Visa & Customs
US citizens are required to obtain a valid tourist visa from a Bra-zilian consular office to enter the country. Details are postedonline at the government site, www.braziltour.com. Airlines arepretty good about checking this before you board, but if you do arrivewithout one you will be sent back home on the next available plane.It is a good idea to be cordial with the local customs agents. Typicallytourists are not subject to extensive inspections, but when that hap-pens it can take a long time and they go through everything. Normally,they just X-ray your bag. What they are looking for primarily are Brazil-ians who try to slip through without paying taxes on imported goods,though for some reason laptops occasionally raise red flags. If that hap-pens, just explain that you are a tourist, the item is yours, and you willbe taking it out of the country when you leave.Typically, you hand over your customs declaration after picking up yourbags, then you press a button that will give you a red light or a greenlight. If it’s red, your bags will be searched.Leaving the country, you will have to present your entry form, so keep ittucked in your passport. Exporting wildlife, certain animal products(bone, feathers, etc.), or sometimes indigenous items is illegal. Buyingfrom legitimate shops is advised.
Brazil recently had a shortage of domestic flights andoverbooking or delays were common. It is advised to make res-ervations well ahead of time and arrive at the airport at least twohours before your flight. The main domestic carriers have code-sharingagreements with international airlines so you should also check withthem. Direct international flights are usually available to São Paulo, Riode Janeiro, Salvador, Recife, Fortaleza, Belém, Manaus and BeloHorizonte. Charter flights are available through a travel agent.International and domestic airport locations are noted in each chapter.International airlines serving Brazil include Aerolineas Argentinas,Aeromexico, Aerosur, Air Canada, Air France, Air Nippon Airlines,Alitátlia, American Airlines, Avianca, British Airways, Continental,Delta Airlines, Iberia, JAL, KLM, Korean Airlines, LAN Chile, Lufthansa,South African Airways, Swissair, and United Airlines.
Every effort was made to ensure that the prices listed in this book wereaccurate at the time of publication, but they are subject to change with-out warning. The average exchange rate used is R$2.5 per $1. You should be able to adjust the prices based on the exchange rate whenyou travel.For hotels with rooms in different price categories, we generally list thehigher price level. Service charges of 10% are commonly added. All hotelsprices given are for standard double occupancy, generally in high season– discounts may be available in low season. Restaurants were listedaccording to the average price of the meal without drinks, tax or tip.
Brazil has four time zones. Brasília (in the Center West) is threehours behind Greenwich Mean Time, adding or subtracting day-light savings time in either hemisphere. Brazil does not have aspecific date for daylight savings time to begin each year.
Driving in Brazil
We describe how to get to various destinations by car when theroutes are safe and enjoyable. Otherwise, the options areindicated.Car rental details are described in each chapter. You will need a validdrivers license in your home country plus a credit card. There areoffices at airports. Insurance is standardized, with shared liability,available directly from the rental agency.Cars frequently drive too fast for conditions, and you must always be onthe lookout for erratic drivers. Be especially cautious at intersectionssince red lights and stop signs are frequently ignored, more often at night. Drivers commonly back up the wrong way down the one-waystreet as a matter of convenience, and they pass on either side (eveninto an oncoming lane).Road conditions can be hazardous (pot holes, speed bumps, poorly lit orgraded). Be alert at night for drunk drivers. Right of way goes to thelarger vehicle (especially outside the cities). Commercial trucks can beextremely dangerous, so give them wide berth on the highways. Whensomeone wants to pass, they will ride your rear bumper and flash theirlights. This can be disconcerting. Save yourself some grief and let thempass.
