Travel tips and destinations for Brazil or Peru?
February 20, 2005 3:59 PM   Subscribe

Me and a friend of mine are planning a 9-day trip to South America, likely Brazil or Peru. Are there any specific things we should know/do before we go and destinations we should see when we get there?

How many cities, say in Brazil, can we cover in that timespan? I've been told about some universal flight ticket there that allows you to take unlimited trips within the interior for a limited time, does anyone know about this? My preliminary plan for Brazil would be to stay in the triangle occupied by Rio, Sao Paulo and Brasilia/Chapada dos Veadeiros, based on my reading of the Lonely Planet website.

As far as Peru's concerned, we were originally contemplating this because of the supposed history of the place, what with it being the seat of the Incan empire, but I've been told by modern day folks that it's actually kind of dull compared to sexed-up Brazil.

Any suggestions, anecdotes or warnings will be well-appreciated.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
i guess this is obvious, but they speak different languages in those two countries. so if interacting with other people is an important part of what you would be doing then, for example, you might prefer peru if you speak spanish.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:18 PM on February 20, 2005

I wouldn't bother with Brasilia, in Brazil. I've lived there, and while it's a nice place to live, you wouldn't want to visit.

What sort of things are you interested. Do you prefer to see things or do things? Do you like to do indoor things or adventure things? Do you like high culture, folk culture or pop culture? Brazil is a vast and varied country with a lot to offer, telling you what to see and do there would be like answering the question 'Hey, I'm going to be in the USA for 9 days. What should I do?'. I would say, though, that a trip to Brazil that doesn't include a stop in the Northeast (Salvador, Natal, Recife, etc) wasn't a real trip to Brazil.

There were, in the past at least, internal flight tickets that would let you take a certain number of flights in a certain number of days in Brazil. They were quite cheap, and had to be purchased from a travel agent overseas, they couldn't be bought in Brazil itself. In any major city there's likely to be a travel agent that specializes in Brazil, or at least South America. Try to find them.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:55 PM on February 20, 2005

Response by poster: andrew: Yeah, neither of us is fluent in Spanish or Portuguese so that wouldn't really be a major factor.

jacquilynne: We're interested in off-the-beaten-path culture, stuff that isn't packed with tourists. Obviously, you can't avoid it entirely if you want to see some of the sites. I've had a vague interest in seeing the favelas after hearing a compilation of the music coming out of them, for instance, but is this a good idea? Obviously I'd love to check out the Amazon, but I'm guessing that it's probably a trip in and of itself?

I did find that pass, which seems to be called a Brazil Airpass available at multiple airlines.

Why wouldn't a trip minus those stops in the Northeast be considered a real trip to Brazil? Any of those destinations you mention in particular that you'd recommend above the others?
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 7:06 PM on February 20, 2005

Big Fat Tycoon, I live in Brazil and have a bit of travel
experience around here. Stuff that isn't packed with tourists usually has less
infrastructure, but offers unspoilt sites. It's up to you, off the beaten path
you'll be less comfortable and have a tougher time communicating.

There are many sites which are worth visiting which will not be too crowded.
jacquilynne is right, you shouldn't bother with Brasilia unless
you are into Oscar Niemeyer's architecture. With 9 days in the country you really
would be wasting your time.

Chapada dos Veadeiros
is not really off the beaten path. Its a national park and there are quite a
few tourists. If you go, hire a local tour company called Travessia,
owned by a photographer called Ion David. If you're up to vertical stuff, I
recommend canyoning the valley of the Rio Macaquinho. It's outside the park
and quite beautiful.

A few suggestions:

-Fernando de Noronha Island is perhaps one of the most expensive destinations
in Brazil, but it is a tropical island paradise. Highlights: dolphins, good
surf, beautiful. Your airpass won't take you there, but you may fly to Recife
and divide your trip between Noronha, Olinda, and Recife.

-Chapada Diamantina
[+] is accessible from Salvador,
(400km bad road, avoid at night due to robberies), and to me is more interesting
than Chapada dos Veadeiros (i've been to both). Hire local guides from Nativos
da Chapada in Lençois. Highlights: long treks, fun in the tyrolean travese
in Poço do Diabo, Poço Encantado, and the 120 meter rapel in the
Buracão Waterfall in Ibicoara (4th pic down on link above).

