13 Things You Need to Know Before Backpacking in Brazil
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Backpacking in Brazil was an adventure, to say the least. Knowing next to nothing about traveling around Brazil, I traveled from the very north to the very south. However, it wasn’t without a few hiccups along the way. So, here are the 13 things I learned (and you need to know) before backpacking in Brazil.
Brazil is a daunting place to backpack. For one, the country is huge! And I’m not just saying that, in fact, Brazil is the 5th largest country in the world. This makes Brazil very confusing get around – not to mention much more expensive.
But that’s not all that makes Brazil a hard country to travel.
There’s a safety issue. Now I’m not saying Brazil is a dangerous place that you shouldn’t travel, but, I believe you need to be a little more careful in Brazil than other places in South America.
Backpacking in Brazil is definitely a challenge, but rewarding and well worth it. I would encourage everybody to take on a backpacking trip in Brazil – 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’ve saved me a lot of hassle should someone told me them before starting my two months of travel in Brazil.
1. Uber is way cheaper than taxis
The cities are huge in Brazil and most bus stations and airports are located well outside of the tourist districts. Because of this, we took a lot of taxis and Ubers while in Brazil.
While we never had any major problems with taxis, Uber was much better. Uber was a huge budget saver while backpacking in Brazil because taxis are expensive! In fact, they’re more than double the price of an Uber.
Taxi drivers also don’t have the best reputation in Brazil and many locals told us to go with Uber instead. We did get ripped off a few times by taxi drivers so we always preferred Uber, for safety reasons as well.
Things like the fact Uber tracks your location and the driver, provide a little more safety than potentially hopping into an unlicensed taxi. Also, taxi drivers can take you the long way around whereas Uber must follow a specific route.
The only problem with Uber is that you need wifi or data on your phone. This posed a problem in some bus stations. But for safety reasons and convenience’s sake, traveling with a working sim card in Brazil is a good idea.
All-round Uber is the better option while backpacking in Brazil. The rides are cheap, safe, and convenient.
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. Spanish and Portuguese aren’t the same…at all!
Google translate saved us in Brazil! For those who don’t know, Brazil is the only Latin American country that speaks Portuguese. I remember before we arrived people told us Brazilians could more or less understand Spanish, however, this isn’t true and they also don’t like it that much.
We asked a few locals and they say people always speak to them in Spanish and they get offended because it’s assumed they speak it. I guess it comes down to learning the language of your host country as opposed to being lazy.
Now learning a new language can be hard especially if you’re only visiting for a few weeks. That’s where Google Translate comes in handy. You can download an entire language on the app and then translate whenever you want, even without wifi!
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. It worked like a dream. Of course, you should learn basic phrases before you arrive in Brazil, but Google Translate was a lifesaver and also a great way to learn new words.
3. Be prepared for mosquitos
Mosquitos in Brazil are a real problem, especially if you’re backpacking on a budget. Of course, anyone can get bitten anytime you’re outside, but they can also get you in your room in budget hostels!
You might be thinking… why in my room!? Well, it seems despite the mosquito problem many rooms (in budget hostels) don’t fully seal around the windows. Plus, even if they do, it’s likely too hot to close them. This meant that in a lot of hostels, mosquitos could get in the rooms at night.
So the options were to either die of the heat, or, get eaten alive by mosquitos that could potentially carry diseases like malaria or dengue fever (both very common in Brazil.)
Instead, plan ahead and bring with you some bug spray and even a mosquito net with you! Alternatively, stay in places with air conditioning so you can keep the windows closed. It’s also a good idea to bring malaria medication and get your shots up to date for things like yellow fever.
4. Brazil is expensive
Brazil is much more expensive than some of its neighboring countries. I was actually very shocked when I first arrived and it was a challenge to backpack Brazil on a budget! But that’s not to say it isn’t doable.
Things like street food still cost $5 USD a meal, a good hostel is around $10 to $15 USD per night, and transport isn’t cheap either. These prices may sound cheap, but in comparison to Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Colombia and even Chile (in some parts) it’s expensive.
With that said, Brazil is worth it. Just be prepared to spend a little more to have an awesome time!
5. Bradesco Bank is the best
Getting money out of an ATM in Brazil can be very costly with high service and withdrawal fees! After withdrawing money from many ATMs using cards from both Australia and Canada, I can say with confidence that 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. Most other banks (unless they are your bank) charge very high fees to withdraw cash. This fee adds up quickly if you are backpacking around Brazil for a lengthy amount of time.
6. Don’t drink the water
The water from the tap in Brazil is not okay to drink. Many locals don’t even drink it and your stomach won’t be anywhere near as prepared as theirs. For that reason, it is best to avoid all tap water in all cities and towns in Brazil.
We have heard that in places like Florianopolis that the water is fine to drink, but why risk it. Instead, bring a reusable bottle. Most hostels have filtered water for free so you can avoid using lots of plastic.
Alternatively, get one of those Life Straw water bottles with a built-in filter or a Steripen. Steripens use UV light to kill bacteria – I use one all the time when I go hiking!
