Brazil Travel Tips: Practical Safety and Money Saving Advice

Graffiti in Brazil

Let’s address the elephant in the room… Brazil doesn’t have a great reputation. Known for its favelas, violent street crime and high cost of living, it is a destination that many backpackers neglect to visit.

It absolutely shouldn’t be though! There are plenty of world-class attractions in Brazil, just begging to be explored. These Brazil travel tips will help to keep you safe and save money on the road, helping you to get the most out of your trip! 


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21 Brazil Backpacking Tips

1. Learn Some Portuguese

Brazil is one of the only countries in South America that does not speak Spanish as its first language. Therefore, if you are tagging Brazil on to part of a longer extended backpacking trip around the continent, you will need to get some different phrases under your belt to thrive here. 

The basics like hello, goodbye, thank you and please should be the bare minimum you learn but information regarding prices and directions also come in handy. 

2. Hire a Guide

Brazil is incredibly famous for its biodiversity and seeing this exotic flora and fauna up close is one of the main reasons that travellers make the trip! While the urge to explore the beguiling jungles can be potent, don’t lose your head. 

River running through jungle
If you don’t want to get eaten by a jaguar in the jungle – hire a guide!

A variety of wildlife calls the Amazon and Pantanal home and not all of it is friendly. Jaguars, caimans, anacondas and Brazilian wandering spiders are just a few of the dangerous nasties you could meet if you wander into the jungle. 

To ensure that you stay safe on these kinds of wildlife adventures, always hire a reputable guide. You don’t want to go into the Amazon and never come out again! You should also always do your research to check that your guide behaves responsibly in the area that they are exploring and follows ethical practices around the wildlife. 

3. Don’t Flash Your Valuables

South America might have a bad reputation when it comes to safety but this advice really does apply anywhere. Always keep your valuables on your person and avoid flashing anything too expensive when you’re out and about. It can make you a target for thieves. 

4. Take a Travel Water Bottle

It comes as no surprise to many that Brazil is a seriously hot country. Therefore, travellers will need to make the effort to stay hydrated. Although the tap water in Brazil is officially safe to drink, some travellers report that it has a bit of a weird taste, likely due to the purification process. 

Collapsible Water Bottles
A refillable water bottle will help you save on single-use plastic!

If this is something you’re worried about, bring a filtered water bottle with you. If the taste of your water doesn’t concern you, opt for another kind of refillable travel water bottle instead to reduce your single-use plastic. 

5. Withdraw Money Before 10 PM

If you want to withdraw a large sum of money from a Brazilian ATM, you should always go before 10 pm. Not only is it safer to withdraw money during the daylight hours but after 10 pm, the withdrawal limit is reduced to around 500R$

6. Opt for the Lunch Special

There are hundreds of budget-friendly restaurants in Brazil. If you’re looking to save a little bit extra, head to one of the many restaurants that offer lunchtime specials. These are a great way to treat yourself to some local fare without bursting your daily budget. 

Food in Brazil
Take advantage of the lunchtime special to save money.

If you’re travelling with a partner, take advantage of the huge meal portions and order one dish between two! We also recommend looking out for signs saying ‘rodízio’ (all you can eat). This is likely to be a more expensive option than the lunchtime special but will serve as your breakfast, lunch and dinner (plus dessert)!

7. Splurge on Carnival 

There is no denying that South American Carnival is well worth experiencing but it comes with a hefty price tag which may be too much for a lot of travellers. Only attend Carnival if missing it is a dealbreaker for you. 

If you can’t bear the idea of skipping the world’s biggest party, make sure you account for it in your budget. Get ready to splurge – prices skyrocket during this time and all accommodation will need to be booked up way in advance!

8. Carry an Anti-Theft Backpack

It is no secret that South America as a whole doesn’t have a great reputation when it comes to safety. However, most of the continent’s other countries look pretty tame when compared to Brazil. 

What are the best anti-theft backpacks for travellers?
An anti-theft backpack is a good investment!

