In this gigantic territory, larger than the continental United States and 25 times the size of Holland, contrasts are overwhelming. Brazil is a fabulously rich land, but it’s full of inequalities.  You're as apt to see five-star hotels and resorts as you are shantytowns. Shopping malls, McDonald’s, international banks, and Starbucks stand side by side street vendors peddling homemade foods and herbal medicines. 

Brazil has over 8,000km (5,000 miles) of coastline -- some of it packed with cafes and partygoers, but long stretches blissfully empty. Rainforest’s and wetlands teem with exotic critters. Some of the oldest cities and civic architecture in the New World (and one of the newest cities in the entire world). Restaurants match the snobbiest standards, with regional cuisines that have yet to be discovered in culinary capitals like New York or L.A. Music lovers could make Brazil a lifetime study.

Brazilians work as hard as anyone in the First World, and many a good deal harder. In recent years, Brazil has devoted time and resources to improving its tourism infrastructure, reflected in the new airports, hotels, and inns that have sprung up around the country. Yet no one could accuse Brazilians of worshiping efficiency. They'd much rather get along than get things done; the goal is, above all, harmony. Harmony can mean an entire Sunday spent watching soccer or afternoons off for quality time with your buddies at the beach. It can mean countless hours of effort for a single night's party. But above all harmony mandates never taking anything all that seriously and at this, Brazilians excel.

São Paulo

Welcome to the largest city in Brazil and the sixth largest city in the world (by population). The metropolis has significant cultural, economic and political influence both nationally and internationally. 

São Paulo is the 10th largest city in the world by GDP, and it accounts for 65% of the GDP for all of Brazil. It is also home to the São Paulo Stock Exchange, the Future Markets and the world’s second largest exchange (by volume) the Cereal Market Stock Exchange.  Home to the biggest financial center in Brazil, São Paulo's economy is going through a deep transformation. Once a city with a strong  industrial character, their economy has become increasingly focused on the service industry.  It is unique among Brazilian cities for its large number of foreign corporations boasting the largest concentration of German businesses worldwide and the largest Swedish industrial hub outside of Gothenburg.

Culture: Residents of São Paulo call themselves Paulistas.  The city is a major cultural center with an ethnically diverse metropolitan area dominated by Italians, Portuguese and Africans. It also has a significant number of Spanish, Arab and Japanese descendants. São Paulo is known for its varied and sophisticated cuisine, ranging from Chinese to French, from fast food chains to five star restaurants. There are approximately 62 different types of cuisines in São Paulo, and more than 12,000 restaurants. Other venues such as bars, pubs, lounges and discos cater to a variety of music tastes.

São Paulo is home to the finest galleries and museums in the country, including: The São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) and the Pinacoteca de Estado art museums. Of course a city of this size and sophistication has a full compliment of world-class and local performance art organizations.

Shopping: Paulistas brag -- correctly -- that if you can't buy it in São Paulo, you can't buy it in Brazil. São Paulo has it all, from international boutiques to local crafts markets.

In terms of shopping areas, Jardins, where the Renaissance São Paulo is located, is known for its high-end fashion boutiques (Carolina Herrera, Chanel, Ermenegildo Zegna, Giorgio Armani, Hermes, Longchamp, Montblanc, Rolex, Salvatore Ferragamo, Tiffany & Co., Prada, Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Emilio Pucci, Fendi, etc.). The main shopping street is the Rua Oscar Freire and the parallel Alameda Lorena, and their cross streets the Rua Augusta and parallel Rua Haddock Lobo. This area is chic enough to have its own website -- -- and comes packed with national and international brands, expensive clothing and jewelry, gourmet foods, and luxurious gift shops.

In Centro (downtown São Paulo), Rua 25 de Março is the place where Paulistas rich and poor browse the market stalls and small shops for inexpensive items such as belts, buttons, small toys, gadgets, towels, textiles, and socks. Inexpensive lingerie is a specialty. Keep an eye on your purse, though, as the streets are chaotic with vendors and stalls vying for space, and throngs of people making their way through.

