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Brazil

Vast, vibrant and magnetic, Brazil is a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, rituals and religions – a product of its patchwork past of local traditions, colonial rule and influx of immigrants. It is South America’s largest country, with a landmass comparable to that of the United States, and a mosaic of ecosystems that supports the largest array of flora and fauna on the planet. The Brazilian people are typically warm and friendly, while the country’s natural diversity lends itself to myriad travel experiences, from idyllic coastal holidays and riotous Carnaval celebrations, to stopovers in the dynamic cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and not to mention, adventure-filled forays into the Amazon jungle.


Banking and Currency

Currency

Brazil's currency unit is the real (plural = reais) and is made up of 100 centavos. The real is issued in denominations of 1 real (1 real notes have been discontinued but the coin is everywhere), 2 reais, 5 reais, 10 reais, 20 reais,50 reais and 100 reais. Prices are written in reais using the symbol R$. Centavos are issued in denominations of 5 centavos, 10 centavos, 25 centavos and 50 centavos. It's best to carry nothing larger than 10 or 20 reais bank notes. This will make it easier to make small purchases as well as easier for small vendors, stores and restaurants to provide you with change.

You will have no need for any reais until you have fully exited Brazilian immigration and customs so avoid exchanging money at your departure airport in North America or Europe. Money exchanges at departure airports outside Brazil usually provide a very poor exchange rate. Wait. The international airports in both São Paulo (Guarulhos International Airport) and Rio de Janeiro (Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport) have several bank operated, money exchange booths just outside the immigration and customs area. Both cities also have money exchange offices throughout the city and some hotels offer currency exchange.

While it is relatively easy to exchange any currency for reais in both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, in smaller cities it can sometimes become a time consuming and costly endeavor.

Banking

Banking hours are from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday.  Some HSBC branches open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.

ATM Machines of banks are generally open from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm (although it is common for the locks on the doors to be not operational).  Note that not all ATM machines accept international credit cards.  The machines that do accept international credit cards will have the symbol(s) of the types of international cards it accepts. Banks that typically have ATM machines that accept international credit cards are HSBC, Citibank and Banco do Brasil.

Generally, ATM machines that accept international credit cards are readily found in large cities.  However, if travelling outside the city or to remote areas, it will be much more difficult to find an ATM machine.  So plan ahead.

Foreign currencies can be exchanged in shops with signs showing 'Cambio'. The exchange rates given for exchanging cash are generally better than those from withdrawing cash from a credit card from an ATM machine (especially with all of the little fees most card companies charge these days).

Be advised that you may encounter difficulties trying to get cash on a weekend. Several foreigners (from Canada and the USA) have encountered problems getting cash from ATM's after 'normal'banking hours on a Friday.


Travel, Transport and Getting Around

Brazil has one of the largest internal air networks in the world, and there are air services between all Brazilian cities. With such great distances between many of the most popular destinations, flying can be a worthwhile option, saving considerable time and money. Internal flights in Brazil are possible with the shuttle service between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, a regular service from Sao Paulo to Brasília and a shuttle service from Brasília to Belo Horizonte.

At weekends and main holiday times (i.e. Christmas and Carnival) it is advisable to book seats as the services are much used. Panrotas (www.panrotas.com.br) gives all timetables and fares for internal air travel. Gol (www.voegol.com.br) and TAM Airlines (www.tam.com.br) operate the largest number of domestic routes. Airport transfers are available between all major centres.

Always re-confirm flights (at least once); delays and over-bookings do happen. If you change any flights on your airpass be sure to cancel the original booking otherwise the airline may consider it a ‘no-show’ and cancel all your other flights.

Air passes for domestic flights are available on both TAM and Gol, with similar prices, ranging from US$532 for four flights (Gol), up to US$1,384 for nine flights (TAM). Air passes can be purchased only outside of Brazil and in advance of international departure. For more details, contact the airlines.

International car hire companies operate from major airports and main city centres; the most common are Avis and Hertz. The main Brazilian companies include Interlocadora and Localiza. Drivers are generally required to be at least 21 years old.

All major cities have a plentiful supply of taxis, particularly recommended late at night. Official taxis, such as the distinctive yellow-and-blue Rio taxis, are the most reliable; mini-cabs, with pre-paid tickets, are also available at international airports. Taxis are metered and passengers should insist that the meter is turned on: the day-time rate is shown by a little flag marked 1 on top of the meter. The higher rate - after 8.00pm, on Sundays and bank holidays - is shown by a flag marked 2. Outside of cities and main tourist sites, taxis may not have meters, in which case agree on the fare in advance. Tipping taxi drivers is not normal practice.

Brazil is not a bicycle-friendly country on the whole; only a few cities, such as Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, have dedicated bicycle lanes. In view of the vast distances, heavy traffic and aggressive driving practices, cycling around the country is not recommended for most visitors.

Long distance coach travel is a great way to get around Brazil, with an excellent network of inter-city routes offered by hundreds of different companies. Fares are economical and coaches are safe and comfortable, with all the usual modern facilities. Luxury overnight services (leitos) connect the major cities and popular destinations such as Foz do Iguacu. There are no nationwide companies, but all cities have a central bus station (rodoviaria), where you can book your journey in advance with a choice of operators.

