It took us little to fall in love with Brazil. The second we crossed the border we were taken in people’s home, spoiled with good food, warm homes and lots of laughter. We hope this Brazil Travel Guide will give you the practical information to give you the confidence to go out there and explore yourself.
Index for our Brazil Travel Guide
1 Documentation (Visa & Temporary Import Document)
2 The Land Cruiser
3 Diesel & Gas Stations
4 Public Transport
6 Accommodation & Camping
7 Other Expenditures
8 Roads & Road Conditions
9 Road Maps
10 Guidebooks & Phrasebooks
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Brazil 1: May – July 2007 – 123 days (south/southeast / Pantanal)
Brazil 2: July – Dec 2009 – 141 days (west: Mato Grosso)
Brazil 3: Sep ’10 – Feb ’11 – 173 days (northeast)
Brazil 4: Aug ’12 – Jan ’13 – 163 days (north: Transamazônica)
Brazil 5: Jun ’15: 30 days (Boa Vista)
Total: 630 days
The Brazilian currency is real (sing) and reais (plur). In writing, R$ is used. Compared to Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia, Brazil is more expensive (hotel, food and beverage). I’d say prices come closest to Chile.
In July 2015 the rate was R$3.30 to a euro.
Using ATMs in Brazil has not always been a matter of course. We had the following experiences with ATMs:
- You need a machine with those stickers indicating Visa, Master Card and such. If the machine doesn’t have these stickers, don’t bother trying. The more logos, the better the chance of succeeding.
- HBSC banks: always successful.
- Banco do Brasil: sometimes successful, sometimes not.
- Most of the time ATMs at other banks didn’t work with our card.
- Sometimes we would succeed at a standalone ATM in a big shopping mall. The stand-alone machines of dedicated banks don’t charge for this, but the 24-hour standalone machines – that accept all cards of all (at least Brazilian) banks – charge fees up to 12 reais (6 euros, price 2013) per transaction.
We noticed that sometimes these card readers (especially Banco do Brasil) have been overused and don’t take our card the first time. The machine works all right, but we need to insert our card a couple of times before it accepts it. Edited to add July 17, 2015: we found this still to be the case in Boa Vista.
We hear from other travelers that in many places you can pay with your bank card, among others at petrol stations and supermarkets. We don’t do this so I can’t say more about it, but it may be of interest to you.
Prices differ not only per region but also went up between 2007 and 2013 (budget €20/day in 2007 – €35/day in 2013). Whereas in 2007 we could eat a set meal (prato feito) for 5 or 6 reais in the south (a relatively expensive region), in 2013 we at lunch for less than 10 reais (and that was in the Northeast, Brazil’s cheapest region).
Who can resist the splendid seafood of the north and northeast? We splurged quite a bit in that respect.
Our Travel Budget
- Time spent in Brazil: 630 days (2007-2015)
- Average distance covered: 47.440kms / 630 days = 75,3 kms/day
- Average expenditure: € 25/day (2 persons)
Our visas were free of charge (for Europeans); extending was not.
At the border we (Dutch) get a three-month visa, free of charge. Since the issue of needing a visa depends on the country you come from, please check your own requirements (more info on the subject of visa on Wikipedia). Once in Brazil, you can extend your visa at the Policia Federal.
According to Brazilian law, tourist-visa holders can stay a maximum of 180 days over a 12-month period in Brazil – either as in one continuous stay or split up in various shorter stays. The Brazilian immigration system is computerized so at the border the official can see how long you’ve already been in the country. It is NOT possible to exit the country after 180 days and return the same/next day (as is possible in, for example, Argentina / Chile). 180 days per year in – 180 days per year out.
Requirements for a Visa Extension
- You have to be present in person (as in Coen can’t arrange it for me).
- Import document (immigration slip, the paper you always have to fill in when entering a country).
- Visa fee = 67 reais per person (same price in 2007 as 2012). Depending on where you are you have to go to the bank to pay it, or it can be done at a nearby pharmacy (São Luís), or nowadays maybe also a supermarket.
When you get to the Policia Federal, there’s either the easy or the complicated version. This depends on the location and/or the official:
- Easy version: The official will print an A4 for you with all necessary information. This you need to have in order to be able to make your payment.
