Notes and photos by Dimos
  Brazil was my first trip in South America. Before I went there, I asked my Brazilian friend "So, what should I see in Brazil?" and he replied "Just enjoy the beach culture". I understood what he ment only after I arrived in Rio. No photos can describe the beach-culture. And I was affraid of taking the camera with me just in case someone runs away with it. So I do not have many photos from Brazil. But even if I did, you really need to go there to feel the spirit!  
Rio Buzios Parati Salvador Refice Olinda
  Before you go  

From all the travel books I have read, I have concluded that the Rough Guide series is the best. One reason is that they list hotels by area and also note their price category. So if you want to stay lets say in the Jardins area in Sao Paolo, you simply look at the Jardins paragraph.

I had problems however with the Rough Guide Phasebook in Portuguese. The pronunciation of Portuguese spoken in Portugal and Portuguese spoken in Brazil is apparently different and the guide focuses on the Portugal pronunciation.

Get a bottle of water with you before you depart for you do not have to look for one as soon as you get there. (You will need it to brush your teeth..)

Get as much sleep as you can inside the airplane and do not waste your time watching second-rated movies. You will need the energy in the following days.

Make photocopies of the passport (page with your details) and store it in different places (luggage, carry-on etc.)

Have at least 200 dollars with you in cash just in case. Not all ATMs are linked to the global network (you need to look for an ATM with the VISA logo).

  Once there...  

Once there, keep drinking bottled (only) water. If your body is not used to 30 degrees day-and-night, you will dehydrate and feel tired. Always have a bottle of water with you. Unfortunately, since no Brazilians are carrying water with them, it becomes clear that you are a tourist! One way to "hide" it is to buy it from a supermarket and keep it inside the bag of the supermarket.

"Sucos" are the fruit-juices. There are stores everywhere selling them. Well in most of them, they do not squeeze real fruit! If you pay attention, you will see that they get a small plastic bag from the freezer with concentrated juice and they mix that with sugar and water. The difference on the prices from one place to the other is due to the difference on the quality of those plastic bags (and the location of the store).

At the supermarket you will notice that most vegetables and fruits are "ugly" compared to the ones we see in Europe. Bad shaped tomatoes, bananas, cucumbers. Nothing compared to the identical size tomatoes, bananas etc. that we find in supermarkets in Europe. I was delighted because I thought that there were "natural" whereas the once in Europe were "DNA adjusted!" But a Brazilian friend told me that actually the "good looking" vegetables and fruits are exported and the "bad looking" ones stay for domestic consumption! Not sure if it is true or not, but at least there are still "natural".

  Arriving in Sao Paolo  

Sao Paolo international airport (Guarulhos - "GRU" on tickets) has a very good tourist information desk with lots of brochures and information on hotels of all prices and locations. If you need to get a connecting flight the next morning, there are plenty of hotels near the airport. The tourist desk will call them for you. Hotel rates include transfer from and to the airport. You can stay at a hotel with bath and breakfast for as low as 50 Reals. Don't count on finding a nice place to eat near the hotel. The area is simply developed with hotels for people who need to stay close to the airport.

If you want to stay in Sao Paolo, I suggest you stay in the Jardins area. You can get there by bus from the airport (about 45min-1h to the city). The bus terminates at hotel Caesar Park at Rua Augusta, two blocks from Avenida Paulista. There are dozens of hotels in the area.

If you have a flight out from the domestic airport (Congonhas- "CGH" at the ticket), a taxi from the Jardins area will take 1 hour at least due to traffic.. Ask the hotel reception to call one for you. My taxi driver had one hand (right hand only). We had a great conversation in Portuguese!

At the airport lounge they have free newspapers. I took one and placed it on the outside pocket of my backpack. I thought that I will look more Brazilian this way...

