The official language is Portuguese. Some English is spoken, particularly in the main cities, but the nearest thing to a second language is Spanish with which you will generally be able to make yourself understood.
Brazil spans several time zones; however the Brazilian Standard Time is 3 hours earlier than G.M.T. and 2 hours earlier in the summer.
The climate varies from arid scrubland in interior to impassable tropical rainforest of the northerly Amazon jungle and the tropical eastern coastal beaches. The south is more temperate. Rainy seasons occur from January to April in the north (average number of days when there is some rain is 22); April to July in the northeast (average number of days when there is some rain 14); December to March in the Rio/Sao Paulo area (average number of days when there is some rain is 10).
Airport tax for international flights is approximately R$ 89,00. Internal flights are taxed at about R$ 7,20 and R$ 9,20. In addition, all hotels require a City Tax at US$ 1 per day per room. All the above taxes may be paid in Dollars or Reais and must be paid locally.
The electric current in Brazil is 220 volts, except in the states of Sao Paulo; Rio de Janeiro; Pernambuco and all other large cites, where it is 110 volts (except the Rio Intercontinental Hotel which, exceptionally, has 220 volts).
The decimal metric system is used throughout the country, this means that 1 meter is equal to 3.3 feet, 1 kilometer is equal to 0.62 miles, and 1 liter corresponds to 0.26 gallons. Temperature is measured in degrees Celsius, where 0°C is equal to 32°F, and 100°C is equal to 212°F.
In most restaurants and bars a 10% service fee is added to the bill. More sophisticated places may add on 15%. If service is not included it will be stated at the bottom of the bill: Serviço não incluído. Taxis do not expect a tip, but it is normal to round up the final price. You should be aware that the amount given on the taximeter will not always be the amount you are due to pay – look out for a separate sheet taped to the window which will tell you how much the amount on the meter equals to.
The Brazilian currency is the REAL; 100 centavos = 1 real. Bank notes are in denominations of 100, 50, 10, 5, 1; Coins are 1.00 real; 50 centavos, 25 centavos, 10 centavos, 5 centavos and 1 centavo. All banks and money exchange accept traveler’s checks and foreign currency. It is advisable to take US Dollar traveler’s checks or currency as this is more readily exchanged than other currency. You may benefit from a 15% discount when paying hotel or restaurant bills in foreign currency or traveler’s checks. There remains a currency exchange black market, but you are strongly advised to ignore anyone who approaches you asking if you want to change money – it is a fairly sure way to get robbed.
Credit Cards – Access/Mastercard, American Express, Diners Club and Visa are accepted in the majority of hotels, shops and restaurants.
Banking Hours – 10:00-16:00 Monday to Friday.
There are no compulsory health requirements for entry into Brazil. Precautions are advised for Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Polio and Malaria. We suggest you contact your local G.P. for current advice and recommendations or telephone one of the organizations listed below. You are advised to have full medical insurance cover. Please note that if you are entering Brazil via Peru, Ecuador or Colombia, you will be required to provide an up to date yellow fever vaccination certificate for immigration purposes. Local diet: it is advisable to take precautions against stomach upsets whilst adjusting to a change in diet. Avoid eating and drinking local products from street vendors and restaurants with suspect hygiene or refrigeration practices. Tap water is likely to be contaminated (particularly in the more rural areas), therefore drink only bottled water. Even in the main cities, although the water is treated, the chemicals used are different, and you are still advised to use bottled water. Uncooked fish/ seafood or vegetables, salads, unpeeled fruits, diluted fruit juice, ice-cubes, ice-cream, fresh cheese or yoghurt and any foods prepared and sold by street vendors are best avoided.