Tipping is less common in Brazil than in the US. Most restaurantsinclude a 10% gratuity automatically on the bill. Unless you receivedabsolutely horrible service, you should pay it. In some places such asRio de Janeiro state, it is required by law. Locals often leave a bit morefor good service and, if it is not included, 10% to 15% is about right. Atbars, normally you will not tip per drink, but service might be includedon the bill. Also, don’t leave an extra tip on the table – you should handit directly to the waiter.For taxis, don’t tip but do round up to the nearest real and pay a fewextra reais for bags (even if you carry them yourself). At hotels, option-ally, you can leave a little extra for the maid when you check out with anote saying “obrigado” so they know it is a tip.
The local currency is thereal(pluralreais), worth 100centavos. Bills aredenominated in one, two, five, ten, 20,50 and, rarely, R$100, each with a differ-ent color. Travelers checks are notwidely accepted but you can cash themat hotels, some banks, or travel agencies. Most establishments acceptcredit cards.You can get cash from the Cirrus and Plus systems or credit cardadvances at certain automatic tellers in some banks, usually Citibank,HSBC, Banco do Brasil, or Bradesco. There is usually a limit of R$1,000per day. In towns with heavy tourist flow, sometimes you can tradedirectly at the bank. Hotels provide this service at a disadvantageousrate, whilecasas de cambio, or exchange bureaus, sometimes give you agood rate.
Portuguese is the national language, but is a little different from thatspoken in Europe, Africa and Asia. About 81% of the world’s Portuguesespeakers are Brazilian. It is possible to communicate in Brazilian Portu-guese with other speakers of the language, but there is a striking differ-ence in the accent and intonation, as well as certain importantgrammatical and orthographic differences.Portuguese speakers can usually understand Spanish to some degree,but not the other way around. In a pinch you can try speaking Spanish.Within Brazil there are also great differences in vocabulary, accent andthe use of the familarturather than the more universalvocê. It can bedifficult at times for a non-native speaker to follow what is said in partsof the country. The most obvious differences are between the north andsouth of the country, but each region has its own peculiarities. Becauseof the influence from African and indigenous languages as well as manywords borrowed from English and other languages, Brazilian Portu-guese has one of the richest vocabularies in the Americas.Other languages are also spoken by certain Brazilians, including a dia-lect of German and Italian (or a dialect of Italian called Veneto) princi-pally in the Southern Region. As well, Hengatu, a general Tupi dialect,is spoken in parts of the Amazon. English is spoken by a small popula-tion in the region called Americana, in São Paulo – the accent is similarto that in the Southern United States since these are the descendents ofa Confederate colony that moved to Brazil during the Civil War.
At the last census there were 170 million people people living in Brazil,but official estimates raise the number to over 185 million now. Of thistotal, about 43% live in the Southeast Region, 29% in the NortheastRegion, 15% in the Southern Region, 7% in the Northern Region(Amazonia), and 6% in the Central West. The population is 51% womenand 49% men, and a little over 80% of the population lives in urban areas. Additionally, close to 6½ million Brazilian citizens live overseas,primarily in the United States, Europe, and Japan.Brazil has one of the most ethnically diverse populations anywhere inthe world. This phenomenon began in the very first days of colonization,when it was the custom of the Tupis to offer a wife to all newcomers.Similarly, during the expansion inland, there were very few Europeanwomen among the colonists, who started families with indigenous orAfrican women.There is such a generalized mix of races that it is difficult to define exactparameters for any individual. In general, just over 53% of the popula-tion declare themselves as “white” or Caucasian. Although well over halfthe population probably has at least some African and or indigenousancestry, the official “grey” population (an unspecified mix of races)declares itself at only 38% of the total. Only about 6% declare them-selves to be “black” or Afro-descended. Asian and indigenous popula-tions each declare themselves as under 1% of the total, and an equalnumber claims to represent no race.A predominately Catholic country, Brazil in recent decades has becomemore open to other religions. About 74% of the population is Catholic,over 15% is Protestant, 7% have no religion, and over 1% are Animists(mainly indigenous religions). While each is under 1%, there are alsofollowers of Afro-indigenous religions Candombé or Umbanda, Juda-ism, Jehovah’s Witness, Buddhism, and a very small number of otherreligions such as Islam, new Asian religions, or Hinduism. Many Brazil-ians, while declaring themselves Catholic, also practice Candomblé orUmbanda in what is called