Welcome to Travel Planning 101. Find country specific information about where you are going and what to do to prepare to get there!
- Travel highlights of the country.
- Fun facts and background information.
- History notes, facts on currency, health, holidays and transportation.
- Pre-departure tips, when to go, and visa information.
- Information on weather and electricity plugs.
- Suggestions on things to do if you have extra time to explore on your own.
Places To See
The stupendous roar of 275 different waterfalls crashing 80m (262ft) into the Rio Iguaçu means that even on the sleepiest, hottest afternoon, nature's relentless churning power will stir your heart here. The falls are actually divided between Brazil and Argentina. The best time to visit is between August and November.
To see the falls properly, you must visit both sides - Brazil gives the grand overview and Argentina the closer look. The Brazilian side has far fewer attractions than the Argentine side; and the costs are higher here if you want to arrange an under-the-falls boat trip. There are, however, some adventures unique to this side, including combination kayaking-hiking trips and rafting trips.
Five minutes' walk from the waterfalls' entrance is the worthwhile Parque das Aves, a five-hectare park where you can see some 800 different bird species. Pay in US dollars to avoid bad exchange rates.
Parque Estadual do Caracol
The major attraction of Parque Estadual do Caracol is the spectacular Cascata do Caracol, a 130m (427ft) free-falling waterfall. It's particularly stunning in the morning sun - the water sparkles as it cascades over the granite lip. If you're feeling fit, you can walk to the base of the waterfall down (and back up) the 927 stairs.
Parque Nacional Sete Cidades
Sete Cidades is a small national park (62 sq km/24sq mi) with bizarre rock formations that some have claimed are sete cidades (seven cities) left behind by a mysterious long-departed, possibly alien, culture. But the place doesn't need such fantasies to make it worth visiting. The rock formations are indeed fantastic - some look like giant turtle shells, others resemble a castle, an elephant, a map of Brazil or the head of Emperor Dom Pedro II.
There are also superb vistas over a landscape which combines caatinga and cerrado vegetation, some 1500 intriguing rock paintings between 3000 and 5000 years old, wildlife that includes marmosets, small rodents called mocós that like to pose for photos, tarantulas and (we're told) rattlesnakes, and two delectable natural bathing pools.
Start your day early and bring snacks, water and protection from the unrelenting sun. Follow your tour with a swim in a pond or stunning waterfall (Dec-Jul only).
Encontro das Águas
Encontro das Águas (Meeting of the Waters) is where the dark violet Rio Negro meets the cafe-au-lait Rio Solimões, a few kilometers downstream from Manaus. The two flow side by side without mingling for several kilometers (owing to differences in speed, density and temperature), before finally combining to create the Amazon River. It's easily visible from a boat - dip your hand in to feel the difference in temperature.
The phenomenon (which occurs in several places along the river) was the inspiration for the wavy black-and-white tilework in front of the Teatro Amazonas (Opera House); the design here pre-dates the more famous but nearly identical work on Rio de Janeiro's beachfront.
Reserva de Desenvolvimento Sustentável
A remote floodplain forest, halfway between Manaus and the Peruvian frontier, is protected by the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve. This 1.24 million hectare (3 million acre) reserve is part of the second-largest (57,000 sq km/22,008 sq mi) continuous block of protected tropical rainforest in the world.
Mamirauá combines nature conservation and scientific research with improved opportunities for the communities within the reserve.
Their excellent ecotourism program affords access to a pristine piece of towering primary rainforest, rivers and lakes absolutely teeming with life. The silence there will be the loudest you've ever heard, and wildlife-viewing is among the best in Amazonia.