Passenger rail connections in Brazil are virtually non-existent, apart from a few inner-city commuter lines in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. A few scenic tourist lines still run, notably the Serra Verde Express operating services from Curitiba to Morretes in Paraná, and from Campo Grande to Miranda in the Pantanal.

Ferries serve most coastal ports. One company, Barcas S/A, operates ferries between Rio de Janeiro and Niteroi, and between Angra dos Reis and Ilha Grande. The daily commuter ferry to and from Niterói is very popular, offering amazing views of Guanabara Bay, and much quicker than the long and often traffic-clogged road route.

River transport is the most efficient method of travel in the Amazon Delta. The main hub is Manaus, with ferries going eastwards along the Rio Amazonas, to Belém and Santarém, or upriver from Manaus on the Rio Solimões towards the Colombian border at Tabatinga. Many different companies offer regular departures from Manaus, operating out of the main port, Estacao Hidroviaria near to the Mercado Municipal.


Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice

Brazil's cuisine is as varied as its geography and culture. While there are some very unique dishes of regional origin, there are many dishes that were brought by overseas immigrants and have been adapted to local tastes through the generations.

Brazil's national dish is feijoada, a hearty stew made of black beans and pork cuts (ears, knuckles, chops, sausage and pieces of beef (usually dried). It's served with rice, garnished with collard greens and sliced oranges. It's usually not served in restaurants, but the ones that do typically offer it twice a week (usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays). A typical mistake made by tourists is to eat too much feijoada shortly after arriving. This is a heavy dish, and you need to get used to it before you eat it. Even Brazilians usually eat it parsimoniously. While you are at it, try the caipirinha, Brazil’s signature drink made of wedged limes, sugar and cachaca.

Tap water in Brazilian cities such as Rio and Sao Paulo is generally safe to drink, but it tastes awful. In remote areas, tap water may be suspect. Many hotels and guesthouses filter their water – be sure to inquire about the status where you’re staying. Vigorous boiling for one minute is the most effective means of water purification, though you can also use a water filter, ultraviolet light (such as a steripen) or iodine pills.


Climate and Weather

Due to its balmy tropical and subtropical climate, Brazil is an all-year-round destination. The Brazilian winter lasts for only three months from June to August. From December to February it's summer. The temperature varies within a year with monthly averages in winter between 13 and 18 degrees Celsius. During the summer, temperatures can reach 30 to 40 degrees Celsius in Rio de Janeiro and into the regions in the south, but accompanied by frequent showers and a rather heavy humidity.

During the winter it can get quite cool in the south of Brazil. In Florianopolis it can drop as cold as 2 to 3 degrees celsius. The south is probably best to avoid in the winter unless your plan on visiting the wineries in Bento Goncalves, Rio de Grande do Sul.


Clothing and Dress Recommendations

The clothing style in Brazil is generally casual and comfortable; more formal in cities such as Sao Paulo. Brazilians are proud of their bodies, they like to wear fitted clothing and show a little skin. Sao Paulo is an urban and cosmopolitan city; people like to dress up a little more, if you’re having a touristy day and visiting museum and cultural places etc. dress with a casual feel, think jeans, shorts and t-shirts/tunics.

Rio is also very casual, but with a cool edge, a lot of the locals go from the beach to lunch or for drinks, so carry a light dress or shorts and a t-shirt to cover up, bikinis are for the beach only. If you’re seen walking around in one, even on the boardwalk, you’ll definitely be pegged as a tourist.

Brazil is a huge country with different climates. During the summer it’s pretty much hot and humid everywhere. A main travel essential for Brazil would definitely be sunscreen, sunglasses and a broad sun hat.

For shoes, stick to flat shoes such as sandals, flip flops or comfortable walking shoes as you’ll likely be walking a lot.


Internet Availability

Internet service is readily available in Brazil. Many hotels include (or offer for an additional fee for) high speed internet access, if not in the room or wireless, then at least somewhere in the hotel. Additionally, most larger Brazilian cities have Internet Cafés offering inexpensive, high speed internet access on their computers or yours.


Electricity and Plug Standards

From city to city, voltage varies from 110-220v. It’s not uncommon to arrive in a city to find out that the voltage is 110v and then to travel 1 hour north just to learn that it’s 220v in that particular city. Despite the difference in voltage, the outlets look the same. Make sure to check the voltage used in each city that you visit.

Electricity in Brazil is extremely unstable in some parts and can send surges to your electronic equipment that destroys its charger or transformer.The solution to this is to protect your electrical equipment by running them through a voltage regulator. They are fairly cheaply and  and easily available in most parts of the country

Brazilian plugs and sockets typically come as two flat pins or two round pins, the latter is being standardised for new appliances but variations do occur. Most chargers for phones, laptops etc already have a built in power adaptor so don't worry too much about the different voltage in different cities. It's things like hairdryers where you might want an power converter/adaptor.


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