An icon of South America, Brazil is bursting with life from the city streets to the remote corners of the Amazon Rainforest. While the streets of Rio de Janeiro are always buzzing, Brazil really is a country dominated by wilderness.
With 60% of the Amazon Rainforest within its borders, Brazil boasts the title as Planet Earth’s most biologically diverse place and 10% of all known animal species are found within this tropical kingdom. With iconic animals like the toucan, capybara, pink dolphins, and more – Brazil is a top destination for nature lovers.
Bem-vindos – Welcome to Brazil
But diversity doesn’t exist only within nature and the vibrant streets of the cities and towns are always overflowing with celebrations. Carnaval is the country’s most famous celebration, which is held yearly during Lent, which is observed by the Christian religion. The festivities are famous for their feathers, floats, and parties. But Brazilians love to party and while Carnaval is one of the biggest of the year, there are still various celebrations throughout the year. With a love of music, the people of Brazil dance to their own beat and the rhythm of life is unique.
Brasília is the capital of Brazil, which was founded in 1960 and replaced Rio de Janeiro as the seat of the government. The unusual city is most famous for its layout and design, which is often said to resemble that of a bird or airplane. The white and modern architecture, Brasília is quite plain when compared to Rio de Janeiro. But the capital makes up its bland appearance in the hard-working people who represent its diversity. With foreign diplomats, international consulate employees, and native-born Brazilians, the capital has a global mix of life.
Culture and Language
Brazil’s history goes back thousands of years and started with indigenous Jiquabu tribes, who were the original inhabitants. Over 2,000 tribes once inhabited the land and they lived along the coast, as well as banks of rivers. But in the year 1500, Pedro Álvares Cabral was sponsored by the Kingdom of Portugal to travel West, which is when he found Brazil. With the introduction of Europeans and their diseases, large portions of the indigenous people were killed. Those who were not killed were used as slaves throughout the year to mine resources from the land. Brazil is rich with sugar, gold, diamonds, coffee, and rubber.
Since the days of colonization, Brazil has developed its own government, which today runs as a democratic republic with a president at the helm. While the government is not perfect and Brazil was named to have a “flawed democracy” in 2018, the country is still working hard towards the future. The economic growth of the country has helped stabilize Brazil, but it is still considered to be a developing nation.
With colonization by the Portuguese, Brazil is often said to have a strong European culture. Portugal’s influence continues throughout the country via the language, cuisine, and architecture. However, African culture also plays a part in Brazil’s identity and is often attributed from introducing the love of music and dance.
Religion is also an important part of Brazil’s identity with 2/3 of the population identifying as Roman Catholic. However, a recent surge of Protestants has changed the statistic and it is now estimated that about 65% of the population remains as Roman Catholic.
Music is also deeply ingrained in Brazilian culture with famous genres like Samba, Choro, and Bossa nova all coming from the country. Brazilians love to dance to the beat and music is often a daily part of life, as well as grand celebrations like Carnaval.
Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, which is used in the media, education, and government. There are differences between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese, but the two languages are mutually intelligible. While most Brazilians will only speak Portuguese, minority languages like Spanish, Italian, and German are also spoken.
Spanish is mostly influenced by Brazil’s regional placement, as it is bordered by Spanish speaking countries. But not all Brazilians will understand Spanish. Italian and German are also becoming more popular as immigrants are beginning to move to Brazil.
With Brazil’s influence in the global markets and with tourism, English is becoming more popular amongst professionals. While a small portion of the country is fluent in English, you are more likely to find English speaking Brazilians in touristy areas.
For US citizens who are interested in visiting Brazil, the law changed in 2019 and a tourist visa is not required for travelers who are not looking to establish residency and are only partaking in tourism, business, or transit. Any other type of travel will need to have a visa pre-approved, which can be applied for through a Brazilian consulate.
Other requirements for entry into Brazil include having a valid US passport with one blank page. Brazil only requires that your passport be valid upon the date of entry but be aware that many airlines will refuse travel if your passport has less than 6 months validity.
You must also declare any amount of money that is more than $10,000 Brazilian Real, which is currently $2,334 US dollars. There are no vaccination requirements, but you should be aware that there are prevalent diseases within the country. Mosquito or insect borne diseases like dengue, chikungunya, Chagas, and rabies are common in Brazil. It is recommended that you take the proper precaution against insect bites and avoid coming into contact with wildlife or local animals. Yellow fever, measles, and polio have also had recent outbreaks. It is always highly recommended that you are up to date on all your vaccinations and boosters before travel.
Finally, travelers who are underage and families with children who are underage should be aware that they will need written consent from any absent parent. While the law states that only a child with Brazilian citizenship, even if they are dual citizens with another country, needs consent forms, it is recommended that every underage traveler carry the proper documents.
