Carnival in Salvador da Bahía, Brazil
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Transport in Brazil

Local travel in Brazil is always easy. Public transport outside of the Amazon is generally by bus or plane, though there are a few passenger trains, too. However you travel, services will be crowded, plentiful and, apart from planes, cheap.

Car rental is also possible, but driving in Brazil is not for the faint-hearted. Some international car rental companies have local agencies and there are quite a few reliable Brazilian ones as well. Hitchhiking, over any distance, is not recommended.


The bus system in Brazil is excellent, as good as anywhere in the Americas, and makes traveling around the country easy, comfortable and economical, despite the distances involved. Intercity buses leave from a station called a Rodoviária, usually built on city outskirts.

Buses are operated by hundreds of private companies, but prices are standardized, even when more than one firm plies the same route, and are very reasonable: Rio to São Paulo is around $20, Rio to Belo Horizonte $35, Rio to Foz do Iguaçu $35, São Paulo to Brasília $50, Recife to Salvador $35 and Fortaleza to Belém $55. Long-distance buses are comfortable enough to sleep in, and have on-board toilets (which can get smelly on long journeys): the lower your seat number, the further away from them you'll be. Buses stop every two or three hours at well-supplied postos, but as prices are high it is not a bad idea to bring along water and some food to last the journey. Some bus companies will supply meal vouchers for use at the postos on long journeys.

There are luxury buses, too, called leitos, which do nocturnal runs between the major cities - worth taking once for the experience, with fully reclining seats in curtained partitions, freshly ironed sheets and an attendant plying insomniacs with coffee and conversation. They cost about a third of the price of an air ticket, and between two and three times as much as a normal long-distance bus; they are also less frequent and need to be booked a few days in advance. No matter what kind of bus, it is a good idea to have a light sweater or blanket during night journeys as the air-conditioning is always uncomfortably cold.


It is hardly surprising that a country the size of Brazil relies on air travel a good deal; in some parts of Amazonia air links are more important than either the roads or rivers. Any town has at least an airstrip, and all cities have airports, usually some distance from the city but not always: Santos Dumont in Rio, Guarulhos in São Paulo and Guararapes in Recife are all pretty central. The main domestic carriers are VASP (, Varig (, Transbrasil ( and TAM (; important regional airlines include the Varig subsidiaries RioSul (mainly serving the south) and RioNordeste (covering the Amazon region), together with Viabrasil, which connects São Paulo with Fortaleza, Natal, João Pessoa and Recife in the Northeast.

Flying to the Northeast or Amazonia from Southern Brazil can be tiresome, as many of these long-distance routes are no more than glorified bus runs, stopping everywhere before heading north again. In planning your itinerary, it is a good idea to check carefully how many times a plane stops - for example, between São Paulo and Fortaleza a flight may stop as many as four times or as few as one. On scheduled domestic flights you should check in an hour before take-off, but expect delays if the plane you are catching is arriving from elsewhere.

Trains, ferries and boats

You probably won't be taking many trains in Brazil. Although there's an extensive rail network, much of it is for cargo only, and even where there are passenger trains they are almost invariably slower and less convenient than the buses. Exceptions are a few tourist journeys worth making for themselves, in the South and Minas Gerais especially.

Water travel and ferries are also important forms of transport in parts of Brazil. Specific details are included in the relevant parts of the Guide, but look out for the ferry to Niterói, without which no journey to Rio would be complete; Salvador, where there are regular services to islands and towns in the huge bay on which the city is built; in the South between the islands of the Bay of Paranaguá and most of all in Amazonia.

City transport

Shoals of local buses clog city streets: you enter at the back - where route details are posted - and move through a turnstile as you pay your fare. Fares are all flat-rate, and rarely more than 50¢. Buses often get unbelievably crowded, and in large cities are favorite targets for pickpockets. It is safer to go immediately through the turnstile even when there are seats at the rear, as assaltantes prefer the backs of buses where they can make a quick getaway through the rear door. There are also good modern metrô systems in Rio, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre and Recife. Again, they are cheap and efficient, and they are also relatively safe - but, since they weren't built with tourism in mind, their routes are not always the most useful.

Driving and car rental

Driving standards in Brazil hover between the abysmal and the appalling. Brazil has one of the highest death tolls from driving-related accidents in the world, and on any journey you can see why, with thundering trucks and drivers treating the road as if it were a Grand Prix racetrack. City driving would make even an Italian blanch, and takes a lot of getting used to. Fortunately, inter-city bus drivers are the exception to the rule: they are usually very good, and many buses have devices fitted that make it impossible for them to exceed the speed limit.

Road quality varies according to region: the South and Southeast have a good paved network; the Northeast has a good network on the coast but is poor in the interior; and roads in Amazonia are by far the worst, with even major highways closed for weeks or months at a time as they are washed away by the rains. Around half of Brazilian cars now run on álcool - a mixture of petroleum-based fuel and alcohol - which is half the price of gasolina, but which works less efficiently. Outside of the towns and cities, service stations can be few and far between, so keep a careful eye on the fuel gauge. Service stations do not accept international credit cards, so make sure you always have sufficient cash.

Source: TravelNow Destination Guides

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