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Introduction to Brazil

For hundreds of years, Brazil has symbolised the great escape into a primordial, tropical paradise, igniting the Western imagination like no other South American country. From the mad passion of Carnaval to the immensity of the dark Amazon, it is a country of mythic proportions.

Perhaps it's not quite the Eden of popular imagination, but it's still a land of staggering beauty. There are stretches of unexplored rainforest, islands with pristine tropical beaches, and endless rivers. And there are the people themselves, who delight the visitor with their energy and joy.

After 40 years of internal migration and population growth, Brazil is a thoroughly urban country; more than two out of every three Brazilians live in a city. São Paulo is the world's second most populous city.

Full country name: República Federativa do Brasil

Area: 8.51 million sq km

Population: 175 million

Capital City: Brasília

People: 55% European descent, 38% mulatto, 6% African descent, 1% other. (In reality, these figures are skewed by whiteness being equated with social stature in Brazil.)

Language: Portuguese

Religion: 70% Roman Catholic; also a significant proportion who either belong to various cults or practice Indian animism

Government: federative republic

Head of State: President Luíz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva

GDP: US$650 billion

GDP per capita: US$7,600

Inflation: 8%

Major Industries: Textiles, shoes, chemicals, timber, iron ore, tin, steel, aircraft, motor vehicles and parts, arms, soya beans, orange juice, beef, chicken, coffee and sugar

Major Trading Partners: EU, Central and South America, Asia, USA

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Passports must be valid for at least six months from date of entry. Visas are required for tourists of many nationalities, including Australia, Canada and the USA; visas are generally granted for a period of 90 days, with one extension of up to 90 days possible.

Health risks: dengue fever (The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dengue virus, is most active during the day, and is found mainly in urban areas, in and around human dwellings. Signs and symptoms of dengue fever include a sudden onset of high fever, headache, joint and muscle pains, nausea and vomiting. A rash of small red spots sometimes appears three to four days after the onset of fever. Severe complications do sometimes occur. You should seek medical attention as soon as possible if you think you may be infected. A blood test can indicate the possibility of the fever. There is no specific treatment. Aspirin should be avoided, as it increases the risk of haemorrhaging. There is no vaccine against dengue fever), malaria (If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal. If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you. If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free. Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave; use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) – it may be worth taking your own, and impregnating clothes with permethrin effectively deters mosquitoes and other insects), rabies (This is a fatal viral infection found throughout South America. Many animals can be infected (such as dogs, cats, bats and monkeys) and it's their saliva that is infectious. Any bite, scratch or even lick from a warm-blooded, furry animal should be cleaned immediately and thoroughly. Scrub with soap and running water, and then apply alcohol or iodine solution. Medical help should be sought promptly to receive a course of injections to prevent the onset of symptoms and death), yellow fever (Yellow fever is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. There is an effective vaccine against yellow fever, so if you have been immunised, you can basically rule this disease out. Symptoms of yellow fever range from a mild fever which resolves over a few days to more serious forms with fever, headache, muscle pains, abdominal pain and vomiting. This can progress to bleeding, shock and liver and kidney failure. The liver failure causes jaundice, or yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes – hence the name. There's no specific treatment but you should seek medical help urgently if you think you have yellow fever), meningococcal meningitis (Not every headache is likely to be meningitis. There is an effective vaccine available which is often recommended for travel to epidemic areas. Generally, you're at pretty low risk of getting meningococcal meningitis, unless an epidemic is ongoing, but the disease is important because it can be very serious and rapidly fatal. You get infected by breathing in droplets coughed or sneezed into the air by sufferers or, more likely, by healthy carriers of the bacteria. You're more at risk in crowded, poorly ventilated places, including public transport and eating places. The symptoms of meningitis are fever, severe headache, neck stiffness that prevents you from bending your head forward, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, which makes you prefer the darkness. With meningococcal meningitis, you may get a widespread, blotchy purple rash before any other symptoms appear. Meningococcal meningitis is an extremely serious disease that can cause death within a few hours of you first feeling unwell. Seek medical help without delay if you have any of the symptoms listed earlier, especially if you are in a risk area. If you've been in close contact with a sufferer it's best to seek medical advice)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -2 (Fernando de Noronha archipelago), GMT/UTC -3 (in the east, northeast, south and southeast), GMT/UTC -4 (in the west), GMT/UTC -5 (in the far west)

Dialling Code: 55

Electricity: 110/220V ,60Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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Although there are festivals taking place all year round in Brazil, the country's most famous event is Carnaval, which lasts for five days from the Friday to the Tuesday immediately preceding Ash Wednesday. It is celebrated all over Brazil and there are more authentic versions than the glitzy tourist drawcard held in Rio; but Rio's is a fantastic spectacle nonetheless. In its sambódromo, a tiered street designed for samba parades, there is a frenzy of sweat, sequins, noise and mayhem as the 16 top samba schools each have their hour of glory.

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Best time to Visit

Most of Brazil can be visited comfortably throughout the year, it's only the south - which can be unbearably sticky in summer (December-February) and non-stop rainy in winter (June-August) - that has large seasonal changes. The rest of the country experiences brief tropical rains throughout the year, which rarely affect travel plans.

