Brazil is impossible to summarize in just a few paragraphs. It’s the largest country in South America and home to cosmopolitan cities like Rio de Janeiro, world-famous Carnival, the Amazon River and rainforest, and an abundance of nature. Brazil has more plant and animal species than anywhere else in the world.
In other words, you’re going to need longer than a week to visit.
Brazil is one of the most popular countries in the world to visit and backpack around. It sees millions of travelers per year.
Meet the locals at Copacabana Beach in Rio, or spend an evening learning how to dance the samba. Cruise the wetlands of the Pantanal or the Amazon River while keeping an eye out for exotic wildlife like toucans and pink dolphins.
Take in the awe-inspiring sight of the crashing falls at Iguacu. Gorge on a barbecue feast and cool off with caipirinha, Brazil’s official cocktail of sugarcane liquor, sugar, and lime.
Throw in passionate fútbol (soccer) matches, beautiful people, and low prices, and it’s pretty easy to convince someone to visit Brazil.
This travel guide to Brazil will help point the way by giving you tips on what to see, costs, suggested budgets, and ways to save money (it’s not the cheapest country in South America).
Enjoy the country – and add more time than you planned! There’s a lot to do!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Brazil
1. Visit Rio de Janeiro
2. Visit Florianópolis
3. Spend time in the Amazon
4. Go to Fernando de Noronha
5. See Iguacu Falls
Other Things to See and Do in Brazil
1. Attend a fútbol match in Rio
Fútbol (soccer) is religion here, and the chaos and excitement during a match are contagious! Maracana in Rio de Janeiro is one of the largest stadiums in the world, and it seats 100,000 supporters. The best games are the local teams (Flamengo, Vasco, Botafogo, and Fluminese) because you’re guaranteed a game full of singing, cheering, and insult-slinging. You can buy tickets through the teams’ websites or the FutbolCard site. Tickets are as low as 20 BRL ($6 USD).
2. Enjoy Rio Carnival
The Rio Carnival is an epic festival of music, samba, and revelers dressed in elaborate, colorful regalia as they take to the streets by the thousands. It’s one of the biggest celebrations in the world. The entire celebration is one last hurrah before the start of Lent’s quiet period. Prices for accommodations triple during Carnival (February) so be sure book in far advance for the best deals.
3. Visit Brasilia
Brasilia is the capital of Brazil. This futuristic city was established in 1960 and is a hub for modernist architecture, like the National Congress with its odd bowl-shaped structures and Santuário Dom Bosco church with its long, narrow windows made up of blue-colored Murano glass to represent a starry sky. Visit the 60,000-acre Parque Nacional de Brasilia and walk the trails between tall Cerrado trees while looking for wildlife like anteaters and pampas deer. It’s an all too often overlooked destination by travelers.
4. Explore the Pantanal
Located in Western Brazil, the Pantanal is the largest wetlands in the world, stretching into parts of Bolivia and Paraguay. Over 11,000 species of animal live here, including the rare marsh deer, the giant anteater, and the hyacinth macaw. The two main access points are Cuiabá and Campo Grande, and I recommend the latter as it tends to offer more affordable accommodations and tour options. Most wildlife and sightseeing tours are multi-day and cost about 752 BRL ($200 USD) per day.
5. Relax in Recife
Recife is the place to be if you want to relax and enjoy some of Brazil’s scenic beaches. Boa Viagem, the four-mile (seven-kilometer) stretch of sand between Pina to Piedade, is very developed with cabanas and sun chairs for rent. Piedade is equally as beautiful but less touristy and lined with restaurants and bars where the lcaols hang out. For an even more low-key beach area, head south to Porto de Galinhas, where the beach is virtually empty.
6. Visit Salvador
Salvador is Brazil’s culture capital thanks to its vibrant Afro-Brazilian community. Nosso Senhor do Bonfim is a perfect example of this community’s unique spirit: it’s a church that peacefully combines Catholicism and Candomblé (a religion originating from West Africa). Furthermore, the pastel-painted colonial buildings and cobblestone scenes of the Perlourinho neighborhood are extremely photogenic, and if you stay in this area, you’ll have easy access to shopping, restaurants, bars, and live music.
