Because of the size of Brazil the most effective, and at times cost effective way of getting around the country is by air. The main national carriers include Avianca Brasil, Azul, Gol and LATAM that use certain airports as major hubs for serving regions of the country. In the southeast they include São Paulo (GRU), and Rio (GIG). Other hubs include Porto Alegre (POA) and Curitiba (CWB) in the south; Brasília (BSB) in the central west; and Salvador (SSA), Recife (REC) and Fortaleza (FOR) in the northeast.
As the majority of visitors plan their trip to Brazil around a visit to Rio de Janeiro, some of the most popular internal flight times are:
- Rio de Janeiro – Belo Horizonte: 50m
- Rio de Janeiro – Brasília: 1h 30m
- Rio de Janeiro – Campo Grande: 3h 30m
- Rio de Janeiro – Curitiba: 1h 30m
- Rio de Janeiro – Fortaleza: 4h 25m
- Rio de Janeiro – Foz do Iguaçu: 3h
- Rio de Janeiro – Manaus: 5h
- Rio de Janeiro – Natal: 3h
- Rio de Janeiro – Porto Alegre: 2h
- Rio de Janeiro – Recife: 2h 45m
- Rio de Janeiro – Salvador: 2h
- Rio de Janeiro – São Paulo: 55m
Visitors who are intending to travel on from Rio and São Paulo to explore the rest of Brazil should consider investing in a Brazil Air Pass before arriving in the country. The Air Pass can only be sold outside of Brazil and to non-residents with a return air ticket. The price of the Air Pass varies, but considering the size of Brazil and the cost of internal Brazilian air travel, it offers excellent value for money. A version of the Air Pass is currently offered by Avianca, Azul, and Gol. Gol also offers a South American Airpass which allows the holder to travel economically throughout Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.
With over one million miles of roads, there is an extensive domestic bus service in Brazil linking all the main cities. An inexpensive way to view the country, distances can be considerable. Fortaleza, the capital of the northeast state of Ceará, for example, is nearly as far from Rio de Janeiro, 1,700 miles, as Buenos Aires. By comparison, London is just 413 miles (664 km) from Edinburgh.
The distance by road from Rio de Janeiro to some of the main Brazilian cities are:
Belém (2,014 miles/3,240 km); Belo Horizonte (275/442); Brasília (711/1,140); Curitiba (520/835); Fortaleza (1,771/2,900); Foz do Iguaçu (932/1,500); João Pessoa (1,600/2,575); Manaus (2,741/4,410); Natal (1,709/2,680); Porto Alegre (963/1,555); Recife (1,529/2,460); Salvador (1,051/1,726); Santarém (2,404/3,856); Santos (311/500); São Paulo (266/429); Vitória (319/525).
Distances in Brazil are measured in kilometres. One mile is equivalent to 1.609 kilometres. For a quick conversion of kilometres into miles, divide by eight and then multiply by five.
The big international car rental companies such as Avis and Hertz operate in the major Brazilian cities alongside national and local companies. The rental agencies accept most credit cards but tend to restrict the minimum age of the driver to 25. As a visitor all that is required to drive in Brazil is a full valid British or European driving licence. It is preferable to take a licence with a photo. There is zero tolerance to drink and drive.
Like the buses, the main restrictions to driving around Brazil are the distances, otherwise the main highways are good and well sign posted. Check with the rental company if the car is restricted to the state you have rented it in, or can be used throughout Brazil.
With only 17,500 miles of rail track, compared to over one million miles of road, the passenger rail network in Brazil is extremely limited and not a viable option for travelling around the country. There are, however, a number of scenic routes, including across the Pantanal. One of the main operators is Serra Verde.
As one of the most popular areas in the world for cruising, it is possible to travel up and down the Brazilian coast by ship. Besides Rio, popular ports of call include Manaus, Belém, Fortaleza, Recife, Salvador and Vitória. In high season it is also possible to cruise to neighbouring countries such as Uruguay, Argentina and Chile.
Getting Around Town
By Car / Car Rentals
Unless you know a city well it is often better to stick to taxis than rent a car which you may have trouble parking. There is also zero tolerance to drink and drive. Some car rental companies will offer to rent a car and driver.
Taxis in Brazil are relatively cheap when compared to Europe and easy to find in the major cities. Taxis can be stopped in the street, or most cities have a radio taxi fleet that can be booked by phone and will come and pick you up at a pre-booked time. While more expensive, the cars will be larger and air-conditioned. Uber is very active in the main Brazilian cities.
In Brazilian cities you are never very far from a bus or bus stop. There are thousands of them, and because of this the main problem for any visitor is finding which is the right bus to get on and going in which direction, as many routes are circular. Pick the wrong one, and you can end up miles off your intended route.
A few “dos and don’ts” as far as the buses go.
- Bus routes are posted on the back door of the bus and if you have any doubt you only need to shout the name of your destination to the conductor (ticket seller) who sits at the back of the bus.
- Buses are cheap. You normally pay the conductor at the back or the driver at the front and the price will be posted behind them. Try to have the right change ready as you will not be popular if you delay the bus by digging in to your bag to find the money. You will also be showing any potential thieves exactly where you keep your wallet.
- Buses are a popular location for holdups and robberies so watch yourself. Get on the bus with your fare in hand. Pay and go through the turnstile.
- Be alert when going through the turnstile. You are being funneled through a small opening, the perfect location for pickpockets to work, sometimes in league with the conductor and driver. Keep your bag and wallet in front of you where you can see them.
- Never flash large sums of money, cameras, or other valuables about on the buses. Someone will take them from you and jump off the bus.
- Buses in Brazil are designed to get people from A to B. They are not intended for tourists so don’t go sightseeing on them. Use them for travel when you don’t have your camera with you.
- If you pay 50 cents for a bus ride instead of $5 for a cab you must expect what you get. The choice is yours, make it sensibly.
With the extension of the metro in Rio through Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon to São Conrado and Barra da Tijuca, the system has become of much more use to visitors either wanting to get downtown from the beach areas or to get to the beaches from hotels in Botafogo, Flamengo and downtown. There is a metro stop right next to the Maracanã stadium and also a choice of two close to where the main carnival parades take place.
For a Guide to Getting to-and-from Brazil click here.
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Christopher Pickard – Brazil the Guide – Critical Divide
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