Although there are many festivals taking place all year round in Brazil, the country's most famous event is Carnaval, which lasts for five days from the Friday to the Tuesday immediately preceding Ash Wednesday. It is celebrated all over Brazil and though there are more authentic versions than the glitzy tourist drawcard held in Rio (notably Olinda and Salvador), Rio's is unforgettable nonetheless. Colorful, outrageous, hedonistic - words do little justice to the bacchanalian spectacle that lends it so much notoriety. Cariocas (Rio residents) celebrate Carnaval in every form and fashion. Nightclubs and bars throw special costumed events, while formal balls draw an elegantly dressed (or costumed) crowd. Parks and plazas (Largo do Machado, Arcos da Lapa, Praça General Osório) often host free live concerts on Carnaval weekend. The common denominators among them all are music, dancing and celebration.
The parade through the Sambódromo is the culmination of Carnaval, on the Sunday and Monday nights. It's a spectacle that features thousands of costumed dancers, elaborate floats and exuberant fans cheering on their favorite schools.
When to go?
The weather is worth considering when planning a trip to Brazil, as it can have a significant bearing on how you enjoy certain regions of the country. For example, the Amazon region is one of the world's rainiest places, making travel exceedingly difficult between January and May. Similarly, if you plan to go to the Pantanal, do so during the dry season. The rest of the year, roads are washed out and travel is a nightmare. The south has the most extreme temperatures and during the coldest winter months snow is even possible - but rare.
During summer (December-February) many Brazilians are on vacation, making travel expensive and frequently booked out, and, from Rio to the south, the humidity can be oppressive. However, summer is also the most festive time of year, as Brazilians take to the beaches and streets. School holidays begin in mid-December and go through to Carnaval, usually held in late February.
Brazil's low season corresponds to its winter. Rio temperatures hover around 23°C (73°F), with a mix of both rainy and superb days. With the exception of July, which is also a school-holiday month, this is the cheapest and least-crowded time to visit the country.
Travel Visa Overview
Brazil has a reciprocal visa system, so if your home country requires Brazilian nationals to secure a visa, then you will need one to enter Brazil. At the time of writing, American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand citizens need visas, but citizens of the UK, Ireland, and most other EU countries as well as South Africa do not.
To apply for a visa, you will normally need to present a passport valid for at least six months beyond your intended arrival date, plus a passport photo, a round-trip or onward ticket (or a photocopy of it or a statement from a travel agent saying that you have a ticket). If you decide to return to Brazil, your visa is valid for five years.
The fee for visas is also reciprocal.
Visa regulations change from time to time; get the latest info from the Brazilian embassy or consulate in your home country.
American-style plug with two parallel flat blades above a circular grounding pin
European plug with two circular metal pins
Japanese-style plug with two parallel flat blades
Dengue fever is a viral infection found throughout South America. A large outbreak of dengue was reported from the Rio area in early 2002, ultimately affecting almost 800,000 people. Dengue is transmitted by aedes mosquitoes, which bite preferentially during the daytime and are usually found close to human habitations, often indoors. They breed primarily in artificial water containers, such as jars, barrels, cans, cisterns, metal drums, plastic containers and discarded tires. As a result, dengue is especially common in densely populated, urban environments.
Dengue usually causes flulike symptoms, including fever, muscle aches, joint pains, headaches, nausea and vomiting, often followed by a rash. The body aches may be quite uncomfortable, but most cases resolve uneventfully in a few days. Severe cases usually occur in children under the age of 15 who are experiencing their second dengue infection. There is no treatment for dengue fever except to take analgesics such as acetaminophen/paracetamol (Tylenol) and drink plenty of fluids. Severe cases may require hospitalization for intravenous fluids and supportive care. There is no vaccine. The cornerstone of prevention is protection against insect bites.
Malaria occurs in every South American country except Chile, Uruguay and the Falkland Islands. It's transmitted by mosquito bites, usually between dusk and dawn. The main symptoms are high spiking fevers, which may be accompanied by chills, sweats, headache, body aches, weakness, vomiting or diarrhea. Severe cases may involve the central nervous system and lead to seizures, confusion, coma and death.
