3 Weeks in Brazil - a travel guide (Part 1)

Introduction

In September 2019 I travelled to Brazil with my partner Clare on a 3 week trip. Though Clare has been before it was my first time to South America and I was a little nervous about what to expect. You can hear a lot of bad things about safety, bugs etc but we had the most incredible time.

The idea for the trip came around through a Brazilian friend Vanessa who invited us to her wedding in Rio. We were lucky to have other friends who had travelled there or were themselves Brazilian to help advise us on what to do our trip.

We also did a whole lot of research before hand but We found it difficult to find information online so I decided to write this blog to help others. I did buy a couple of books too which we found of interest and use. Firstly Fodor's Brazil which generally had better reviews than the Lonely Planet guide. Another interesting read was Michael Palin's Brazil.

I am definitely not an expert and there is a lot I don't cover but hopefully this provides a good introduction as we found we learnt much from our friends.

Flights & Money

We found flights from the UK to be a lot cheaper than we anticipated when booked in advance. Use Skyscanner and your Web browser in private mode to hunt for the best deals. We were able to get flights from London to Rio de Janeiro via Sao Paulo for just over £300 with LaTam. If you travel around the time of carnival prices will be a lot higher. 

Our flights included a stopover in Sao Paulo. A word of warning - if you go for a flight with a stopover don't expect to be able to change anything. We wanted to get our return flight back from Sao Paulo as our plans changed and we were closer to that airport but we were unable to. Perhaps we were naive thinking we could but despite trying everything we could we basically had to take 2 flights we didn't need which felt pretty bad.

In Brazil you will need to take internal flights to get around as it is a large country. Brazil's currency is the Brazilian Real and when we traveled we could expect around 5 Brazilian real to one British pound when we traveled. We didn't get cash before travelling as it was reasonably easy to withdraw cash here.

When given the option paying on card we find paying in reals works out cheaper than the converted rate in pounds - this then uses your banks exchange rate. Most credit card terminals give you the choice along with cash machines.

For the last 4 years I have used the Halifax Clarity credit card for travel. Its excellent as it doesn't charge for withdrawals or payments. Some cash machines will charge you an extra fee though so sometimes it's worth taking it out more cash. More recently we have also starting using Monzo which is superb, if you don't know about it I suggest you taking a look.

Language & Climate

Portuguese is spoken in Brazil. I am not particularly gifted with languages but found I could get by fairly easily using please, thank you, etc which aren't too tricky to learn and the effort goes a long way. Using Google translate or other tools really helped with more complex conversations. Another useful tool can be a picture book if you are really struggling. The main thing to remember is to be friendly, calm relaxed. 

One of the things that has really stuck with me since the trip is how friendly and people were during our trip. Clearly there are places where you can find yourself potentially in a sticky situation but often common sense can go a long way.

When we travelled the temperatures were warm and comfortable on the whole. The jungle was a bit less comfortable due to the humidity but also I am less good in the heat than Clare. Temperatures vary around the country throughout the year but we found September to be very comfortable. Air conditioning was available in most places.

Safety

We read a lot of horror stories, particularly in big cities about people being robbed but found that we felt very safe nearly all the time. It is a case of applying common sense, don't take out anything you wouldn't want to lose. We left rings at home.

I had an old Fuji X100 camera which I used as my carry around in cities as photography is a big part of my travel experience, however I would put it away if unsure and all the time I accepted the face I would be making myself more of a target.

Phones are the main thing people will want to steal, in Brazil European phones are generally of a way higher spec and value. Don't walk around whilst using your phone, go in a shop if you need to check things.

Don't leave belongings on beaches. I met a British guy who did this in Rio, he watched his stuff but a seller rolled his stall past as a decoy and shock it was gone. Thieves are quite sophisticated.

Travel with uber or taxis, don't go down dark alleys, don't walk around after dark, etc all common sense stuff.

Health

Before you travel you should speak to your doctor or travel clinic in good time. We didn't realise a few of our vaccines were out of date.

You will also need Yellowfever and perhaps want to consider anti-malarials though we didn't use any for this trip. In the past I have used doxycyline which I disliked as it is a strong antibiotic and affected my stomach, I would suggest the more expensive malarone if needed but again speak to an expert.

