Think of Brazil and its vast expanses of tropical rainforests, wetlands, long expanses of savannah, plateaus and low mountains, you would assume that traveling to the fifth largest country in the world would take a lifetime.
But you can actually navigate Brazil’s patchwork of ecosystems and unique topography in a variety of relatively quick ways, including buses, ridesharing and rideshare apps, and – if you have the budget – planes.
Here are the best ways to get around Brazil.
Due to Brazil’s size – many of its states are larger than entire countries – flights through Brazil are convenient and often necessary if you want to squeeze through multiple cities on a short trip. Depending on the distance traveled, domestic air services are generally more expensive – not to say less durable – than travel by bus, car or boat. But Brazil’s largest domestic carriers, GOL and LATAM, have regular airline deals if you book in advance, and they tend to be flexible with flight changes. Smaller low-cost Brazilian airlines, including Azul, also operate in the country. All major cities have airports.
You can find deals for indirect flights to Brazil, but you may be able to get a discounted direct flight if you use this local travel tip: wait until a weekend day to buy your flight. The GOL South America Airpass or LATAM South America Airpass are also available to non-South American citizens when you also purchase an international flight with these airlines or their internal partners.
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For those with more free time, buses are a popular, inexpensive, and scenic way to get around Brazil, especially between large cities and small towns. Ranging from comum (conventional) to the most luxurious leito (night berths), Brazil’s bus services are extensive, serving most corners of the country.
Hundreds of private bus company websites sell tickets online; Águia Branca and ClickBus are among the most recommended companies. Alternatively, tickets can be purchased at the counters at rodoviárias (stations mainly built on the outskirts), as well as through agencies. Identity cards must be presented both when purchasing tickets and when boarding the bus.
One of the best values for intercity travel in Brazil is Buser, which caters to locals and thrifty tourists. Book this service through its app at least a day in advance, and a trip from Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo will cost you R $ 60 (around US $ 11), which is almost half the price of a bus ticket. traditional.
Bus services to metropolitan cities typically run at least twice a day from most major centers, although schedules are often limited to daytime routes to more remote villages. Keep your ears open when the bus stop at your destination is called. In small villages and rural towns, it can be anything from gas stations to the entrance to local guesthouses.
Advice for taking a bus in Brazil: It is common for schedules to change at the last minute. Make sure you arrive at least an hour and a half before departure or you risk hours of waiting for the next service!
What water travel in Brazil often lacks in glamor and speed, it makes up for in adventure. Small private ferries and speedboats run by local transport companies like CCR Barcas and Biotur will transport you every 15 to 20 minutes to the tropical islands of Brazil from popular coastal towns across the country. It is best to buy tickets directly from the counters in mainland ports, which tend to open at 9am.
Wooden riverboats and larger overnight ferries with hammocks brought on board serve most of the Amazon. The ferry terminals, called hidroviaries, connect the major river towns, notably Manaus, Santarém and Belém. Although you are primarily limited to river travel in the Amazon, there are a number of options to choose from. Travelers with extra cash can book a luxury cruise, which includes pit stops at some of the Amazon’s most idyllic beaches and patches of biodiversity-rich rainforest. For those on a tighter budget, single- or double-decker boats and large three-decker riverboats are the way to go. For the latter, tickets can be purchased online from private ferry companies such as Macamazon or directly from tour operators at hidroviaries. Ferries usually depart once a day, but allow great flexibility as boats do not always leave at the scheduled times.
One of the most spectacular Amazon riverside boat trips is the heart-shaped island of Alter do Chão. Departing from Manaus or Belém, passengers can see the famous “Meeting of the Waters” where the Rio Negro flows parallel to the sand-colored Salimoes River before reaching Santarém. From there it’s a short rocky R $ 5 bus ride (less than US $ 1) or a quick shuttle service to the island.
Getting behind the wheel in Brazil is not for the faint of heart. In Rio alone, due to a lack of clear road signs and a plethora of one-way lanes, getting out of town can be a challenge, and that’s before you’ve faced highways. restless, exhilarating standards of conduct and frequent potholes.
Private car rental is always an option for those looking for flexibility or if you are traveling with heavy sports equipment, like surfboards or kitesurfing. When renting a car, local Brazilian companies, including Unidas, Interlocadora and Localiza, offer the fairest rates, starting at R $ 145 per day (around US $ 27) for compact models. Insurance costs are not always included.
If you fancy driving long distances but want to avoid some of the safety risks, you can also try the French carpooling and bus app, BlaBlaCar. On the app, you can book drivers heading to your destination who have free seats. Prices are very reasonable: expect to pay a total of R $ 20 (less than US $ 4) for a one hour ride.
Due to its complex mountainous landscape, few passenger trains are available in Brazil, and when they are, they tend to be invariably slower and less efficient than buses. That said, if you are looking for a memorable travel experience, train trips to southern Brazil and Minas Gerais are a sight to see.
For a trip back in time, board the weekend sightseeing train from the charming town of Ouro Preto – a Unesco World Heritage site – in Mariana in the mining state of Minas Gerais and take in views magic over the rolling Brazilian countryside. Tickets can be purchased online from the Vale transport company.
Taxi and carpooling
Ridesharing apps like Uber and 99 are essential in Brazil’s big cities with strong 4G infrastructure. Carpool apps are cheaper than metered taxis. Particularly in rural areas, taxis should be booked over the phone, and you can find local taxi numbers at bus stations, at your accommodation, or at a restaurant or bar.
Advice for using carpooling applications in Brazil: Keep in mind that requesting longer trips will reduce your chances of cancellations and delays. If you take a taxi, make sure the driver turns on the meter, or you risk paying inflated tourist prices.
Most Brazilian metropolitan cities – such as Rio, São Paulo, and Belo Horizonte – generally have good transport networks that consist of metro systems, buses, vans, and in some cases, trains. In sprawling cities like São Paulo, taking the metro should come with a warning: it’s hard to navigate and has the most congested transit lines in the world. Still, it’s cheap, safe, and often faster than having to deal with São Paulo’s heavy traffic.
Before getting on a bus or metro, buy a Bilhete Único rechargeable smart card (R $ 4) from any cab or machine in the metro station. The best way to find public transport routes and timetables is through Google Maps.
In 2000, Brazil introduced a law requiring public amenities to be accessible to anyone with a disability or reduced mobility, but little has been done since to make this a reality in Brazilian cities. However, ramps and elevators in shopping malls and at public transport stations, as well as wheelchair spaces on buses and subways, have become more common in recent years. But sidewalk clippings, Braille signs and phones for the hearing impaired are rare, and they are becoming virtually non-existent in remote villages and towns across the country. Most car parks in Brazil have spaces for visitors with reduced mobility.