Then there are the malls, which in São Paulo have been elevated to a whole other shopping experience: elegant, upscale, and refined. Sophisticated brands, boutiques, and fine dining can be found in a number of malls; the best-known ones are Shopping Morumbi (, Shopping Iguatemi(, and Shopping Pátio Higienópolis (, located in upscale neighborhoods close to the city center, and the Shopping Pátio Paulista ( on the Avenida Paulista. And then there's Daslu, the one-stop ultimate luxury shopping spot.


A 300-year-old city, Curitiba is on the Paraná plateau, at an elevation of 2,800 feet. It owes its name to the Paraná pinecones, which were called kur-ity-ba by the native Guaranis. In a region that already differs considerably from the rest of the country, the city of 1.5 million is unique for its temperate climate (with a mean temperature of 16°C/61°F) and the 50% of its population that is of non-Iberian European ancestry.

With one of the highest densities of urban green space in the world, Curitiba is known as the environmental capital of Brazil. This is not only because of its array of parks but also because since the 1980s it has had progressive city governments that have been innovative in their urban planning—a process spearheaded by former mayor and architect Jayme Lerner. The emphasis on protecting the environment has produced an efficient public transportation system and a comprehensive recycling program that are being used as models for cities around the globe.

The creation of the pedestrian zone inaugurated a series of programs by Lerner and his colleagues that made Curitiba a famous model of late-20th-century urban planning. In the early 1970s, when Brazil was welcoming any industry, no matter how toxic its byproducts, Curitiba decided to admit only non polluters; to accommodate them, it constructed an industrial district that reserved so much land for green space that it was derided as a “golf course” until it succeeded in filling up with major businesses while its counterparts in other Latin American cities were flagging. Through the creation of two dozen recreational parks, many with lakes to catch runoff in low-lying areas that flood periodically, Curitiba managed, at a time of explosive population growth, to increase its green areas from 5 square feet per inhabitant to an astounding 560 square feet. The city promoted “green” policies before they were fashionable and called itself “the ecological capital of Brazil” in the 1980s, when there were no rivals for such a title. Today, Curitiba remains a pilgrimage destination for urbanists fascinated by its bus system, garbage-recycling program and network of parks. It is the answer to what might otherwise be a hypothetical question: How would cities look if urban planners, not politicians, took control?

Culture: It is often said of Curitiba that it doesn’t feel like Brazil. Populated by European immigrants in the 19th century, Curitiba has a demographic makeup that is largely more fair-skinned and well educated than that of Brazil’s tropical north. It is also unusually affluent. Unlike São Paulo, with its startling extremes of wealth and poverty, much of Curitiba to an American eye looks familiarly middle class.

Belo Horizonte

Located 213 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte is Brazil’s first planned state capital (often called the Garden City or simply Belo), it has treelined streets and an intimate small-town atmosphere that belies its size. It is Brazil’s third-largest city and the capital of the state of Minas Gerais and is home to nearly 2.5 million Mineiros, as the proud inhabitants of this inland state are known. Minas Gerais is Brazil's second most important industrial state after São Paulo, and Belo Horizonte is an important city for business. It makes an excellent jumping-off point for a visit to the Historical Cities of Ouro Preto, Mariana, and Tiradentes.

In and of itself, Belo Horizonte (or just BH) features some pleasant strollable neighborhoods, hearty restaurants, lively clubs and cafes, and a few intriguing sights. If you have some time to spare either before or after visiting the historical cities, BH is worth an afternoon and evening.

Points of Interest:
Pampulha - This 1940's neighborhood has some of the highlights of Brazil modern architecture, including the São Francisco de Assis Church. The building is not shocking by itself, until you realize it was meant to be a church. Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church refused to consecrate it for more than one decade. Next to the church, there's the Parque Guanabara, an amusement park that is small, but worth visiting. In Pampulha lies the world-famous Iate Tenis Clube, founded along with the Pampulha Architectural Complex designed by Oscar Niemeyer. Invitations to the club can be bought at the place (they are free if you know someone affiliated to the club).