- Making-life-complicated version: The official gives you a number, tells you to find an internet café and print the A4 yourself.
With this paper you deposit your 67 reais, and with the receipt you return to the Policia Federal, where you’ll get your stamp for another 3 months.
Edited to add September 02, 2014: Here’s more up-to-date info that may help you. Thomas (the Blue Truck) extended his visa in Rio de Janeiro and described in detail how to go about it. You can find it here.
Edited to add January 12, 2013: The info below was up to date until recently. However, things appear to be changing but the situation isn’t clear-cut. We heard from French and recently a German that they could no longer extend their visa. They were informed that the law had changed. Whether this is arbitrary (depending on the official or the office), related to nationality and some reciprocity issue or that this is now a fact for nationalities, we don’t know. You just may want to look into it before entering the country so you can plan accordingly.
If you have more / different info on this, please share it with us in the comments below so others can profit from it as well. Thanks.
02. Land Cruiser
Examples of prices:
- 5 new tires in Manaus (Aug ’12), total R$1500 (2013).
- oil change + replacement of filters + labor R$100 (2013).
- 2-liter break-oil R$20 (2011).
Maintenance in Brazil is not cheap but we find it more reliable than in, for example, Bolivia and so it was worth having work done here. I have to add that these expenditures would have much higher were it not for numerous compassionate Brazilians who helped us on car maintenance without charging anything.
Among them was a major restoration of bodywork restoration in Belém.
Read More: Welding just 2 Cracks
03. Diesel & Gas Stations
Diesel doesn’t come cheap in Brazil and distances are huge. Prices vary quite a bit per region. During our last long trip in Brazil (2013; 2015 was just a short stay in Boa Vista) we paid an average of R$2.28/liter diesel.
The numbers of kilometers you drive can make a huge difference in your budget (and when sticking to the highways you can add a lot of toll fees to that as well).
Fuel prices vary greatly, for example, we’ve paid these prices for diesel:
- Mato Grosso do Sul R$ 2.40 (Oct ’10)
- Goiás R$ 1.79 (Oct ’10)
- São Paulo R$2 (Oct ’11)
- Salvador da Bahia R$ 1.78 (Nov ’11)
- Interior northeast R$ 2.05 (Dec ’11)
- Amapá R$ 2.16 (Jan ’11)
- Amazon between R$ 2.09 and R$ 2.35 (Sep ’12)
- Northeast between R$ 2.07 and R$ 2.35 (Jan ’13)
Sometimes you can get a discount when paying cash, this is called a vista. We’ve heard from other travelers that you can pay with your European bankcard at most (large) gas stations. Since we are still living in a world of paying cash we can’t share personal experiences on this.
Diluted Fuel Issues
Our Land Cruiser drives well on all Brazilian diesel. We hear stories about diesel being diluted with water (cheaper gas stations in particular) but we can’t confirm this. The Land Cruiser has a steady mileage.
We don’t have experience with petrol but we have been told that modern cars may have problems as the Brazilian petrol is mixed with alcohol. For example, Shreesh and Neena couldn’t stay in Brazil with their FJ Cruiser exactly because of this problem. For more info, check their website alongdrive.com.
24-Hour Gas Stations
There are many 24-hour gas stations, or gas stations that close around 10 pm but have a guard throughout the night. They may not be the most enchanting places but they perfectly safe and easy places to spend the night. We have done so on a regular basis, especially when covering long distances and not being in the mood to search for lovely rough camps in the wilderness.
At these gas stations you’ll find:
- gas stations that are frequented by a large number of trucks (most noticeably in Mato Grosso) the diesel price includes getting your vehicle’s oils topped up, and greasing nipples.
- Some gas stations have a car wash service and most have a workshop for the regular maintenance/breakdown jobs like fixing tires (focused on trucks).
- Internet is still limited to few gas stations (I’m writing this while traveling in the north/northeast in 2012; things may have changed in the much more developed south of Brazil)
- Bathrooms with showers. Sometimes you have to pay 1 or 2 reais, but not if you fill up there.
