Brazil- a country located in Latin America with a lot of rich history, picturesque beaches, and beautiful people. Brazil completely surprised me and exceeded my expectations. Not only did I feel comfortable and was able to explore it’s cities safely, but I also had a great time meeting new and unique people. Let’s go over my experience of this so-called “dangerous country”.
Thankfully, my flight experience to Brazil was, unbelievably amazing. I have the great pleasure of knowing several airline employees, who were able to bless me with a buddy pass for my trip, which landed me in first class. Buddy passes are non-revenue, standby tickets provided as a benefit to all airline employees that they can share with friends and family. While they are non-revenue, the passenger must pay any taxes, fees and charges related to the flight. While a buddy pass can be significantly lower in cost than a normal ticket, it can cause some passengers issues, since they rely on seat availability and employee seniority. Some individuals have been known to be stranded at several locations due to flight availability. If you are able to snag a buddy pass from a friend, make sure you calculate enough time to get to your destinations.
If you unable to utilize a buddy pass, I recommended:
– Flying directly out of Atlanta or Miami (Prices: $650-$1,200 USD for standard and comfort plus seating)
– Use travel points to upgrade your seats; the flight from Atlanta to Brazil was LONG
– Travel light and try to only take a carry on. Getting around the airport or ground transportation can be cumbersome with a lot of luggage
As mentioned, Brazil has a vivid and interesting history. This country was officially “discovered” in 1500 by the Portuguese led by Pedro Alvares Cabral. Portuguese explorers went to Brazil in hopes to monopolize red wood trade and establish permanent settlements. After forcing out and killing many of the indigenous people, the Portuguese turned to African slave labor to create their Brazilian colonies. This in turn led to a extremely diverse population. After having some conflict with England, France, and Holland, Portugal dispatched a general to Bahia in 1549 to oversee the colonies. Later, Portugal experienced a golden age in the 17th century and moved the Brazilian capital to Rio de Janeiro for political and administrative reasons. After more conflict with France, Princess Isabel officially ended slavery in 1888, bringing a new era to the country. In the 1900s, Brazil went under a military and government dictatorship and continues to experience hard economic times. Even know the current economy and government still to have issues, the Brazilian people continue to display amazing resilience and hope, and really understand the importance of enjoying life.
I had the pleasure of exploring this great country with four great friends, who happened to be Brazilian. But before I could make my way to the beach, I had to first get out of the airport. Thankfully, the airport in Rio was recently renovated due to the 2016 Summer Olympic games. However, making it from your gate to baggage claim takes, FOREVER. I estimated walking at least 1-2 miles before getting to baggage claim (again, why you should pack light and take something that rollsssss). We quickly discovered that the airline lost all of our bags. After waiting 30-40 minutes to talk to the airline representative, we finally made our way out of the airport and to our AirBnB in a neighborhood called Leblon.
Things to look out for at the airport:
– Be careful who you exchange money with: thankfully, my friend and I only exchanged a small amount of money before initially leaving the airport. However, the office that we exchanged with offered a low exchange rate and even deducted $20 extra for a “processing” fee without telling us. We later located another airport worker who offered the correct exchange rate and did not deduct a transaction fee.
– Some workers are unprofessional and pick and choose who they help: after discovering that our bags did not make it with us, it took a while to get our bag information. While waiting for an airline representative, we noticed several employees moving others in front of us in line and ignoring us. Also, the airport did not offer bag delivery services, so we had to go back the next day.
– Taxis, taxis, taxi: unfortunately, the Rio airport does not allow Uber to pick up travelers at the airport. Because of this, we had to take a taxi, which can cost double or even triple the amount of an Uber fare. Be careful, the taxi drivers like to take advantage of travelers (anyone who isn’t from Rio; yes, they can tell) and can overcharge you. We also had this experience and brought it to our driver’s attention. However, we decided to pay the fare, just to be on the safe side.
Once arriving in Leblon, we were welcomed by a helpful man who was responsible for watching over the front gate of our building. This was reassuring, since I was traveling with all women. After doing a quick tour of our two story penthouse (which had a hot tub), we went out to grab something to eat.
