When I told my family I would be making a trip to Brazil, the reactions I got were surprising. “Woah you’re so brave, be careful they have the zika, stash your cash in your underwear to keep thieves at bay.” WHAT!? The internet only added to my mounting fears. I read countless Brazil travel tip articles and blogs warning me about the “dangers” of Brazil. Truth moment, it spooked me. What was I getting myself into? But the pricey flights were booked, so you better believe I was going!
I arrived in Brazil in the dead of night and all the stories of people getting robbed at the airport were quickly extinguished. I called an Uber, was swiftly picked up, arrived at my AirBnB, and was greeted by my friendly host. It was right then I knew, Brazil was not what people told me.
I spent a week in the beautiful, melaninated, party loving city of Rio and I felt duped. Rio was not what the western world painted it out to be. I never once felt scared, targeted, or threatened and “the zika” was nowhere in sight. Better yet, I felt more at home in Brazil than I do in the states. I used my street smarts to stay safe as you should in any big city but, there are some things in Brazil you should always do to get the most out your trip.
Here are my Brazil Travel Tips:
1. Couch-Surf, Airbnb, or Stay with a Local
Staying with a local was far and away the best thing I did when traveling to Rio. One, it took me out of the tourist zone and showed me the “suburbs” of Rio. Two, my host introduced me to the Brazilian culture and city of Rio. Giving me the intel on where all the safe areas were (hint: almost everywhere) and how to live like a Brazilian.
2. Dress Like a Brazilian
Ditch the walking shoes and hiking boots and pick up a pair of Havaianas flips flops. Brazilians wear them everywhere from the beach to the board room. I’m serious. I saw a guy in business suit rocking a pair of black Havaianas on Ipanema Beach. Match your flops with a comfy pair shorts and a t-shirt for guys, ladies slip on a colorful sundress and you’ll be mistaken for a local in no time. When you’re on the beach, a teenie weenie bikini is the only way to go or you’ll find yourself getting a bunch of giggles on your “conservative” attire.
3. Learn Portuguese
Very few people speak anything other than Portuguese in Brazil. You can get by with elementary Spanish but learning a few words and phrases in Portuguese makes life much. Not to mention it’s polite and helps you blend in.
I’ll even get you started:
Good Morning – Bom Dia (bong jee-ah), Good afternoon – Boa Tarde (bowa tarjay), Good evening / Good night – Boa Noite! (bowa noychay), Hi / how are you? – Tudo bem? (toodoo beng), Cheers – Saúde! (Salood)
4. Asked a Carioca
Carioca’s are Rio natives and they are some of the most helpful people. If you want to practice a bit of Portuguese instead of looking at Google aimlessly wondering around the city ask a Caricoca. In my experience, they are more than happy to point you to a great place to best place to snag beer I promise they won’t disappoint.
5. Watch Your Hands
I learned this one the hard way. Picking up hair from beauty store and using Google Translate to facilitate a conversation, I ignorantly flashed the okay hand sign 👌 to the lovely lady helping me. Her look of surprise and disgust told me this was not the way to thank someone in Brazil. Avoid this using hand signs at all and just flash a bright smile and you should be fine.
6. Get Your Visa Early
Don’t be like me. Be better. Before you book your flight, start the Visa process. I was the rookie that bought my expensive plane ticket and completely forgot about a travel visa. I ran to the Brazilian consulate to get a rush Visa issued ready to shell out hundreds of dollars. Luckily for me, the Brazilian president that week lifted the Visa requirement for the Olympics. The dates fell right on my trip and I was able to enter without out issue. Thank the Lawd.
7. Friday is the Party, Sunday time to Rest
If you only party until 2a you just went out for a long dinner as they say in Rio. Rio will keep you up until 6a with parties in the street and all through the Lapa neighborhood. The city does have balance. Brazil has a rich Catholic history that still lingers in the culture today. Sunday is a day for rest, family, food, beaches, and recuperation. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything other a few restaurants and the beaches open on a Sunday and find most Brazilians spending time with family and friends before returning to work.
You can’t judge a country by the media. For all the negative press Brazil and Rio get it just didn’t live up to the hype. If I had listened to what my family, friends, and media told me I would have never experienced one of the most vivid and breathtaking cities or experienced the Afro-Brazilian diaspora. Sometimes just go with your gut.