually colorless, it can also be amber. Each region boasts of its locally produced cachaça, also called pinga, cana or aguardente, but traditional producers include the states of Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and in the northeastern states where the sugar cane has long been a cash crop.
Out of cachaça, some of the most delightful mixed drinks are concocted. Tops is the popular caipirinha, also considered the national drink. It's really a simple concoction of crushed lime - peel included - and sugar topped with plenty of ice. Variations on this drink are made using vodka or rum, but you should try the real thing. Some bars and restaurants mix their caipirinhas sweeter than you may want - order yours com pouco açucar (with a small amount of sugar) or even sem açucar (without sugar). Batidas are beaten in the blender or shaken and come in as many varieties as there are types of fruit in the tropics. Basically fruit juice with cachaça, some are also prepared with sweetened condensed milk. Favorites are batida de maracujá (passion fruit) and batida de coco (coconut milk), exotic flavors for visitors from cooler climates. When sipping batidas, don't forget that the cachaça makes them a potent drink, even though they taste like fruit juice.
Finally there is wonderful Brazilian coffee. Café is roasted dark, ground fine, prepared strong and taken with plenty of sugar. Coffee mixed with hot milk (cafe com leite) is the traditional breakfast beverage throughout Brazil. Other than at breakfast, it is served black in tiny demitasse cups, never with a meal. (And decaffeinated is not in the Brazilian vocabulary.) These cafezinhos or "little coffees", offered the visitor to any home or office, are served piping hot at any botequim (there are even little stand-up bars that serve only cafezinho). However you like it, Brazilian coffee makes the perfect ending to every meal.
From the Airport
Until you get your bearing, you are best off taking a special airport taxi for which you pay in advance at the airport at a fixed rate set according to your destination. There will be less of a communication problem, no misunderstanding about the fare and even if the driver should take you around by the "scenic route," you won't be charged extra for it. However, If you should decide to take a regular taxi, check out the fares posted for the official taxis so that you will have an idea of what is a normal rate.
Most hotesls offer, previously arranged, airport-city-hotel shuttles.
Taxis are the best way for visitors to get around. It's easy to get "taken for a ride" in a strange city when ever possible take a taxi from your hotel where someone can inform the driver where you want to go.
Comfortable, on-schedule bus service is available between all major cities, and even to several other South American countries. Remember that distances are far and bus rides can be long, i.e., a few days. But you could break the long journey with a stop along the way. Bus travel in Brazil is very interesting and you can really see the country side. You will also make many friends along the way. In Brazil, unlike most places, there is a large bus-stop infra-structure with excellent meals, sparkle clean restrooms and shower facilities.
Local boat tours and excursions are available in coastal and riverside cities. There are also options for longer trips. There are Amazon Riverboat trips lasting a day or two to up to a week or more. These range from luxury floating hotels to more rustic accommodations. Santarém Tur is able to arrange it for you (www.santaremtur.com.br)
Except for crowded urban commuter railways, trains are not a major form of transportation in Brazil and rail links are not extensive. There are a few train trips, which are tourist attractions in themselves, either because they are so scenic or because they run on antique steam-powered equipment.
In the southern state of Paraná, the 110 km Curitiba-Paranaguá railroad is famous for spectacular mountain scenery.
The train to Corumbá, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, near the Bolivian border, crosses the southern tip of the Pantanal marshlands. There are train links all the way to São Paulo, over 1,400 km away - a long ride. The most scenic part is the 400-km stretch between Campo Grande and Corumbá.
In the Amazon region, you can ride on what is left of the historic Madeira-Mamoré Railway which a 27-km of track between Porto Velho and Cachoeira de Teotônio in the state of Rondônia. The Madeira-Mamoré runs on Sundays only and strictly as a tourist attraction.
For travel within Brazil, the major airlines are VARIG, TAM, GOL, ViaBrasil, BRA, VASP with several other regional carriers serving the smaller cities.
Different lines have similar prices for the same routes. To get the best value, call up for several quotes.
The large airlines also cooperate in a shuttle service between Rio and São Paulo (with flights every 15 minutes or so), Rio and Brasilia (flights every hour) and Rio and Belo Horizonte (usually about 10 flights per day). Although you may be lucky, a reservation is a good idea.