syncretism.As a developing country, many of the social indicators in Brazil aresobering.Among the population at least 25 years old, only 6.8% had completed acollege degree or higher, whereas about 84% of the population over fiveyears old can read. Almost one third of children aged four to seven donot go to school, a number directly related to poverty. It is interesting tonote that excellent higher education at state and public univerisities isfree. The problem appears to be enabling students with lower incomelevels to advance far enough in the primary and secondary school sys-tem to take advantage of those opportunities.Brazil has one of the most unequal societies in the world in terms ofwealth distribution, with huge gaps in access to health care, education,and basic utilities. Half the population earns two minimum monthlysalaries or less – or about $200 per month. And many children – evenyounger than 10 – work to support their families.Though there has been slight improvement in recent years, it is offi-cially estimated that the richest 1% of the population earn as much asthe poorest 50%, and the richest 10% earn 18 times more than thepoorest 40%. Moreover, of the 1% richest population, 88% declaredthemselves to be “white” (Caucasian), while of the 10% poorest, 70%declared themselves to be “black” (Afro-descended) or “grey” (of mixedrace).
It is sometimes hard to understand how a population that lacksso much, at least on paper, can be so rich in terms of culture.Ever since colonization, Brazil has been trying to define its iden-tity against a European standard while some of its greatest characteris-tics come from its home-grown mix of so many different races andcultures.Some of the most remarkable national virtues are flexibility and sponta-neity. Perhaps because things don’t always work out as one wouldhope, Brazilians are masters at coming up with creative solutions toproblems. There is even a term for it, the famous “jeitinho brasileiro,”which means “doing things the Brazilian way.”This anarchistic streak goes back at least a hundred years. During thecolonization, the more conservative European segments of the popula-tion worried about contraband, sexual morals and the overall state ofaffairs in the country. Even today it can be surprising how conservativesome Brazilians can be about certain traditional social values andtaboos, when they couldn’t care less about so many others.This very fine line between what is tolerated and what isn’t can be mys-tifying to outsiders. One example of this are Brazil’s notoriously tinybikinis, considered pretty daring practically anywhere in the world.Toplessness, meanwhile, common enough elsewhere, is frowned onhere and until quite recently prohibited (except during certain timessuch as Carnival). Again, the famous “jeitinho brasileiro” allows room tobend the rules a little bit just for fun.In spite of the various social problems, there is incredible nationalpride. While Brazilians complain frequently about the economy, crimeand other issues, almost nothing gets people more upset than hearingforeigners say the same thing. Brazilians love Brazil and they expectvisitors to love it too, or at least not to point out the problems. So whenproblems arise, the best advice is to keep a sense of humor. Gettingangry or upset in public is rare, considered shockingly rude, and tendsto backfire. If you are patient, normally a half-way solution will be pro-posed. But keep in mind that laughing at a joke is fine, but laughing toshow you appreciate what someone is saying might be interpreted asmockery.Brazil may be the only country on the planet where just about anyone isaccepted, regardless of their race, religion or sexual orientation.Gringos will always be gringos, even when they become citizens, butthey are accepted.Even among the very humble, or perhaps especially among the mosthumble, there is great generosity of spirit. Cordiality and respect forothers’ opinions is a common virtue. Brazilians as a rule, maybe morethan any other nationality, are truly interested in what other people think. This makes for lively and spontaneous conversations every-where, and occasionally causes hurt feelings when someone doesn’tthink their views have been considered.Brazilians are also very sentimental and appreciate small gestures offriendship. It is almost unthinkable to greet someone or to part com-pany without two air-kisses on the cheeks (among women and for theopposite gender) or a sideways hug with a pat on the back (among men).At the very least you should give a thumbs up sign to say hello.And there are peculiarities that, after living here for over a decade, I stillcan’t understand. For instance, when someone calls you on the phone,the first thing you’ll usually hear is “quem fala?”or “who is this?” Or,when I was short a couple of reais on a taxi fare once, the driver told me,“no worries, just pay another taxi driver.” Figure that one out.Whether it is the music, the food, even the language, Brazil is a mix ofcultures and styles that is unique. It may require a little bit of “jeitinho”to travel here, but it certainly is a lot of fun.
