Getting there and away|
Brazil is easily accessible by air, by car or by bus through its borders.
TAM is today the main Brazilian carrier, since traditional Varig got in financial troubles in the recent years. Varig still flies a few international and national routes, but is no longer a Star Alliance member. TAM has direct flights connecting São Paulo (GRU - Guarulhos Airport) and sometimes Rio de Janeiro (GIG - Galeão Airport) to Paris (CDG), London (LHR), New York (JFK), Miami (MIA), Milan (MXP), Buenos Aires (EZE), among others. TAM has agreements with American Airlines, Air France and TACA for earning miles in their frequent flyer programs (always check if this is unchanged!).
Of course, international carriers also offer plenty of choices to get to Brazil, although regular direct flights to Brazilian cities other than São Paulo and Rio are not always easy to find. Charter direct flights to touristy spots on the Brazilian coast are increasingly common, mainly coming from Europe. Gol Airlines is also a good choice for flying to / out of Brazil, but only South America is served (for now) and they don't offer a frequent flyer program.
Bus service is available to and from neighboring countries. It is also possible to get in and out by car, the borders in the south and southwest of the country being easier to get through. That's because part of the borders with Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana pass through Pantanal (wetlands) or the Amazon forest. Be aware that road quality may not always be good and that some of those regions are almost deserted of population!
Brazil is accessible by boat mainly from Peru or Colombia, through the Amazon river. The trip is likely to be an adventurous one, specially if you can't communicate in Spanish or in Portuguese.
Passenger trains are not much used in Brazil, although there is a famous railway between Bolivia and the Pantanal, with the not-very-favorable nickname of "the death train".
Brazil is a big country and, although means for traveling on the ground are available, flying might be more practical if time is short. In some cases, air fares are reasonable enough to compare to bus fares or to the costs of renting a car.
Main domestic airlines are TAM and Gol. Gol usually has the lower fare if tickets are bought in advance while TAM offers frequent flyer benefits. Coverage of the territory is quite good, at least for the main tourist spots. The biggest problem might be getting direct flights, without having to stop in São Paulo or Brasilia. BRA is an alternative to the two market leaders, offering very competitive prices. Regional airlines, such as Total or Air Minas, are also available, but the fares are usually high and frequency not too good.
Always ask about Brazil Air Pass to your travel agent. Varig used to offer them and now TAM does. They can only be bought abroad and in combination with an international ticket to Brazil. They usually include a fixed amount per leg (4 minimum). It can be a very good deal, depending on the itinerary.
Warning: the last quarter of 2006 (following an accident in October) and the first semester of 2007 have been a very troubled period for Brazilian aviation. There are a lot of delays and the whole system is being re-structured to cope with the high demand. This should in no way ruin your plans to visit Brazil, but informing yourself about the situation could be very useful.
Passenger trains are scarcely used in Brazil. A few scenic routes remain active, but the purpose is precisely to sit back and enjoy, which may be very nice, but is not practical for going from one place to another. When available, trains are slow and not much comfortable.
Although English is rarely heard in a Brazilian bus terminal, traveling by bus through the country is not very hard. The bus network covers the entire territory (except for a few remote regions which can only be accessed by boat or by plane, mainly small towns / settlements in the Amazon forest). Prices are OK, usually the cheapest option when traveling alone. Comfort varies with price, from "crappy seat that doesn't recline with no bathroom" to "bed-like seat with air conditioning". The service is also quite on-time, if you're not unlucky to get a flat tire or something.
Any size of luggage is accepted, and you're allowed a small bag with you on the inside. Take care of that small bag, specially if you have not been very discreet (displaying a few items of valor such as an ipod or a camera).
Traveling by car is a very practical way to get around the country, but it can be tricky depending on the itinerary. Road maps are available at any newspaper stand (usually sold along with a road-guide called "quatro rodas" - Portuguese only!). Good maps can also be found on the internet, usually on Brazilian websites.
The majority of the roads in Brazil are free, but a few toll roads exist in the southern and southeastern states. Despite the extra-cost, they're a good alternative to the typically narrow Brazilian roads, and they usually are in better conditions and offer better and more frequent services.
Road quality can vary a lot from state to state. Always check with someone or on some website the quality of the roads you're planning to use, as it can get pretty bad. Some roads in the Pantanal wetlands are not accessible all year round, and some roads can simply be in such a bad shape that you can do much better by choosing a different course to get to your destination. Once well-informed, you should have no problems.
Be aware that, depending on the region, traveling at night is not recommended. If you're not familiar with the region or the road, you'd better just travel by day.
Road conventions and rules in Brazil are quite similar than in other western countries. Drive on the right side of the road. Yellow center-line means two-way road. White center-line means one-way. When the center-line is dashed (whether yellow or white), you're allowed to pass other cars, always by the left side. A car flashing its headlights behind you means "get out of the way". A more subtle way to ask for this is to use the left corner light. A car on the opposite direction flashing its headlights means "be careful, slow down", usually indicating some kind of complication a little further on the road (debris, accident, police). When waiting to pass a slow car (or a truck), he may want to help you. Flashing his right corner light means "go ahead and pass, road clear". Flashing his left corner light means "wait a little longer".
In the cities, be careful not to let too many things at sight inside the car, even when you're on the move. Also try not to leave the windows wide-open, as small crooks may want to take advantage of that at red lights. Traffic can get pretty heavy in the bigger cities, some planning for arrival and departure times might save you a few hours.
About the same than for car travel. The use of helmet is mandatory on the whole Brazilian territory.
Boat travel is common mostly in the northern states of Brazil. Some places in the Amazon can only be reached by boat (including a few luxury hotels). Manaus and Belém are cities with a lot of port activity and several boat lines are available. In the rest of the country (and particularly on the coast), boats are mostly used for leisure. Several options are available, from one-day to one-week trips along the shore. Cruises linking the North and North-East to the South and South-East are also available.