Brazil travel guide
From the jungle calls of the Amazon to the thong-clad crowds of Copacabana beach, Brazil is an intoxicating mix of the big, the bold and the beautiful, perennially one of the world’s favourite destinations.
It’s also one of the largest countries on the planet, with an awesome array of treasures to match. Its vast coastline is fringed with soft sands and island getaways; the Amazon Basin teems with an unrivalled mass of flora and fauna; and the wetlands of the Pantanal, the largest on Earth, support a staggering diversity of wildlife.
And then there’s the Iguaçu Falls, an unforgettable natural spectacle featuring hundreds of waterfalls, which cascade from the tropical rainforest as blue morpho butterflies flit through the spray.
Undoubtedly the greatest draw, however, are the Brazilians themselves; probably the most hedonistic people on earth. Whether it’s Rio’s effervescent Cariocas going overboard at Carnival, or São Paulo’s sultry citizens gyrating in chic nightclubs, Brazilians love having fun.
Their irrepressible joie de vivre finds its best outlet through music and dance. Samba, lambada and bossa nova are Brazil’s best-known musical exports, but visitors can also discover a plethora of other genres, from the Northeast’s forró to the punchy bass of baile funk coming out of Rio’s favelas.
Adrenaline junkies can go wild in Brazil; shooting the big surf of Santa Catarina; bouncing in beach buggies over the sand dunes of northern Natal; snorkeling in Fernando de Noronha National Park; or abseiling in the Chapada Diamantina National Park.
Or you can take life easy and let Brazil come to you by lolling in a hammock on an Amazonian ferry, looking out for the occasional macaw, or browsing the backstreets of colonial towns such as Ouro Preto and Paraty, which are lined with architectural monuments and chic boutique hotels.
Whatever you’re looking for, rest assured, Brazil has it in spades.
8,515,770 sq km (3,287,957 sq miles).
210,274,356 (UN estimate 2016).
24 per sq km.
Acting President Michel Temer since 2016.
Acting President Michel Temer since 2016.
Brasília and Recife, 220 volts AC; Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, 110-120 volts AC. Many larger hotels will have 110-volt and 220-volt outlets. Plugs usually have two or three round pins.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Crime levels are high. Violence and crime can occur anywhere and often involve firearms or other weapons. You should be vigilant, particularly before and during the festive and carnival periods.
Most visits to Rio de Janeiro are trouble free. The most common incidents affecting British nationals are thefts or pick pocketing around Copacabana Beach, Ipanema Beach and the Lapa area.
Avoid wearing expensive jewellery, watches and clothes. Don’t carry large sums of money. Keep mobile phones and cameras out of sight and leave your passport and valuables in a safe place, though you should carry another form of photo ID like a driving licence with you at all times.
Thefts are particularly common on public beaches, especially in Rio de Janeiro. These include ‘arrastões’ where large groups of running thieves target an area of beach. Take extra care and avoid taking valuables to the beach. Thefts are particularly common around Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Take extra care and avoid taking valuables to any public beach.
In any situation, be ready to hand over valuables if you’re threatened. Don’t attempt to resist attackers. They may be armed and under the influence of drugs.
Thefts from cars are common, and cases of carjacking occur. When approaching your car have the keys ready to make it easier to get into the car. When driving, keep doors locked and windows closed, and take particular care at traffic lights. In three or more lanes of traffic, consider using the middle lanes. Avoid deserted or poorly lit places, except under reliable local advice. Be aware of people approaching to ask for information, especially at night. The threat of personal attack is lower outside cities, but incidents can occur even in holiday destinations that appear relatively secure.
Rape and other sexual offences against tourists are rare, but there have been attacks against both men and women. Some have involved ‘date rape’ drugs. Buy your own drinks and keep them within sight at all times.
