The Breakdown: Brazil – Salvador, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro
Exchange rate: Canadian $1 = R$2.1 (Brazilian Reais)
Brazil and in particular, Rio had the distinct honour of being the first city to make it onto our “we could live here” list. A vast country, with diverse regions and people, we felt like we barely scratched the surface of this beautiful and complex country during our 16 day visit.
Today, Brazil is a huge economic power that’s projected to be one of the world’s 5 biggest economies by the end of 2012. Great things are on the horizon for the country, with the upcoming 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics slated for Rio de Janeiro. However, it’s also struggling with a significant problem in income disparity, where the richest 10% of the population earns 39 times more than the poorest 10%.
Massive drug lord run favelas sit side by side with elegant middle class neighbourhoods, and in preparation, Rio has been undertaking a policy of Pacification, where an elite police force, the BPOE, “cleans” out the favela. A UPP is installed soon afterwards and provides a form of community policing. To date, 28 favelas have been pacified, with positive preliminary results like a decreasing homicide rate, increased attendance at public schools and improved infrastructure for favela residents. Real estate values have sky-rocketed and job opportunities have been created. Whether these things will continue and be sustainable into the far future is anyone’s guess.
All of the (very real) economic and political issues aside, for the traveler, Brazil is absolute gold. From Salvador’s cultural beating heart, to Rio’s multitude of stunning beaches, to the big city chaos of Sao Paulo, Brazil delivers. And delivers again. I only wish we’d had more time to explore this compelling country.
What We Did
We had just over 2 weeks to explore this massive country, so rather than spread ourselves too thin, we concentrated our efforts on Salvador de Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. In all honesty, Sao Paulo only made the cut, because it’s the city we had to fly in and out of, but there are other places in Brazil that we would’ve much preferred to visit…like oh, the Amazon, or Angra dos Reis perhaps…
C’est la vie, I guess. You can’t do everything.
In order to save segments on our round-the-world plane ticket, we flew from Bogota to Sao Paulo, and then immediately caught a separately booked connecting flight north to Salvador de Bahia.
In Salvador, we stayed for 4 nights in the UNESCO world cultural centre, Pelourinho. Named for the whipping post in it’s central plaza (Pelourinho means pillory) where African slaves were lashed, the city was the first colonial capital of Brazil. Extremely rich in historical monuments from the 17th – 19th centuries, today, the Pelourinho is a vibrant, colourful and sometimes noisy neighbourhood to wander around in.
We checked out colonial era San Fransisco Church with its 100 kilograms of gold walls, partied with the locals at the Pelourinho’s weekly Tuesday night street party and took in a masterful traditional dance performance at the Bale Folclorica.
We also discovered the refreshing Brazilian drink, the caipirinha, tried moqueca and acarajé for the first time, and took a day trip to Porto de Barra, with our very own local ‘tour guide.’
On our last night, we moved northeast to Praia do Flamengo, a more touristy beach area, because we thought it was closer to the airport (it wasn’t). Still, the water was absolutely divine, and the beach practically deserted. A perfect end to our time in intoxicating Salvador de Bahia.
We tried our hand at being Cariocas for the next 9 days in Rio de Janeiro. More time in the sun was in order at world famous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, as well as a trip up Corcovado Mountain to visit Cristo Redentor. We made the best of a surprisingly rainy Rio day by visiting the lush Jardim Botanico.
When our 9 days in the Cidade Maravilhosa were (sadly) up, it was off to Sao Paulo for a quick 2 day visit. After the brightness of Rio, we were disappointed with Sao Paulo, but since our main goal was to satisfy our sushi craving in the city’s Japanese Liberdade district, all ended well for us.
Our friends, Jany and Max from Texas had warned us that Brazil, and in particular, Rio de Janeiro, was expensive, and they weren’t kidding.
Brazil is the first country where we came in over our attempted $100 per day budget, but just by a hair. Over our 16 days in Brazil, not including flights (which we are tracking in a separate budget), we spent C$1920.06 or $102.32 per day. Not too bad, but we had to make a real effort to even come in this low.
So, how did we do it?
In our initial planning, we allotted 5 days in Salvador de Bahia, a cheaper Brazilian destination, and 3 days in Rio de Janeiro. Staying within our $100/day budget in Salvador was a simple task. Over 5 days, we spent R$904, which worked out to just C$85.70 per day.
