Bom Dia! Let me start by saying that Brazil is absolutely AMAZING and it was a dream come true for me to visit. I’m lucky enough to have had over 100 students from Brazil during my full-time job as an ESL instructor, advisor, and assistant director. So in early 2018 I was able to go down to do some work and visit my students – who are the BEST tour guides! So if you’re looking to plan a trip to Brazil, here are all the tips you should need.
A huge shout-out and thank you to my friend Aline for editing this post and being my tour guide around Sao Paulo!
Getting to Brazil
I have to be honest here, getting to Brazil isn’t cheap. This will probably be the most expensive part of your trip. But don’t fret! If you use some of my flight finding secrets, you can invest a little time to save a lot of money. Like I did for my trips to Europe and Japan, I booked separate tickets – roundtrip between Syracuse and NYC, and another between NYC and Brazil. I did a multi-city ticket so I could fly into Rio de Janeiro and out of Sao Paulo.
Once you are in Brazil, flights are pretty cheap! Just keep in mind that Brazil is a HUGE country, so if you’re traveling farther distances, you’ll pay a little more. But you can get between Rio and Sao Paulo for under $100.
As of this post (February 2019), 1 US dollar is worth a little less than 4 Brazilian Real. So, divide the price by 4, and that’s a little under what the price is in USD. The real has been losing value against the dollar recently, but hopes to rebound back, so make sure you check before you go.
Most places in Brazil will take credit card, but it is a good idea to have some cash on you when you arrive. The exchange booths in the airport have some of the worst exchange rates, so try to get this done before your trip!
It is not required to tip in Brazil, but you will notice that many restaurants will add a 10% service fee on your bill. You are expected to pay this, but no more. If you really feel like your service wasn’t good enough, you don’t have to pay the fee. Servers are definitely paid a good wage wherein tips are still extra.
Another thing I found interesting was that sometimes it was really difficult to split checks among people. Many of the restaurants I visited did not allow it, so be prepared for that! After speaking with some of my Brazilian friends, they’ve said they’ve never had that problem, so maybe I just had bad luck!
If you learn nothing else from this post, it’s that Brazilian is NOT a language! Brazilians speak Portuguese, since it was originally claimed by Portugal in the 1500s. Also, unlike the rest of South America, Brazilians don’t speak Spanish! Of course, you’ll find people who are multilingual, and there are some similarities between the language, but respect the Portuguese!
Of all my international travels, I found Brazil to be the hardest to get around without knowing the native language. As I said before, I was so lucky to have my students to help translate for me!
Also, some words in Portuguese change depending on if you are a male or female speaking. For over a year, my students let me pronounce ‘thank you’ as if I were male! Luckily, someone finally corrected me. Another tip: “A” sounds like “ah”, E is “eh”, “I” sounds like “ee”, “O” like “oh”, and “U” like “oo”; “C” is typically a hard consonant, unless it is followed by “E” or “I” or has the cedilla “Ç”.
Some useful phrases:
“Bom Dia” – Good Morning / Good Day “Boa Tarde / Noite” – Good Afternoon / Good Evening “Oi” – Hi! “Tchau” – Goodbye “Obrigada” (f) / “Obrigado” (m) – Thank you “De nada” / “Por nada” – You’re welcome “Sim” – Yes “Não” – No “Português” – Portuguese (the language) “Inglês” – English “Com licença” – Excuse me “(Me) Desculpe” – I’m sorry “Eu me chamo…” – My name is… “Você” – You “Agua” – Water “Café” – Coffee “Cerveja” – Beer
Getting around Brazil
I didn’t have much luck finding reliable free WiFi (outside of my hotel) in Brazil. So if you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to log on to your wireless carrier’s website and activate international data. Most carriers provide 24 hours of data/service for $10, and you can leave it on as long as you want. Just be sure to budget for the $10/day!
Walking is always my go-to way to get around a city, but keep in mind that Sao Paulo is one of the largest cities in the world. It’s huge! And Rio is even more sprawling. While walking is great in a few places, most often you’ll need another mode of transportation.
Uber is super easy to use, safe, and reasonably priced. The one thing to keep in mind is travel time. If you’re in one of the major cities, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get from point A to point B. I often found that the estimated times in the Uber app were underestimating how long it actually took. Be careful with Uber at the airports, sometimes they may not be allowed, and if so, they may be very particular about where they will pick you up. Be ready for your driver to call you for clarification!
Like Uber, but in Brazil.
Always a reliable option. The perk with taxis is that they can drive in the bus lane, so the commute is faster!
