Backpacking in Brazil – Know Before You Go
April 20, 2017
We were backpacking in Brazil for two months last year. And while it was an incredible experience, it would have been great to have been a little bit more prepared. These are the things I wish I would’ve known before I went backpacking in Brazil.
Important Things To Know Before You Go Backpacking in Brazil
Brazil is often completely skipped or only explored to the extent of Rio by backpackers on their “South America trip”. This is understandable as backpacking in Brazil isn’t as easy as some of the neighboring countries. Not only does the language barrier cause a problem, but the country is massive and it’s very time-consuming and confusing getting around – not to mention much more expensive.
It definitely was a challenge, but rewarding and well worth it. I would encourage everybody to take on backpacking in Brazil at some point – it is one of the most beautiful and culturally rich countries I have ever been to.
That being said, here are a few things that would have made my trip much easier if I had known before coming to Brazil. These are a few tips that would have saved me a lot of hassle should someone told me before starting our two months of travel in Brazil.
1. Uber is your best friend
Taxis are super expensive, more than double the price of an Uber. Taxi drivers will often try to rip you off and they can also be unsafe. Uber tracks your location and therefore is the safer option.
The only problem with Uber is that you need wifi or data on your phone. This posed a problem in some bus stations. One thing we often did was buy a small food item off of one of the restaurants/fast food chains in order to get access to their wifi.
Note: Uber is banned from picking up from the Rio International Airport, however, you can use it to drop you off there. There are some other airports in Brazil where Uber can only pick-up in the drop-off zone so make sure that is where you wait.
2. Download the app Google Translate
You can download an entire language on the app Google Translate and then translate whenever you want, even without wifi. Many Brazilians only speak Portuguese and even Spanish will not help you in all situations.
We would often type into the app what we wanted to say and then just show whoever we were talking to and they would type back a reply. Worked like a dream!
3. Be prepared for mosquitos
Bug spray and nets are recommended especially if you are traveling to the Northeast where Zika and Dengue diseases exist. Many hostels don’t have screens on the windows which stay open all night. Also, mosquito repellent is expensive so if you have room in your bag bring it with you before coming to Brazil.
4. Always check your bed for bed bugs
We had one incident and met many other travelers covered in bites. This is important when going anywhere really, but I noticed that it was particularly a problem while backpacking in Brazil.
5. Bradesco Bank is the best
The bank called Bradesco is the best for withdrawing cash. It doesn’t charge a fee for international cards and will let you take out the most amount of cash per day (R$1500-2000).
The Bank of Brazil is also free but has a limit of R$500 per day which isn’t very much.
6. Don’t drink the water
Every time a hostel told us “it’s okay to drink the tap water, we have a filter” we got sick. Just don’t do it. Bottled water only and if you are cooking make sure you boil the tap water very well.
7. Research bad areas before just “winging it” on a bus or metro/train
Very quickly you can end up in a dodgy neighborhood by accident just by getting off at the wrong stop. Robberies are very common in Brazil, and sometimes they can be violent.
We had one instance in particular where we ended up in a really poor area by getting off the train at the wrong stop and luckily an honest taxi driver (they aren’t all bad) got us out of their quickly before anything bad could happen.
8. Toilet paper never goes in the toilet
This is a general rule for all of South America. Don’t be the person the overflows your hostel’s toilet.
Also, toilet paper is not always provided in public toilets and if it is, you often have to pay. It is useful to carry around a roll of toilet paper in your backpack for these instances.
9. The temperature control for the shower is on the shower head.
You have three options: cold, medium, or boiling. There is no in between and the tap only controls the amount of water coming out. If you select medium heat and only allow a small amount of water out you may actually get an enjoyable temperature.
I heard someone once call these showers “suicide showers” simply because the shower head is electric and could electrocute you if not installed or maintained properly. This is something to seriously watch out for, I always turn the shower on and let it run for a minute before getting in just to check that everything is working properly before getting in.
10. A student card will save you hundreds.
For almost everything touristy in Brazil, you must pay an entry fee. You will usually get half off with a student card so if you are a student bring your student ID along with you backpacking in Brazil.
11. Visas suck. Visas must be sorted in advance and can be a time consuming and slow process.
Make sure you give this a lot of thought and time before trying to enter Brazil. We heard of people flying all the way to Brazil and then getting turned away because they assumed it was like every other country in South America where they didn’t need a visa in advance.
Most nationalities will require a visa in advance. Be sure to check your entry requirements
12. Use the website www.busbud.com for booking buses online.
All the other websites are dodgy and we even lost money on them. Use either Bus Bud or buy the bus ticket in person (in advance though because in high season buses book out fast.)
Bus Bud does charge a small commission but it is sometimes cheaper than the cost of the trip to the bus station and back to buy the ticket in person.
Sometimes, I would even just use Bus Bud to look and see what times buses are running and what they cost to plan a trip. It is a really useful website.
13. Skyscanner doesn’t always show the local flights in Brazil.
Make sure to check the local airlines’ websites directly, such as Avianca. Also, you can switch your browser to show all language websites. Sometimes flights are cheaper than buses in Brazil but often the cheaper flights are only sold in Portuguese – get that Google Translate app out!
If you have any other advice please feel free to leave a comment! Backpacking in Brazil can be tough and the more information we can gather the better for future travelers.