Brazil, a vast South American country, stretches from the Amazon Basin in the north to vineyards and massive Iguaçu Falls in the south. Rio de Janeiro, symbolized by its 38m Christ the Redeemer statue atop Mt. Corcovado, is famed for its busy Copacabana and Ipanema beaches as well as its enormous, raucous Carnival festival, featuring parade floats, flamboyant costumes and samba.
Grab a Caipirinha, put on your best dancing shoes and learn all about Brazil in our handy Brazil travel guide – find out the best places to go, things to see and do, Brazil travelling information, some helpful phrases, the dos and don’ts, how to get around, plus a load more about Brazil tourism so you can make the most out of your trip!
Get along to one of the magnificent year-round beaches, visit the pounding Iguaçu Falls, trek through the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, or for those who like to party, Carnival is a must. Rio de Janeiro and Salvador are the best places to join the mayhem, when samba-filled parties erupt through the streets, and revellers dance and celebrate for days on end. The locals are a pretty good-looking lot too, which is always nice.
Brazil fast facts
Portuguese is the official language of Brazil.
Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese and English are also spoken, but are less common.
The electrical current in parts of Brazil is 127V, such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, while in other parts like Recife and Brasilia are 220V. Check with your accommodation if you’re unsure. Most electrical appliances in Brazil use a two round-pinned socket.
There are four different time zones in Brazil:
Brazil standard time (GMT – 3) is used for most of Brazil.
Brazil time +1 (GMT –2) is used on a few islands on the east coast of Brazil
Brazil time –1 (GMT – 4) is used in Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Rondonia, Roraima and since mid-2008, Acre.
Country dialling code
Measurements and weights
History of Brazil
Portuguese Conquistador, Pedro Álvares Cabral, led his fleet to the shores of the country now called Brazil in April 1500. The Europeans saw great potential in a land inhabited by squabbling tribes but rich in natural resource and potential wealth.
Despite French and Spanish resistance, the Portuguese slowly expanded their territory in Brazil, taking Rio de Janeiro and parts of the Amazon basin. The borders of modern Brazil were finally agreed by the First Treaty of San Ildefonso, which the Portuguese and Spanish signed in 1777. In 1808, the Portuguese royal family fled the Napoleonic wars and declared Brazil the centre of the Portuguese Empire. When King João VI returned to Europe, his elder son, Pedro de Alcântara, stood by the Brazilians as they refused to remain a Portuguese colony and named him first Emperor of Brazil in 1822.
Before the European conquest, there were approximately 10 million indigenous inhabitants in Brazil. At first, the tribespeople were happy to trade with the settlers, but they balked at the intensive labour imposed on them by the new plantations, especially when forced into slavery.
Instead, the Portuguese brought slaves over from Africa, a trade that according to some historians totalled 13 million over a period of 300 years, until its abolition in 1888. The strong Afro-Brazilian population of northern Brazil remains as positive testament to their brutal past. As for the indigenous people, today they are thought to number some 896,000.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the monarchy was overthrown and a period of political instability began. After a number of rebellions, coups and changes of power, a brutal military dictatorship led by Getúlio Vargas, gained power in 1937. After WWII, Vargas was overthrown and the country enjoyed a period of remarkable economic growth before a democratic government was finally re-established in 1985.
It was also this period that saw a further wave of immigration, begun in the 19th century, with arrivals from Europe, Japan and the Middle East. The diverse and largely harmonious cultural and racial mix that characterises Brazil today is the result of its history of settlement and integration.
In 2002, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), a former shoeshine boy and metalworker, became president, running a widely celebrated left-wing government. He helped establish Brazil as a major international economic power whilst investing in social welfare and the country’s poorer citizens. Current leader Dilma Rousseff was a close political ally of Lula’s and is Brazil’s first elected female president.
Whilst she may lack Lula’s populist charisma, Rousseff, whose father emigrated from Bulgaria, has maintained economic stability, as well as continuing her predecessor’s socially inclusive programmes. One of the BRIC countries (newly emerging economic powerhouses, which include Russia, India and China) according to some supporters its strength lies in having greater social cohesion than its partners. As host of both the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, Brazil is well set to build on its status on the world stage, as not just a place to party but as a serious political player.
There is no official religion, but approximately 74% of the population are Roman Catholic, with another 15% Protestant. A number of diverse evangelical cults are also represented, as are animist beliefs (particularly the Afro-Brazilian religion of candomblé).
In informal situations, it is common to kiss women on both cheeks when meeting and taking one's leave, whilst handshaking is customary between men. Frequent offers of coffee and tea are customary when visiting a host; if invited to someone’s home bring a gift. Flowers either before or after your visit will be appreciated, as will small gifts from your country of origin, but avoid the colour purple or black, which are associated with mourning.
Time-keeping is loose and fast in Brazil, so whilst punctuality may be expected from visitors, don’t expect it in return – arriving 30 minutes later than scheduled is quite normal and acceptable. In terms of what to wear, casual wear is normal, particularly during hot weather. Brazilians are known for their love of skimpy beachwear (thong bikinis for women and Speedos for men are the norm) but going shirtless anywhere besides the beach is generally frowned upon.
Language in Brazil
The official language is Portuguese, with different regional accents characterising each state. Spanish, English, Italian, French and German are also spoken, particularly in tourist areas. Four linguistic roots survive in the indigenous areas: Gê, Tupi-guarani, Aruak and Karib.
Weather & climate
Best time to visit:
Sitting within the tropics, Brazil is something of an all-year round destination with temperatures rarely dip below 20°C (68°F), apart from in the mountains and southern regions. The climate varies from hot and dry in the arid interior to humid and sticky in the tropical rainforests of the Amazon jungle. The Pantanal and Amazon areas in the north of the country tend to get very hot during the summer, reaching highs of around 40°C (104°F).
Coastal Brazil tends to be hot and sticky for most of the year; the best time to visit is generally from March to November during the dry season. It can get cold in the south and in the mountains during the winter months, with temperatures sometimes hitting 0°C (32°F). Rainy seasons occur from January to April in the north, April to July in the northeast and November to March in the Rio/São Paulo area.
As the weather is generally on the warmer side, bring clothes made from lightweight natural fabrics such as cottons and linens which you can layer up. Waterproofs may be needed if visiting during the rainy season. Bring warm clothing if visiting the south during winter (June to August), whilst the extremely humid climate of the Amazon region demands specialist clothing for any treks or activity tourism. Sunlight around the tropics is extremely strong and sunglasses are recommended.
Brazil covers almost half of the South American continent and it is bordered to the north, west and south by all South American countries except Chile and Ecuador; to the east is the Atlantic ocean. The country is topographically relatively flat; at no point do the highlands exceed 3,000m (10,000ft). Over 60% of the country is a plateau; the remainder consists of plains. The River Plate Basin (the confluence of the Paraná and Uruguay rivers, both of which have their sources in Brazil) in the far south is more varied, higher and less heavily forested.
North of the Amazon are the Guiana Highlands, partly forested, partly stony desert. The Brazilian Highlands of the interior, between the Amazon and the rivers of the south, form a vast tableland, the Mato Grosso, from which rise mountains in the southwest that form a steep protective barrier from the coast called the Great Escarpment, breached by deeply cut river beds. The population is concentrated in the southeastern states of Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The city of São Paulo has a population of over 12 million, while over 7 million people live in the city of Rio de Janeiro.