Visiting Brazil In Time Of Political And Economic Instability. From Currency To Safety, Here Is What Is Good To Know
Being one of the most beautiful, exciting and culturally diverse countries of the world, Brazil has its own special charm that attracts travelers from across the globe. While there are inherent risks to traveling anywhere, Brazil is especially recognized as alarming due to political and economic instability and increasing crime. Whether traveling for learning, business, volunteering or just heading to this ginormous South American country for a dose of culture and having fun or just relaxing, there are a few things you should know before you visit Brazil.
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Favelas or Shanty Houses
Favelas (Portuguese name for ‘slum’) are urban neighborhoods of high-density unplanned habitation. Ranging in size from a few blocks to large sprawling areas, these favelas are prevalent in most Brazilian cities, and usually border areas frequented by tourists. The security scenario in favelas is unpredictable, especially in Rio de Janeiro. It is highly advisable that you avoid any ‘favela tours’, eateries or accommodations within favelas, marketed by the travel agents to unsuspecting tourists.
Crime Scene in Brazil
There are all levels of crimes, ranging from pickpocketing to murders, involving firearms and other weapons, etc., rampant within most Brazilian cities. It is highly advisable to identify the dicey areas by familiarizing yourself with the topography of a city and seeking local advice. Some of the common safety measures you must adhere to while in Brazil are:
- Be vigilant during the festive periods.
- Do not visit the beaches after dark.
- Stay away from flaunting flashy jewelry, smartphones, watches, etc.
- Do not carry large amounts of cash.
- Hand over your valuables without resistance when threatened, as most muggers are armed and under the influence of drugs.
- Avoid quiet or deserted streets
- Instead of walking, use taxis after sunset. In fact, most travelers hail an Uber to hardly travel from one end of a street to another, because of the degree of protection it offers.
- To keep Carjacking at bay, when driving, stay in the middle lane as far as possible, keep doors and windows locked, particularly at traffic lights, avoid poorly lit gas stations especially those wearing a deserted look and avoid stopping at the roadside during night driving.
- To avoid card cloning fraud, keep sight of your credit/debit card at all times and don’t use an ATM that looks suspicious.
Most common sites of armed robberies and muggings in Brazil have been reported in –
- The Corcovado walking trail to the Christ the Redeemer statue, Copacabana Beach, Ipanema Beach and the areas of Lapa and Santa Theresa in Rio de Janeiro,
- Avenida Paulista, Catedral da Sé, Praça da República and the Estacao de Luz metro area in Sao Paulo and
- The central bus station and Federal District area in Brasilia.
Petty Crime in Public Transport
Public transport hubs, during peak hours, become hot-spot for petty crime like pickpocketing, small robberies, and even hijacking. To dodge any such incidents, it is highly advisable to pick licensed taxis using taxi apps or from recognized taxi ranks around Brazilian cities.
Protests, Strikes, and Demonstrations due to Political Strife
Protests, Strikes, and Demonstrations occasionally taking place across all major cities of Brazil, cause major transport disruptions resulting in delays on the road to Guarulhos International Airport. Sometimes, even the smallest of protests turn confrontational and get snowballed into major violence. Some of the common safety measures you must take, to avoid these protests, while in Brazil are:
- Avoid crowded events and gatherings in any area. If you come across one, leave that area immediately.
- Read local news to know about any protests or demonstrations during the day, so that those areas can be avoided.
- Abide by the directives of local authorities.
- Have the embassy information on hand.
- Book a hotel with good security measures in place.
- Have a backup of your travel documents and
- Invest in a good Money Belt for safekeeping your currency as well as important documents.
Most common locations for demonstrations in major cities are:
- Avenida Paulista, Largo da Batata and the historic downtown area in Sao Paulo,
- Esplanada dos Ministerios in Brasilia and
- Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro.
Driving in Brazil
You can drive in Brazil using an International Driving Permit. You have to turn on the headlights, take care of the speed limits and totally avoid drunk driving, on federal motorways to escape the penalty. Brazil has poor standards of driving, with frequent bus crashes and a high road accident rate. It is not advisable to ride bicycles on roads. Police can be called at 190 to report accidents, personal injuries, or vehicles involved are obstructing traffic. Also, skipping red lights is so common in Brazil, that you actually need to wait for each and every car to stop completely before you cross a road.
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Air, Rail and Sea Travel in Brazil
It is advisable to use a recognized national air carrier in case of air travel. The railway infrastructure is quite limited and there have been safety and security concerns on this system. While crime on buses could be a problem, the metro rail (with some “women only” carriages also) in both Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are clean, modern, safe and efficient. As regards the sea travel, boat accidents on the Amazon river are not rare, especially the southwest river routes in the Solimoes and Amazon river basin are frequently used for drug trafficking and by armed pirates.
The Beaches and Amazon
Brazil boasts of some of the most exotic beaches in the world, but they can be as dangerous as they are beautiful. You got to be wary of strong currents by seeking local advice and pay heed to warning flags. Also, Sharks have been known to attack the beaches around the northeastern city of Recife.
The same rule is applicable for Jungle Treks in Amazon and Pantanal, the most incredible habitats in the world. Never explore these habitats alone as they come with potential dangers, and always use reputable and qualified guides that are well aware of the risks and routes in these areas.
Zika, Dengue, Malaria, and other mosquito-borne diseases are quite prevalent in Brazil, which makes it imperative to equip yourself with necessary safety precautions, like insect repellent, mosquito net and a well-stocked travel medical kit, etc. The Brazilian water is rife with waterborne viruses, bacteria, and pollution which makes swimming and wading in water unsafe and the tap water unhealthy. It is recommended to use bottled mineral water while traveling in Brazil.
Brazil is Expensive
Big cities like Sao Paulo and Rio are costly, especially in rich neighborhoods like Leblon and Ipanema which are also some of the top tourist areas. Also, with the increased import taxes, electronic items are often double sometimes even more than the price that you would pay in the US or Europe.
Portuguese is the official and most widely spoken language among Brazilians. So, to understand the locals, you would have to make an effort to learn some Portuguese and their sign language. English is not spoken that commonly except in big cities like Sao Paulo and Rio where a few locals have to learn English due to business requirements.
Traveling to any place on planet Earth comes with its own set of challenges, but traveling to a country like Brazil calls for even more precautions and efforts. Equip yourself with all the necessary information and items, before you visit, to prudently assess and mitigate the perils you’re likely to face and there is a fair chance your trip could go off without a single hitch.
See also: 10 Things Not to Do When Visiting Brazil