I don’t even remember how far back it was when we first started talking about taking a trip to Brazil. It might have been during the previous World Cup in 2010; I vaguely remember asking Daniel where the 2014 World Cup was to be held while watching soccer on TV. “Brazil,” he responded. “Let’s go! I turn 30 that year!” My thirtieth birthday coincided with 2014 World Cup, and wouldn’t that be an amazing way to celebrate the big 3-0?
After years of talking about Brazil and with 2014 fast approaching, it was time to plan for the trip. I realized travelling to a country defined by soccer during the biggest soccer event of the year would come at the cost of a pretty penny. World Cup season is the highest of high seasons for travel. I wasn’t willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money for flights and lodging in Brazil just for the soccer and proposed travelling elsewhere in 2014. Daniel was pretty set on Brazil though, and ready to pay World Cup premiums to travel to the host country. We eventually settled on a compromise: if obtained tickets to a World Cup match, then we’d go; if not, we’d plan a trip for elsewhere.
Cost of Travelling in Brazil
The cost of travelling in Brazil is high and on the rise. A decade ago, the dollar used to buy 4 Brazilian reais; now it gets you 2. According to Lonely Planet “you can travel on about R$100 (US$50) a day – paying around R$40 for accommodations, R$30 for food and drink, plus bus travel, admission to sights and the occasional entertainment activity. If you stay in reasonably comfortable hotels, eat in nicer restaurants, go out most nights and book the occasional flight or guided excursion, you’ll probably spend upwards of R$250 (US$125) a day.”
During World Cup? The starting rate for dormitory rooms in hostels was at $50 per night per person. During game days, prices would skyrocket. The cost of our stay during the England/Spain game in Sao Paulo was at a rate of $300/night. Apartment rentals, which is the usual frugal travelers recommendation, weren’t any cheaper. Many AirBnB rentals had a minimum 100% markup or conditions to rent the apartment for minimum specified amount of days (at least 4 nights).
Tips for Saving Money While Travelling in Brazil
Whether you’re travelling during high season or in a country where the dollar doesn’t get you as far as you’d like, there still are ways to save money. This is how we cut our expenses in Brazil:
1. Travel in groups of four
Travelling with friends allowed us to split costs we otherwise would have to pay in its entirety ourselves. We shared rooms with our friends the entire trip which helped reduce costs dramatically.
A travel group in multiples of four are good. Most accommodations, though sometimes advertised for two, could fit four people. Taxis also fit up to four passengers.
2. Get the two-person room even when there is four of you
Accommodations on match days in host cities started at $50 per night per person at the hostels. At the time of booking, the cheapest accommodation I was able find was $300 per night- advertised as a two-person room. Even though there was four of us, we ended up booking two-person rooms anyway; there was the option of two twin beds and, being relative petite people, we figured each couple could cram into one bed. The first two-person hotel room we stayed in had two double beds; the second one had a double bed with a pull-out couch- just perfect for four people.
3. Book with local airlines when travelling within the country
Most international travel sites show only a few airlines operating domestic flights, but there are a myriad of airlines that fly within Brazil, including TAM, Avianca, Gol, Webjet and Azul. These smaller airlines compete with one another to offer prices just slightly more costly than a bus ride (but saving you hours of time).
4. Don’t travel around… that much
With only two weeks in Brazil, we limited our itinerary to five cities, which is still quite high. Limiting the number of cities itinerary cuts transportation costs.
We also opted to travel to cities near Rio, in the south eastern region of the country. Longer flights, such as ones to the Amazon region, started at $500/person from Rio; a flight Manuas from Rio on game day cost over $1000/person.
5. Skip the Amazon
Originally, I wanted to head to Manaus to explore the Amazon region, but it seemed like such a long and expensive haul to spend only a few days. Not only were flights expensive, accommodations were as well. I had my sights on the Uakari Lodge, a highly rated experience; a minimum 3-4 night would cost over $600/person. Rates for Amazon experiences start at $100/night/person (food included) even without the World Cup premium.
Instead of the Amazon, many frugal travelers recommend a visit the Pantanal, one of Brazil’s “best value spots”. The region is much more affordable than the Amazon, and apparently, better for sightings of wildlife. We skipped the Pantanal though; we just weren’t willing to pay the fare for the flight.
