GUIDE TO BRAZIL
Smart souvenir hunters can do well in Brazil, provided they know a little about Brazilian culture. Many people find the best souvenirs to be recorded music, musical instruments, local crafts (Indian and otherwise) and artwork.
Glitzy, air-conditioned shopping malls - imaginatively called shoppings - are in every self-respecting medium-sized city, and Sao Paulo has hundreds of them. Browsing the many markets and small street-side stores yields, for better or worse, less predictable results.
Art & Crafts
Although nearly everything can be found in Rio and Sao Paulo, there is a premium for moving craft and art pieces from the hinterland into the fancy stores of the big cities. The inexpensive exceptions include the Hippie Fair, the wild Feira Nordestina and the popular Babilonia Feira Hype. Among Rio's handicrafts shops, 0 Sol in Jardim Botanico and Trilhas Urbanos and ha Vareda, both in Santa Teresa, offer some of the best selections.
Most of the Indian crafts in Funai stores are inexpensive, but quality generally matches price. Museum gift shops, on the other hand, stock some very worthwhile souvenirs. They're good for items made by artisans and prints of local art. The Carmen Miranda museum in Rio sells T-shirts of the great lady herself, complete with her famous fruit headdress.
Outside the two big cities, your best bets for craftwork are artisan fairs - held on Saturday and Sunday in many cities - cooperative stores, and government-run shops. The Northeast has a rich assortment of artistic items. Salvador and nearby Cachoeira are notable for their rough-hewn wood sculpture. Artisans in Fortaleza and the southeastern coast of Ceara specialize in fine lace. The interior of Pernambuco, in particular Caruaru, is famous for its wildly imaginative ceramic figurines.
Some Amazonian Indian peoples now make artifacts such as bows, arrows, baskets, feather headdresses, carvings, pottery and beads specifically as commodities to sell. Some are very attractive even if not quite the genuine article.
Gemstones are the most famous souvenir/luxury items from Minas Gerais. But if you're in the market for fine jewelry and precious stones, wait until you return to the big cities to make your purchases. Buy from a large and reputable dealer such as Amsterdam Sauer or H Stern in Rio. Stern is an international dealership based in Ipanema, and its reputation for quality and honesty is beyond reproach. It isn't a discount store - in fact it has a checkin desk where you have to get an identity tag before you can enter - but its jewelry is less expensive in Brazil than at its outlets in other parts of the world.
Brazilian leather goods are moderately priced, but the leather isn't particularly supple. The better Brazilian shoes, belts, wallets, purses and luggage are sold in the upmarket shops of Ipanema and Copacabana. Shoes are extremely good value, but many of the best are reserved for export, and larger sizes are difficult to find. Goodquality, cheap, durable, leather soccer balls with hand-stitched panels are sold all over Brazil in sporting-goods stores. (Inflated soccer balls should not be put in the cargo hold of a plane.)
In interior Pernambuco, the Sertanejos' curious traditional leather hats appeal to some travelers.
Don't leave the country without buying some music. Rio has the best stores in the country, with plenty of used and new shops, places for DJs, and open-air music markets. In other cities, your best bet may be the big malls. New-release CDs cost anywhere from US$7 to US$20 in stores, but compilation albums of a star's best songs, such as those in the Perolas and XXI Vinteum series, are about half that price and can be good value. Street stalls sell bootleg CDs for around US$2.
Brazil's many varieties of percussion, wind and string instruments make fun souvenirs and presents. You can often find inexpensive ones at craft markets as well as in music stores.
Functional and decorative hammocks are available in cities throughout Amazonia. These string, mesh or cloth slings are fixtures in most Brazilian homes. They're indispensable for travelers and make fine, portable gifts. A typical one-person hammock costs around US$8 to US$10; a large casal (double) hammock might run to US$20.
Coffee-table picture books on Brazil, videotapes of Carnaval and of highlights of the national football team and Pele in various World Cup matches are hawked in the streets of Copacabana, and are available in stores too. Guaranb powder, a stimulant (said to be an aphrodisiac) derived from an Amazonian fruit, is sold by health stores and pharmacies around the country. Especially in the Amazon region itself, there are plenty of shops and market stalls devoted to herbal and other natural medicinal preparations - oils, powders, infusions - just name your ailment.
A Brazilian fio dental (dental floss bikini) is fun to have. If nothing else, you can prove to people back home just how little Brazilians really do wear on the beach. Plenty of stores sell very brief beachwear.
Candomble stores are a good source of curios. They range from magical incense guaranteed to bring good fortune and increase sexual allure, wisdom and health to amulets and ceramic figurines of AfroBrazilian gods.
If you're in Brazil during Carnaval, make sure you pick up a copy of the Carnaval edition of Manchete magazine.