Taking malaria pills is strongly recommended for forested areas within the nine states of the 'Legal Amazonia' region, including Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Maranhão (western part), Mato Grosso (northern part), Pará (except Belém city), Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins, and for urban areas within this region, including the cities of Porto Velho, Boa Vista, Macapá, Manaus, Santarém and Maraba. Transmission is greatest in remote jungle areas where mining, lumbering and agriculture occur and which have been settled for less than five years. Malaria risk is negligible outside the states of Legal Amazonia. Travelers visiting only the coastal states from the horn to the Uruguay border and Iguaçu Falls do not need prophylaxis.
There is a choice of three malaria pills, all of which work about equally well: Mefloquine (Lariam), Atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone) and Doxycycline. Discuss your choice with your doctor, as all three involve the risk of side effects.
Protecting yourself against mosquito bites is just as important as taking malaria pills, since none of the pills is 100% effective.
If you develop a fever after returning home, see a physician, as malaria symptoms may not occur for months.
Yellow fever is a life-threatening viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes in forested areas. The illness begins with flulike symptoms, which may include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, backache, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms usually subside in a few days, but one person in six enters a second, toxic phase characterized by recurrent fever, vomiting, listlessness, jaundice, kidney failure, and hemorrhage, leading to death in up to half of the cases. There is no treatment except for supportive care.
Yellow fever vaccine is strongly recommended for all travelers to Brazil, except those visiting only Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, the central eastern area to the coast, and the coastal areas south of São Luís. Major outbreaks have recently been reported from Minas Gerais state and additional cases occur elsewhere. Fatal cases of yellow fever among travelers who failed to get vaccinated are periodically reported. For details check the Centre for Disease Control (CDC).
Yellow fever vaccine is given only in approved yellow fever vaccination centers, which provide validated International Certificates of Vaccination. The vaccine should be given at least 10 days before any potential exposure to yellow fever and remains effective for approximately 10 years. Reactions to the vaccine are generally mild and may include headaches, muscle aches, low-grade fevers or discomfort at the injection site. Severe, life-threatening reactions have been described but are extremely rare. In general, the risk of becoming ill from the vaccine is far less than the risk of becoming ill from yellow fever, and you're strongly encouraged to get the vaccine.
Taking measures to protect yourself from mosquito bites is an essential part of preventing yellow fever.
Rabies is a viral infection of the brain and spinal cord that is almost always fatal. The rabies virus is carried in the saliva of infected animals and is typically transmitted through an animal bite, though contamin-ation of any break in the skin with infected saliva may result in rabies. Rabies occurs in all South American countries. In Brazil, most cases are reported from the extreme western Minas Gerais state and northeastern areas. Dog bites are the most common cause, but bites from other animals can also lead to rabies. In 2004 several dozen people in the Amazon died from rabies after being bitten by vampire bats.
Rabies vaccine is safe, but a full series requires three injections and is quite expensive. Those at high risk of rabies, such as animal handlers and spelunkers (cave explorers), should certainly get the vaccine. In addition, those at lower risk of animal bites should consider asking for the vaccine if they may be traveling to remote areas and may not have access to appropriate medical care if needed. The treatment for a possibly rabid bite consists of rabies vaccine with rabies immune globulin. It's effective, but must be given promptly. Most travelers don't need rabies vaccine.
All animal bites and scratches must be promptly and thoroughly cleansed with large amounts of soap and water and local health authorities contacted to determine whether or not further treatment is necessary.
Hepatitis A is the second most common travel-related infection (after traveler's diarrhea). It's a viral infection of the liver that is usually acquired by ingestion of contaminated water, food or ice, though it may also be acquired by direct contact with infected persons. The illness occurs throughout the world, but the incidence is higher in developing nations. Symptoms may include fever, malaise, jaundice, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Most cases resolve without complications, though hepatitis A occasionally causes severe liver damage. There is no treatment.
The vaccine for hepatitis A is extremely safe and highly effective. If you get a booster six to 12 months later, it lasts for at least 10 years. You really should get it before you go to Brazil or any other developing nation. Because the safety of hepatitis A vaccine has not been established for pregnant women or children under the age of two, they should instead be given a gamma globulin injection.