6. Visit Rio, and then leave it
Prior to planning the trip, I, admittedly, knew very little about Brazil. I associated the entire country with the City of Rio de Janeiro: sunbathing on Ipanema Beach while sipping caipirinhas or trekking to Christ the Redeemer to enjoy gorgeous views of ocean and mountains and forest. I learned that is only a sliver- small, but breathtakingly beautiful sliver- of Brazil- and an expensive one at that. Visit Rio, but only stay for a few day and then leave for a more affordable city- your wallet will thank you and you will acquire a more well-rounded experience and picture of Brazil.
Note, I fell in love with Rio de Janeiro the moment I arrived. It’s so geographically beautiful, culturally diverse and intensely vibrant, and plain ‘ol fun (c’mon, beaches, fresh fruit juice and samba? What is there not to love?).
We spent a few days Ilha Grande, and island south of Rio known for its beautiful pristine beaches. Ilha Grande is a relatively unspoiled and expensive. While there are hordes of tourists in its small town of Abraoo, there are no cars on the island and much of it is uninhabited. Lopez Mendes beach on the island is ranked in Trip Advisor’s 25 Top World Beaches Traveler’s Choice Award is only accessible by a small boat or a three-hour trek through a tropical jungle. The sand was so fine, it squeaked beneath our feet.
The trip to Ilha Grande was quite an adventure. After an eight hour bus ride from Sao Paulo to Angra dos Reis, a small town with boats leaving Ilha Grande, we learned we had marginally missed the last ferry of the day to island. We managed, with the help of some locals, to find a private speed boat willing to take us to the island, but it came at a cost that was triple that of the ferry.
7. Eat only what you can
Brazilian restaurant portions are huge! We learned this the first night when we ordered four servings of the feijoada only to barely make a dent in our food while walking away stuffed. That meal could have easily fed eight people. Generally, Daniel and I could have (and should have) shared one dish for dinner and topped it off with dessert from street vendors or deep-fried-something-or-another and fruit juice from juice stands.
Street food in Brazil includes pastéis (hot and crispy “envelopes” filled with meat and salsa, pictured above) and deep fried cod balls, just to name a couple. Xis, a hearty sandwich filled with mayonnaise, hamburger meat, lettuce, tomato, fried egg, ham, pea and corn, is found in the southern region; one is sufficient to fill me for dinner. Street food items cost around $3 (CAD). Brazilians also have a sweet tooth and churros and cake are sold from street vendors.
Juice bars are extremely popular in Brazil and can be found at every street corner. Freshly squeezed juice from exotic fruit- many of which you’ve probably never heard of as they don’t even have English names- is the perfect solution to beat the heat and get a healthy boost nutrients. There are so many fruit options, and you can ask for juice without sugar, with pulp and even mixed with milk. Then, of course, this is açaí, a superfruit berry native to Brazil. The Brazilians eat it as a blended frozen treat topped with granola or bananas; it’s refreshing and delicious and an excellent source of anti-oxidants. Fruit juice will set you back $3-5 (CAD) and it is well worth having at least a couple a day.
Another frugal alternative for eating in Brazil is dining at pay-by-weight restaurants; you’re looking at paying $5-15 a meal at these restaurants. Start small, and if it’s not enough, just go back for more in increments until you are full.
8. Walk everywhere
We avoided taxis and used public transportation (mainly buses) when necessary (public transportation directions from Google Maps were accurate in Rio and Sao Paulo), but we generally walked everywhere. It’s free and you get exercise (to burn off all that Brazilian meat). It is safe to walk, contrary to the way media portrays Brazil; exercise caution, of course, and you’ll experience the Brazilian joie de vivre with every step.
Daniel and I usually travel with a loose budget which we use as a target to stay within. The “budget” is set based on previous travel experiences, extensive research of the destination, and what we’re comfortable with spending. We are pretty good at the cost estimation and our final actual costs fall within 10% of the budget. Even with a budget, we do not keep track of costs during travel and spend however we like. We try to cut costs where we can, exercising our tips above, which then allows us to splurge on other things, like a nice meal or a fun activity. Or, this time around, World Cup tickets to watch Netherlands and Australia play!
How closely do you keep to a budget while travelling? Share your tips for cutting costs!