The consent forms are a written authorization letter that is given by a parent or parents to the child and demonstrates to Brazilian authorities that they are aware of the travel plans and have allowed for their child to travel. If you are traveling with both parents, you will not need any consent forms. You will also need authorized copies of the child’s birth certificate. All documents and papers must be properly authorized for them to be valid. Specific questions or any confusion about how to travel with minors to Brazil should be directed to the Brazilian Consulate.
While you don’t have to pay for a tourist visa before arriving in Brazil, it is important that you still take the time to plan your spending budget before you begin your adventure. Brazil is an expensive country to visit, when you compare it to its neighboring South American countries. But if you plan accordingly, you can still set an affordable budget for Brazil. The most important parts of your budget will include your airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
While Brazil is located in the south, it is not too far away from the United States, but it is still expensive to purchase an airline ticket to the country. Most travelers spend an average of $800 US dollars on their plane ticket to Brazil, but you may be able to find some deals that lower the price to $500 or $600 US dollars. But the price of your ticket will also be affected by when you travel and how far in advance you book your reservation.
Peak tourist season in Brazil runs from September to October, but there are other times of a high number of travelers in from December to March and June to August. Major holiday periods like Christmas, Semana Santa, and Lent are also times when the airline tickets will rise in price. You should also avoid waiting to book your ticket, as making a last-minute purchase means that you’ll have to spend more money.
Unlike your flight, accommodation is affordable in Brazil, if you want it to be. There are a lot of different accommodation options within the country that range from budget to luxury. Hostels are the most affordable type of housing and they will normally cost $10-$20 US dollars per night. However, you would only get the basics and would likely have to share amenities with other guests. For more privacy, a double room in a hotel would cost $40-$70 US dollars per night.
There are a lot of budget hotels that are clean and comfortable. If you are splitting the price between two travelers, it can be just as affordable as a hostel. Boutique or Western style hotels start their nightly rates at about $120 US dollars per night. These would provide the most privacy and concierge service, while still being affordable. If you would like to stay in a resort, you should expect to spend more than $300 US dollars per night.
Once you’ve decided on what type of accommodation you want for the duration of your trip, the next portion of your budget will go to food and drink. Food keeps us all alive, but when you are traveling, it is also a way to experience and connect with the local culture. Brazilian cuisine is known for having a wide variety of influences from all over the world and it can vary from region to region.
With the tropical location, Brazil is known for their fresh fruit with one of the most popular being the açaí, which is made into various sweet dishes. Romeu and Julieta is another common fruit dish that is made from guava and served like cheesecake. Empanadas are a staple Brazilian snack, which are world famous. Most empanadas are made with cheese or meat. A unique take on a chicken nugget is coxinhas, which is chicken wrapped in a soft dough and deep fried. Feijoada is considered to be one of Brazil’s national dishes and it is similar to a stew using black beans, rice, and pig ears.
Brazilian food is famous all over the world but being able to taste the authentic cuisine is something that all travelers eagerly await. The good news is that food is affordable when you’re in Brazil, if you choose to stick to local establishments. Most meals can be purchased for $5 or $6 US dollars in street stalls or markets.
If you would like to dine out at a restaurant, you should expect to pay $20-$40 US dollars per meal at a nice establishment. Higher quality restaurants will serve gourmet meals and will cost $50-$120 US dollars per meal. Some of the top restaurants are more than $120 US dollars for a meal but are considered to be excellent cuisine as they will be one of the 18 Michelin star restaurants in Brazil.
Drinking is a normal part of Brazilian culture and there are a large variety of alcoholic drinks available. Alcoholic beverages made with local spirits will be the most affordable and should cost less than $2 US dollars. Cachaça is Brazil’s most famous locally made alcohol and it is distilled from sugar cane. A bottle of cachaça is less than $20 US dollars. If you are looking to drink import brands of alcohol, you should expect to pay a higher price. Most drinks within the touristy areas will have high prices that rival US prices. You should expect to pay $10-$15 US dollars per drink, if you stay in tourist areas. Drinking less can help you save on your budget.
Overall, budget travelers should expect to spend about $50 US dollars per day in Brazil. Backpackers can easily get by on this amount of money and may even be able to spend a little less, depending on their choice of accommodation. A more moderate budget would have you spending $100 US dollars per day and would give you more private accommodation. Luxury vacations will have a high daily budget and you should expect to spend more than $300 US dollars per day if you are staying in luxury resorts and sticking to fine dining.
How to Get Around
Transportation is also an important consideration for your budget and there are a lot of different ways that you can travel around Brazil. The most common methods are to use a local bus or the metro, which is established in bigger cities like Rio de Janeiro. Buses and trains are the most affordable way to get around and tickets are often less than $1 US dollar per trip.
Taxis can also be used to get around the city and are relatively affordable with most rides costing less than $5 US dollars. However, it is important that you only used licensed taxis, which should be registered and clearly marked. There should be a local phone number for a taxi, or a taxi stand where you can find a licensed car and driver.