Pope Square
Mangabeiras Park - This is an amazing place for nature lovers, a place where the Cerrado mixes with the Atlantic Forest, this is a great visit for children and family.

Praça da Liberdade - A beautiful palm tree-lined square, sidelined by interesting buildings from the 19th century, including the seat of the State Government, and a curvaceous (yes, you can use this word to describe an Oscar Niemeyer building) edifice from the 60s.

Museum of Arts and Crafts - Praça Rui Barbosa, Centro ( The Museu de Artes e Ofícios is installed in the 19th Century buildings of the former Central Train Station. Its collection shows the richness of Brazilian popular work and professions before the country's industrialization.

Alta Vila Tower - Located in the district of Nova Lima, (Belo Horizonte city Metro area), this tower offers a spectacular view of Belo Horizonte and its surrounding mountains. On the main floor is the Hard Rock Cafe - Belo Horizonte.

Parque Municipal - An oasis of green right in the centre of downtown. Based on French parks, it has small lagoons where you can rent a boat or feed the ducks. It has the Casa Maluca (Crazy House), the Casa dos Pneus and a small amusement park - three places where children always like to play.

Museu de Ciencias Naturais - Take the Metro to the Gameleira station, go NW to the PUC campus, and turn right. Diverse mollusks, whales, and Brazilian forest animals. A new exhibit is under construction.

Museu Histórico Abílio Barreto - Av Prudente de Morais, 135 - Cidade Jardim Neighborhood - This museum is dedicated to the history of the city and was created in the only standing farmhouse from the old Curral d'El Rey, farmland replaced by the new planned city.

December Weather - São Paulo, Curitiba & Belo Horizonte:
Average High:            82○ F    Average Low: 65○ F

Rio de Janeiro (offered as a post trip option)

Rio de Janeiro is the most visited city in the southern hemisphere and is known for its natural settings, carnival celebrations, samba, Bossa Nova, balneario beaches (e.g. Barra da Tijuca, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Lebion.  Some of the most famous landmarks in addition to the beaches include the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer (‘Cristo Redentor’) atop Corcovado Mountain, named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World; Sugarloaf mountain (Pão de Açúcar) with its cable car; the Sambódromo, a permanent grandstand-lined parade avenue which is used during Carnival; and Maracanã Stadium, one of the world’s largest football stadiums.  The 2016 Summer Olympics will take place in Rio, which marks the first time a South American city will host the event. Rio's Maracanã Stadium will also host the final match for 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Rio’s southern zone is composed of several districts, most notably Ipanema, and Copacabana, two of the most famous beaches in the world.  Copacabana is much like Manhattan but with bikinis. A walk along the neighborhood’s classic crescent is a must. You’ll see the essence of beach culture, a cradle-to-grave lifestyle that begins with toddlers accompanying their parents to the water and ends with graying seniors walking hand in hand along the sidewalk.  Volleyball nets and pickup games rule (much as basketball does in the US). Ipanema offers a cross section of the city’s residents, each favoring a particular stretch.  The tree-lined streets between Ipanema Beach and the lagoon are as peaceful as they are attractive.  Boutiques along Rua Garcia D’Avila make window shopping a sophisticated endeavor.  Other chic areas near the beach include Praca Nossa Senhora da Paz, which is lined with wonderful restaurants and bars; Rua Vinicuius de Moraes; and Rua Farme de Amoedo.

Rio is Brazil’s primary tourist attraction and resort. It receives the most visitors per year of any city in South America with 2.82 million international tourists in 2010. The city boasts world-class hotels, with approximately 80 kilometers of beach, and the famous Corcovado and Sugarloaf Mountain.

