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GUIDE TO BRAZIL

GETTING STARTED


Before you come to Brazil , find out whether you need a visa. Many nationalities require them, including citizens from the US , Canada and Australia . See p695 for more details.

If you're going to Carnaval in Rio , Salvador or Olinda , secure hotel reser­vations as far in advance as possible. That also holds true for Rio's Reveillon. If you're hitting other major festivals (p685), book your room in advance - often easily done over the Internet. During the busy summer season (December to March), it's also wise to book ahead.

Brazil is a large country, with vast distances between destinations. If you plan to visit a number of regions, consider purchasing a Brazil Air­pass, which allows you up to five in-country flights at a set rate. These tickets must be purchased outside the country.

WHEN TO GO

Brazil's high season runs from December to March. This is when the country fills with both foreign visitors and vacationing Brazilian families (school holidays run from mid-December to Carnaval, usually in Febru­ary. Prices rise during this time and you'll face more crowds, though this is also the most festive time in Brazil . Brazil 's low season corresponds to its winter, running from May to September. With the exception of July, which is also a school-holiday month, this is the cheapest and least­-crowded time to visit the country.

Depending on where you go, weather may be a significant factor in your travel plans. In Rio , the humidity can be high in summer, even though temperatures rarely rise above 30°C (86°F); most of the rain falls from October to January. In winter Rio temperatures hover around 23°C (73°F), with a mix of both rainy and superb days.

On the northeast coast, from Bahia to Maranhao, temperatures are a bit warmer year-round than in Rio - rarely far from 28°C (82°F) - but due to a wonderful tropical breeze and less humidity, it's rarely stifling. The rainy season runs from about mid-April to mid-July, though even then you'll encounter gorgeous days.

The Amazon region (the north) is one of the world's rainiest places and rainfall occurs most frequently from January to May, making travel exceedingly difficult then. The rest of the year the region still receives plenty of rain, though showers tend to last only an hour or two.

The Pantanal also has rainy/dry seasons, and if you plan to go, do so during the dry season (mid-April to late September). The rest of the year, the wetlands receive tremendous rainfall, washing out roads and making traveling a nightmare.

The South has the most extreme temperature changes, and during the coldest winter months (June to August), Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Parana and Sao Paulo have temperatures between 13°C (55.4°F) and 18°C (64.4°F). In some towns, snow is even possible - but rare. As elsewhere along the coast, summer is quite hot, and you'll have lots of company on the beach.

COSTS & MONEY

The devaluation of the Brazilian real in 1999 made Brazil cheaper for for­eign travelers than it had been for a long, long time. Although Brazil is one of South America's most expensive countries, it's still cheaper than North America or Europe , and it should remain so for the foreseeable future.

Many items in Brazil are cheap by European or North American standards: food, clothing, hotel accommodations, bus travel. Car rental and national flights cost about the same as in Europe or the US (although ongoing price wars have made them more economical in recent years), while electronics and film generally cost more.

If you're frugal, you can travel on about US$30 to US$40 a day - paying as little as US$12 for accommodations, US$8 for food and drink, plus bus travel, admission to sights and the occasional entertainment. If you just plan to lie on a beach for a month, eating rice, beans and fish every day, you can probably scrape by on US$20 a day. If you stay in reasonably com­fortable hotels, eat in nicer restaurants, go out most nights and book the occasional rental car or guided excursion, you'll probably spend US$ 100 a day. Those who can swing it can enjoy five-star accommodations, decadent meals and top-notch service (whether in jungle lodges in the Amazonor islands off the coast) with all the extras for US$300 a day and up.

Bear in mind that during the December-to-February holiday season accommodations costs generally increase by around 25% to 30%.

Brazil is not among the kinder destinations for solo travelers. If you share rooms and meals with someone else, you can shave maybe 20% off the above budgets.

TRAVEL LITERATURE

A Death in Brazil by Peter Robb is one of the most fascinating travelogues published in recent years (2004). Robb, who spent 20 years in Brazil , explores four centuries of Brazilian history, while detailing his own mod­ern-day travels, creating a compelling portrait of the country.

Travelers' Tales Brazil, edited by Scott Doggett and Annette Haddad, is a fine anthology of tales of travel and life in Brazil . The excellent 2nd edition (published 2004) includes contributions from writers such as Diane Ackerman, Joe Kane, Petru Popescu and Alma Guillermoprieto.

How to Be a Carioca by Priscilla Ann Goslin is highly recommended for anyone planning to spend time in Rio de Janeiro . Her tongue-in-cheek descriptions of the Carioca ( Rio dweller) lifestyle are spot-on. Don't miss the hilarious 'essential vocabulary' section for mastering the local lingo Peter Fleming's Brazilian Adventure is about the young journalist's expedition into Mato Grosso in the 1930s - a wild region then – in search of vanished explorer Colonel Fawcett. What Fleming found is less important than the telling, written with wry humor.

Although not specifically about Brazil , Redmond O'Hanlon's hilarious In Trouble Again: a Journey between the Orinoco and the Amazon tells of his fretful journey through Latin America .

Also not solely about Brazil is Peter Matthiessen's The Cloud Forest, an account of a 30,000km journey across the South American wilderness from the Amazon to Tierra del Fuego . It's well worth a read.

Moritz Thomsen's The Saddest Pleasure: a Journey on Two Rivers is an engaging book about the author's experiences in South America , includ­ing journeys through Brazil and along the Amazon.

Running the Amazon by Joe Kane is the story of the 10 men and one woman who, in 1986, became the first expedition to cover the entire length of the Rio Amazonas ( Amazon River ), from the Andes to the Atlantic , on foot and in rafts and kayaks.