- A restaurant or lanchonete (snack bar). Most of them are good places to eat. Either it’s cheap and simple, or there’s a grand buffet (still affordable). One way or another, portions are always huge and we always share a prato feito (set meal) or marmitex (take away), which is more than enough.
04. Public Transport
This is mainly ferry crossings, including the Amazon River (2011, R$1100, cargo boat) and the Oiapoque River to ship to French Guiana (2011, R$460, cargo boat).
05. Tickets Sightseeing
Money spent on hiring guides and buying entrance fees to museums, waterfalls, national parks, Indigenous Reservations, etc. I wrote a lot of short stories on our other website, Notes on Slow Travel, e.g. on swimming with dolphins, a boat trip through the Amazon, the best cultural site in Brazil: Sierra Capivara Rock Paintings, meeting the bird whisperer, etc. Find those stories here.
Read More: Sightseeing and Activities
06. Accommodation & Camping
Mostly paid for a few hotels when we had to recuperate from food poisoning (once, KM) or dengue (twice, Coen – read here).
Read More: Accommodation & Camping in Brazil
07. Other Expenditures
All expenditures mentioned above minus what we totally spent is what we call daily expenditures. This is mostly groceries and lunch/dinner (outdoor).
08. Roads & Road Conditions
Driving in Brazil generally is no big deal with regard to road conditions. Main roads are asphalted, varying from brand-new (Brazil is rapidly asphalting its roads) but also still quite a number of prolifically potholed ones.
The main arteries in southeast Brazil are toll roads, which can add up when covering large distances. (up to 6 reais for every 25 kilometers in 2010). In Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso, north and northeast Brazil we didn’t encounter any toll roads.
Note that the last kilometer before the Bolivian border coming from Corumbá has a toll road. It costs only R$1 or can pay in Bolivianos (about B4) in case you spent your last reais on gas (like we did).
Of course Brazil has its challenging sections as well when it comes to driving. As soon as you leave the main roads you will most likely hit unpaved roads. These vary from good laterite roads (e.g. Estrada Real in Minas Gerais; more info on the subject in 7 Road Trips in Brazil) to muddy, slippery trails in the Amazon when traversing it in the rainy season.
Fun fact: Brazil has passed a law that prohibits street bumps. However, you’ll find them all over the place. The law means that officially no new ones are going to be added. The one city we do remember to be totally free of this nasty obstacles was Palmas (state of Tocatins).
Read More: The Worst Highway in the Amazon – the BR319
09. Road Maps
These are the maps we have used:
- Brazil’s Reise Knowhow Map (1: 1.385.000) is excellent to have an overview of the entire country but is not detailed enough for the minor roads.
- Mapa de Estradas – Brasil, by O Guia Mapograf. Available in separate maps per region or in one book of the entire country. The latter costs about 30 reais.
There is also the Quatro Rodas. These maps are divided per region or province and the scale differs per map. Guia Quatro Rodas also has a book with detailed maps of the whole country. This is generally considered as Brazil’s most complete road book available, although this doesn’t make it perfect – as some travelers will point out. It comes in A4 format, has detail maps of cities and includes information on postos (gas stations), police checkpoints and distance tables.
Graphically the Guia Quatro Rodas looks much better but we find that Mapa de Estradas has many more details.
A common place to buy a road map or road book is at one of any city’s plentiful kiosks. Kiosks, as well as bookstores, generally offer a wide variety of country maps, street maps of cities as well as regional maps.
Read More: Driving Dunes and Beaches in Brazil
10. Guidebooks & Phrasebooks
Our standard guidebook is Lonely Planet. Although quality can differ quite a bit per country and edition, we generally find it gives a good overview of the country. We use this book to get a feel for the country and once we’ve crossed the border we will search for local guidebooks and other sources of information.
We loved the Unibanco Travel Guide Series! In Brazil we mostly found them in Portuguese; finding the English version was almost impossible. They have a series of Brazil’s main cities as well as regions. We loved the Amazon Travel Guide.
Other travelers, especially overlanders, are smitten with the South American Handbook as it is more focused on road travel.
Read More: The Transamazônica
Do you have information you think we should add to this Brazil Travel Guide? Please share it with us in the comments below so other travelers may benefit as well.
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