  Rio de Janeiro  



If you arrive from Sao Paolo, you may arrive at the domestic airport (Santos Dumont - "SDU" on the tickets). There is NO tourist information desk at this airport. It is rather a small airport. As soon as you step outside, you get approached by all taxi drivers... I suggest you take the Airport bus which passes in frond of the terminal (on the island in front of the taxis). There are some other busses that go by, so make sure you get on the right bus. It is air-conditioned and you pay for the ticket INSIDE the bus. The driver will put a sticker with a number on your luggage and will give you a receipt. He will check the sticker number against the receipt when you get off the bus. (So you do not take some else's luggage). The bus will go along the coast line. If you tell the driver what hotel you want to go to, he will drop you off near the hotel. If you have a map with you, try to follow the bus route.

On your way out of Rio, you can take the airport bus from the road that runs by the beach. Note that in the morning both lanes run towards the city. The bus goes by the lane closest to the beach. Make sure you know in which airport you are going. Domestic airport is listed as SDU on the ticket and it is the first airport and small. The International airport is listed as GIG on your ticket and it is really big.


My friend suggested that I stay in the Ipanema area and I am glad I followed his advice. The Ipanema area is full with the best clothing stores (probably in all South America), bookstores that serve coffee till midnight, restaurants and exercise clubs! You can go to the beach at 6am and see people run or play volleyball or football. Same thing after 5:30pm till 9-10pm. It is very hard not to join-in and run...Although it gets dark at 6pm, big lights light-up the full beach from Copacabana to Leblon. An amazing atmosphere...

I suggest that as soon as you arrive, you familiarize yourself with the area around your hotel particularly the nearest building on the beach and on the lake. If you use the public buses, you need to know where to get off...Some busses that return to Ipanema from the center go by Avenida Borges de Medeiros (the road that circles the lake). Don't expect that bus driver of the public bus to know your hotel and you do not want to make it obvious to everyone on the bus that you are a tourist!

A great place for "Sucos": Look for hotel Ceasar Park at Ipanema along the beach. Turn into the side street that goes inland. On the second street on your right hand side you will see at the corner "Polysouno" restaurant. Drink "Suco di mango"!

At the end of the Copacabana beach there is hotel Meridien. There is a bar on the top floor with a full view of Capacabana.

  Day 1  
  If you arrive in the morning or midday, I suggest you simply walk all the Ipanema and Leblon beach (4 Klm) and Copacabana beach (3 Klm). This is the best introduction to beach-culture that you can get. Don't forget the sunscreen! You do not need to carry a watch with you as there are "clocks" across the road.  
  Day 2 - Buzios  

Visit Buzios. Buzios is the equivalent of Mykonos, the famous for its nightlife island in Greece. The area is beautiful. You can not swim there--you have to take the boat to the nearby beaches. I walk up at 5:30am (in Rio), took the bus ["128", direction towards Airport] to the Bus Station (the Bus station is at the other side of the town...1 hour from Ipanema; 20min if you take the taxi because it goes from the ring road). You will see how Rio wakes up...The bus terminates at the bus station. You need to walk to the yellow/orange building across the street where is the bigger bus station. Once you enter this building, go up to the first floor, cross over to the other building and look for the counter of the bus company "1001" that goes north of Rio. The bus is air-conditioned (17 Reals one-way). At the ticket, "PLATAF" means "Gate" and "POLTRONA" means "Seat". Once you arrive to Buzios, the "center" is 5min walk from the bus station. Make sure you check the return times as there are NOT buses every hour in off-season.

When you return to Rio, I suggest you take the bus back to Ipanema or Leblon ("128"). It will take 1.5 hours to get to Ipanema but you will see all the evening life of Rio. Note that the bus returns by the lake and not by the beach so you need to have walked in the lake the night before so you know where to get off!

If you decide to go swimming to the beaches around Buzios, make sure you can make the last bus to Rio!

  Day 3 - Parati  
  Visit Parati, a little really nice colonial town. Again you take "128" bus to the bus station but this time you go to the ticketing desk of "Costa Verde" company. It takes 4 hours!. On the way back it can take even longer! But it is really a nice town. Once you get there, the town is 10min walk from the bus station. Lots of old churches and houses to look at.  
  Day 4 - Rio City  

Wake-up early to bit the traffic. Take the bus 584 direction Leblon. The bus terminates at the train that goes up to the Corcovado. Once you step outside the bus, you will be approached by taxi drivers who will offer to take you to the top. I suggest you take the train and sit on the right-hand-side as it goes up for best view. Train is every 30min 8:30-6:30pm.

