Where to Go in Brazil Now That There's a Temporary Visa Waiver
TPG Contributor Brian Biros outlines some of the other amazing cities, beaches and locales you should visit the next time you're in Brazil. Because there's so much more to this fabulous country than Rio.
To encourage attendance at the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil has temporarily lifted its visa requirements for citizens of the US, Canada, Australia and Japan. Best of all, the hefty $160 visa fee and often tedious and time-consuming process isn't just waived for sports fans looking to cram into Rio during the 17-day event — through September 18, travel to all of Brazil can be done visa-free. Here's my go-to list of places to visit in Brazil if you decide to take advantage of this incredible opportunity.
Fernando de Noronha
This archipelago, located off Brazil's northeast coast, has managed to fend off mainstream tourism and remain pristine. This piece of archipelago paradise feels as remote as any and even has its own time zone, FNT.
The beaches of Leão, Sancho and Porcos are often listed among the most beautiful in the world, and with good reason. The scuba diving is unreal, with visibility up to 164 feet (50 meters) so you can view the area's 200 species of fish and five species of sharks, as well as turtles and dolphins. It's best to book flights ahead of time and have a flexible schedule, as the government only allows 460 people to arrive on the island every day. Also be aware of the "environmental tax" which starts at $10 per day and increases the longer you stay.
The most populous city in South America at 20.9 million people, São Paulo has a restaurant scene to match its diversity and a nightlife scene that doesn't stop when the night does. Here, you're just as likely to find a local joint serving a feast of feijoada with its rice, beans and pig scraps, as you are to find a world-class sushi restaurant.
For the perfect São Paulo weekend, start the night off at a boteco in bohemian neighborhood Vila Madalena, then hit a club in the early-morning hours in Barra Funda, Vila Olímpia or whichever neighborhood you're staying in. Just make sure you wake up in time for a stroll with the locals down Avenida Paulista, which is closed to traffic on Sundays until 5:00pm.
With a network of more than 250 waterfalls, Iguazú is three times as wide as Niagara Falls and nearly twice as high. This fantastic display of gravity sits in a lush jungle of palm trees and monkeys instead a concrete jungle of casinos and magnet kiosks, making Iguazú a front-runner for the most impressive falls in the world.
The Brazil side of the falls offers the best panoramic views, but you should definitely spend some time across the border in Argentina checking out the views from that side, too — no visa is needed. This is the place to really create your own adventure: face the thunderous Devil's Throat (an impressive waterfall on the Argentina side), get soaked on a jet boat ride to the base of the falls or take a refreshing dip in the Salto Arrechea waterfall after a long hike.
Rio de Janeiro — After the Olympics
Rio is bracing for a surge of more than 400,000 visitors during the upcoming Summer Olympics, but you can expect most of them to clear out after the closing ceremonies on August 21. This leaves four weeks of the visa waiver period (through September 18) to take advantage of the city's post-Olympic hangover.
Stroll through Rio's historic Santa Teresa neighborhood, then tackle the normal tourist sites a more adventurous way by taking a long, steep hike from Jardim Botânico to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, or rock climbing to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain from the back side. Reward yourself afterward with a cool caipirinha on Ipanema Beach while admiring the eye candy behind tinted sunglasses, then join the late-night street party in Lapa. You'll soon understand why nearly two million people annually visit Rio de Janeiro, even when it's not hosting the Olympics.
More Places Worth Visiting
Many will argue a visit to Brazil isn't complete without experiencing its African roots in Salvador, while a few days in the Amazon outside Manaus will introduce you to a way of life about as different from your own as you'll find in this hemisphere. Set your expectations correctly though; think less jaguars and anacondas and more mosquitoes.
Getting Around: The GOL Brazil Airpass
Perhaps the only secret kept better than the beaches of Fernando de Noronha is the best way to get to them. The GOL Brazil Airpass, currently offered by GOL and Azul Brazilian Airlines, can only be purchased outside Brazil in conjunction with an incoming international round-trip ticket with a respective airline or a partner, such as KLM, Air France or Delta.
The Airpass allows you to visit multiple destinations within Brazil — including every one I mentioned in this article — for a fixed price. Prices start at $505 (before taxes) for up to four destinations, with added increments for each additional stop. Otherwise, the GOL Brazil Airpass starts at $579 for incoming travel on other GOL partners.
A potentially much better deal is on Azul, which offers a 10-day unlimited travel Airpass for $299 or a 21-day Airpass for $399 — including taxes — but the incoming international flight must be on United Airlines or Azul.
Note that the Azul Airpass is only a temporary promotion and must be booked by June 30. There is no fee for changes though, so you can get ticketed by June 30 and make changes later as needed. Considering a round-trip from mainland Brazil to Fernando de Noronha can rarely be found for less than $400, the Airpass offers an incredible value.
A Final Tip
2016's version of our imminent medical apocalypse is, of course, the Zika Virus. The CDC's current advisory is "Level 2, Practice Enhanced Precautions," advising travelers to use insect repellant to stop mosquito bites from happening in the first place and to practice safe sex to prevent it from spreading. As of right now, only pregnant woman are strongly advised against traveling to Brazil as the virus can cause birth defects. For most other adults, the symptoms can be mild, even unnoticeable, and Zika usually runs its course within a few days. Do your own research and talk to your doctor for more info — with proper prevention, you too can survive the greatest medical threat to humanity since whatever the media was scaring us about last month.
Will you be traveling to Brazil this summer?