Brazil: Local Travel Info

The world's largest country in the tropics

Brazil Local Travel Info

Internal Flights and Major International Airports in Brazil

There are air services between all Brazilian cities, since Brazil has one of the largest internal air networks in the world. International flights from all over the world are also available to Rio and Sao Paolo daily, with subsequent connections ready to take you onwards into Brazil’s interior. There is a shuttle service between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, a regular service from São Paulo to Brasília and a shuttle service from Brasília to Belo Horizonte. At weekends it is advisable to book seats as the services are much used.

Getting to and from the Airport in Brazil

Rio de Janeiro’s airport (GIG) is perhaps Brazil’s largest and busiest air hub in the country is located roughly 20km north of the city. Holidaymakers can get to and from the airport via a regular Public bus route to the city, with a journey time of around 40 minutes. There is also an airport shuttle bus which stops at all major resorts and hotels, running every hour. Taxis are also available, although a slightly costlier alternative.

São Paulo’s airport (GRU) is 25km northeast of the city. Transport to/from the airport is provided by and an airport bus, that runs every 30 minutes (journey time is around 30 minutes). Taxis are also available in abundance.

Brasilia International (BSB) airport is Brazil’s third largest airport and the country’s only other ‘main’ air hub, perched some 12km south of the city itself. Travellers looking to get to and from the airport can take the regular Bus run to the city centre (journey time is approximately 30 minutes). Taxis are also readily available.

Travel Costs in Brazil

Because of the great distances in Brazil, the occasional flight can be a necessity, and may not cost much more than a long-haul bus journey. If you intend to take more than just a couple of flights, a Brazil Airpass will probably save you money. Book ahead for busy travel times – from Christmas to Carnival, Easter, July and August. Always remember to reconfirm your flights, as schedules frequently change.

Train service within Brazil is almost nonexistent. However, there are exceptions to the rule, and the most famous way to enter Brazil by train is on the Trem da Morte, or Death Train, which goes from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to a small town just over the border from Corumbá in the State of Mato Grosso do Sul. There is still a train line from there all the way to São Paulo which at the moment is not in use, but bus connections to São Paulo via the state capital, Campo Grande, are plentiful. The journey itself is reputedly replete with robbers who might steal your backpack or its contents but security has been increased recently and the journey can be made without much difficulty. It goes through the Bolivian agricultural belt and along the journey one may see a technologically-averse religious community which resembles the American Amish in many ways. The cheapest airfares are from February (after Carnival) to May and from August to November.

When it comes to hiring cars, A small four-door car with insurance and unlimited km costs around R$100 a day (R$130 with air-con). You can sometimes get discounts for longer rentals. To rent a car you must be 25 years old (21 with some rental firms, including Avis), have a credit card in your name and a valid driver’s license from your home country (not just an IDP). There is little price variation among the major rental companies, except for the occasional promotional deals. Some agencies have been known to add extra charges onto your credit card long after you’ve returned the vehicle. This is less likely to happen with more-established agencies. Taxi rides are reasonably priced, and are the best option for getting around cities at night, and across town in a hurry. Taxis in cities usually have meters that start at R$4.30 and rise by something like R$3 per km (more on nights and weekends). Occasionally, the driver will refer to a chart and revise slightly upwards. This reflects recent official hikes in taxi rates and the meter has not yet been adjusted. In small towns, taxis often don’t have meters, and you’ll have to arrange a price ­beforehand.

Long-distance buses are a convenient, economical, and sometimes (usually if you buy the most expensive ticket), rather comfortable way to travel between regions. The bus terminal in cities play a role akin to train stations in many countries. You should check travel distance and time while travelling within Brazil, going from Rio de Janeiro to the south region could take more than 24 hours, so it may worth going by plane if you can afford it.

