Stop Underestimating Brazil: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Avoid South America’s Gem
“Get Out There” is a column for humans with itchy feet written by Paste contributor Blake Snow. Although different now, travel is still worthwhile, especially to these open borders.
It does not mean anything. I’m looking at the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited on six different continents. This city, Rio de Janeiro, is a masterpiece of God, Mother Nature or the force that created it. Its lush mountains and iconic beaches are the jewel in the crown of Brazil, a country that includes two “wonders of the world,” the largest rainforest in the world, and more natural and cultural diversity than any other country in Latin America.
Despite this, Brazil does not even appear in the list of the 50 most visited countries in the world. It pales in comparison to the 90 million, 80 million and 45 million annual visitors that France, America and Mexico receive respectively. In fact, with just over 6 million annual visitors, Brazil receives fewer tourists than Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. It makes no sense to me, especially after falling in love with the country on a two-week tour with my family – an adventure we’ve been planning for a decade that far exceeded our expectations.
So what keeps tourists away? After interviewing several tour guides, in addition to my own experience navigating the country, this is what I came to the conclusion.
Although it is statistically safer than Mexico and South Africa (two other countries that I really like), Brazil has a nagging problem of being unsafe for tourists. But that’s fake news in my experience, both in Rio and in greater Brazil. My family felt completely safe walking in all the tourist areas we visited. In fact, several Brazilians we met actively looked after us and offered helpful advice. They even cheer on the beach when a child has lost their mother and don’t stop until the family is reunited. How is it dangerous?
Before 2020, Brazil required several hundred dollars and numerous documents for foreigners to enter the country. It was certainly a problem, but it is no longer the case. Today, Americans and just about every other nationality can enter freely for up to 90 days without a visa. That said, it’s nearly impossible to find a hotel with two queen beds, let alone suites. The country’s tourism infrastructure therefore still has some catching up to do (i.e. we used Airbnb to house our family). And since they welcome so few guests, Brazil just doesn’t have as many systems in place (not to mention a functioning national tourist board) to make things easier for tourists. It’s not difficult on its own, but it’s not as easy as navigating the tourist machines that so many other countries excel at. On the other hand, credit cards are accepted everywhere, even by several beach vendors.
Portuguese is the official language of Brazil and, in fact, it is the homeland of the vast majority of native Portuguese speakers in the world. This can be intimidating for English and/or Spanish speakers, and yes, it can be a challenge. But it’s not impossible, especially with the help of translation apps, Uber, Google Maps, and some good old-fashioned gestures. But if I’m really honest with myself, that’s also part of the charm of Brazil. You will really feel like you are in a wonderful place that most people have not yet discovered, apart from the 200 million Brazilians who live there and the several million Argentines who often vacation there.
I could write a long essay on the best things to do in Brazil. But to save time, I’ll focus on three highlights my family enjoyed on our two-week Thanksgiving tour, during which we ate succulent Brazilian meats instead of an overly dry turkey.
This place is heaven on earth. I can’t understand how jungle covered mountains magically meet with perfect sandy beaches like this. My family stayed in a condo one block from Ipanema Beach (favored by Brazilians) and a 10-minute walk from Copacabana Beach (favored by visitors for its crescent-shaped beauty). We stayed a full week and could have stayed longer. And we saw all the major sights of the city on an amazing day trip with Madson Araujo, the #1 tourist guide in Rio de Janeiro.
With him and a private van he rented, we skipped the queues en route to Christ the Redeemer (a wonder of the world), the panoramic Sugar Loaf Mountain, the colorful Selaron Staircase, the Royal Library Portuguese, etc. We learned for ourselves why this “Cidade Maravilhosa” is also the “Capital of contrasts”, where rich and poor live as neighbours. I can not wait to return to.
If Niagara was a pond, Iguaçu would be an entire ocean. Welcome to the largest waterfall (and natural wonder in the world) that separates Brazil from Argentina. The first time I laid eyes on a tiny part of it, I openly wondered what I was getting into. With falls cascading over two towering levels for nearly two miles, I don’t know why Indiana Jones wasn’t filmed here. It’s just surreal.
Boating in the falls has been one of the most exciting times of my life to date. I was completely and violently soaked, much like my first parachute jump. Every passenger in the jetboat was screaming with delight. While it’s impossible for conservationists to let something like this happen in America’s national parks, I’m so glad they’re doing it overseas. It was fantastic!
I’m not going to beat around the bush, Brasília is a strange place. It’s very picturesque, but artificially built in the middle of nowhere as the new national capital. In truth, it’s like Disneyland’s urban equivalent of Tomorrowland, with cutting-edge design and striking architecture, while feeling stuck in the past while looking forward to a future that never came to fruition. I’m glad I got to visit it and appreciate that the planners tried things in a different way, even if it didn’t turn out to be the ideal city it hoped to be.
To help us understand all of this, our guide Billy (aka Mr Brasilia) drove us to all the major sights, as well as my new favorite pizza place. Highlights include visiting the absolutely stunning Shrine of Dom Bosco and winning Brazil in their World Cup opener at the chic Pontão do Lago Sul.
Having covered travel for almost a decade, I can confidently say that Brazil is one of the greatest adventures of my life so far. I can’t recommend it enough.
Blake Snow contributes to fantasy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a full-bodied writer and frequent travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with his teenage family and two dogs.