Brazil Guide, South America

Rio de Janeiro night, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro photo by Sampaio.

Brazil Tourism

This is a monster of a country, larger than Europe and the biggest in South America, hosting stunning sights, from the Amazon River and its rainforest to stunning Rio de Janeiro and its Sugar Loaf mountain views, Foz do Iguacu waterfalls in the far south of the country, as well as pretty towns – from northern Fortaleza to southern Curitiba – lively and colourful locals who really like to play, lots of sun, excellent beaches, plenty of wildlife and mostly at a low cost.


• Chance of robbery, tho’ primarily in cities. More.

Zika, malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever.

• Huge distances need flights or LOTS of time.

• Hands up who speaks Portuguese, (though you can get away with a little Spanish).

• Local people are sometimes not overwhelmingly friendly.

• Monster traffic jams in major cities.


Best weather: April-September (July-Oct for the dry season in the Amazon).
Worst: December-February (summer holidays, so accommodation and transport are a problem; it’s also hot and sticky). Oct-April in far south (rains, humidity). February or March in Rio if you’re not there for the Carnival.

Main attractions

Rio de Janeiro

Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro.

***Rio de Janeiro. An exquisitely beautiful setting with gorgeous beaches, elegant urban folk, wild bars and excellent good-value restaurants, spoiled a touch by run-down buildings, the poverty of much of the population and the threat of robbery. Rio Photos; Rio Guide

North of Rio

Brasilia. Large, hot, dull city; don’t bother unless you have a special interest in futuristic architecture and an air-conditioned car.
***Salvador, Bahia. A walkable, sensual, attractive colonial city with a humming music scene, loads of exceptional beaches all around and a terrific carnival. It’s now, unfortunately, becoming something of a package destination.
**Olinda, near Recife. Lovely little colonial town, wonderfully located, with a lively cultural scene and great Carnival.
*Fortaleza. Busy city with superb beaches both east and west, tho’ city beaches not so good.

Amazon Rainforest

A traditional upper Amazon River ferry boat, Brazil

An Amazon River ferry, Brazil.

Amazon rainforest trips are more about the boating upriver into the damp, buzzing, oppressive ambience than seeing wildlife, since most of the bigger critters only appear at night when you least want to be there.
Floating about on a dugout canoe at night in search of caiman by torchlight, freaking at odd splashes and squawks and beating mozzies off would not be untypical.
You may well see caiman (crocs), monkeys, sloths, pink dolphins, tarantulas, electric eels and parrots galore, but don’t think of this as a massed-animal experience such as you may see in East Africa or Namibia.

Best July-October for the dry season

How to see the Amazon Rainforest

It’s quite a trip just getting there and most beasts come out at night. That being said the atmosphere is amazing and if you find the right guide there’s plenty to see, though not a staggering number of animals. No shortage of tarantulas!

The Pantanal wetlands further south is another wildlife safari destination, with more easily visible animals and many birds tho’ a canoe may be better there

Manaus is the best place to get bargain trips into the Brazilian jungle but beware of two problems.
Even on a fast boat it’s going to take a day, each way, to reach any reasonably virgin forest so the best explorations are based away from Manaus, preferably more than 200 kms north or possibly south.
The best direction to take for jungle satisfaction is upriver north. South of Manaus, for example to Lake Mamori or Jurara, has modest amounts of wildlife but also has undergone a fair bit of development – and concrete civilisation is probably not what you want to see!

The jungle experience you desire, since you’ve invested heavily with time and money, is going to be almost totally dependent on your guide. He will need to know when and where to go to show you interesting plants and creatures. He will need to have great knowledge and eyesight to point out the numerous, well-concealed animals and birds. He will need to speak your language reasonably well. These kind of guides have long since been snapped up by reputable tour operators, so that is where you need to go to get your guide, otherwise it’s wasted time and money. Do not pick a cowboy off the street or even a cowboy in a little shop.
Check an agency’s Embratur (certification from the Brazilian Tourist Board) and shop around. Starting at the official tourist information center (CAT) would be a good place to get tour operator suggestions and advice. .

See Amazon Travel Tips

Wildlife is possibly more visible in the Pantanal (see below) to the south, though it’s a swamp, not a jungle, so offers less ambience, romance or name-dropping.
Note that one of Brazil’s South America neighbours, Peru, also offers great Amazon experiences starting from the grubby town of Iquitos.

*Belem. A not unattractive Amazon city and starting point for Amazon river journeys. A riverboat up to Manaus takes about five days. Second-class on these boats is distinctly hot and uncomfortable.
If you can afford it tourist boats will not only give you a good night’s sleep and protect your valuables, but they may give you lessons on the environment too.