7. Brazil isn’t always safe…so ask your hotel where to avoid!
Robberies are very common in Brazil, and sometimes they can be violent. We actually got robbed at gunpoint in Brazil. Often though, they are easily avoided. In cities like Rio de Janeiro it can be as simple as avoiding a particular street.
We found this out while staying in the Santa Teresa neighborhood after a guy at our hostel got robbed. Afterward, the hostel informed us that the specific street he walked down is notorious for robbings and they knew of four people who had been robbed there in the last week!
My advice? Tell your hotel where you plan on going and ask if you should avoid any areas or streets. They’ll know if you should or shouldn’t go that way or if an Uber would be a better option!
Unfortunately, when we got robbed in Brazil there was nothing we could do about it. It was 11 am on a busy tourist street and somehow this guy managed to pull off a 5-minute robbery. He just picked the perfect time when it went quiet.
8. Toilet paper never goes in the toilet
Toilet paper doesn’t get flushed down the toilet in Brazil. This is a general rule for all of South America and I’m so used to it I sometimes do it back home! However, for people coming over for only a few weeks who haven’t traveled the region much, it can come as a shock.
Instead, your toilet paper goes in a garbage bin beside the toilet.
Although a little gross, it’s for a good reason! You see, the plumbing isn’t made for toilet paper so it blocks it up. Hostels usually have signs everywhere and it causes a lot of problems if you don’t follow this rule.
There are a few ways to be courteous about this though. Such as never placing your toilet paper in the bin “sunny side up”. In other words, place the brown side down!
9. The showers can be dangerous!
If you plan on staying in fancy hotels you can skip this section, but if you’re backpacking Brazil on a budget then this is an important tip! Most showers in budget hotels and hostels in Brazil heat the water in an electric showerhead. These are often wired very poorly and during my trip I got more than a few small shocks from them!
I mean, water and electricity don’t go together on a good day let alone when they’re wired-up wrong. Luckily, there is an easy way to avoid being killed in the shower.
On the shower heads you have three options: cold, medium, or boiling. Use this control before you turn the shower on and do not touch it while the water is running. If it’s a little cold and you want to change it, turn the shower off and then change it. You can also control the temperature with the water flow as the more water that flows the colder it is.
Do not touch the showerhead while it is on. This is when I received a few shocks!
I heard someone once call these showers “suicide showers” simply because the showerhead is electric and could electrocute you if not installed or maintained properly. This is something to seriously watch out for while backpacking in Brazil!
10. A student card will save you hundreds
Something that surprised me the most in Brazil is the fact that even an international student card would get you discounts at most attractions. I, unfortunately, didn’t have a card, but Bailey did and we were so glad we brought it along with us.
At attractions like the Sugar Loaf Mountain Gondola Bailey got 40% off! So, if you’re heading to Brazil and have a valid student card, bring it along and enjoy some much-needed savings!
11. The best time to travel is between New years Eve and Carnival!
Brazilians love the holiday season. They actually take it very seriously and during Brazil’s holiday season you’re in for a super fun experience. Brazil’s holiday season of the year runs from Christmas/New Year’s Eve until Carnival which starts at the end of February.
This is the time I traveled in Brazil mainly because I went to Carnival in Rio and celebrated New Year’s Eve on Copacabana Beach. Let me tell you, those experiences were some of the best I’ve had.
This is also the time of year most Brazilians travel domestically, and Brazilians love to party and have a good time so the atmosphere is vibrant almost everywhere you go! Sure it’s busy, but that Brazilian culture is electric and will make you fall in love!
12. Booking buses isn’t always easy
Booking buses in Brazil online isn’t always easy for a few reasons. The first is that websites are often only in Portuguese and very confusing. To solve this I always use Busbud.com. Busbud is in English and much easier to use.
However, the second problem is sometimes unavoidable and a good reason why I often had to book tickets at the station. So what is it? Well it’s called a CPF number and a lot of bus companies require one to book online. The only problem for visitors is that it’s only found on Brazilian identification!
Unfortunately if a bus company requires this you cannot book online in advance on Busbud. There is another local website called Quero Passagem that you can use in this instance. By unclicking the “insurance option” you can bypass the CPF number. This website is in Portuguese though and this doesn’t always work.
Basically, booking buses in Brazil in advance isn’t always as easy as in other countries. So, be patient and always ask your hotel for advice! Alternatively, just go straight to the bus station to buy bus tickets directly at ticket offices.
13. There’s a trick to getting the best domestic flights
We took a few flights in Brazil for the simple fact the country is huge! Sometimes buses just didn’t make sense. However, I found out a few things while booking flights in Brazil.
For one, not all flights are advertised on websites like Skyscanner. Some flight routes in Brazil use small airlines so you need to check specific airline websites to get great prices.
Another interesting thing that’ll save you money is when I searched these websites in English the flights were more expensive than when I searched in Portuguese. This was common and over our travels, we save a lot of people money by letting them know this!
Before you go…
Well there you have it, 13 important things to know to help you prepare for your upcoming backpacking trip to Brazil. Some may be obvious but I’m sure there were a few things on the list you’ll be glad to know.
If you found this Brazil travel blog helpful, then you can read all our other Brazil blogs or these related articles below!
July 27, 2020