Brazilian food and drink
The most common dishes feature various meats, rice and the ubiquitous Brazilian black beans (feijão), whilst restaurants often lay on all-you-can-eat barbecues and buffets. Brazil also has many regional varieties of cookery. An example is the Bahian cookery, which includes dishes such as: Vatapa (shrimps, fish oil, coconut milk, bread and rice), Sarapatel (liver, heart, tomatoes, peppers, onions and gravy). From Rio Grandes do Sol a typical dish is Churrasco. From the Amazon comes Tacaca (thick soup with shrimps and garlic). All kinds of alcoholic drinks are available, including excellent lager style beers: Skol, Brahma, Antarctica and Cerpa. The most popular local firewater is Cachaca, most commonly served as ‘Caipirinha’ with slices of lime. There are no restrictions on licensing hours. Soft drinks include Guarana (a carbonated cola-like drink) and many varieties of excellent fruit-juices (sucos) including several vitamin-rich fruits you will never have heard of. Coffee tends to be served as a very strong, very sweet drink, but if you want to avoid sugar in sucos or coffee you should specifically ask.
Seasons in Brazil are the reverse of those in the U.S. and Europe:
Spring = September 22 to December 21
Summer = December 22 to March 21
Autumn = March 22 to June 21
Winter = June 22 to September 21
Brazil’s climate ranges from tropical in the north to temperate in the south. Throughout the country, however, dress is informal. Generally, light cotton shirts, shorts, dresses and trousers are ideal for day wear, whilst in the evenings long-sleeved shirts and leather shoes are normal. You will not normally need a jacket and tie in Brazil. In their winter (June/July) it is worth taking an extra layer, or something warm, as the temperature can be quite cool in the south of the country.
As with the food, in a country the size of Brazil there are many local specialties for the shopper. In most major cities shops and markets stay open until late (up to 10.00pm). Rio and the south specialize in antiques and jewellery – special purchases include gems (particularly emeralds) and jewellery (particularly silver). In the north east specialties include laces, linen and ceramics.
Brazil, especially Rio, has had a bad reputation for personal security and many potential visitors have been put off traveling there. Much of this reputation can be put down to wild exaggeration, but it has had the beneficial effect of spurring the various city authorities (particularly Rio and Salvador) into doing something about it. There are now far more tourist police, who are a great deal more helpful to visitors, and there is much better patrolling of problem areas. Although there is far more being done to improve security, an awareness of the following will lessen the risk to you and your belongings.
Be aware that most crime is opportunistic and the best way to avoid theft is to blend in and stay in safe areas (if in any doubt please ask your hotel receptionist / concierge whether where you want to go is safe). Take the absolute minimum when going out. A camera is a necessity for most travelers but if it is possible to keep it in a jacket pocket, then do so. It is not advisable to take valuable jewellery or a visible wristwatch. Money should be taken in traveler’s checks, with the receipt numbers retained separately in case they are lost or stolen. Cash kept on your person should be kept to a minimum. Where possible, leave any valuables, documents and passports in your hotel safety deposit box (most good hotel rooms in Brazil have safes, but you will normally have to pay a daily fee for this service). If you have to take a bag while you are out, hold it in front of you where you can see it.
Airports and Railway Stations
This is where your luggage is particularly vulnerable and where most thieving occurs. There are a couple of methods most commonly used by thieves to distract attention and it is advisable to be aware of these. Ignore paint or shampoo sprayers and any strangers who remark ‘What is that on your shoe/ shoulder?’ Don’t lean down to pick up any money or any other items on the street or floor. These are all ruses to distract your attention while an accomplice steals your belongings. Do not leave your belongings with any stranger, even for a moment. Avoid close crowds where possible.
A great deal of Brazilian culture and Brazilians’ spare time revolves around the beach. As a result the beaches can be great fun and very relaxing places. However, please bear the following in mind if going to the beach: beaches in and around the major cities tend to be quite crowded so the advice given above is especially applicable; never visit the beach after dark; always take a mat to lie on as sandflies are quite widely prevalent; please bear in mind that the sun in Brazil can be more direct and stronger than you will experience in Europe, so extra precautions are necessary; some areas, particularly in Rio, have dangerous undertows so you should stay near other bathers and observe the warning flags:
Red – Dangerous, enter at your own risk;
White – Water is safe, lifeguard on duty.