Brazil - 5 Risks and 5 Rewards
We explore five risks and five rewards of travelling in Brazil.
Brazil has some of the most beautiful and spectacular scenery in the world.
A highlight of any trip to Brazil is Iguazu Falls, a magnificent horseshoe-shaped circle of thundering water in wild green tropical forest cooled by rising mists. The falls are on the border of Argentina and Brazil, and you can hire a guide to take you to the best views on either side.
Santa Caterina is famous both for its beautiful white beaches and also spectacular mountain views. The Serra Geral Catarinense Range reaches 1800m above sea level, with deep canyons, hidden waterfalls and green highlands.
The Chapada Diamantina is also famous for mountain views, with lively rivers, jagged peaks, green forests and quiet pools. There are many easy and more challenging walking trails in the area, from which you can experience the views at your own pace. The area also contains many pleasant little villages that date back to the time of the original diamond rush, including Lencois and Mucuge.
Even if you have been to Rio, experiencing a summer sunrise over Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay, with the magnificent statue of Christ the Redeemer towering over the city, is one of the great travel experiences of the world.
Copacabana is one of Brazil's best-known beaches.
The Santa Teresa district in Rio is a more bohemian and quirky option than Copacabana beach, where you can sample local food and enjoy the lively music and dance culture. For beautiful architecture, climb the Escadaria Selarón, a flight of beautifully-tiled steps, or experience some Brazilian art at the Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) located in Oscar Niemeyer’s wonderful futuristic building in Niterói. For a real taste of the city, go on a favela tour with a guide like Marcelo Armstrong (the favelas are not safe for tourists without a guide and it is unwise to venture there alone).
Sao Paulo is the largest city in Brazil and also the business centre, but has many wonderful museums and galleries, as well as restaurants and shops. It is also the centre of the annual Gay Pride Parade in May.
Manaus, in the Amazon, is a good base if you are intending to explore this fascinating and unique area. There are many companies that will take you deep into the heart of the jungle by boat, or you can hire a guide and trek.
E minha praia in Brazilian translates as ‘that’s my beach’ or as we would say ‘just my cup of tea’! Brazil is known for miles and miles of beautiful beaches bordering much of the country’s coast. The pristine sands of Brazil are dotted with lush greenery and palm trees, and are home to many festivals and celebrations throughout the year. You can lounge under a cabana at an upscale resort or strip down completely at a nude beach – the choice is yours!
Copacabana and Ipanema beaches are some of the best-known, but you could also try Alter do Chao, a river beach on the Amazon, for wonderful white sand, local grilled fish and friendly pousadsas (government-run hotels). Or Sancho Bay, Fernando-de-Noronha, a volcanic archipelago off the coast of Brazil, which was recently named the number one beach in the world in the Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice awards. Reportedly ‘hard to reach, but worth it’, the green waters and white sands of the beach are accessed by boat, or via a steep set of stairs cut into the rock. Worth it for the crystal clear water, majestic waterfalls and verdant forests, and playful dolphins and turtles.
Parties and fun
Brazil is famous for its year-round parties and celebrations. Dance in the streets or party on the beach – whatever you fancy. Wear your best bikini or carnival outfit and samba to throbbing drumbeats and infectious music. Carnaval, Reveillon and Bumba-meu-boi are some of the best known, but also look for little local festivals and ceremonies, as they will give a true flavour of the region. Most festivals embody a folk tale or religious story, or both, encapsulating Brazil’s rich native and colonial heritages. For more on festivals in Brazil, check out our blog article Top 10 Festivals for the Cultured in Brazil.
Brazil and its surrounds have incredible unique wildlife and one of the best places to see it is the Pantanal wetlands in Mato Grosso state. In the Pantanal you’ll see giant otters, capybara, yellow-eyed caiman, the rare hyacinth macaw, toucans, marsh deer and many beautiful native birds. Fly from Rio de Janeiro to Cuiabà and spend a few days spotting jaguars or the rare tapir on the Paraguay river. At Caiman Ecological Refuge you can take a horseback or guided canoe trek to see the colourful wildlife. Or try Pousada dos Monteiros, Campo Grande for a real ranch experience complete with gauchos.
Most sources recommend using bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth, and steer clear of ice in your drinks wherever possible, to minimise the risk of contracting giardia or schistosomiasis (a parasitic infection that is often contracted through the drinking water). Also be wary of the water you swim in, which may contain parasites or disease. Bottled water is usually available and cheap, even in the most remote towns and villages, either sparkling (com gás) or still (sem gás).
Chagas disease, dengue fever, giardia, dysentery, malaria, hepatitis A, rabies and yellow fever are all prevalent in Brazil. Yellow fever vaccination, which must be done 10 days prior to your trip, is recommended for all travellers to Brazil, as are vaccinations for hepatitis A and typhoid. Brazil is reportedly high risk for malaria, and other insect-related diseases such as leishmanias are a major risk, especially in the wet season. It’s best to check with your GP about any other vaccination requirements and disease prevention, and you can also visit Travel Doctor for more information.
In the humid climate, cuts and wounds can become infected very quickly, so you should always clean them with alcohol. It’s best to have travel insurance to cover you in case of illness or infection.
Brazil has a reputation for being somewhat dangerous, and your safety is never guaranteed, so it is wise to avoid taking unnecessary risks. Be particularly alert in Rio, Salvador and Recife.
Hold-ups do occur, especially in the major cities – mostly at night in the back streets with few people around, so it is wise to stick to well-lit, busy streets. According to the Brazilian Embassy “If you are unlucky enough to be the victim of an assalto (a hold-up), try to remember that it’s your possessions rather than you that are the target. Your money and anything you’re carrying will be snatched, your watch will get pulled off your wrist, but within a couple of seconds it will be over. On no account resist: it isn’t worth the risk.”
Take precautions by locking your travel documents, valuables and some cash in your hotel room, and only take as much money with you as you will need for the day. It is wise not to display jewellery or expensive items if possible, to avoid becoming a target.
Laptop thefts from taxis by motorbike riders carrying guns have increased over the past few years, so if you are travelling for business, try not to look like a business person and carry your laptop in a normal case, not a laptop bag.
If you are at the beach, give your valuables to the beach bar to take care of rather than leaving them with your towel as you would at home. Take care in any crowds, especially at Carnaval time, as it is notorious for pickpockets and thieves.
In large cities such as Campinas, Rio or Sao Paulo, medical facilities are very good, however outside the cities they can be both primitive and very limited. Brazil does have a public health service but it is not guaranteed that you will be treated if you are a foreigner, unless you have an infectious disease; even then the care can be rudimentary. Private medical care is a better option but is very expensive. The cost of care in the private system for treatment can run into the thousands of dollars, so it’s wise to have insurance in such a risky place. Worldcare has a range of travel insurance options to suit all budgets and travel plans.