Air service covers most of Brazil. Many flights make many stops en route, particularly in hubs as São Paulo or Brasilia. Most all airports with regular passenger traffic are operated by the federal.Infraero. They have a very convenient website, with an English version. It lists all the airlines operating at each airport, and also has updated flight schedules.
There are now several Brazilian booking engines that are good (although not perfect) for comparing flights and prices between different companies. They will mostly include an extra fee, hence it is cheaper to book on the airline’s own site.
The Brazilian airline scene changes surprisingly often. The largest carriers are LATAM and Gol, which share more than 80% of the domestic market between them. The traditional Varig is now just another brand of Gol. Others include Avianca and Azul. TRIP has short-haul flights to smaller airports throughout the country, and Puma is growing in the same segment. Portuguese TAP has a few domestic code shares with TAM. There are also regional companies.
Booking on the domestic carriers’ sites can be frustrating for non-Brazilian citizens. Often, you will be asked for your CPF (national identity number) while paying by credit card. Even if you -as a foreigner- have a CPF, the sites will often not recognize it. Gol now accepts international cards, but the system is buggy (Oct 2010). One trick that might work is to visit one of the airlines’ foreign websites, although prices may vary. Many flights can also be found on foreign booking engines where no CPF is needed. If you book weeks in advance, most carriers will give you the option to pay by bank deposit (boleto bancário), which is actually payable by cash not only in banks, but also in a number of supermarkets, pharmacies and other stores. Buying a ticket at a travel agent is generally R$30 more expensive, noting that certain special offers can only be found online.
Many domestic flights have so many stops that some, including yours, may be missing from the listings in the airports. Double check your flight number and confirm with ground staff.
Certain domestic flights in Brazil are “international”, meaning that the flight has arrived from abroad and is continuing without clearing all passengers through customs and immigration. This means ALL passengers must do this at the next stop, even those having boarded in Brazil. Do NOT fill out a new immigration form, but show what you were given upon actual arrival to Brazil.
Brazil has the largest road network in Latin America with over 1.6 million kilometres. A car is a good idea if you want to explore scenic areas, e.g. the historic cities of Minas Gerais, the Rio-Santos highway, or the beaches in North-East Brazil. There are the usual car rental companies at the airports.
Many roads are in good condition, especially in the east and south of the country and along the coast. In other areas and outside the metropolitan regions there are also gravel and dirt roads for which an off-road vehicle can be strongly recommended. This especially applies to the Amazon area where many roads are difficult or not at all passable during the rainy season from November to March. This is why it is advisable to travel with a good map and to be well informed about distances, road conditions and the estimated travel time. Road maps of the brand Guia Quatro Rodas was available in the most newsstands in Brazil until 2015, but they ceased to be published from that year. Cochera andina publishes useful information on almost 300 routes in the country. In theory, the driving rules of Brazil resemble those of Western Europe or North America. In practice, driving in Brazil can be quite scary if you are used to European (even Mediterranean) or North American road culture, due to widespread violations of driving rules, and the toleration thereof.
Distances kept to other vehicles are kept at a bare minimum, overtaking whenever close to possible, and changing lanes without much of a prior signal. Many large cities also suffer from hold-ups when you wait at a red light in the night. Even if there is no risk of robbery, many drivers (including of city buses) run red lights or stop signs at night when they do not see incoming traffic from the cross street. Drivers also indulge in “creative” methods of saving time, such as using the reverse direction lanes. In rural areas, many domestic animals are left at the roadside, and they sometimes wanders into the traffic. Pedestrians take enormous chances crossing the road, since many drivers do not bother to slow down if they see pedestrians crossing. The quality of the paving is very varied, and the presence of enormous potholes is something that strongly discourages night-driving. Also consider the risk of highway hold-ups after dark, not to mention truck drivers on amphetamines (to keep awake for days in a row).
- In Brazil cars are driven on the right hand side of the road.
- A flashing left signal means that the car ahead is warning you not to pass, for some reason. If the car ahead of you wants to show you that it is safe to pass it will flash the right signal. The right signal is the same signal to indicate that you’re going to stop on the side of the road, so it means you’re going to slow down. On the other hand the left signal is the same signal to indicate you’re going to pass the car ahead, meaning you’re going to speed up.
