16 incredibly useful things to know before travelling to brazil

With stunning beaches, extravagant carnivals, vibrant culture and cosmopolitan cities, Brazil has long been on those 'places most-travelled' lists. Throw in the World Cup and the Olympic Games and this massive country has seen, and will continue to see, more than its fair share of international visitors.

Unfortunately for certain travellers, Brazil also has a bit of a reputation for being expensive. Perhaps then, the only silver lining to the economic turmoil the country is experiencing is that it has never been so cheap to visit! In fact, with the falling exchange rate, certain items are a third of the cost from just a year or so ago. 

So, what are you waiting for? Book that flight - just make sure you take a look below to discover 12 incredibly useful things to know before you go.


#1 hostels are very concerned with security

Obviously, this is a great thing - we all want to sleep soundly in our dorm beds at night. However, this extra vigilance over security means that many hostels don't have signs on the front of the building, so finding yours can, at times, be a little tricky. 

We discovered that a quick google search would reveal useful hints from previous guests, such as 'next door to the yellow house', to make locating your hostel that bit easier. Note the name of the street and number, try to arrive in daylight and you shouldn't have too much difficulty.

In the same vein, a number have intercoms or a security system in place before allowing you entry.


#2 holiday time is a serious affair in Brazil

With an endless, beautiful coastline and long, hot summers it is hardly surprising that come holiday season, Brazilians want to spend their days off in exactly the same places as us.

Unfortunately for the traveller, this means that for a few short weeks of the year prices sky-rocket and small seaside villages become the size of large music festivals. Our advice? Unless you absolutely have no choice, plan your trip around these dates or head off the beaten track.

#3 You may find yourself scaling down your travel plans

Brazil is huge. Like, properly huge.

Whilst we certainly met plenty of people attempting to tackle huge parts of the country within a couple of weeks, we really wouldn't advise it. In fact, we'd say you need at least a month to make any reasonable dent in a country-wide itinerary, and even then that would involve more travel days than we'd usually enjoy.


#4 buses might not be first choice....

By the time we made it to Brazil, we had been travelling around Latin America for months - almost exclusively by bus. To begin with, it simply didn't occur to us that there might be a better way to navigate this huge country. 

As it turns out, flying often makes a lot more sense than hours and hours spent on buses, with even last minute flights often costing less than or equal to the equivalent bus ride in Brazil. If you know your itinerary in advance, be sure to book the flights early as some airlines do great budget options!


#5 ....but booking on-line flights can be tricky

Credit card fraud is rife in Brazil, which can make buying flights online a little trickier.

Whilst you'll usually get through the payment stage, you may find that you quickly receive an email stating that your booking is on hold. This happened to us twice, both times necessitating a phone call to the airline, and once requiring us to attend an office (thankfully we could do this in the airport). Whilst it may be annoying, especially if it's a last minute flight, it is not unusual and should be easy enough to sort out.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

#6 learn to embrace the thong*

Within seconds of arriving upon your first Brazilian beach, a number of things will become apparent - it's beautiful, everybody is gorgeous and, most importantly, the bikini bottoms are absolutely TINY (there's a reason the 'brazilian' was born here!). In fact, should you rock up to a beach in Rio in a bikini covering more than just a little bit of butt, you're likely to feel a little frumpy. Looking around any beach, it's very very easy to spot the visiting European!

Once you've got use to the idea, it's definitely worth considering buying a couple Brazilian-style bikini bottoms once you get there - we promise you'll stop feeling naked eventually! Curiously however, despite there being no bashfulness around bottoms, toplessness in Brazil is not permitted.

*Whilst we are all about gender equality, could we please leave the thongs to the ladies? It just looks weird on dudes!


#7 it has some of the best street food in Latin America!

We're not kidding. By the time we made it to Brazil, we had gotten so used to only being able to source a random assortment of grilled meat or something in the corn family, deep fried. 

They do things a little differently here: fresh garlic shrimp skewers, tapioca, acai bowls, bolinho de bacalhau, brigadeiros, vegetarian kibe.... The list is endless. Great news for people trying to eat cheap without gaining 20lbs!

