Brazil is often completely skipped or only explored to the extent of Rio by backpackers on their “South America trip”. This is understandable as Brazil was actually a very difficult country to backpack. 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 than neighbouring countries.
It definitely was a challenge but rewarding and well worth it. I would encourage everybody to take on backpacking Brazil at some point – it is one of the most beautiful and cultural 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) and will often try to rip you off. They can also be unsafe. The only problem with Uber is that you need wifi or data on your phone. This posed a problem in some bus stations but if you buy a food item off of one of the restaurants/fast food chains they will give you access too their wifi. Note: Uber is banned to pick-up from the Rio International Airport, however you can use it to drop you off there. Some other airports in Brazil Uber can only pick-up in the drop-off zone so make sure that is where you wait.
2. 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.
3. Mosquito preparation. Bug spray and nets are recommended especially if you are traveling to the Northeast where Zika and Degue diseases exist. Many hostels don’t have screens on the windows which stay open all night. Also, bug spray 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 travellers covered in bites.
5. Bradesco bank is the best. 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 neighbourhood by accident just getting off at the wrong stop. Robberies are very common in Brazil, and sometimes they can be violent.
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 hostels probably only toilet.
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.
10. A student card will save you hundreds. For almost everything touristy in Brazil you must pay an entry fee and you will usually get half off with a student card. You didn’t hear it from me, but sometimes the people checking student cards don’t speak any english and will accept a local drivers license as long as it isn’t expired (all they check for is the date on the card, this trick worked for us once or twice.)
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 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.
12. Use the website http://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.
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.
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 travellers.
Check out all of our experiences and advice for Brazil here: