10 tips for independent travelers in Brazil

Here are 10 things to keep in mind when you are planning to take a road trip in Brazil.

  •  Driver’s License: If you’re going to drive in Brazil, you need an international drivers license, or a translated and authorized copy of your local license. A translation is only valid for 6 months. If your international license doesn’t have Portuguese, it has to be translated too.
  • Use a SPOT tracking device : once outside an agglomeration, you can be almost certain that cellphone coverage is unavailable..Spot tracking devise
  • Learn Portuguese: Brazilians are very friendly, open and hospitable people. Being able to speak and understand at least basic Portuguese (preferably a little more than that), will bring great enhancement to your trip. Except in the big cities (Rio, São Paulo), you will NOT find people who speak anything else than Portuguese. Oh and when asking for directions, take anything the locals tell you with some grain of salt, especially when they tell you it’s “pertinho” (close). Everything is pertinho, but in reality it’s pretty far.Things are relative in Brazil, distance and time in the first place.
  • Be friendly and humble when you meet local (usually poor and simple) people. They will respect you for it.
  • Avoid the bigger roads. They are loaded with trucks. BIG ONES, up to 30m and 60 tons. These things are fast, loaded to the maximum (probably over capacity in some cases), loaded badly, causing them to tip over to one side and a lot of them drive dangerously. They will overtake at high speeds with poor or no visibility on oncoming traffic or block the entire road on ascents when they are supposed to keep to the right side…. As a general rule, it’s best not to assume that anyone (except you of course) is going to follow the rules.

    Avoiding the bigger roads…

  • DON’T drive after dark. It is dangerous because of the stuff you can encounter on the road. Farm animals, cars or trucks with no lights or no brakes. Driving at night will also make you miss out on a lot of great scenery…
  • Make sure you have enough cash with you. In some more remote places you cannot pay with cards. Also try not to carry big notes, because it could be a problem to change (troco). You don’t want to be forced to buy something you don’t want just because the shopkeeper doesn’t have change to a 100 R$ bill. Twenties and tens are best.
  • Carry different credit cards. Sometimes they accept only one kind (like VISA or MASTER). Also sometimes international cards are  not accepted.
  •  Start watching out for a gas station once your tank is below half, and preferably choose one of the big brands (BR, SHELL, TEXACO, ESSO…) . You never know when you’re going to find the next one. Once, I was forced to buy gasoline from a local, who had stored it in 2L plastic bottles in his garage. He charged me twice the normal price.
  • Hitchhikers : The safest thing to do is to NOT pick them up. Especially in poorer areas, LOTS of people are trying to get a free ride. I myself – trusting my gut feeling – picked up hitchhikers on 4 occasions. A little old man on a jungle road, An elderly woman on her way to her family, a worker on his way home, and another elderly lady with a little boy. All  these people were really nice and gave me good advice about the places that I was planning to go to. If you trust your gut feeling, go for it, if you don’t, better not pick up anybody.

Hope this was useful – All comments welcome.

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18 thoughts on “10 tips for independent travelers in Brazil

  1. ive been reading this all day, and can say good luck to you, and if your every down Iguaba Grande way in the state of Rio de Janeiro, pope in and stay
    Peter Larkin

  2. Pingback: #Travel Tag Roundup 4/15: Petra Holiday - Travel Freak

  3. Hi Raf,
    Inspired by reading your blog.

    Me and my girlfriend are planing a motorbike trip to brazil in october -november.
    We have some expirience doing so in Africa and India and wishes to travel on our own.

    do you have any recommendations for long period bike rental?
    where should we start our trip (Rio? Sao Paulo?)
    a basic route for a month and a half?
    anything else we need to consider before making a bike trip to brazil?

    Thanks alot
    and keep it up!

    Nitzan

  4. RAF, great post and it’s a timely read for me. I came to brazil a few days back, without any knowledge of motorbikes and how rentals works. But now it seems that I have some documentation ready for purchase of a bike. I am however on a very low budget and can’t afford a big bike. Do you think a 150cc or 250 cc bike would be good for a amateur tour from Sao Paulo to rio grande do sul or even further? I am really clueless on few other things… Can I shoot you an email too?

  5. Deze heb ik dus al gelezen.
    Haha…ik zie dat je hier een “bucket list” hebt samengesteld :-)
    Interessant!

  6. Raf. These blogs are great. I am thinking of visiting Brazil in January and trying to understand how much it will cost me. The main thing that I’m wondering is, How much does a pousada or hotel generally cost in these small Brazilian towns? Is it easy to arrive to these places and find a decent place to stay? I don’t need anything fancy. Just a decently clean and safe place to sleep. Thanks for sharing.

    Brian

    • Hey Brian,
      A decent pousada can be found for 50-70brl (30-40 Usd) Of course you can expect to pay more in places like Ouro Preto…
      January also is high season, when the Brazilians take their vacation, and therefor also a more expensive time of the year… Hotel prices in Rio Ironically it is also the time of year with the most rainfall. This brings me to the “arrive there” part… Some roads may be flooded, washed away, or impassable after a landslide… if you are planning to travel by yourself, make sure you have enough information about the road conditions of the region you’re going to travel through.
      You can also send me an email if you have more questions…
      Raf

  7. Hello Raf! Thank you by this amazing blog! I’m from Minas, and I need to recognize that brazilians, specially mineiros, when speak about distance everything is close!

  8. Hi, Raf. Thanks so much for the tips and helping advice! Sure will note all that. But I’ll be considering about the motorcycle tours, though…I’m such a scaredy-cat when it comes to off-road tours and bike rides..but you never know, I might go for a ride anyway…lol ^ ^

  9. Hi, Raf. Thanks for sharing these tips with us. But for female solo traveler who don’t plan on driving around in Brazil, what’s your advice or tip on this ? Honestly, I’d rather be paranoid (on safety measures) than be sorry later. Thanks again ^ ^

    • Hey Joiseu,

      Well, the “learn some Portuguese” part is still very much applicable.
      Other than that, the obvious things like staying alert of your surroundings, don’t walk on the street flashing your expensive camera or juwellery, stay in areas where there are other people… that sort of thing.

      I assume you would be traveling, using public transport or taxis… if you take a taxi, especially in places like Rio de Janeiro, try to establish a price beforehand (here’s where the Portuguese comes in handy :) ) , because depending on the chaotic traffic, you could be looking at double or triple the normal travel time to get somewhere.

      You seem like a young person, so I assume you would like to taste some of the nightlife too… I’m not an expert on that one I must say. I guess keeping an eye on your drink, so nobody can slip any “party drugs” in it is a good thing to do… Before going to any club, do some research and ask around about the “image” of the place. Personally, I hate to lose control of the situation, so I hardly drink or go to clubs…

      Most importantly: Relax and enjoy the laid back atmosphere in Brazil… Some people are SO concerned about their safety that they actually look scared and that way you’ll attract the bad guys. Try to blend in… Take a sarong to the beach instead of a towel, have a “agua de coco” or “Açai” on the beach…

      If you want a guide in Rio, @Giltrustinrio is a personal friend and native “Carioca”. He and a group of young, very professional people have an agency called “TrustinRio”.

      I would be glad to take you aboard on one of my motorcycle tours too, if you don’t mind riding in the and Rover… :)

      Take care
      Raf

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