To limit your chances of becoming a victim of crime, invest in an anti-theft backpack. Most of these will be slash-resistant, feature lockable zips and also have reinforced straps to foil cut-and-run attacks. 

An anti-theft backpack can be a costly purchase, however, they are worth it for the peace of mind that comes from knowing your valuables are protected. 

9. Choose Your Accommodation Wisely

If you’re a shoestring traveller in Brazil, make sure that you look into various accommodation options. As well as hostels, bed and breakfasts are also great value for money. If you’re staying long-term, it can be very worthwhile to rent an apartment on Airbnb and get stuck into local life, buying your food at the local market and cooking at home. 

If you’re really wanting to get under the skin of the Brazilian way of life, don’t forget Couchsurfing. It’s by far the best way to save tons of money and make connections with locals as you travel.

10. Travel Out of Season

Brazil’s domestic tourism scene is booming, which results in hiked-up prices when the locals holiday. One trick to save your reais is to travel when the Brazilians don’t. Peak holiday season is December to March. 

Rio carnival
Carnival might be an amazing spectacle but you’ll pay through the nose for it!

Accommodation prices can double or even triple over New Year and during Carnival (February) so avoid these times if possible. You’ll find that it’s easier to haggle prices down at B&Bs and hostels during off-peak season.

A huge plus of visiting Brazil is that because it is such a huge country, you’ll find somewhere with a great climate year-round – there’s no need to worry about the weather ruining your trip! For example, in northeast Brazil, the best time to visit is between September and October, as heavy rains can occur from April to July.

11. Let Yourself Be Robbed (if You Need To)

This may seem like a kind of nonsensical piece of advice but bear with us here. If someone is threatening to rob you, just hand over your valuables. Robberies are far more likely to turn violent when the would-be victim refuses to cooperate with the thief. 

In Brazil, it is not uncommon for those involved in crime to be carrying knives and guns. At the end of the day, all of your belongings can be replaced – your life can’t. 

12. Get Travel Insurance

Far more than just a gem of travel advice specific to Brazil, the travel insurance recommendation applies whenever you head out of your home country. Good travel insurance will cover your belongings in case of a robbery, get you out of all sorts of pickles if you get ill and even foot the bill if you need to come home in case of an emergency. Don’t get on a plane without it! 

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13. Don’t Spend All Your Time in Rio

As a popular arrival point in the country, it can be tempting to spend all of your time in Rio. After all, the idea of even knowing where to start exploring the rest of the country can be daunting! But, there’s much more to Brazil than just Rio. 

A great state to base yourself in for further exploration is the Bahia state located in northeastern Brazil (it’s also said to be the cheapest region). With beautiful, relatively cheap villages along the coast – try Morro de São Paulo, Barra Grande, Itacaré, Santo André but avoid snazzy hotspots such as Trancoso or Florianópolis. When you’re in Bahia, a trip to Chapada Diamantina National Park is a must! 

Also, on the must-see list for budget travellers is the lesser-known region of Minas Gerais, a waterfall-studded mining state that’s both spectacular and inexpensive to travel. Baroque-style churches, gorgeous mountains and a unique cuisine await the curious traveller!

Also read: Free/Cheap Things to do in Rio de Janeiro.

14. Stay Away From Drugs

Drugs are a big no-no in Brazil. Drug gangs are often caught up in nasty business and homicides and other violent attacks are part and parcel of the trade. Taking drugs is illegal throughout the country and comes with very harsh sentences. You won’t want to end up banged up in a Brazilian jail, that’s for sure! 

15. An Amazonian Alternative

Trips to the Amazon can be extremely expensive, and sadly, sometimes disappointing. As the Amazonian region is so enormous, it can be very hard to spot wildlife on a short trip. Some tourists return to civilisation feeling let down that they did not see as many animals as they thought they would during their excursion into the jungle. 

Black Caiman Basking On A Jetty
Caiman are one of the animals that you can see in Brazil… but don’t get too close!