-Bonito.You may arrange to
spend part of your time in Bonito and the rest in the Pantanal region. In Bonito
(not as expensive as Fernando de Noronha but also one of the expensive destinations
in Brazil) you may float down a crystal clear river, go rafting, and rappel
into a cave, dive in it, then use ascenders to exit Abismo
, not cheap but highly recommended. The Pantanal
offers the chance to see more wildlife than anywhere else in the country.

-Lençois Maranhenses
offers a desert with lakes in it.Very nice, and worth a visit.

-If you go to the Amazon,
please don't do the gringo thing and go to Ariaú.
That is not the Amazon, but a theme park based on it. Instead, book a river
trip with someone like Kleber, from Katerre.
Ask to visit Novo Airão on the Rio Negro and swim with pink bottlenose
dolphins, I did this last year and it is an experience you will never forget.
Take a short river trip to get a feel for the region, then take a bus to Presidente
Figueiredo and visit some waterfalls, caves, and other spots there.

-For something completely off the beaten path, take the 3 day rafting trip
down the Rio Novo in Jalapão, in the state of Tocantins. I've done it
and even though the rapids aren't that strong (class 2, 3+ at most), the water
is potable, you'll camp every night by the river in really nice spots, and you
won't see other people for days. There is one company
offering this trip and they run a world class operation.

-For your short trip, you might as well go to Rio, check out some stuff (hang
gliding is always fun, you can do a favela tour if you are curious), then go
to Buzios or Ilha Grande. Buzios is more developed, has intense nightlife, and
23 beaches on a peninsula. All of them are better than the beaches in Rio. Ilha
Grande is wilder, has no cars (get a ferry from Angra dos Reis), and the oceanic
side is very nice. I kayaked around the island once and really love the place.
Neither of these are really off the beaten path though.

Feel free to send me an e-mail if you need any help.

posted by ig at 8:31 PM on February 20, 2005 [3 favorites]

Lonely Planet runs a great site, The Thorn Tree that has a billboard with heaps of people putting up questions and answers. You might want to try asking your question there.
posted by sien at 2:05 AM on February 21, 2005

Some clarification and additional comments on ig's incredible list.

The Northeast is, in my opinion, the most interesting cultural region of Brazil. Salvador is the mecca of Brazilian music, for example, and while big shows in the Pelorinho can be overly touristed, they're still worth seeing. And a lot of the tourists will be Brazilian tourists, which I think makes a difference, as well. Getting into Recife or Natal, or even the less heavily touristed parts of Salvador would give you a glimpse of the culture that you wouldn't see in Rio, for example.

Personally, I wouldn't take a favela tour, since I don't think poor people ought to be treated as a tourist attraction. I think there's a lot to be said for going to the favelas as an appreciation of their culture, as you've suggested, but as a non-portuguese speaking tourist, the chances of you ending up worse or poorer for the experience are pretty high. Likely the only safe way to go would be on one of the aforementioned 'gawk at the poor people' tourist experiences which isn't likely to be all that good for anybody involved.

Chapada Diamantina is beautiful country and there's lots of things to do there, wether you're a full on adventure traveler or an out of shape teenager (which I was, at the time). The Pantanal is another great place to experience nature in Brazil. It's a swamp region, so depending on where you go, it can be pretty different. When we went, there was a lot of horseback riding and fishing and generally viewing the wildlife. A safari trip, basically, except not in Africa. Both of these places are pretty remote, though. You won't be able to fly to them directly. If you make arrangement to spend a few days at one of the ranches in the Pantanal they can help arrange ground transport from the nearest city.

My favourite beach in Brazil is in Porto Seguro, which is where the Portuguese first landed in Brazil. It's a nice place in the state of Rio de Janeiro, but it may be pretty heavily touristed for your tastes. Angra dos Reis is an expensive area to travel to, but is also beautiful beyond belief.

As a last piece of advice, if you go to Brazil, eat the street food as long as it's been cooked. I know they tell you never to do that in those countries, but I don't know many who got sick from it. Don't drink the water, and avoid raw things, but don't miss the things the ladies in white sell on street corners in the Northeast.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:05 AM on February 21, 2005

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