December Weather - Rio

Average High: 81○ F   Average Low: 69○ F
December is the wettest month on average. Rio is considered to be in a tropical savanna climate. Average rainfall in December is close to six inches.


Statistically, of course, Rio and other big Brazilian cities have very high crime rates, including high rates of violent crime. Most of that crime, however, takes place in the favelas and shantytowns of the far-off industrial outskirts. Brazil is a highly unequal society and the burden of crime and violence falls disproportionately (and unfairly) on the country's poor. But unless you go wandering unaccompanied into a hillside favela (not recommended), you're unlikely to be affected.

That said, in large centers such as São Paulo, Rio, Salvador, and Recife, common-sense rules still apply. By all means bring your camera or video camera, but keep it inside a backpack or purse, and only take it out when you want to use it. Don't flash your valuables. Diamond rings and Rolex wristwatches are a no-no. Always have a few small bills ready in your pocket or bag to avoid pulling out your wallet in public places. You should keep a copy of your passport with you while in public and keep your passport in a hotel safe or other secure place. You should also carry proof of your health insurance with you. Plan your sightseeing trips to the city's central core during office hours when there are lots of people about.Don't stroll Copacabana beach at 3am with R$1,000 in your pocket and a video camera pressed to your eyeball (a true story, alas). And though public transit is safe during the day and evening, watch for pickpockets when it gets really packed, and come nightfall, use taxis instead. Be careful at night; stick to the main streets where there is traffic and other pedestrians, and avoid dark alleys or deserted streets. If robbed, do not attempt to resist or fight back, but rather relinquish your personal belongings.

The incidence of crime against tourists is greater in areas surrounding beaches, hotels, discotheques, bars, nightclubs, and other tourist destinations. Several Brazilian cities have established specialized tourist police units to patrol areas frequented by tourists. Take care at and around banks and ATMs that take U.S. credit or debit cards. Travelers using personal ATM or credit cards sometimes receive billing statements with unauthorized charges after returning from a visit to Brazil or have had their cards cloned or duplicated without their knowledge. If you use such payment methods, carefully monitor your banking for the duration of your visit.

Perhaps even more importantly, keep your wits about you in traffic! Brazilian drivers (with a few exceptions) show no respect for pedestrians and there's no such thing as pedestrian right of way. So be very careful when crossing the street, particularly at night when drivers will often run red lights. Also pay special attention when crossing one-way streets; many drivers, especially those who drive motorcycles or delivery bicycles, think that the one-way rule does not apply to them and will happily go the wrong way.

Medical Insurance

The Department of State strongly urges you to consult with your medical insurance company PRIOR to traveling abroad to determine whether the policy applies overseas and whether it covers emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. It is very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:

  • Does my policy apply when I’m out of the United States?
  • Will it cover emergencies like a trip to a foreign hospital or a medical evacuation? Note: You may purchase optional trip cancelation and medical insurance for this trip. A link is available on the Payment Schedule page and also on your electronic registration confirmation.  

In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy does not go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another policy for your trip. For more information, please see the state department’s medical insurance overseas page.

Aviation Safety

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Brazil’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Brazil’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on theFAA's safety assessment page.


The official unit of currency in Brazil is the Real (pronounced Ray-all; the plural is Reais, pronounced Ray-eyes), which the Brazilian government introduced in 1994 in an attempt to control inflation. International money speculations around the 2002 presidential elections sent the Real into a tailspin, arriving at a record low of nearly R$4 to the U.S. dollar. When it became clear the new leftist president, Lula da Silva, was actually planning to follow a quite conservative monetary policy, the Real settled back around R$3 to the U.S. dollar. Since then, the U.S. dollar has been on a steady decline to its current level around R$1.70 to the dollar. For travelers this means that Brazil is still affordable, though not the bargain it was in years past.

Tip: When exchanging money, be it cash or traveler's checks, always keep the receipt. You will need it in case you want to change back any unused Reais at the end of your trip. See online for an easy currency converter.

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