Brazilian cuisine is a unique mix of European, indigenous andAfrican styles, but is as varied as the culture itself. Specificinformation on regional cuisine and local specialties is pro-vided, but here is a general guide to what you can expect.For breakfast, cold cuts, bread, cakes, and crackers are served, some-times with eggs and sausages at the hotels. The largest meal of the daytends to be lunch, most commonly served with beans, rice and some-times pasta, plus some kind of protein, usually grilled fish or meat, anda salad. At night, it is common to eat lightly or just to snack.One of the best parts of Brazilian cuisine are thedelicious fruits, served especially as juice (suco)but also in certain kinds of pastries and ice cream.There are hundreds of different fruits, but someyou may come across are pineapple (abacaxi), pas-sion fruit (maracujá), mango (manga), guava(goiába), starfruit (carambola),orange(laranja)and, in parts of the country,açái, an energeticberry that is consumed as a staple in the Amazon.When blended and mixed with milk, it is called avitamina.Coffee is served black in tiny cups calledcafezinho,typically at the end of the meal or even free at somecommercial establishments and governmentoffices. When you request a cafezinho, you willusually get the bill too. In the cities, European-stylecafé espressois more common. Served withmilk (usually heated milk with a little coffee), it is calledcafé com leite,
and, when you want less milk, it iscalledcafé pingado. Cappucino, latte orother gourmet coffee drinks are rarelyfound.The number one national dish isfeijoada, or black beans stewed with var-ious types of meats, and served withfried kale, a slice of orange, rice andfarofa, a typical Brazilian starch madefrom manioc flour. Influenced by Africanslaves, who were forced to use animalprotein that was left over, the mostauthentic feijoada contains salted ears,feet, tails, tongues and snouts of pigs.Normally, though, it contains dried beef,salted pork, sausages, and bacon, and isserved with acaipirinha, the national cocktail made from cachaça andlime.Brazil has some of the best beef in the world, as hormones are bannedand most cattle are range-fed. There are many typical cuts not foundelsewhere, and the best way to try them all is at achurrascariaall-you-can-eat steakhouse, where the meats are brought to your table. Thisstyle of eating is called arodízio. The most famous cut is calledpicanha,served with the fat. Typically meat is grilled and seasoned only with salt,and thischurrascois very common everywhere.Another famous Brazilian food iscomida baiana, from Bahia. Heavilyinfluenced by African cooking, these are mostly seafood stews cooked indendêpalm oil, calledmoquecas, and served with rice andfarofa. This isabout as spicy as Brazilian food gets.As a rule, most food is lightly seasoned with onion, salt, garlic and per-haps with green peppers, not unlike Latin American food elsewhere. Ifyou like it hot, on the side there ispimenta, or small malagueta pepperssteeped in olive oil. There are also unique Portuguese elements usingeggs and especially the festival dishbacalhaumade from salt cod.Mediterranian influences are also common, as are those from Japan inthe major cities.Here are some of the most famous national dishes:In Minas Gerais, there iscomida mineira, with lots of starch (manioc orrice) and different meats (pork, bacon, and sausages primarily). Themost famous istutu de feijão, which is black beans mashed with maniocflour, served alongside fried kale and pork loin. Chicken is stewed indishes such asfrango com molho pardo.Amazonian food has stronger indigenous influences, especially the dishfrom Pará calledpato no tucupi, described on page 483. River fish ismore common though, cooked in a variety of appetizing ways.