Travel to Brazil and Away
Colombia – Boats run between Belem and Manaus and then from Manaus up to Leticia on the Colombia border. This can be an absolute hell trip but is the cheapest way to head to Colombia or Venezuela with prices around $100-150 fo the entire trip including food. It takes about a week going downstream to Belem and up to 12 days the other way.
From Leticia you will need to fly as the jungle is very dangerous. A flight to Bogota is around $70.
Venezuela – This is also the boat option but you can get off half-way at Manaus and either carry on by boat or road, weather permitting.
Peru – Again boats head up to Manaus and then get really overcrowded on the small tributaries leading to Peru. Here at least you see some jungle but going upstream is only for the massochistic.
There is easy road access to Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay. On the Paraguay side there is a huge black market in fake and hi-tech goods.
A return trip to Brazil from Europe or the US is around $800-1200
Travel around Brazil
There are no trains to speak of in Brazil and, as much of the country is jungle, the traveler depends on the bus network to get around. There are companies that service the entire country but it has to be said that travelling around Brazil is one of the budget breakers. A 5 hour journey from Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo will cost around 50 reais – $20.
The buses vary in cost from company to company and also according to their service. ALthough slightly more cramped the traveler may well be better off with the cheaper buses though as you won’t freeze with the air conditioning (carry a blanket on the expensive services) and you won’t be patronized by the in-service television; whereas in most countries the videos on long bus rides are movies or comedies, the Brazilians have created programs especially for their bus passengers with presenters who think they’re celebrities. These buffoons offer tips like:
“When travelling with children, it’s a good idea to carry spare clothing for them – because kids are kids, aren’t they!”
If you don’t speak Portuguese you’ll be spared these idiocies but you will enter in panic when you see your bus drive away, stranding you at one of the rest stops along the way – they often take them around the back to wash them mid-route.
Depending on the time of year it may well be cheaper to travel long distance, say from Rio to the Amazon, by plane. It takes around 3 days to travel the length of the country by bus, so unless you plan to check out a lot of beaches en route you may as well fly. Be sure to take a blanket with you though as they’ll freeze you to death with the air conditioning.
Shared Taxis and Vans
In the North East of Brazil it’s common to hail shared taxis between towns that are cheaper and faster than buses. There are also vans which serve much the same purpose but which driver a little more safely.
Although a generous, happy people at heart, hitchhiking in Brazil isn’t always that easy. One reason for this are the very real dangers facing the drivers of trucks in this country; there are many areas where bandits are so out of control that they drop rocks from trees through the windscreens of trucks to make them stop. In short to be a truck driver here is a pretty risky profession and doesn’t put them in the mood to take a chance with some weird foreigner.
You can get by hitchhiking in Brazil but bear in mind this is a population accustomed to stories of bandits, drug traffickers and violence, so there’s a lot of fear and suspicion lurking beneath the smiles.
In many cities the rich are far too scared to go on the buses. They’ve heard a thousand stories about assaults on buses where a mugger has boarded with a gun and taken everyone’s wallets. Even if they will dare to board buses in the day, at night they’ll share rides in friend’s cars or take taxis.
The buses are a very cheap way for the traveler to get around though and the conductors are very helpful in letting you know where to get down. If you have a spare real in your pocket, tip them as their pay is just lousy.
The bus can be a good place to get chatting to Brazilians too.
Taxis can be pricey in Brazil and you’ll want to take buses most of the time if you’re on a budget. The taxis are safe though and reliable, a 15 minute journey costing around $8. Tipping isn’t expected but can be a nice touch.
Bear in mind that in most Brazilian cities it isn’t that smart to be walking around after dark if you don’t want to get mugged. If you know the area you can take your chances but if it’s late it’s better to spend a few bucks on a taxi than have someone put a knife to your throat.