Also if you are thinking about having children or are pregnant you need to be aware of Zica as this is carried my mosquitoes in Brazil. Avoiding being bitten is best. Take strong Deet and good loose clothing.

I would also recommend bringing a selection of simple meds, paracetamol, ibroprofen, stuff for stomach upsets, cream for bites, travel sickness tablets, etc just incase, that said there are pharmacies around and things can be bought here easily.

Travelling Light

It is quite easy to travel hand luggage only if you plan ahead. Personally I find it makes travelling a lot easier and less stressful. You can take your luggage on busses planes etc so you can see it and ensure it is handled safely. I use these roll bags which make it easy to get a good amount of clothes into a small space. Small travel size toiletries are usually sufficient for a shorter trip,. I use an osprey xxxx bag as I prefer a back pack where as clare uses a xxxx as she prefers to pull her bag along.

Mobile data, Maps, WhatsApp and Uber

Something that helped us immensely was getting a Brazilian sim card when here. It cost xxx for a month with xxxx.

You don't need this but we found it really helpful for using uber which we used extensively in Rio, Sao Paulo, Salvador, Manaus and Buzios.

One app I would recommend to help manage your data usage (I'm an android user) is no root firewall. This allows you to control what apps use your data. It's pretty straightforward and means all your apps don't use all your data.

An excellent app I have used for a few years is Maps.me which allows you to download maps of places you are travelling to for offline use. Google maps also allows you to do this too. Both worth using.

WhatsApp is huge in Brazil, everyone uses it all the time. Most businesses use it too. Its really good for contacting businesses to enquire about tours etc. I think we had free use of WhatsApp with our mobile sim.

Uber is really well established in Brazil and convenient, safe and cheap. One thing to be aware of is that in Rio for example we heard sometimes uber drivers might accidentally head into an unsafe area without realising where as local taxis would be more knowledgable. I hadn't really used it before this trip but am now a total convert. It allowed us to do so much without wasting time finding taxis waiting for busses etc, great when you are pressured for time. It allowed us in Brazilia to nip into the city, see the famous architecture and get back to the airport before our next flight.

3 Weeks in Brazil - a travel guide (Part 1)

In 2015 I did a trip around the world and took about 9kg of camera gear (Canon 6d, 16-35mm f4, 50mm f1. 8, 70-300mm, tripod etc). I was fairly stripped back with it but it was too much. Since I have moved to mirrorless which is much smaller and lighter.

Phones now are way better and for most people these can take incredible photos, for me personally I love the tangible ergonomics of using a camera and the look certain lenses give to pictures.

For Brazil I took my 8 year old Fuji X100 camera. It gets a lot of abuse and I am happy to take it pretty much anywhere. I find the fixed 35mm lens forces me to be creative, its great in so many situations and I'm always surprised by what I am able to capture with it.

In addition I took my 2nd camera a fuji xt2 and 3 lenses. I'm still trying to figure out if I could travel with just this one but I find on a long day walking the x100 is that bit smaller, lighter, discreet and versatile. Things like the built in flash and ND filter are very well integrated. Read more hear about why it's so good.

The 3 lenses I brought were 12mm f2 (16mm equiv) samyang for landscapes, architecture and low light, a cheap, tiny and charming 7artisans 35mm f2 (50mm equiv) for portraits and some street /landscapes and the superb fuji 50-230mm zoom for wildlife mainly. All these lenses are cheap and take excellent images yet are relatively compact and light.

I decided to not bring a tripod after considering where I was going and what I was going to be photographing. I did end up doing a few long exposures and night photos by resting my camera on the ground. Not ideal but got some photos as a result. Neoprene cases are great for lightweight lens protection. I also tend to pack my lenses so they are protected by clothes in my bag.

To backup my photos I used a USB adapter like this one and put a micro sd card in my xiaomi phone. This phone was outstanding for travel. It can take 2 sim cards or 1 sim and a micro sd. I backed up photos to my phone and when I had Internet backed some up to Dropbox though most upload speeds in Brazil were very slow. I also tend to shoot most of my images in JPeg these days, the fuji camera produce such amazing jpegs without blown highlights or shadows I rarely use Raw unless perhaps for a sunset or night shot.

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