Like hepatitis A, hepatitis B is a liver infection that occurs worldwide but is more common in developing nations. Unlike hepatitis A, the disease is usually acquired by sexual contact or by exposure to infected blood, generally through blood transfusions or contaminated needles. The vaccine is recommended only for long-term travelers (on the road more than six months) who expect to live in rural areas or have close physical contact with the local population. Additionally, the vaccine is recommended for anyone who anticipates sexual contact with the local inhabitants or a possible need for medical, dental or other treatments while abroad, especially if a need for transfusions or injections is expected. Hepatitis B vaccine is safe and highly effective. A total of three injections, however, are necessary to establish full immunity. Several countries added hepatitis B vaccine to the list of routine childhood immunizations in the 1980s, so many young adults are already protected.
The plague continues to occur among animals in the drier northern and eastern states, from Ceará south to Minas Gerais, but human cases are uncommon. Most occur in Bahia state. The infection is usually transmitted to humans by the bite of rodent fleas, typically when rodents die off. Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches and malaise, associated with the development of an acutely swollen, exquisitely painful lymph node, known as a bubo, most often in the groin. Most travelers are at extremely low risk of the plague. But if you may have contact with rodents or their fleas, especially in the above areas, you should bring along a bottle of doxycycline, to be taken prophylactically during periods of exposure. Those less than eight years old or allergic to doxycycline should take trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole instead. In addition, you should avoid areas containing rodent burrows or nests, never handle sick or dead animals, and always protect yourself from insect bites.
Cholera is an intestinal infection acquired through ingestion of contaminated food or water. The main symptom is profuse, watery diarrhea, which may be so severe that it causes life-threatening dehydration. The key treatment is drinking oral rehydration solution. Antibiotics are also given, usually tetracycline or doxycycline, though quinolone antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin and levofloxacin are also effective.
Cholera sometimes occurs in Brazil, but it's rare among travelers. Cholera vaccine is no longer required, and is in fact no longer available in some countries, including the US, because the old vaccine was relatively ineffective and caused side effects. There are new vaccines that are safer and more effective, but they're not available in many countries and are only recommended for those at particularly high risk.
Schistosomiasis, which is a parasitic infection acquired by skin exposure to contaminated fresh water, occurs in almost all states of the Northeast and two states (Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo) in the Southeast. When traveling in these areas, you should avoid swimming, wading, bathing or washing in bodies of fresh water, including lakes, ponds, streams and rivers. Salt water and chlorinated pools carry no risk of schistosomiasis.
Chagas' disease is a parasitic infection that is transmitted by triatomine insects (reduviid bugs), which inhabit crevices in the walls and roofs of substandard housing in South and Central America. In Brazil, the disease has been eliminated in every state except Bahia and Tocantins through an aggressive program of insecticide spraying. The triatomine insect lays its feces on human skin as it bites, usually at night. A person becomes infected when they unknowingly rub the feces into the bite wound or any other open sore. Chagas' disease is extremely rare in travelers. If you sleep in a poorly constructed house, especially one made of mud, adobe or thatch, however, you should be sure to protect yourself with a bed net and a good insecticide.
Leishmaniasis occurs in the mountains and jungles of all South American countries except for Chile, Uruguay and the Falkland Islands. The infection is transmitted by sand flies, which are about one-third the size of mosquitoes. In Brazil, leishmaniasis has been reported from suburban areas in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Most cases are limited to the skin, causing slowly growing ulcers over exposed parts of the body. The more severe type of leishmaniasis, which disseminates to the bone marrow, liver and spleen, occurs mainly in the Northeast. Leishmaniasis may be particularly severe in those with HIV. There is no vaccine. To protect yourself from sand flies, follow the same precautions as for mosquitoes, except that any netting used must be made of a finer mesh (at least 18 holes per 2.54cm or to the linear inch).