*Manaus. A historically interesting city, but now overbuilt and unattractive, though a necessary evil for starting Brazilian Amazon exploration.

Tourism South of Rio

***The Pantanal

Capybara in the Pantanal, Brazil

Capybara – a kind of huge, non-scary  rat,  in the Pantanal. Photo by Berrucomons.

South of the Amazon and west of Rio, this massive wetland and ranch area in central-west Brazil (NW of Rio) alive with wild things, including iguanas, tapir, capybara, caiman (crocodiles), giant snakes and anteaters, but in particular birds (parrots, macaws and so on).

The Pantanal is best July – October (the dry season, so less humidity, less mosquitoes, more life visible).

Iguazu Falls, South Brazil

Iguazu falls in far south Brazil.

***Iguacu Falls (Foz do Iguacu). These monstrous waterfalls, a world natural phenomenon – are bigger than Victoria falls and higher than Niagara, but they’re a long way south and there’s not much else in the vicinity. So head into Argentina and/or Paraguay while you’re there? (Best August-Nov).

***Curitiba-Paranagua, a lovely town, spectacular train ride and stunning Vila Velha weird stone park; 95km from Curitiba.

*Sao Paulo. Very expensive big city life, little Brazilian culture, the usual ridiculous ratio of a few ultra-rich versus huddled masses of extreme poor, serious street crime and traffic jams famously 112 miles long, tho’ nightlife is wild if you can afford it and there are good beaches nearby.


Apart from visiting the Amazon and/or the Pantanal. . .

• Surfing near Rio and to the south on Santa Catarina island, especially Florianopolis.

•  Wind-surfing north of Fortaleza e. g. Jericoacoara, or Buzios.

• Fishing inland river fishing is especially interesting. e. g. Rio Araguaia.

• Hangliding over Rio!

• Rock climbing near Rio and in some national parks.

• Hiking all along the coast.


Distances are huge and attractions well scattered so budget for domestic flights, but beware the December-February period when planes may be fully booked.
If you have the time buses are excellent and good value.
Car hire, biking and hitch-hiking are not recommended for long journeys.


At the bottom end you could stay in the dirt-cheap dormitorios (hotels) but they are primitive and not very safe. A far better choice – though a little more pricey – are youth hostels (albergue de juventude). These are common and well-organised and may help you keep your belongings.
Next up the scale are pensao or pousada, basically small, cheapish hotels.


December-January, Salvador, Festival of Jesus of Navigators. Boats, booze and bands.

December, Rio, Iemanja (see below)

February or March, Rio Carnival, Rio de Janeiro. Also in other Brazil cities that will be cheaper, more relaxed and better in some respects. e. g. Salvador, Olinda.

August, Fortaleza, Iemanja (Goddess of the sea festival), wild religious beach parties!

September, Nationwide, Independence Day.

110/220v, flat 2 pins or occasionally round 2 pins.

Required by almost everyone and available from your country’s consulate. They are usually valid for 90 days so give plenty of time.

Brazil is good value, though prices rocket in the holiday season (December-February).
Credit cards are widely accepted, especially Visa, and ATMs work fine. Changing cash or traveller’s cheques into Reals is easy, but do get some small bills which are always in short supply.

Cities offer a wide variety of international cuisine, but Brazil’s staples are white rice, black beans (feijao) and chicken, steak or fish. Farinha (manioc flour) is the least edible local ingredient.
The national dish is Feijoada, a meat, bean and garlic stew, but vegetarians and vegans will have no difficulty keeping their calorie levels up as okra, beans, onions, peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables, along with superb and varied fruit, make a frequent appearance.

Rio graffiti. Photo by Mario Dourado.

It’s easy to be over-conscious of the crime situation in Brazil and spoil your trip – or not go at all for that matter – but things are not as bad as that; obey some basic rules and you’ll have a wonderful time.

• Don’t walk lonely back-streets at night, especially after too many drinks; take a taxi home.

• Keep a close eye on your baggage on buses or trains, particularly at night. In fact, try to avoid night moves completely.

• Stay in as expensive hotel as you can afford, and use the safe.

• Don’t take valuables to the beach and don’t wear any jewellery or pricey watches.

• Don’t do drugs.

• Don’t resist if someone does rob you. In fact locals often carry a small roll of throwaway cash in a pocket and more serious cash hidden elsewhere (sock).

• Don’t automatically run to the police if you do get robbed, they’re corrupt and useless. However, if you have theft travel insurance then you’ll need to get some kind of police report so head for the nearest police station and don’t waste your time with the street cops.