I’ve been back from Brazil for a few weeks now, but I’m still very much reflecting on the amazing trip. You know, when you come home from a trip everyone always asks you “Well, how was it?” And after a few chats you start developing a rehearsed answer.
“Oh it was a fantastic trip. The atmosphere around the World Cup was amazing, the food was great, the people were friendly, we didn’t feel unsafe at all. There was so much to do and so much diversity in the country that we barely even scrapped the surface. I can’t wait to go back”
For most people, that answer does the job, but over the last few weeks I’ve been getting a lot more questions about the trip. Some that have really made me think and reflect on my experience there. One of the questions that kept coming up was “Did you find Brazil to be different than what you expected?” And I have to admit, I did.
I researched Brazil’s main attractions and what to do, and where to go, but you can never really know it all. There are a few things that I wish I knew before traveling to Brazil. So today, I’d like to share them with you, in hopes that it will one day help you manage your own expectations about traveling to this amazing country.
1. Most Brazilians Don’t Speak English
I’m not sure why I expected it to be any different. I’ve traveled enough to know that people in developing countries don’t speak English. But for some reason I expected that Brazilians, especially those in cities like Rio de Janeiro and Saõ Paulo, would know at least a bit of English. Big misconception! Most restaurant staff, shop owners, and sometimes even hotel staff did not speak a word of English. If it wasn’t for Max’s knowledge of Spanish we would’ve really struggled! Although not everyone spoke Spanish, enough of them did and Max was able to get us through every situation: from asking for driving directions to making friendly chit chat with the locals.
Brazilians’ lack of English knowledge is certainly not the end of the world. You can still get by with hand gestures and pointing and general body language ,but knowing a few key phrases in Portuguese or even in Spanish will make your travel in Brazil 10 times easier.
So if you are planning on heading to Brazil, spend a bit of time learning a few Portuguese phrases before you go. Pick up a phrasebook at a book store, or find some phrases online. The locals will appreciate your attempts to speak to them in their language and will be more eager to help you out.
2. Brazil is Expensive
.. really expensive! We were traveling around Brazil during the World Cup and the prices were definitely inflated, but Brazil is not a cheap country for budget travelers. We spoke to a lot of other travelers on the road, hotel staff, restaurant owners, and locals and the verdict was the same. Prices in Brazil are not quite as high as London, or NYC, or Sydney, but it is pretty close to prices in Toronto, or smaller cities in US, and in Europe. It’s definitely not as cheap as Eastern Europe and not as cheap as most places in Asia.
If you are traveling on a budget, you can expect to spend between $75-100 a day on accommodation, meals, entertainment and transportation in larger cities. If you enjoy a more luxurious way to travel, be prepared to cash out a LOT more. Smaller cities are a bit cheaper, but still pricey. Our budget was $100 a day but with the inflation due to the World Cup, we probably spent closer to $150 per day per person. Alcoholic drinks, especially cocktails, and restaurant meals added up to the biggest chunk of the budget.
3. Renting a Car in Brazil May Not Be the Best Option
Renting a car to travel from Rio de Janeiro to Saõ Paulo sounded like a great idea. We thought a car would give us the freedom to stop in towns along the way and not have to rely on bus schedules to get around. We also thought that splitting $300 car rental fee among 3 people would end up being cheaper than taking busses. We were wrong! Driving in Brazil’s main cities is a pain in the ass! It’s all good that you can follow the street signs and the map directions, but sometimes if you don’t know the best route to take, your trip that’s meant to take 20 mins drags out to be 1.5 hr drive. And then you’ve got to find a place to park the car, and pay the parking fee, plus of course, add the cost of the gas. In the end, it all added up and ended up costing us more than we expected.
In hindsight, we should have used Brazil’s well-developed bus system. There were bussed running between Rio and Saõ Paulo every 10-15 minutes, many of which also stopped in smaller towns, like Paraty and Angra Dos Reis. But the best part about the buses is that they travel overnight, meaning you don’t have to waste 4-5 hours during the day traveling between cities, you can save money on accommodation by spending the night on the bus, and you can maximize your time in each town/city as a result.
4. Brazilians Cuisine is So Much More Than Rice and Beans
I have to admit, I was a little nervous traveling to Brazil. My impression of South America was that beans and rice were the staples of their diet. I really didn’t know what I’d be eating during my time in Brazil. I love trying new food and eating local specialties, but I find rice incredibly boring!
Luckily, Brazil did not disappoint! Food in Brazil was so diverse and so delicious that I couldn’t stop eating it! I even wrote a post about all the amazing Brazilian dishes I fell in love with in Brazil. And guess what? There were plenty of dishes without rice! And turns out that when you mix rice with beans, or rice with fish, or rice with spinach sauce, it takes it from boring to DELICIOUS!
5. How to Dance Samba, or Salsa…or Something
Brazilian dance, samba, plays a huge role in the culture of this dynamic and vibrant country. Over the years samba has become popular with all classes of people in Brazil and is to this day “a dance that unites the nation”. So of course, I was really excited to hear the music and feel the rhythm of samba live in Rio de Janeiro’s famous nightlife district, Lapa.
So there I was, inside Rio Scenarium, one of Rio’s biggest and most famous night clubs, loving the music, loving the vibe and wanting nothing more than to join in on the action…but I really didn’t think this through! I can’t dance… I mean, I can’t dance Samba, or Salsa, or Rumba.. or any other Latin American kind of dance that would make me fit into this amazing crowd. So instead of having the best time of my life at Rio Scenarium, I stood on the side and watched the action from afar.
I vowed that before I go back to South America I will definitely take some latin dance lessons. I better get on this before my trip to Costa Rica.
Bonus …lucky #6?
I wish I knew how amazing Brazil was going to be… I wish I knew that 5 days in Rio de Janeiro just wasn’t going to be enough! I wish I spend my entire trip dancing, or rather awkwardly watching the others dance, in samba clubs in Lapa, I wish I spent more time drinking caipirinha’s on Copacabana beach, or eating Calabrese at every restaurant in Leblon, or diving off the coast of Ilha Grande, or hiking through the Tijuna Forest…
I’m glad I didn’t. Because now, I have a burning desire to go back and experience more of Brazil!