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a rapidly progressive, life-threatening infection that is acquired through exposure to the excretions of wild rodents. Most cases occur in those people who live in rodent-infested dwellings in rural areas. In Brazil, hantavirus infections are reported from the states of Minas Gerais, Santa Catarina and São Paulo.
HIV/AIDS is a big problem in Brazil. An estimated 600,000 Brazilians carry the virus. Be sure to use condoms for all sexual encounters.
Being such a vast country, Brazil's climatic patterns vary between regions. In Rio, the humidity can be high in summer, with temperatures hovering around 28°C (82°F). Rainfall is another factor, with October to January the wettest months. In winter Rio temperatures are mild, around 23°C (73°F).
On the northeast coast, from Bahia to Maranhão, temperatures are a bit warmer year-round than in Rio - with days reaching 31°C (88°F) - but due to a wonderful tropical breeze and less humidity, it's rarely stifling. The rainy season runs from about mid-December to July, though even then you'll encounter gorgeous days. The Amazon region (the north) is one of the world's rainiest places and rainfall occurs most frequently from December to May, making travel at this time exceedingly difficult. The rest of the year the region still receives plenty of rain, though showers tend to last only an hour or two.
The Pantanal also has rainy/dry seasons, and if you plan to visit, do so during the dry season (mid-April to late September). The rest of the year, the wetlands receive tremendous rainfall, washing out roads and making traveling a nightmare.
The South has the most extreme temperature changes, and during the coldest winter months (June to August), Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná and São Paulo have temperatures between 13°C (55.4°F) and 18°C (64.4°F). In some towns, the rare snowfall is even possible. As elsewhere along the coast, summer is quite hot, and you'll have lots of company on the beach.
History and Culture
Pre-20th Centure History
In contrast to the Inca and Maya, the Brazilian Indians never developed a centralized civilization. Assisted by the jungle and climate, they left very little evidence for archaeologists to study: just some pottery, shell mounds and skeletons. The Indian population was quite diverse and there were an estimated two to six million living in the territory that is now Brazil when the Portuguese first arrived. Today there are fewer than 200,000, most of them in the hidden jungles of the Brazilian interior.
In 1500 Pedro Alvares Cabral set sail from Lisbon with 13 ships and 1200 crew, ostensibly for India, and arrived on the Brazilian coast near present-day Porto Seguro by 'accident'. Some historians say it was his intended destination all along, and it's true that his 'discovery' was reported to the king in such matter-of-fact terms that it seems that the existence of Brazil was already well-known to mariners. In 1531 King João III of Portugal sent the first settlers to Brazil and, in 1534, fearing the ambitions of other European countries, he divided the coast into 15 hereditary captaincies, which were given to friends of the Crown.
The colonists soon discovered that the land and climate were ideal for growing sugar cane, and solved the prodigious labour requirements by enslaving the Indian population, despite their resistance. The capture and sale of slaves soon became one of Brazil's most lucrative trades, and was dominated by the bandeirantes, men from São Paulo usually born of Indian mothers and Portuguese fathers. They hunted the Indians into the interior, and by the mid-1600s had reached the peaks of the Peruvian Andes. Their brutal exploits, more than any treaty, secured the huge interior of South America for Portuguese Brazil.
From the mid-16th century, and particularly during the 17th century, African slaves were compelled to replace Indians on the plantations. They were less vulnerable to European diseases, but their lives were short nevertheless. Quilombos, communities of runaway slaves, were common throughout the colonial era. They ranged from mocambos, small groups hidden in the forests, to the great republic of Palmares that survived for much of the 17th century. In the 1690s, gold was discovered in Minas Gerais and the rush was on. Brazilians and Portuguese flooded into the territory and countless slaves were brought from Africa to dig and die in the mines.
