Brazilian Tourist Board (Embratur)
Resource for English-speaking people around the world with information, knowledge, understanding, assistance, help, and practical tips about Brazil and its vast expanses, peoples, culture, language, customs, mores, history, as well as the dichotomies that one may encounter. The site makes every effort to keep all pages as up-to-date as humanly possible. Additionally, new topics and information are added as required or available.
Most Brazilian travel guides use a five star rating for hotels—five stars indicating the best, most luxurious, and expensive hotels and the one stars, which are the cheap places offering little more than a room and a shower. But this system can sometimes be deceptive and hotels which may have once had a higher rating continue to advertise themselves (and charge) at that rate even though they may have slipped considerably. True five star hotels in Brazil are not cheap. Many experienced travelers in Brazil opt for hotels with a two or three star rating because they offer clean, basic accommodations at reasonable rates. Often, a three star hotel will be just fine as long as it appears to be clean and well looked after. If you don't have a personal recommendation or know of a specific hotel, it's best to consult with an experienced travel agent. They can make hotel reservations for you.
In many places, what you pay for a room will depend upon whether it is their 'high season' or 'low season'. This depends upon the city you're in and the time of year. For example, Carnaval is definitely 'high season' in Rio de Janeiro (as well as other popular locales) and you will pay a premium price for any hotel room. 'High season' throughout Brazil is generally considered to be July and the period extending from December through February (the end of Carnaval). Easter is also considered a 'high season.'
Most every hotel in Brazil includes café da manhã (breakfast), which usually consists of a buffet including various breads, cakes, cheeses, cold meats, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, juices, coffee, etc. Many hotels include (or offer for an additional fee) individual room safes to store your valuables while your out of your room. If the hotel doesn't have individual room safes, many will lock your valuables in their main safe. Neither is a bad idea if you have concerns. Many newer hotels have central hot water systems but, you may encounter shower heads (in some hotels) with electrical wires coming out of them. Don't be alarmed, these are simply common appliances that electrically heat water directly at the shower head. Many hotels include (or offer for an additional fee) high speed Internet access plug or a wireless Internet system, if not in the room, then at least at a computer somewhere in the hotel. Because electricity is expensive in Brazil, hallway lights in many hotels are turned on my motion detectors. Many newer hotels also employ systems that automatically turn off all room lights when you leave.
Do not confuse Brazilian motels with motels in North America. In Brazil, motels (unlike most hotels) offer hourly rates. Get the picture? On the other hand, especially in some smaller cities, a local motel may offer the best accommodations available in the area and, usually, at a reasonable overnight rate. It is something to consider in some situations. Most hotels have a checkout time of between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm. Be sure you know the checkout time before you have to pay for another full day you don't need. If you're scheduled to leave Brazil on a night flight, most hotels will store your luggage for you from the time of your checkout until your departure for the airport. Many will do this for free but some may charge a small fee.
FOOD AND RESTAURANTS
Most Brazilians eat a "continental" breakfast consisting of fresh fruit and/or juice, bread, butter, requeijão (a spreadable cheese) or cheese, and café com leite(coffee with milk). The biggest meal of the day for most Brazilians is almoço (lunch), usually between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm. Dinner or supper in Brazil is usually (but not always) lighter and can start anywhere from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm at night. Arroz and feijão (rice and beans) are basic in Brazil and likely to be found as part of almost any lunch or dinner.
Most restaurants where you order from the menu (and have a waiter) will automatically add a 10% service charge to your conta (bill). This the waiter's tip. Unless the service was exceptional and/or very personal, there's no need to leave anything additional. Many restaurants cannot add the tip to a credit card charge and the waiter may inform you of this fact as he points out his uncharged 10% on the conta (bill). He'll want cash.
For lunch, most cities have restaurants offering comida por peso (food by weight). You simply fill your plate from a large buffet table consisting of various meat, fish, vegetable, pasta, and salad choices—sometimes as many as thirty different hot items with an equal number of cold or salad items. The price is determined by the weight of your plate minus the weight of the plate itself. Prices vary from one restaurant to another but at the better restaurants generally range anywhere from R$ 20 to R$ 40+ per kilo. One half kilo is usually plenty unless you're very hungry. Many smaller cities will also have buffet style restaurants but, rather than change by weight, they charge a single, fixed priced for all you can eat.
You'll find lanchonetes almost everywhere in Brazil but they're not necessarily about lunch in spite of how close the word lanchonete looks or sounds like the English word luncheonette. A lanchonete is a snack bar, usually offering various types of sandwiches, often including the cachorro quente (hot dog), x-búrguer(cheeseburger), misto quente (hot ham and cheese sandwich), bauru (ham, cheese and tomato), americano (egg, ham, cheese, tomato and lettuce) as well as salgados (salty snacks) and fresh fruit juices, water, soft drinks, beer, and more. You also may find salgaderias in some places. They offer a wide variety of salgados (salty snacks) including coxinhas (chicken filled, teardrop-shaped appetizers), pastéis [meat and/or cheese and/or palmito (hearts of palm)-filled envelopes], empadinhas (chicken or meat filled pies), bolinhos de bacalhau (cod fish balls), kibe (ground meat appetizer with Middle Eastern origins), and other finger foods. They are typically very inexpensive.
Churrascarias (barbecued meat restaurants) are common throughout Brazil. Most are all all you can eat restaurants and charge a flat price per person. Most all churrascarias offer an extensive salad bar and an almost never ending rodízio (rotation) of different cuts of beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and fish all served table side by waiters wielding long, sword-like spits filled with meat. The rodízio of meat will continue as long as your table's 'signal' is turned to green and you're still able to see. Vegetarians should avoid churrascarias like the plague.