Renting Cars in Brazil

It is generally accepted that tourists should not hire cars in Brazil unless they know what they are doing! Road safety in Brazil is not the best in the world, and the standard of driving here leaves a lot to be desired. However, there are a number of car hire agencies operating in Brazil, so if you want to rent a car here it is feasible. A small four-door car with insurance and unlimited km costs around R$100 a day (R$130 with air-con). You can sometimes get discounts for longer rentals. To rent a car you must be 25 years old (21 with some rental firms, including Avis), have a credit card in your name and a valid driver’s license from your home country (not just an IDP). There is little price variation among the major rental companies, except for the occasional promotional deals.

Drivers License Requirements in Brazil

All vehicles in Brazil must carry the registration document and proof of insurance. To take a vehicle in or out of Brazil, you might be asked for a ‘carnet de passage en douane‘, which is kind of a vehicle passport, or a ‘libreta de pasos por aduana’, which is a booklet of customs passes, although in practice these are not often required. Contact your local automobile association for details about all documentation.

Driving Rules in Brazil

Brazil has the largest road network in Latin America with over 1.6 million km of highways and byways. A car is a good idea if you want to explore scenic areas, e.g. the historic cities of Minas Gerais, the Rio-Santos highway, or the beaches in North-East Brazil. There are all the usual car rental companies at the airports.

Many roads are in good condition, especially in the east and south of the country and along the coast. In other areas and outside the metropolitan regions there are also gravel and dirt roads for which an off-road vehicle is strongly recommended. This especially applies to the Amazon area where many roads are difficult or not at all passable during the rainy season from November to March. This is why it is advisable to travel with a good map and to be well informed about distances, road conditions and the estimated travel time.

Road maps of the brand Guia 4 Rodas (can be bought from most newstands in Brazil) provide not only maps and distances but also information about current conditions of the roads. On the web, the site of cochera andina publishes useful information on almost 300 routes in the country. In theory, the driving rules of Brazil resemble those of Western Europe or North American. In practice, driving in Brazil can be quite scary if you are used to European (even Mediterranean) or North American road culture, due to widespread violations of driving rules, and the toleration thereof.

Distances kept to other vehicles are kept at a bare minimum, overtaking whenever close to possible, and changing lanes without much of a prior signal. Many large cities also suffer from hold-ups when you wait at a red light in the night. Even if there is no risk of robbery, many drivers (including of city buses) run red lights or stop signs at night when they do not see incoming traffic from the cross street. Drivers also indulge in "creative" methods of saving time, such as using the reverse direction lanes. In rural areas, many domestic animals are left at the roadside, and they sometimes wanders into the traffic. Pedestrians take enormous chances crossing the road, since many drivers do not bother to slow down if they see pedestrians crossing. The quality of the paving is very varied, and the presence of enormous potholes is something that strongly discourages night-driving.

In Brazil cars are driven on the right hand side of the road. A flashing left signal means that the car ahead is warning you not to pass, for some reason. If the car ahead of you wants to show you that it is safe to pass it will flash the right signal. The right signal is the same signal to indicate that you're going to stop on the side of the road, so it means you're going to slow down. On the other hand the left signal is the same signal to indicate you're going to pass the car ahead, meaning you're going to speed up. Flashing, twinkling headlights from the cars coming on the opposite side of the road means caution on the road ahead. Most of the time, it indicates that there are animals, cops or speed radar ahead. Keep the doors locked when driving, especially in the larger cities, as robberies at stop signs and red lights are quite common in some areas. You'll make it much easier for the robber if he can simply open up the door and sit down. Be equally careful with keeping your windows wide open, as someone might put their hands inside your car and steal a wallet, for instance. Leave your handbags and valuables out of sight.

Buses in Brazil

Long-distance buses are a convenient, economical, and sometimes (usually if you buy the most expensive ticket), rather comfortable way to travel between regions. The bus terminal in cities play a role akin to train stations in many countries. You should check travel distance and time while travelling within Brazil, going from Rio de Janeiro to the south region could take more than 24 hours, so it may worth going by plane if you can afford it.