After that, you may want to go down to the old city. I was too hot and simply went to the beach! Then at 2pm I took a tour of the "Favela", the area where the poorest people live. The tour was recommended at the Rough Guide. I was very disappointed with the tour. We were told that kids with mobiles were acting as "lookouts" for the drug lords and were calling them to signal that we have arrived (this is supposed to be a daily tour for the last 11 years...), that houses in one Favela now have addresses so they can receive mail and then we were shown a box with all the incoming mail outside a bar with letters sorted by the first name of the recipient! We were also told that because schools have two shifts (morning/afternoon), the kids who go in the morning to school they do not have anything to do in the afternoon so they sell drugs. I went to school on shifts in Greece and I had plenty of homework to do during the rest of the day! And that the majority of kids work in the drug business because it is easy money and can not be prosecuted (under age). But also, kids who work in drugs do not live past their 18 year birthday because of the fights between the groups. Come on! That means that there would be very few people older than 18!!! As for the Favelas, there are just poor areas where families live in one room. If there is more to these than that, the tour failed to show it.

Around 4pm, make your way to Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf). You can take a taxi to the cable car at Praia Vermelha in Urca (8am-10pm). The sun goes down around 5:30pm and although the sunset may not be amazing, the picture of Rio with the lights on in dark is breathtaking. You can literally sit there watching Rio for ever.

  More on Rio  
  If you have done all the above, you are now tired. I strongly suggest you take a day off and just stay on the beach. You can never have enough of Rio beach atmosphere! Unfortunately, I didn't.  
  Day 5 - Salvador  

I suggest you stay in the Odina or Barra areas in a hotel near the beach. There is a very good information desk at Salvador airport and can tell you about hotels. You can take the Airport bus that runs along the beach (air conditioned). The big difference between Rio and Salvador is that 70-80% of people in Salvador are of black colour. This means that you if you are of white colour, you can stand out much more as a tourist than you do in Rio. Which means that you may want to take more precautions.

There is lots of local food cooked by women dressed on traditional white clothes all over Salvador. The food is great but do be careful because your stomach may not be ready for it. To minimize the risk, plan on your trip a "free" day. Then the previous day try as much food as you can. If you end up with stomach problems the following day, you can stay at the hotel and not worry about missing your program.

The old city, called Pelourinho, has lots of Portuguese style buildings. Any travel guide will give plenty of info on them. You can see everything in 2-3 hours. Then take the "Lacerda elevator", an elevator that takes you down to see level, cross the street to Mercado Modelo. There are two floors. Shop around. As you enter the Mercado (from the side of the Lacedra elevator", take the second left. As soon as you turn, you will notice a store full with bird statues made out of stone. There are fantastic. Negotiate prices. I bought two and I wish I had bought more! Be aware that the place is only for tourists...

Pelourinho comes live at night with lots of live music in the bars. But it attracts more tourists than locals. Club Aeroclube, a collection of shops and clubs towards the airport, attracts what appeared to me as middle-upper class people mostly of white color. On the way there, you will notice various bars full with people of black color. It felt like they were having a great time in a Bahia way...whereas Aeroclube was more westernized. Unfortunately, I felt that the risk of a white person like me going to these bars was too high.


Day 6, 7- Salvador


If you have stayed near the beach, you can simply go for swimming there. (and if you get too hot, you go back to your air-conditioned room to cool down!). Alternatively, there are some great beaches towards the airport (Estela Mares Beach, Ipitanga Beach, Jaquaribe Breach). It can take you 1-2hours by bus to get there and you will have to start your journey around 8am before there is too much traffic on the road (otherwise you'll never get there). You should do most of your movements as early as possible because it gets too hot after 12noon. It is a bit of an adventure finding the beach and then finding the bus to get back. But it is worth it.