Compare that to our first 3 days in Rio, where we spent R$724 or C$115/day – well over our C$100/day planned budget. Of course, that plan backfired when we decided at the last minute to extend our time in Rio by 6 days. We dealt with the extra potential costs by choosing to stay in a favela – a decision that cut our nightly accommodation cost in half, and saved our Rio budget. For the 6 days that we stayed in the favela, we averaged C$85.22 per day.
And good thing we did, because Sao Paulo really did a number on us. Technically we were there for 3 days, but we just woke up and transferred to the airport on the third day, so it doesn’t really count. For the 2 days that we were actually in Sao Paulo, we spent R$525 or C$125 per day.
I blame it on the all you can eat sushi.
Once again, all the details can be found on the Budget Your Trip website.
Food and Drink
Because of the predominance of rodizio (continuous service) style churrascarias in North America, we tend to associate Brazilan food with meat, meat and more meat. And this is true to some degree. There are Brazilian BBQ restaurants all over the place, with huge portions sizzling away for your pleasure.
But to reduce Brazil’s cuisine to an endless barbecue is hugely unfair. Developed from indigenous, European and African influences, Brazil’s dishes are as diverse as it’s regions and people.
In Salvador, we dined on moqueca (slow cooked fish stew), flaky and flavourful seafood pastels and gained a new found fondness for feijão (beans fried with bacon) – a cheap, filling and satisfying meal. We also tried acarajé, a common street food in Salvador, without much success. We simply couldn’t understand the appeal of the deep-fried ball of peeled black-eyed peas.
In Sao Paulo, for us, it was all about sushi and Starbucks, though I’m sure that with such a diverse population, multicultural offerings abound, along with the usual local food.
In Rio, we couldn’t stop drinking fresh juices and healthy acai smoothies. We also tried the popular snacks, pão de queijo – a cheese bread made out of manioc flour, and coxinha – a chicken croquette.
We also tried out Temperarte, one of Rio’s por quilo restaurants. Por quilo is essentially food by weight, though sometimes these restaurants operate on a prix fixe basis as well. And while there was a large selection of dishes to choose from, it wasn’t as inexpensive as we thought it would be. I barely had 1 plate of different salads for $20!
And of course, we can’t forget about the national drink of Brazil, the caipirinha. Made of Cachaça, a rum distilled from sugar cane, lime and sugar, the drink was refreshing and delicious.
Favourite dining experience: In Rio, at Cervantes, which was established in 1959. Famous for it’s pineapple and meat filled sandwiches, we only wish we’d discovered it earlier! Address: Avenida Prado Junior 335 in Copacabana.
Brazil is a large country with long distances between the different cities and regions. Flying is really the best option if you’re traveling from Sao Paulo (the main hub) to Salvador de Bahia. Long distance buses in South America are pretty amazing, but 32 hours is a pretty good chunk of your vacation to spend sitting on a bus.
If you do plan on flying, book as early as possible and look out for promotions. Flights in South America are not cheap, and fares go up exponentially, the closer you are to your travel date. You can check out Brazil’s discount airlines, Azul Brazilian Airlines and TRIP Linhas Aéreas, as well as TAM, the national carrier.
If you plan early enough (we didn’t), it’s possible to get a flight for the same price as that 32 hour bus ride.
There are so many amazing things to see and do in Brazil, that it’s overwhelming to think about choosing just one to recommend. Rio alone claims 2 World Wonders as it’s own, in the form of the Cristo Redentor and it’s beautifully unique natural harbour, and both deserve all the accolades they receive.
And while the Tuesday night street party in Salvador is totally infectious, for me the highlight was seeing the Bale Folclorico in Salvador’s historic Pelourinho district.
Established in 1988, the 38 member group of dancers, musicians and singers performs “Bahian” folkloric dances, including slave dances, capoeira (my favourite) and samba.
The group performs nightly at 8PM in the Teatro Miguel Santana. We were able to show up 1 hour before the show and purchase tickets, but I’m not sure if this is always the case. Tickets were R$35 each, and pictures were not allowed during the performance.
When in Brazil
Eat feijoada on a Wednesday or a Saturday. A stew of beans with beef and pork, it’s the national dish of Brazil, and due to its lengthy cooking process, it’s usually offered by restaurants as a “daily special” once or twice a week. Yes,that’s right, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.