Feijoada (black bean and meat stew) was probably first concocted by slaves and, in many ways, is the quintessential Brazilian "soul food." If Brazil has a national dish, feijoada is it. Feijoada for Saturday lunch is a tradition although there are restaurants who proudly serve it seven days a week. Feijoada is made with black beans, ham hocks, lingüiça (pork sausage), bacon, ham, pork ribs, carne seca (dried beef), and other beef and pork cuts. Traditional or "real" feijoada (feijoada legítima) also includes pork feet, ears, tail, and tongue but these are often omitted for sake of the squeamish. Feijoada is normally served accompanied with rice, farofa (manioc meal fried with bacon, garlic, onion and chopped boiled egg), couve mineira (thinly sliced collard greens sautéed in olive oil with garlic and bacon), and orange slices to help counteract all the grease.
Many restaurants in larger cities have bilingual or even trilingual menus (Portuguese, English and Spanish). Many restaurants in the larger cities will have a separate English menu available. Ask if you're not sure what they offer. Many shoppings (shopping centers/malls) in the larger cities have a food court with numerous walk up restaurants offering a wide variety of different food choices and ample open seating. They can be a good option for lunch. In most of the larger cities, you'll find at least one McDonald's but, with the array of Brazilian food available, why would you want to?
Many nightclubs in Brazil may open as late as midnight while more than a few bars remain open as long as there is a single customer. The legal drinking age in Brazil is 18. Por favor, beba com responsabilidade! If you are going to drink, do it responsibly.
In addition to restaurants offering Brazilian regional food (comida) specialties from, for example, the states of Bahia (comida baiana), Minas Gerais (comida mineira) and elsewhere, most large Brazilian cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo offer a wide variety of cuisines and restaurants—from Italian, French, German and Spanish to Middle Eastern, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and other Asian cuisines. Let your stomach and your nose be your guide.
SHOPPING AND SERVICES
Stores and offices are normally open Monday through Friday from 9:00 or 10:00 am to 6:00 pm as well as from 9:00 or 10:00 am to 1:00 pm on Saturdays. Most shoppings (shopping centers/malls) are open until at least 8:00 pm and many until 10:00 pm. Many farmácias (pharmacies) and drogarias (drug stores) are also open on Sundays and some supermercados (supermarkets) in larger cities are open 24 hours.
Normal banking hours in Brazil are from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday and most Brazilian cities of any size have at least one full service branch office of, at least, Banco do Brasil (Bank of Brazil). Brazilian banks have literally thousands of ATM machines throughout Brazil and many are open 24 hours.
Leather goods such as shoes, purses, belts, etc., are relatively inexpensive in Brazil and of excellent design and quality. Clothing for men, women and children is usually inexpensive in Brazil, but more expensive than in the US. You may want to pack a swimsuit but you should certainly check out the Brazilian fashions. Electronics and other similar manufactured items are most often more expensive in Brazil than elsewhere, so it's not your best place to find bargains on these things.
Natural crystals and other polished, semi-precious stones are generally a good bargain. There are also numerous jewelry items (bracelets, necklaces, earrings, etc.) made from semi-precious stones that are inexpensive, unique, beautifully designed and make good souvenirs or presents. Items carved from crystal, semi-precious stones and soapstone (parrots, macaws, bowls, cups, ashtrays, etc.) are a usually bargain and make a uniquely Brazilian souvenir or present. In some parts of the Brazilian northeast, handmade lace is both gorgeous and relatively inexpensive. Art, sculpture and handmade arts and crafts can be both inexpensive as well as good souvenirs or presents.
With most newer releases costing R$ 20 to R$ 30 or more, music CDs are not necessarily inexpensive in Brazil but, if you want to add to your Brazilian music collection, this is the place to do it. Sometimes, you may find a promoção (sale) where you can pick up older releases for considerably less. Avoid buying CDs or DVDs from street vendors because they are usually pirated copies and often won't play on any machine anywhere.
Many Brazilian cities have Sunday street fairs (some have them daily) where you can browse among the booths of individual vendors selling a staggering variety of clothing, shoes, handmade jewelry, arts and crafts, hammocks, furniture, food, etc., etc., etc., and etc. Most Brazilian cities of almost any size have a mercado municipal (municipal market) selling a dazzling variety of fresh meat, fruits, vegetables, jewelry, clothing, shoes, household items, birds, and other animals—almost everything available in the community. Most are housed indoors but there are also many "open air" markets throughout Brazil. They are fascinating places to browse, people watch, shop and get a feel for Brazilians and their way of life. A dazzling variety of fresh tropical fruit is available throughout Brazil—from mangoes, papayas, pineapples, passion fruit, and numerous others you've probably never heard of or seen, to numerous varieties of bananas not available anywhere in North America or Europe. Unfortunately, you can't bring back any fresh fruit with you so get your fill while you're there.
Items such as film, batteries (AA, AAA, D, C) and other such consumables are readily available throughout Brazil. Drogarias (drug stores) and supermercados(supermarkets) stock almost every personal toiletry item you may want or need including well known international marcas (brands) including Colgate, Close Up, Oral-B, Palmolive, Schick, Gilette, Johnson & Johnson, Kleenex, Listerine, Nivea, L'Oréal and many others (in addition to Brazilian brands). Don't be alarmed if you see a store sign that includes the notation "Cia." It has nothing to do with the CIA of spook fame. "Cia." is merely the common abbreviation of the Portuguese word companhia (company).