If you are short on time, domestic flights are the best way to cut down on the hours spent traveling, but it can be very expensive. Domestic flights normally cost about $200 US dollars per ticket, which is not always affordable for every traveler.
You can drive yourself in Brazil if you rent a car, but the numerous toll roads and heavy traffic often stop tourists from driving. Brazil is chaotic and you may want to find other ways to travel so that you don’t have to deal with the stress of new roads and laws.
Finally, walking is safe in the daytime around tourist areas, but it is not recommended that you walk at night. If you do choose to walk at night, you should always walk with a group and be aware of your surroundings. Petty crime is common in Brazil and by choosing to take a taxi, you can stay safer and avoid conflict.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
Brazil is a large country and there are various cities that are tourist destinations. From inland to the coast, here are the top city destinations in Brazil.
As a man-made capital, Brasília seems out of place with the rest of the country due to its stark and modern architecture. But while the city may not be as dramatic or visually stunning at other destinations, the local people and lively nightlife still have their charm. Amidst the white buildings are numerous green spaces like parks, which help bring life to this artificial land.
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro is one of the most easily recognized cities in the world due to its dramatic landscape, numerous beaches, and Christ the Redeemer statue. Here, the tropical forest blends with towering mountains and amongst the valleys are hundreds of favelas. Sugar Loaf Mountains is one of the most famous attractions, alongside the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Christ the Redeemer dutifully watches over the city and its people, and you can take a journey to the statue’s base for an amazing view of Rio.
While São Paulo is not as visually stunning as Rio, it makes up for its urban jungle landscape with art, history, dining, and shopping. Here, you can explore Brazilian fine dining for a delicious adventure. The various museums are major attractions and will give you insights into the local art and culture.
Filled with colonial architecture, Salvador is known for its Afro-Brazilian culture that thrives in the streets. The colorful buildings add to the liveliness and the Old Town’s cobbled roads lead to various museums and historic sites. With high energy, Salvador has become a booming tourist destination and shaped the country of Brazil.
Florianopolis is often said to have the most stunning beaches in all of Brazil. While Rio has the most famous, the beaches here are lined with large rocks, lush greenery, and white sands. Tourists often come here to enjoy the local watersports, as well as hiking and paragliding.
While Manaus is not a beautiful city, its geographical location sets it in the heart of the Amazon and makes it the best place to stopover before you escape into the world famous rainforest. The city does have a few tourist attractions like museums, an Opera House, and a place where two different parts of the Amazon meet. The Meeting of the Waters is a visually stunning attraction that displays how the Amazon River flows and meets.
Ouro Preto is a well-preserved historical town that was once essential to the gold rush in Brazil. Now, the town is an idyllic destination where you take step back in time and explore history. With cobblestone streets and old churches, tourists flock to see this historic destination.
Points of Interest
While cities are often the main attraction, there are plenty of points of interest throughout Brazil. Here are some of Brazil’s top tourist points of interest.
Located on the Brazilian and Argentinian border, Iguaçu Falls is a series of 275 different cascades. The Devil’s Throat is the most famous location within Brazil and it is a unique U-shaped area that the falls pool into with the highest point towering at 269 feet tall. You can also go out on the walkway to get closer to the falls and into the base of the Devil’s Throat.
Filled with capybara, caimen, and jaguars, the Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland area that extends from Brazil to Bolivia and Paraguay. While not as remote as parts of the Amazon, your best chances of seeing local wildlife are in Pantanal.
The second largest river in the world, the Amazon is 4,000 miles long and carves itself through the Amazon Rainforest. Here, the water is also diverse with numerous known aquatic species and more being discovered with each passing year. Tourists are often eager to get out on the water and explore for the chance to glimpse famous animals like the Green Anaconda or Amazonian Pink River dolphins.
Copacabana Beach is one of Rio de Janeiro’s most famous tourist destinations that is also popular amongst the locals. This world-famous beach is lined with luxury hotels and housing, which are most famous for their stark white colors. The beach is also the center for major holiday celebrations like New Year’s.
Lencois Maranhenses National Park
Lencois Maranhenses National Park is one of the most unique in all of Brazil due to the turquoise pools and stark white sand dunes. The landscape here seems desolate, but the pools are actually filled with aquatic wildlife. While the pools do disappear during the dry season, the pools are unique and still have fish when the pools appear. You can also swim in the pools but be aware that it is more like visiting hot springs because water temperature can reach up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Get Out and Go
With unique joie de vivre, Brazil is a major tourist destination that delights visitors with its sights, sounds, and cuisine. From the packed cities like Rio de Janeiro to the remote destinations in the Amazon Rainforest, there is plenty to see and do in this South American gem. Tourists can delight in experiencing the local lifestyle, as well as seeing some of our planet’s most precious biodiversity.