For a more satisfying experience, why not try Brazil’s amazing alternative, The Pantanal. You’re much more likely to spot interesting wildlife here – not to mention, have a much better value for money trip!

16. Snack on Street Food

To keep your energy levels up and your spending down, head to one of the many local markets in Brazil to pick up some delicious street food! Not only is it mouthwateringly good but it also won’t dent your wallet too much – win-win! 

In São Paulo, try pastéis de feira, (like empanadas in the rest of South America) filled with either meat, cheese or vegetables. These will set you back about 3 reais. In Salvador, we recommend acarajé (a pea fritter stuffed with shrimp) sold on street stands by baianas, (women in traditional white dress) for around 6 reais. 

In the Amazon, don’t miss tacacá (shrimp and jambu soup) for around 10 reais. And definitely sample coxinha, chicken-filled puffs that are cheap, delicious and make an awesome bus snack! There’s always amazing exotic fruit as well as refreshing juice bars. Opt for a ‘vitamina’ (batido in Spanish) or a smoothie.

Read more: Best South American Drinks & South American Street Food.

17. Take Local Transport

The Brazilian bus system is surprisingly good if you know what you’re doing.  While it can be difficult to find bus timetables and price information online (especially in English), you’re best to go to the bus station in person and ask at the ticket booth. 

Televisions in night bus, South America.
Long distance buses… a backpacker’s favourite way to travel!

Rio’s and São Paulo’s subway lines are not huge but ideal for getting around the major sights without breaking the bank. In the northeast of Brazil, taxis are also fairly cheap. You may even want to rent a cheap car in the national parks or along coastal routes, so you’re not dependent on expensive tour companies. 

18. Party Right in the Street!

Forget expensive bars and clubs – there’s no need to spend money on entry fees and overpriced drinks in Brazil. When live music can be heard all over the bustling cities, you can take the party outside! 

The most famous area for its Bohemian street culture is the Lapa neighbourhood in Rio where people pour out of the bars and restaurants to drink and socialise right on the sidewalks. Although an evening here is great, you should beware of pickpockets frequenting the area. 

During the day, the street culture is alive and well, with street performers and dancers popping up everywhere to create a lively atmosphere.

19. Buy a Brazilian Air Pass

If you reckon you might end up taking a lot of flights during your trip to Brazil (you may do, it’s a big country!) then a Brazil Air Pass can be a good idea. The major Brazilian airlines all offer these passes that will cost you around $500USD and offer you four flights. The only snag is that the pass is only valid for 21 days so make sure you are going to make the most of it before you buy!

Airplane
A Brazilian Air Pass can offer great value for money!

20. Use Mosquito Repellent

If you have already travelled to areas with a mosquito presence, you will already know all about the importance of bite prevention. This is no different in Brazil. As well as the obvious annoyance factor, there is also a high prevalence of the Zika virus in Brazil

Zika-carrying mosquitos tend to bite between dawn and dusk. The virus can cause a fever and a rash and poses really serious risks to pregnant women and their unborn babies. Always use a strong insect repellent with a high DEET content and practice standard bite avoidance. 

21. Avoid the OK Hand Symbol

Whenever you visit another country, you are always recommended to be culturally aware – after all, you don’t want to offend anyone! Commonly used in the United States, making a circle with your index finger and thumb has long been a way of conveying that everything is good, however, in Brazil it comes with a much different meaning. 

Essentially, in Brazil, the OK hand symbol is the equivalent of giving somebody the middle finger. It is considered to be very rude and actually offensive to some people. Back in the ‘50s, US President Richard Nixon visited the country and flashed the OK gesture to a crowd, only to be met with a chorus of boos! 

Would you add any extra Brazil travel tips to our list? Let us know in the comments!

Nikki Scott Bio Pic
Nikki Scott | Founder & Editor

Nikki is the founding editor of South East Asia Backpacker. At age 23, she left the UK on a solo backpacking trip and never returned. After six months on the road, she founded a print magazine about backpacking in Asia. The rest is history.

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