7. See Sao Paulo
Sao Paulo, the third-largest city in the world and the largest in South America, is home to over 20 million people. This sprawling metropolis is for anyone who loves wild nightlife, live music, and fine dining. Every area is like its own micro-city and it’s a completely different vibe than Rio. Sao Paulo has a flourishing art community, which you can discover through its many experimental theaters and art-house cinemas (including CineSala, an independent street theater).
8. Dance the capoeira
The capoeira is a combination of dance, music, and martial arts created nearly 500 years ago by enslaved West Africans to disguise their combat training. It kinda looks like breakdancing. In Brazil’s larger cities you can sign up for intro dance classes, including in Rio de Janeiro, where classes start from 30 BRL ($8 USD). Angola N’Golo is an affordable school to check out.
9. Unplug in Ilha Grande
You’d never know that the tropical island paradise of Ilha Grande was once a pirate’s hideout, a leper colony, and a high-security prison. Nowadays people (especially locals from nearby Rio) come here on the weekends to hang out on the pristine beaches, like Aventura Beach and Palmas Cove. There are a handful of hostels and accommodations here, but mostly the island is made up of undeveloped jungles and beaches.
10. Visit Ouro Preto
Ouro Preto, a 17th-century colonial town, is one of Brazil’s most picturesque towns for its brightly painted houses, baroque churches, and large leafy plazas. Ouro Preto sits in a valley at the foot of the Serra do Espinhaco, and up in the hills surrounding the town are 23 churches you can hike to visit.
For more information on specific cities in Brazil, check out these guides:
Brazil Travel Costs
Accommodation – Brazil is a large country, and accommodation prices will fluctuate per city and time of year (with huge increases during Carnival). Prices in places like Rio de Janeiro and Salvador are pretty consistent, but for beachy destinations like Florianopolis, prices change dramatically depending on the season.
A bed in a six-eight person hostel dorm will cost from 30 BRL ($8 USD), while a four-person dorm is slightly higher at about 40 BRL ($12 USD) per night. Dorms with 10 beds or more are as low as 23 BRL ($6 USD) per night. Florianopolis and Sao Paulo have higher prices, with even 10-bed dorms costing up to 75 BRL ($20 USD) per night.
A private twin room for two in a hostel will cost from about 150 BRL ($40 USD), but sometimes you can find rooms for as low as 94 BRL ($25 USD) per night.
A budget two-star hotel room in the center of town will cost from 113 BRL ($30 USD) per night with air-conditioning and breakfast included. If you’re willing to leave the city center, you can sometimes find rooms for as low as 75 BRL ($20 USD) per night.
Airbnb is another great budget option, with shared spaces (like a dorm) costing from 56 BRL ($15 USD) per night. A private room averages around 113 BRL ($30 USD) per night, while a full apartment rental or home averages around 282 BRL ($75 USD).
Food – Brazil has such a variety of food and flavors that you never have to go far to find an affordable meal. Street food like pastel (a deep-fried pastry with filling) or a bowl of hearty bean soup will cost around 7.50 BRL ($2 USD). Coxinha, deep-fried chicken pockets, cost under a dollar.
A sandwich and drink at a juice bar should be no more than 25 BRL ($7 USD), while a combo meal at a fast-food restaurant (like McDonald’s) is also about 25 BRL ($7 USD).
A three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant will cost about 100 BRL ($25 USD), but you can expect to pay nearly double this price at some places in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paolo. A beer to go along with your meal will cost about 7 BRL ($2 USD).
Grocery shopping costs about 100 BRL ($70 USD) per week for fresh veggies, fruit, bread, eggs, and other staples.
Backpacking Brazil Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Brazil, I’d budget about 185 BRL ($45 USD) per day. That will cover staying in a hostel dorm, eating street food and cooking some meals, an occasional nice meal, a few beers, public transportation, and about one paid activity per day like a museum visit or dance class.
On a mid-range budget of about 415 BRL ($100 USD) per day, you’ll get a budget hotel room, private hostel, or Airbnb room, all your meals at budget, low key restaurants, any paid attractions, a guided tour or two, and a taxi here and there.
If you want to do luxury, you’ll spend at least 1,220 BRL ($295 USD) per day for a four-star hotel, all your food and drink you want, as many taxis as you want, flights, and tours (including to the Amazon). This budget will increase or decrease depending on how inclusive your tour is!