There has been an increase in robberies at ATMs. Some ATMs have been fitted with an anti theft device that applies pink coloured ink to the notes of an ATM that has been damaged or tampered with. Any pink coloured note will not be accepted and automatically loses its value. If you withdraw cash at an ATM and it has any sort of pink marks, speak to the bank straight away to get it changed. If outside bank hours or not in a bank branch you should get a bank statement from the ATM showing the withdrawal and take it with the marked note to a police station to get a police report.
Bank and credit card fraud is common, including card cloning from ATMs. Keep sight of your card at all times and do not use an ATM if you notice anything suspicious. Notify your bank in advance of your trip to avoid your card being blocked.
Mobile phone cloning occurs. Take care of your handset at all times.
There are high levels of poverty and very high levels of violent crime in shanty-towns (favelas), which exist in all major Brazilian cities. The state government has implemented a Pacifying Police Force (Unidade de Policia Pacificadora – UPP) in several favelas in Rio de Janeiro. While this has improved security in some favelas, all favelas are unpredictably dangerous areas, and remain high risk given the level of violence within them and the severe strain on police resources. You’re still at risk even if you visit favelas with organised tours. Violence, particularly aimed at police and officials, can occur at anytime and overspill to areas close to the favelas. You should take extra care and be aware of local conditions at all times.
Take extra care when using GPS navigation in Brazilian cities, particularly Rio de Janeiro, that the suggested route doesn’t take you into a favela. Check with your hotel or the local authorities if unsure.
The following websites are maintained by the Brazilian authorities and contain useful information about travelling to Brazil:
Check the integrity and safety standards of any adventure travel companies before you use them.
Public transport is likely to be disrupted during periods of unrest. Be vigilant when using public transport, especially during rush-hour as petty crime is common. Generally, the metro systems in Rio and São Paulo are safer than buses. There have been incidents of hijacking and robbery of tour buses in recent years. There are frequent bus crashes.
Only use licensed taxis. You can pick up a licensed taxi from the many recognised taxi ranks around Brazilian cities. Always check your taxi has the company details on the outside. Taxi apps are also a useful way to call a licensed taxi; request your taxi inside if possible to avoid displaying your smartphone on the street.
Most airports have licensed taxi desks inside the baggage reclaim areas. You can pay for your taxi in advance using a credit card or cash inside the airport rather than in the street.
Most major cities in Brazil have facilities adapted for disabled travellers, including easy-access public buses and lifts to tube stations and platforms.
Brazil has a high road accident rate. In many rural areas the quality of roads away from the main highways is poor, and standards of driving, especially trucks and buses, is low.
Brazil has a zero tolerance policy on drink driving. If you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol, you’ll probably be prosecuted. Penalties range from fines and a suspension from driving for 12 months, to imprisonment for up to 3 years.
In the event of an accident, remove your car from the scene immediately if it’s obstructing traffic. Failure to do this may subject you to a fine or liability if another accident occurs as a result of the obstruction of the road.
Call the police on 190 if the vehicles involved are obstructing traffic and you need help. Otherwise, go directly to the nearest police station (DEAT – Tourist Police station call 2332-2924 or 3399-7170 or 2334-6804) to register the accident.
All accidents involving personal injury should be reported immediately to the police by calling 190.
Always use recognised national air carriers. There have been accidents involving light aircraft, which sometimes have poor maintenance standards. A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
We can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
Allow plenty of time to arrive at the airport for your flight. Traffic in the main cities, especially São Paulo and Rio, can be very heavy, particularly during rush hour.
Foreign nationals can travel on domestic flights with a valid photo ID or a police report in case of a lost or stolen passport.
Safety concerns have been raised about INSEL Air. The US and Netherlands authorities have prohibited their staff from using the airline while safety checks are being carried out. UK government officials have been told to do the same as a precaution.
The rail and metro infrastructure is limited. In the past there have been some safety and security incidents on these systems.
Be wary of safety procedures on board vessels. Boat accidents on the Amazon River are not uncommon.
There have been armed and unarmed attacks on merchant vessels, including British flag vessels off the Brazilian coast and in some Brazilian ports.
Strong currents and sharks can be a danger off some beaches. Take local advice before swimming.