During summer (December-February) many Brazilians are on vacation, making travel difficult and expensive, and from Rio to the south the humidity can be oppressive. Summer is also the most festive time of year, as Brazilians escape their apartments and take to the beaches and streets. School holidays begin in mid-December and go through to Carnaval, usually held in late February.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Real


Budget: R$15-30

Mid-range: R$30-40

High: R$40-60

Deluxe: R$60+


Budget: R$15-60

Mid-range: R$60-200

High: R$200-500

Deluxe: R$500+

After the long-expected devaluation of the real in 1999, many people anticipated explosive inflation. So far, however, exchange rates and prices have held steady. If you're travelling on buses every couple of days, staying in hotels for US$10 a night, and eating in restaurants or drinking in bars every night, US$40 is a rough estimate of what you would need. If you plan to lie on a beach for a month, eating rice and beans every day, US$20 to US$25 would be enough. Bear in mind that prices for accommodation increase 25-30% from December to February.

Credit cards are now accepted all over Brazil. Visa is the best card to carry for cash advances, finding an ATM that accepts your particular card can be difficult, though. Changing cash and travelers' checks is simple - there are cambios in all but the tiniest towns. It's worth having enough cash to tide you over the weekend, when finding an open change bureau, even in big cities, can be difficult. When buying cash, ask for lots of small bills as change is often unavailable for small transactions.

Most services get tipped a mandatory 10%, often included in the bill. If a waiter is friendly and helpful, you may like to give more. Because of Brazil's high unemployment rate, services that may seem superfluous are customarily tipped. Parking assistants are the most notable as they receive no wages, but petrol-station attendants, shoe shiners and barbers are also frequently tipped. Taxi drivers are an exception: most people round the price up, but a tip is not expected. Bargaining for hotel rooms should become second nature - always ask for a better price. You should also haggle in markets and unmetered taxis.

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Rio de Janeiro

The cidade maravilhosa (marvellous city) is one of the most densely populated places on earth. The Cariocas - as the inhabitants are called - thrive on dance, drink, beach, sport and sun. It's a city of Dionysian spirit whose people live life head-first.

Rio is jumping with things to see. There is a good collection of museums housing everything from 20th-century Brazilian art to information on Brazil's indigenous people; charming old neighbourhoods; exotic parks and gardens, and unforgettable mountain views of the city.


Brasília, the world's most ambitious planned city, is Brazil's capital. Unfortunately, its design favours cars and air-con to people, so you'll sweat your way around some hot, treeless expanses. Though it probably looked good on paper and still looks good in photos, in the flesh it's another story.

This World Heritage site was designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer, urban planner Lucio Costa and landscape architect Burle Marx, the city was built in an incredible three years (1957-60) by millions of dirt-poor peasants working around the clock.

Foz do Iguaçu (Iguaçu Falls)

The Rio Iguaçu arises in the coastal mountains of Paraná and Santa Catarina and snakes west for 600km (372mi) before it widens majestically and sweeps around a magnificent jungle stage, plunging and crashing in tiered falls at the border with Argentina and Paraguay. The falls are over 3km (2mi) wide and 80m (262ft) high and their beauty is unsurpassed. The best time of year to visit is August-November, when there is least risk of flood waters hindering the approach to the catwalks.

Salvador da Bahia

Founded in 1549, Salvador da Bahia was Brazil's most important city for 300 years, and the Portuguese Empire's second city, after Lisbon. Bahia (often abbreviated to Salvador) is Brazil's most Africanized state and as its capital, it is a fascinating city and one of Brazil's cultural highlights.

As the centre of the sugar trade, it was famous for gold-filled churches, beautiful mansions and the slave trade. Now it is known for its many wild festivals and general sensuality and decadence; Carnaval in Salvador is justly famous and attracts hordes of tourists.

São Paulo

South America's biggest city in one of ethnic neighbourhoods, with around 17 million people, many of Italian and Japanese descent, living in this plateau megalopolis. Sáo Paulo's industrial development and cultural diversity has created Brazil's largest, most cultured and educated middle class.

These paulistas are lively and well-informed and, though they complain about the traffic, street violence and pollution, wouldn't dream of living anywhere else.

Sáo Paulo can be an intimidating place but it offers the excitement and nightlife of one of the world's most dynamic places. Attractions include the baroque Teatro Municipal, Niemeyer's Edifício Copan, the Museu de Arte de Sáo Paulo (MASP) and the 16th-century Patío do Colégio. The city is southwest of Rio and you can fly from there in less than an hour or take a six-hour bus ride.

The Amazon

For those with a love of mind-boggling numbers: the Amazon basin contains 6 million sq km of river and jungle and spans eight countries. Just over half is in Brazil. There are 80,000 kilometres of navigable rivers, and ocean-going vessels can sail 3500km inland up the mainstream to Iquitos, Peru.

Travellers enter the Amazon by bus, boat and air. Within the Amazon, boats are definitely the transport of choice, but flying can save a lot of time, is sometimes quite affordable, and most larger Amazon cities have airports.

The Pantanal

The Amazon may have all the fame and glory, but the Pantanal is a far better place to see wildlife. This vast area of wetlands, about half the size of France, lies in the far west of Brazil and extends into the border regions of Bolivia and Paraguay.

Birds are the most frequently seen wildlife, but the Pantanal is also a sanctuary for giant river otters, anacondas, iguanas, jaguars, cougars, crocodiles, deer and anteaters. The area has few people and no towns, and access is often by plane into Cuaibá, Campo Grande or Corumbá, then overland to the gateway towns of Cãceres, Barão de Malgaça, Poconé or Aquidauana; or by road via the Transpantaneira, which ends at the one-hotel hamlet of Porto Jofre. Boat trips are available along the Rio Paraguai from the Bolivian border.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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