If you are there off summer season, when not many people are holidays, you will not find many people on the beach on the week days. Hence you should go on Saturday or even better Sunday to get the most of the spirit. On the beaches in Odina and Barra you will see heavily armed police officers protecting the beach (not from sharks).

  More on Salvador  
  If you go to a shopping mall (one between Barra-Ondina) you will find self-service restaurants where you put on your plate what ever you want from a huge variety of local and European food and you pay by the weight of your plate. This is a great way to taste a little bit of everything!  
  Day 8 - Recife  

If Rio is great for its geography, Salvador for its food, Recife is great for its Mediterranean style culture (in the middle class anyway)! If you have saved money by taking busses rather than taxis in Rio and Salvador, Recife is the place to save time and pay for taxis. Busses are extremely confusing and you will end up wasting lots of time. If you do take the bus, you will notice that those who are sitting offer to hold on to their hands/laps any item that the people who are standing are carrying with them. In other words, if someone is standing on the bus and hold his/her briefcase, he can pass it to someone who is sitting to hold it for him. I noticed that in every bus I took. They were all offering to hold by bags! There is a variety on the quality of the busses. For a little bit more you take the air-conditioned bus.

Depending on what time you arrive, you can take a taxi (or a bus if you are adventurous like me) to Santo Antonio island. The Travel Guides recommend "Mercado de Sao Jose" for "artesanato" (articrafts) as less expensive than the "Casa da Cultura de Pernambuco". I did a lot of shopping (there are more souvenirs to buy in Recife than Rio and Salvador) and I can assure you that the quality and the prices are better at Casa de Cultura de Pernambuco. This is simply because there are dozens of stores at the Casa and hence more competition. So, do visit the Mercado but do not waste your time shopping there.

There are zillions of stores around the Mercado but none sell souvenirs. It is quite hard to find your way around the streets and looking at your map all the time is not the best idea. There are also lots of churches and you may not know which one is worth seeing and which one is not. Churches are the safest place to study you map, change film etc while seating and praying...Churches close at the evening. Best time to go there is around 8am so you can see local people going to the service.

In the evening go to Avenue de Jesus. Great bars! If you walk around you will find the discos. Wednesday night is lady's night (free entry for women...)

  Day 9- Recife  
  Visit Olinda, an old town outside Recife. There is bus that can take you from Boa Viagem to Olinda but it does not terminate at Olinda (45-60min trip) so you need to ask the driver or the passengers where to get off. Once you are there, lots of boys of any age will approach you and say that they are official guides. They will show you some Identification Card with their photo (or their oldest brother!). The best guides to use are the ones with the yellow shirts. They are ex-street kids supported by the City Council. NOTE: these kids will NEVER approach you on the street AND they do NOT carry ID cards with them (that is something that the Travel Guide books do not mention). You have to find their office (on the ground floor of "Biblioteca Publica Olinda" a pink building) and get a guide from there. A tour of Olinda can take 2-3 hours depending on your speed or walking. As with everything else, the earlier you start in the morning the better because it gets too hot by 12 noon.  

I tried to go to Ilha do Paiva island (supposed to take the boat from Barra de Jangada). I took a taxi to Barra de Jangada but the taxi driver could not find where the boat was departing from. So he ended up giving me a big tour of the area....

The last great place to visit is Porto de Galinda beach. It is far away and you need get good info on the busses to make it there and back the same day.

  Overall Recife middle-class has a very Mediterranean culture. While everybody in Rio exercises to "show off" (lots of people running on the beach), people at Recife are less exercise conscious (there are "normal" people with a small belly, there are not all running on the beach day and night...). The restaurant and club atmosphere also reminded me of cities in Greece. The beach at Recife if better that Rio and Salvador too as it has a few trees here and there and they do not have huge lights all over it. So you can see lots of romantic couples sitting against the trees. In European cities when couples go out they have to go to a bar, restaurant, movie etc. Clearly, if you do not have spare cash for bars, you go for a romantic evening on the beach. Hence the number of bars in Recife is much smaller as a percentage compared to a western city.