Recommendations for accommodations:
– Try AirBnB: after discussing our apartment information with locals and other travelers, it became apparent that we paid significantly lower than our peers. We also had a large condo with great views and security.
– Beware of hostels: some hostels can be known for being unsafe depending on where you stay in Rio. Try to look find one in the nicer parts of Copacabana and Ipanema.
The food…man, was it good! The Brazilians definitely know how to throw down. I can’t say that there was one meal that wasn’t amazing. Brazilians pride themselves in using fresh ingredients, so the flavor is even more intense than in the US. My favorite meal included a shrimp filled Pastéis (like a deep fried empanada) with olive oil, meat, and chicken filled Coxinhas (fried cheese ball). Brazilians also LOVE to eat, so you can find a wide variety of restaurants, street vendors, and convenience stores around to grab a quick bite. We even snagged a bowl of Acai and fruit while sitting on the beach– it was delicious!
Additional take aways:
– Make sure to try all of the local foods and meat houses
– Hamburgers are super popular and widely accessible in the city (even more so than traditional Brazilian cuisine)
– If you forget to bring a snack to the beach, don’t worry! People walk around selling a wide assortment of food and drinks at all times
Rio has some amazing beaches, and depending on where you walk, the vibe can be different.
Leblon: more family oriented, young professionals, and wealthier people. (safest)
Ipanema: vibe is in between Leblon and Copacabana
Copacabana: more singles and parties (less safe)
Be prepared, it is HOT in January in Rio. I recommend ordering a few Brahmas (local beer) and Caipirinhas to cool you off! Also, make sure that someone is always watching your bags at the beach. A lot of thefts occur when people are taking pictures at the beach or asleep.
Nightlife is great in Brazil, and there are many different places to go. Unfortunately, I was in Rio between Saturday-Tuesday and did not have a lot of nights out on the town. However, I did make it out Sunday night to Leviano, a great club in Lapa. This club is located in a large neighborhood of other bars and clubs, so feel free to explore. But, be prepared to pay at the door. Finding a way to sign up for a guest list is difficult for non-natives. My other nights were spent in house parties and low key bars with friends.
During my time in Brazil, I was fortunate to make a lot of new friends. I don’t know what it is (maybe it’s something in the air), but people actually TALK to each other and are genuinely interested in getting to know you. Although people do not speak English as much as they did in Portugal, I was able to connect with quite a few travelers from all over the world (Italy, Amsterdam, Holland, England, and Brazil). Don’t be afraid to talk to people, you might make a friend for life!
What to See
Unfortunately, I was unable to do as much “sight seeing” as I wanted to do, because this trip felt more like a bachelorette party than a real vacation with 5 women. However, Travel Girl Natalia recommends the following:
- Christ the Redeemer
- Sugarloaf Mountain
- Copacabana Beach/Ipanema
- Rio Botanical Gardens
- Imperial Museum of Brazil
- Hippie Feria
- Museum of Modern History
- Samba studios
If you are brave enough, make your way to the Favelas. A lot of them have been pacified and are very safe. Just make sure to leave your belongings at home and only take some cash to get around.
Neighborhoods I Visited
Leblon, Ipanema, Copacabana, and Lapa
Honestly, many people paint a very weird and ominous picture of Brazil. It’s “too dangerous”, “too unorganized”, and while you’re at it, “watch out for Zika”, but I honestly cannot say that about my trip. Yes, I was more cautious of my belongings and paid a little more attention to who was around me than my other trips, but I made it home in one piece. Like any trip, you have to stay vigilant and make sure you do your research before going. But if you want my opinion, Brazil is a beautiful country with amazing people, and I will remember my time there for the rest of my life.
Pack your bags, and just go!
- Use Uber
- Travel with someone who speaks Portuguese: even though I studied Portuguese and understand most of it, it was very difficult for me to communicate and understand people from Rio
- Don’t carry a purse or pockets to store items: even though I didn’t have any issues, I still put my phone and wallet INSIDE of my pants and shorts when walking around the city. This made me less of a target
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