- Flashing, twinkling headlights from the cars coming on the opposite side of the road means caution on the road ahead. Most of the time, it indicates that there are animals, cops or speed radar ahead.
- Keep the doors locked when driving, especially in the larger cities, as robberies at stop signs and red lights are quite common in some areas. You’ll make it much easier for the robber if he can simply open up the door and sit down. Be equally careful with keeping your windows wide open, as someone might put their hands inside your car and steal a wallet, for instance. Leave your handbags and valuables out of sight.
Brazil’s railway system was mostly wrecked during the military regimes. Today there are few passenger lines left:
- The Serra Verde Express from Curitiba to Paranaguá. This scenic 150 km long railroad links the capital of Paraná to the coastal cities of Morretes and Paranaguá, through the beautiful Serra do Mar mountains covered with mata atlântica forest. The trip takes about 3 hours and has bilingual guides. Trains leave daily at 08:15 and prices start from about R$50 (round-trip) – see Curitiba#Get out for more information.
- From São João del Rei to Tiradentes – This 35-minute trip on a steam train is almost like time travel. The train operates Fri-Sun, with departures from São João at 10:00 and 15:00 and 13:00 and 17:00 from Tiradentes. The round trip costs R$16.
- From Belo Horizonte to Vitória – Daily trains operated by Companhia Vale do Rio Doce leave Belo Horizonte at 07:30 and Vitória at 07:00. Travel time is about twelve and a half hours. Tickets are sold at the train stations and a single 2nd class fare costs about R$65 (and R$89 for first class). Seats are limited and it is not possible to reserve, so it is advisable to buy in advance at the Vale’s website. The railway is the second longest passenger line of Brazil, almost 700 km long.
- From Ouro Preto to Mariana – Weekend (and holiday) scenic trains operated by Compania Vale do Rio Doce and ABPF (Associação Brasileira de Preservação Ferroviária). Leaves Ouro Preto (or Mariana) in different times, depending on the day, or holliday (It’s advisable to consult the timetable prior abording or buying tickets). The train runs to both cities in 2 departures by day (sometimes three), and pass by some untouched and preserved atlantic forest reserves, with astonishing landscapes. The travel takes about 1 hour and it’s 16 km long. From 2016, the prices starts from R$40 (or R$58 if you buy the round-trip ticket).
- From São Luis to Parauapebas – interesting because part of it passes through the Amazon rainforest and it’s the longest passenger railway of Brazil, almost 900 km long.
- From Macapá to Serra do Navio
- From Campinas to Jaguariuna. Part of the old Ferrovia Mogiana, which was built to facilitate coffee exports in the late 19th and early 20th century. Entertaining guides. Only at weekends and holidays. Some steam trains. Inexpensive. About 1 h each way.
BY INTER-CITY BUS:
Long-distance buses are a convenient, economical, and sometimes (usually if you buy the most expensive ticket), rather comfortable way to travel between regions. The bus terminal (rodoviária) in cities play a role akin to train stations in many countries. You should check travel distance and time while traveling within Brazil; going from Rio de Janeiro to the south region could take more than 24 hours, so it may be worth going by plane if you can afford it.
Brazil has a very good long distance bus network. Basically, any city of more than 100,000 people will have direct lines to the nearest few state capitals, and also to other large cities within the same range. Pretty much any little settlement has public transport of some kind (a lorry, perhaps) to the nearest real bus station.
Mostly you have to go to the bus station to buy a ticket, although most major bus companies make reservations and sell tickets by internet with the requirement that you pick up your ticket sometime in advance. In a few cities you can also buy a ticket on the phone and have it delivered to your hotel for an extra charge of some 3-5 reais. Some companies have also adopted the airlines’ genius policy of pricing: In a few cases buying early can save you more than 50%. The facility of flagging a bus and hopping on (if there are no available seats you will have to stand, still paying full price) is widespread in the country. This is less likely to work along a few routes where armed robberies have happened frequently, such as those leading to the border with Paraguay and to Foz do Iguaçu.
There is no one bus company that serves the whole country, so you need to identify the company that connect two cities in particular by calling the bus station of one city. Be aware that some big cities like São Paulo and Rio have more than one bus station, each one covering certain cities around. It is good to check in advance to which bus station you are going.
Busca Ônibus is a useful resource for finding bus schedules.