In 1807, Napoleon's army marched on Lisbon. Two days before the invasion, the Portuguese Prince Regent, later to become Dom João VI, set sail for Brazil. Soon after arriving, he made Rio de Janeiro the capital of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarve; Brazil became the only New World colony to serve as the seat of a European monarch. In 1822 the Prince Regent's son, Pedro, who had been left behind to rule the colony when his father returned to Portugal, pulled out his sword and yelled the battle cry 'Independência ou morte!' (independence or death). Portugal was too weak to fight its favorite son, so Brazil became an independent empire without spilling a drop of blood.
During the 19th century, coffee replaced sugar as Brazil's major export. At first the coffee plantations used slave labour, but with the abolition of slavery in 1888, thousands of European immigrants, mostly Italians, poured in to work on the coffee estates, called fazendas. In 1889, a military coup, supported by the powerful coffee aristocracy, toppled the Brazilian Empire, and for the next 40 years Brazil was governed by a series of military and civilian presidents supervised by the armed forces.
In 1929, the global economic crisis weakened the coffee planters' hold on the government and an opposition Liberal Alliance was formed with the support of nationalist military officers. When the Liberal Alliance lost the election in 1930, the military seized power on their behalf and installed the Liberal leader, Getúlio Vargas, as president. Vargas, whose regime was inspired by Mussolini's and Salazar's fascist states, dominated the political scene for the next 24 years, until he was forced out of office in 1954. His replacement, Juscelino Kubitschek, was the first of Brazil's big spenders; he built Brasília, the new capital, which was supposed to catalyze the development of the interior. By the early 1960s, the economy was battered by inflation, partly because of the expense of building the new capital, and fears of encroaching communism were fuelled by Castro's victory in Cuba. Again, Brazil's fragile democracy was squashed by a military coup in 1964. The military rulers set about creating large-scale projects that benefited a wealthy few, at the expense of the rest of the population.
In the mid-1980s, Brazil's economic miracle, supported largely by loans from international banks, petered out and the military handed power back to a civilian government. In November 1989, Brazilians had their first opportunity to elect a president by popular vote in almost 30 years, and chose ex-karate champion Fernando Collor de Mello, over the socialist Luíz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva by a narrow but secure majority. Collor gained office promising to fight corruption and reduce inflation, but by the end of 1992, had been removed from office and was being indicted on charges of corruption - accused of leading a gang that used extortion and bribery to suck more than one billion US dollars from the economy.
Vice President Itamar Franco became president in December 1992 on Collor's impeachment, and with the introduction of a new currency, the real, stabilized the economy. In November 1994, Fernando Cardoso, architect of the Plano Real was elected president. Through the mid-'90s Cardoso presided over a Brazil with a growing economy, stable currency and record foreign investment. These achievements were offset by the legacy of longstanding problems: the loss of two million jobs between 1989 and 1996 and ongoing problems with agrarian reform. A 1996 United Nations report showed that Brazil had the world's most unequal distribution of wealth.
The country's ongoing problems didn't stop Cardoso from persuading congress to change the constitution to allow him a second term, and he comfortably won a second four-year term in 1998. Following the election the real had to be devalued, ushering in a period of belt-tightening, but by 2000 the economy was growing again.
Brazil's 2002 presidential election swung the country's political agenda to the left when Workers Party (PT) candidate Luíz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva won 61% of the vote. Lula (as he's fondly called) secured the vote by promising to curb hunger and create jobs. In 2006, Lula was reelected. According to government reports, during Lula's two-term administration an astounding 14 million jobs were created. Lula also raised the minimum wage by 25%, while the percentage of Brazilians living in 'extreme poverty' went from 20% to 11%.
Unfortunately, Lula's administration had setbacks, including a wide-reaching corruption scandal in 2005 that saw a number of his PT party members resigning in disgrace. Meanwhile, economic disparity between rich and poor remains shockingly wide, though the last few years has seen sewer systems, transportation and other infrastructures extended to some of the country's poorest communities.
As Lula prepared to leave office in 2010, Brazil's economic prosperity was clear. Brazil became a net foreign creditor for the first time in 2008 and the country weathered the economic recession at the end of the decade better than any other developing country.
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