Brazil has a very good long distance bus network. Basically, any city of more than 100,000 people will have direct lines to the nearest few state capitals, and also to other large cities within the same range. Pretty much every and any little settlement has public transport of some kind to the nearest real bus station. Mostly you have to go to the bus station to buy a ticket, although some of the large companies now have internet sales. In a few cities you can also buy a ticket on the phone and have it delivered to your hotel for an extra charge of some $3-5. Some companies have also adopted the airlines´ genius policy of pricing: In a few cases buying early can save you more than 50%. The facility of flagging a bus and hopping on (if there are no available seats you will have to stand, still paying full price) is widespread in the country. This is less likely to work along a few routes where armed robberies have happened frequently, such as those leading to the border with Paraguay and to Foz do Iguaçu. Most major bus companies make reservations and sell tickets by Internet but you must pick-up your ticket your ticket with some time in advance. There is no one bus company that serves the whole country. Therefore you need to identify the company that connect two cities in particular by calling the bus station of one city. ANTT, the national authority for land transportation, has a search engine (in Portuguese) for all available domestic bus lines.

Bus services are often sold in three classes: Regular, Executive and First-Class (Leito, in Portuguese). Regular may or may not have air conditioning. For long distances or overnight travels, Executive offers more space and a folding board to support your legs. First-Class has even more space and only three seats per row, making enough space to sleep comfortably. All travels with more than 4 hours are covered by buses with bathrooms and the buses stop for food/bathrooms at least once every 4 hours of travel. Be aware that some big cities like São Paulo and Rio have more than one bus station, each one covering certain cities around. It is good to check in advance to which bus station you are going. Brazilian bus stations, tend to be located away from city centres. They are often in pretty shady areas, so if you travel at night be prepared to take a taxi to and from the station. There will also be local bus lines. Even if you have a valid ticket bought from elsewhere, some Brazilian bus stations may also require a boarding card. This can be obtained from the bus company, often for a supplement fee. If you buy a ticket in the departure bus station you will also be given this boarding card. When buying tickets, as well as when boarding the bus, you may be asked for proof of ID. Brazilian federal law requires this for interstate transportation. Not all conductors know how to read foreign passports, so be prepared to show them that the name of the passport truly is the same as the name on the ticket.

Taxis in Brazil

There are two kinds of taxi, Comum and Radio taxis; the latter are about 20 percent more expensive than the former. Generally taxis in Brazil are safe (though they do tend to drive a bit fast) and all on a metre - though there may be a conversion sheet taped to the dashboard saying that you pay the meter price times a certain multiplier - due to inflation. Also, don't avail yourself of the services of taxi assistants: at best they're hawking for a tip, at worst they're trying to rob you.

Cycling in Brazil

In rural areas in Brazil the bicycle is a common means of transport. This does not mean that cyclists are usually respected by cars, trucks, or bus drivers. But you may find good roads with little traffic outside the cities. It is also easy to get a lift by a pickup or to have the bike transported by a bus. Cycling is not very encouraged in big cities. Two exceptions are Rio de Janeiro and Recife where there are cycle tracks along the beaches. There are a lot of bicyclers groups that have meeting sometimes on the week to walk on cities and make travels.

Water Transport in Brazil

In the Amazon region as well as on the coast west of Sao Luis, boat travel is often the only way to get around. Those who enjoy a little more adventurous form of transportation might want to consider taking one of the boat ferries through some of the most spectacular, dense and lush scenes in Brazil. Boats and ferries in Brazil traditionally trade their wares along the inland waterways of Brazil, and if you have time this is a recommended mode of Brazilian transportation.

Hitchhiking in Brazil

Although hitchhiking is a common method of transport for travellers in Brazil, the potential dangers are huge and cases of violence and abduction not unheard of so it is not a recommended form of travel.