Bus services are often sold in three classes: Regular, Executive and First-Class (Leito, in Portuguese). Regular may or may not have air conditioning. For long distances or overnight travels, Executive offers more space and a folding board to support your legs. First-Class has even more space and only three seats per row, making enough space to sleep comfortably.
All trips of more than 4 hours are covered by buses with bathrooms and the buses stop for food/bathrooms at least once every 4 hours of travel.
Brazilian bus stations, known as rodoviária or terminal rodoviário, tend to be located away from city centers. They are often in pretty sketchy areas, so if you travel at night be prepared to take a taxi to/from the station. There will also be local bus lines.
Even if you have a valid ticket bought from elsewhere, some Brazilian bus stations may also require a boarding card. This can be obtained from the bus company, often for a supplement fee. If you buy a ticket in the departure bus station you will also be given this boarding card.
Rodoviárias include many services, including fast-food restaurants, cafés, Internet cafés, toilets and left luggage. As a general rule, the larger the city, the more expensive the services (e.g. leaving a suitcase as left luggage in a smaller city may cost R$1, but in Recife in might cost you R$5).
When buying tickets, as well as when boarding the bus, you may be asked for proof of ID. Brazilian federal law requires this for interstate transportation. Not all conductors know how to read foreign passports, so be prepared to show them that the name of the passport truly is the same as the name on the ticket.
BY RIDE SHARING:
Intercity buses are rather expensive in Brazil, compared to Paraguay or even Bolivia. However, many people offer shared rides between many popular destinations. The most notable website for finding rides is BlaBlaCar, which also has a rating system for drivers, making the trip very secure, especially for Brazilian standards. This way, you can easily bring down your transport costs by 40-50%. Costs are about R$20 per 100 km.
Also, it can be considerably faster, without unnecessary stops at restaurants and such. The BlaBlaCar website is free, and you only pay the driver directly. But they will almost certainly charge in the future like they do for other countries as well. But until the taxation status of such services (including Uber) is settled by the government, the free system will not change.
Do not underestimate the desire of Brazilians to discuss and talk about each and everything, and to give their opinions about even the most remote nonsense. This can be highly stressful if you got a different temperament, prefer a quiet drive and just want to reach your destination.
BY CITY BUS:
Most cities have extensive bus services. Multiple companies may serve a single city. There is almost never a map of the bus lines, and often bus stops are unmarked. Be prepared for confusion and wasted time.
Buses have a board behind the windshield that advertises the main destinations they serve. You may have to ask the locals for information, but they may not know bus lines except the ones they usually take.
In most cities you have to wave to stop the bus when you want to take it. This in itself would not pose a problem; however, in big cities there may be dozens of bus lines stopping at a given bus stop and bus stops are not designed to accommodate so many vehicles. Frequently one cannot observe the oncoming buses due to other buses blocking the view. Bus drivers are reluctant to slow down for a bus stop if they are not sure someone will take their bus, so it is common to miss your bus because you could not see it coming to wave on time or the driver did not see you waving in between buses already at the stop. Some people go into the middle of a busy street to wait for their bus to make sure they see it and the driver sees them. In some places, like Manaus, drivers even tend to ignore stop requests (both to get on and to get off) if it is not too easy to navigate to the bus stop.
Most city buses have both a driver and a conductor. The conductor sits behind a till next to a turnstile. You have to pay the conductor; the price of the bus is usually advertised on the windshield. The turnstiles are narrow, and very inconvenient if one carries any kind of load (try balancing a heavy backpack over the turnstile while the bus is running). Larger buses often have a front section, before the turnstile, meant in priority for the elderly, handicapped and pregnant women – you can use it but you still have to pay! Typical prices are around R$3.
You can try asking the conductor to warn you when the bus is close to your destination. Depending on whether he or she understands you and feels like helping you, you may get help.
In addition to large city buses, there are often minibuses or minivans (alternativo). You pay the driver when you go aboard.
In the Amazon region as well as on the coast west of Sao Luis, boat travel is often the only way to get around.
Brazil has availability of some e-hailing services, Uber being the largest of them. Notable e-hailing services in Brazil, are:
- Uber (covering the majority of the big capitals and more than 20 other cities)
- Cabify (covers some capitals)
- T-81 (Brazilian app, covers some capitals)