Use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might pay less every day). We want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Brazil Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Brazil is one of the most expensive countries in South America, but prices depend on where in the country you are, and what kind of activities you’re doing. Brazil’s main cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo will always be more expensive than rural areas (unless you’re seeking out less touristy locales), and tour styles will also influence how much you spend. Here are some ways to save when you visit Brazil:
- Agree on taxi prices – Agree on the price for your journey with the taxi driver before setting off—many drivers will refuse to use their meters and try to rip you off. It’s much better to take a bus most of the time.
- Couchsurf – Nothing’s cheaper than sleeping for free. Couchsurfing connects you with locals who will give you not only a free place to stay, but also a local tour guide who can introduce you to all the great places to see.
- Visit off-season – December to March is also a pretty busy time as people from the Northern hemisphere escape the winter. Try to avoid these dates if you want to keep prices low.
- Buddy up – In Brazil, you’ll pay a premium for a single room, almost twice the cost of a double. Pair up with a friend to halve the cost of your accommodation if you’re not keen on staying in a dorm.
- Pack a water bottle – A water bottle with a purifier will come particularly in handy here as the water isn’t safe to drink. Save money and thousands of plastic bottles and get a bottle that can purify the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw ($49.99).
Where To Stay in Brazil
Hostels are widespread all over Brazil and you’ll find a ton of B&Bs and cool Airbnbs. You have a lot of budget options. My suggested places to stay in Brazil are:
- BKariok Hostel (Rio)
- El Misti House (Rio)
- Books Hostel (Rio)
- O de Casa Hostel Bar (Sao Paulo)
- We Hostel Design (Sao Paulo)
- Hostel e Pousada El Shaddai (Iguacu)
- Hostel Bambu (Iguacu)
- Hostel Bambu (Iguacu)
- Hostel Galeria 13 (Salvador)
- Fusion Guesthouse (Salvador)
- Barra Beach Club Oceanfront Hostel (Florianopolis)
- Submarino Hostel (Florianopolis)
- Joy Hostel (Brasilia)
How to Get Around Brazil
Public Transportation – City transportation in Brazil is efficient and modern. Many places (like Rio and Sao Paulo) have an extensive subway system. Fares cost around 3 BRL ($0.80 USD) per one-way, and in most places, you can pick up a multi-day metro card to save you money.
Buses are everywhere. A one-way ticket will also cost about 3 BRL ($0.80 USD), and like the subway, there are usually multi-day metro cards available.
Taxis are recommended in the evening when public transportation may not be as safe. Fares start at 5.50 BRL ($1.47 USD) and then go up to about 2.50 BRL ($0.67 USD) per kilometer. A five-kilometer trip should cost approximately 18 BRL ($5 USD). Use an app like 99Taxis to ensure you get a licensed taxi.
Bus – Long-distance buses are a convenient, economical, and comfortable way to travel in the country. There are hundreds of routes. You can use buscaonibus.com.br to check schedules and book your tickets.
A bus from Rio to Sao Paulo will take about six hours and cost about 115 BRL ($30 USD). Rio to Florianopolis is a seven-hour journey and will cost about 252 BRL ($70 USD).
Train – Train service is limited to the tourist-oriented steam train that offers transport in between two Brazilian tourist towns, Sao Jao del Rei and Tiradentes. It’s expensive, so I don’t recommend doing this.
Flying – Air travel is useful if you’re trying to get around the country on limited time (especially if you’re traveling between the big cities, or between places like Rio and the Amazon). The country’s major airlines are:
If you’re booking a flight two months in advance from Rio de Janeiro to Manaus (the easiest way to reach the Amazon), you can find airfare for as low as 338 BRL ($90 USD). Rio to Salvador is about 319 BRL ($85 USD), while flights between Brasilia and Sao Paulo are as little as 131 BRL ($35 USD).
An Airpass is a practical option if you’re going to take a lot of flights within 30 days. With Gol you can get a pass with four or five domestic flights in its network for prices starting at 1,894 BRL ($505 USD), and each additional flight is 450 BRL ($120 USD). Azul offers something similar with four flights within three weeks for 1,875 BRL ($500 USD). If you choose this option, you will spend less than 60 BRL ($20 USD) per day in transportation. Brol.com can help you find the right pass. However, you have to book in advance, so this doesn’t allow for flexible travel.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking is not advised in Brazil.
