Is it possible to backpack Brazil?

Some countries in South America lend themselves kindly to backpacking, such as Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and maybe Colombia. Yet Brazil seems just too large to ever consider backpacking fully! How do you do it? How do you even begin planning it?!

Brasilia is one of the major entry points to Brazil
Brasilia is one of the major entry points to Brazil

From whichever part of the world you are coming from, you will probably enter Brazil by air (unless it’s overland from a neighbouring country!). Entry points would be in the capital, Brasilia, or more likely Sao Paolo or Rio de Janeiro. In my experience, immigration can be a pain at Brazilian airports, so you had better double check that paperwork before you land!

Come to Rio during Carnival Season, if you can
Come to Rio during Carnival Season, if you can
The atmosphere can be electric during Carnivals in Rio
The atmosphere can be electric during Carnivals in Rio

With Brazil being such a large country, the climate often differs from region to region, with the north experiencing some cooler Atlantic coastal winds, whereas the south has a permanent tropical climate. The state of Amazonas, with its famous rainforest and river, is hot and steamy throughout the year. It is also a good idea to research when special festivities are occurring in Brazil, such as the Rio carnivals. New Year’s Eve is also very special on the beaches of Rio, as the famous Copacabana Beach gets used by tens of thousands of drunken revellers!

Even budget airlines cost an arm and a leg in Brazil
Even budget airlines cost an arm and a leg in Brazil

Travelling around Brazil is not easy, either. True backpackers would prefer to journey overland with bus and train travel as options. But in Brazil, it is often necessary to fly from A to B, even on such popular tourist trails as from beachfront Rio de Janeiro to the Iguassu Falls on the border with Argentina. While domestic travel within Brazil (excluding to and from the Amazon) is not as expensive as in Australia, the United States, or in Europe, it is nevertheless a big step up financially from other parts of South America (in particular Peru and Bolivia) and especially in South East Asia. This financial perspective alone will surely put off many backpackers from even trying to travel around Brazil.

You probably won’t be taking many trains in Brazil, as although there is an extensive rail network, most of it is for cargo only, and even where there are passenger trains they’re almost invariably slower and less convenient than the buses. The bus system in Brazil is excellent (despite a lack of queuing etiquette that makes the Chinese look orderly) and makes travelling around the country easy, comfortable, and fairly economical, despite the distances involved.

Chaos at the bus station!
Chaos at the bus station!
Long distance bus companies, like Pluma, are your best bet
Long distance bus companies, like Pluma, are your best bet

Buses are operated by hundreds of private companies, but prices are reasonable: Rio to São Paulo is around R$80, whereas Rio to the Iguassu Falls costs R$200. Long-distance buses are comfortable enough to sleep in, and have on-board toilets (which can get smelly on long journeys). Buses stop every two or three hours but it is not a bad idea to bring along water and some food of your own.

There are luxury buses called “leitos”, which do overnight runs between the major cities, which are worth taking once for the experience, with fully reclining seats and an attendant plying insomniacs with coffee and conversation. They cost about a third of the price of an air ticket, though twice as much as a normal long-distance bus. “Leitos” also need to be booked a few days in advance. No matter what kind of bus, it’s a good idea to have a light sweater or blanket during night journeys, as the air conditioning is often uncomfortably cold.

The Iguassu Falls are an impressive sight
The Iguassu Falls are an impressive sight
Fernando de Noronha
Fernando de Noronha

If you are interested in backpacking Brazil, and have understood the logistics of doing so, then you may be asking about the major sights in the country, and what would be worth checking out. As if to prove my point about everything being so spaced out, you have the glorious beaches of Fernando de Noronha in the far north, the Amazon in the west, Rio in the east, and of course the aforementioned Iguassu Falls in the south. I found that travel prices to the Amazon are scarily high, as a flight from Sao Paolo or Rio to Manaus is often comparable to an international departure to Florida! Because of this, it may be better off exploring the Amazon from the Peruvian side, but then it asks the question once again: is it worth coming to Brazil at all if you can do most things in other, smaller countries?!

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18 thoughts on “Is it possible to backpack Brazil?

  1. I spent 10 months in Brazil last year, and I fell in love with it, so for me backpacking it is completely worth the hassle! There’s something about it that sets it apart from other South American countries, it’s got its own special feel to it. I’d say look it at like a continent rather than a country, and you’ll feel like you’ve achieved a lot more! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow 10 months is incredible! I guess we need a minimum of 3 months to do it justice, but 10 is just insane! You must be an honorary Brazilian! 😉

      Thinking of Brazil as a continent rather than a country is also great advice, and it’s much like what people think of China. Small steps = big results!

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    1. The north of Brazil (including the Amazon) doesn’t really change weather at all during the year, but for the south of Brazil, the best times to visit are probably March to November, as they are the driest months.

      I hope you have a great trip! 😀

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  2. Hi Lee, found your blog looking for help with the cube theme! A bit frustrated so far, but I love how your blog looks… I’ll keep trying! 🙂 Cool post on Brazil (my home country!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How about the safety Lee? I’ve heard before that Brazil has a problem with safety.
    Traveling to South America is one of my wish list. Unfortunately now, the air fare from Indonesia to any South America country is more expensive than to Europe.

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    1. Safety in Rio is sometimes a bit dangerous…especially with the drugs gangs and whatnot (as a tourist you probably won’t see any). But then again, a Brazilian travelling to Jakarta or Medan would probably have the same fears as you… 😉

      Indonesia to Brazil is an impossible flight. You would have to stop at least once, probably twice, on the way there. Not a flight I would want to do myself.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “But then again, a Brazilian travelling to Jakarta or Medan would probably have the same fears as you…” <— I guess so hahaha 😀

        So, I think it is better to go there as part of South America trip than just to visit Brazil in a single trip 🙂

        Thank you Lee …

        Like

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