#8 advance payments ore often essential

We're pretty paranoid about scams, fraud and generally being ripped off, so having a random receptionist email requesting credit card details (including the all important security code) is a little off-putting.

Unfortunately however, this is pretty common-place in Brazil, a country where you are almost always expected to stump up 50% of your bill upon booking, irrespective of how far in advance you make the reservation. If booking via Hostelword, this requirement is often listed in the description of the hostel.


#9 you will be called 'gringo'

But don't be offended! Whilst it can be perceived as a little derogatory elsewhere in Latin America, if you don't come from Brazil, irrespective of what colour your skin is, you will likely be called a gringo here. Even the press refer to Latino footballers in the national leagues as gringos!

#10 Brazil is expensive

We know, in the introduction we were all like "Oh, it's a great time to visit", however, there is no denying that this is still an expensive country. In fact, it's probably the most expensive country we visited (although Argentina came a pretty close second!) in Latin America. 

That isn't to say don't go, simply come with a reasonable amount of money, as true budget backpackers will really struggle, especially if you plan on moving around the country a lot.


#11 pack a plug

Life would be sooo much simpler if the world had one universal plug, but until then, we'll just have to keep buying (and losing) international adapters.

Thankfully, the bulk of Latin America pretty much uses the same one (or at least similar enough that with a bit of angling in the right direction, that you can get it in the holes!), however Brazil upgraded a few years ago and now require their very own adapter.

Not a big deal if you remember - but a pain in the arse if you come unprepared!

Another useful things to know is that voltage varies from one state to another. You're unlikely to run into too many problems but it's something to be aware of should you plug in a hair dryer and suddenly trip the fuse box!

#12 you will, at times, feel unsafe

We're in two minds about writing this statement.

After all, we've been to El Salvador, to Colombia, to Mexico. Hell, half the countries on the 'world's most dangerous' lists are in Latin America and yet we've only very rarely felt generally concerned for our safety.

Unfortunately, this wasn't such a rare feeling in Brazil's cities. Whether it is the huge disparity in wealth, or the apparent crippling drug problems in the cities, but wandering down the wrong street or carrying an expensive SLR felt like a potential costly mistake at numerous points during the day. We took taxis home more often, were less adventurous than usual and witnessed things that made it crystal-clear to us why we had to be careful.

We are not saying don't go, but please do be careful. 


#13 take the mozzies seriously

Brazil has many, many wonderful things - but it's also full of mosquitos carrying everything from the much-hyped Zika virus, to malaria, dengue and yellow fever. Whilst you can take anti-malarials (something we can not recommend highly enough should you be in a red zone) and be vaccinated against yellow fever, at present, common sense and simple preventative measures are your best bet for the other two. Long sleeves in the evening, plenty of repellent and mosquito nets may feel like overkill, but you really can't be too careful with your health!

To find out more about the importance of preventing malaria on your travels, and to know why so many travellers are wrong about the disease, read this post.

Bahia, Brazil

#14 doing laundry is not cheap!

And this isn't the budget backpacker within moaning about spending a few quid on clean pants.

Going to a launderette in Brazil is objectively expensive, mostly because in many places they charge per item - not so bad if you want to wash a few heavy denims or winter jumpers, not so great if you have a bag of g-string underwear and dirty socks! 


#15 portuguese really isn't the same as spanish

Oddly enough, despite the UK being relatively close to Portugal geographically, we really hadn't heard much Portuguese until we went to Brazil. We're pretty sure we may have heard some in the rest of Latin America, but there's a good chance we assumed it was Russian.

You see, despite the grammar and spelling being remarkably similar, they simply could not sound more different - and if you're crossing over from Bolivia or Argentina you'll quickly feel a million miles away.

So, for the Spanish speakers amongst you, whilst you may pick up the language a little quicker than everybody else, in many ways it feel like going right back to the beginning!

Don't believe us? Check out this hilarious video below.

#16 avoid tap water

On our first jaunt to Brazil, we spent three weeks in Florianopolis - a beautiful, developed collection of beach towns. We drank from the tap, didn't get sick and so assumed that the water throughout the country was similarly sanitised. WRONG!

Although we're sure that those completely adjusted to the local water source would be fine, it really is recommended to stick to the bottled stuff.

why not check out some of other other posts on brazil?