When to Go to Brazil
Brazil covers such a large territory that the country is broken up into different climate areas. The “coldest” part is in the far south and southeast, with winter season lasting from June to September. Brazilians will complain about the cold here, but it rarely dips below freezing. The summer months from December to March are hot.
If you’re sticking to Brazil’s coastal areas, the weather is warm year-round. During the winter months (December to March), the temperature is always higher than 77°F (25°C). There’s near-constant sunshine, but there is also a rainy season, which lasts from October-January. The rainy season often starts earlier in Salvador and Recife.
The northeast (around the Amazon) is always hot, with temperatures often climbing to 104°F (40°C). There’s no real winter season. In Manaus and the central Amazon, the dry season is from July-October. This period is also the best time to visit wildlife in the Amazon as the water recedes and animals gather at watering holes. The same goes for the Pantanal.
If you come during Brazilian winter, you’ll find much fewer crowds and lower prices. I consider this the best time to be here, but only if you’re not trying to escape the North American winter. If you’re super budget-minded, don’t come during February when it’s Carnival time.
How to Stay Safe in Brazil
Brazil is a safe place to backpack and travel, but travelers are at risk for pick-pocketing and other petty crime, especially in Rio. Don’t flash around your expensive belongings, and don’t bring anything valuable to the beach. Keep your passport in a safety deposit box. Be really, really, really careful with your stuff here!
Avoid going out alone in the evenings after dark. Use ATMs inside a bank, or have a friend with you to keep an eye out while you withdraw cash.
For scame, you can read about these travel scams and make sure you don’t fall for any!
Don’t pick fruit off a tree and eat it without knowing what it is. It might be poisonous! There is also a risk of the Zika virus or Malaria in certain areas. Carry bug spray and use it often.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, move. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Brazil! Follow that rule, and you’ll be fine.
For more in-depth coverage of how to stay safe in Brazil, check out this post we wrote that answers some frequently asked questions and concerns.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Brazil Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Brazil. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Belize, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Brazil Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Brazil Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Heliopolis, by James Scudamore
Ludo was born in a Sao Paulo shantytown, but is rescued and rasied by Zeno Generoso, a plutocrat. Suddenly, Ludo finds himself behind the gates of Brazil’s ultra-rich community. At 27-years-old, Ludo begins working for a company that sells unnecessary, overpriced goods to the poor lower-class he was born into. His involvement in a supermarket launch for the favela’s poorest population throws him into a world of violence, turning this rags-to-riches book into a series of surprising twists. This book will keep you on your toes.
Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil through Soccer, by David Goldblatt
I promise that even if you’re not a soccer fan, you’ll enjoy this read. There’s no country in the world that feels as passionately about soccer as Brazil does. This book details the chronicles of a country that has won the World Cup five times and regularly churns out famous players Ronaldo and Zico. But Goldblatt also explores the dark side of “futebol nation” here, including the poverty that has created a pool of hungry players and the violence that moves from the stands into the streets. If you’re interested in economic and sociopolitical injustices, this book is for you.
Brazil, by John Updike
Brazil tells the fictional story of two young people in love. Tristão Raposo is a black 19-year-old from a favela in Rio, but that doesn’t stop him from falling helplessly head over heels for Isabel Leme, an 18-year-old upper-class white girl. He meets her on Copacabana Beach, and it doesn’t take long for them to escape their families to get married in the farthest reaches of western Brazil. The book covers 22 years of their relationship, with a little magic realism thrown in.
Ancient Tillage, by Raduan Nassar
Ancient Tillage offers some insight into the rural parts of Brazil, and what life is like for those farmers whose lives consist of “the earth, the wheat, the bread, our table, and our family.” André is one such farmer who loves the land but is afraid of his father who preaches daily from the head of the table. In this story you’ll follow André’s coming of age story as he grapples with his shameful feelings for his sister, Ana.
Rio de Janeiro, by Luiz Eduardo Soares
This book is a fantastic collection of stories about Rio de Janeiro through the lives of “everyday” people, including policemen, activists, gangsters, and migrants workers. Luiz Eduardo Soares takes us through the fascinating world of Rio’s favelas, beaches, and street scenes to offer fascinating insight into one of the world’s most incredible cities. You’ll learn about the more tedious parts of the city’s history of corruption and conflict in the process, but it’s an entirely gripping read.