When you’re traveling around in the main metropolitan areas, buses can be an easy way to get around. There are signs posted on the sides of the road, but make sure you have CASH with you to pay when you get on.
Sao Paulo and Rio both have public transportation available – both via tram and subway. Rio has a really nice (and very logical!) tram system in the business center of the city designed for the Olympics, but I had trouble getting my ticket! There are machines available at the tram stops, but for some reason my card wouldn’t read in the machine. Another time when having cash is super helpful!
Also, during rush hours, the metro has “women’s exclusive cars”. Because the trains cars get so crowded on the ways to and from work, some females feel safer in women-only cars.
If you really want to get around Brazil, you’re best bet is to get a rental car. Parking is difficult to find in the city centers, so a mixture of car and public transport is best for those days.
When driving around Brazil, the locals highly recommended using Waze. They proclaim that Waze will take you along the safest route possible – and it works great!
Brazil is FULL of utterly delicious food. Some of my favorites worldwide! Oh how I miss the days of my Brazilian friends cooking in my kitchen! Get ready to start salivating…
My all-time favorite Brazilian food, and one of my favorites worldwide, coxinha is basically like drained chicken soup, mixed with cream cheese, wrapped in a potato dough and deep fried. So freaking delicious I can’t stand it. One of my students came to my house several times to make this for me and my husband. He’d spend hours at the stove boiling the chicken, potatoes, and vegetables, then filling, and then frying. I could never get enough!
If you can, make a visit to Café Veloso. They are notorious for making THE BEST coxinha in Sao Paulo. Be prepared to wait to get in because the place is very small, but SO worth it. You’ll thank me later.
Think Texas de Brazil. But better. Wayyyyy better. Brazilian barbecue literally takes every part of the cow (and other animals) and smokes them for hours over charcoal. Super flavorful, tender, delicious… While a visit to a churrascaria is not necessarily friendly to your wallet – or to vegetarians – it is a truly Brazilian experience that you have to have.
Tip: Go hungry. In addition to an enormous buffet, waiters endlessly walk around the restaurant offering different cuts of meat to you. Some restaurants even give you a guide to tell you which part of the animal you’re eating and how it’s cooked. You’ll usually have a small set of metal tongs to help pull the meat from the skewers that the waiters are carrying.
The national Brazilian food – beans and rice! You’ll find this EVERYWHERE. And while I’m not usually a fan of beans, the way these are cooked are super flavorful and delicious! No trip to Brazil is complete without rtying Feijoada. (And my students made sure of that! When they heard I hadn’t had any yet, they bought it for me as my last dinner before I flew home!)
Pão de Queijo
Mmmmm cheesebread. So darn yummy. Often served with your meal, cheesebread looks like little rolls, but they are filled with cheese. Not gooey like a mozzarella stick or anything – the cheese is mixed in with the bread. And it’s delicious. Get some for now… and more for later.
What is it? Fried cassava flour. Why? I’m not sure. It’s a bit dry, but better when mixed with bacon or eggs. You’ll often find it served with beans. I’ve never had anything like it anywhere else, so it’s a must try!
The Brazilian answer to an empanada. Filled with veggies or meat and fried, you’ll often find these at places that serve coxinha as well.
Much to my dismay, it’s not common to find peanut butter in Brazil. Luckily, they come close! Paçoca is a fine peanut powder, often found in candies or desserts.
Caipirinha is the national cocktail of Brazil. The main alcohol in caipirinhas is cachaça – distilled from sugarcane and tasting like a strong vodka. The cachaça is usually mixed with sugar and lime to make the cocktail, but can also be found in several different fruit flavors. A little sour, a lot refreshing, and a bit strong – make sure you sip on a caipirinha in Brazil!
Mmmmmm chocolate. The most popular dessert of Brazil! And the dish that my students most often make to share. You’ll find it most often shaped into balls and rolled in chocolate sprinkles or crushed nuts.
First of all, for the record, it’s pronounced “ah – sah – ee”. Okay, now that we’ve covered that issue… This superfood is native to Brazil and is a super common dessert. Not my favorite, but definitely worth trying (I’m not a big fan of berries in general). Mix it with banana for a smoothie experience!
Word of advice? Never buy bottled water on the street. The bigger cities have a problem with homelessness, and you’ll find people on the streets selling things. One of those things is bottles of water… that aren’t sealed. They’ve been refilled with water that may not be the cleanest. Be safe and buy drinks from a local store.
Well, I hope you enjoyed reading the travel guide to Brazil. Have any questions or something to add? Let me know in the comments!