In this space, I shall present a quick guide to a different country every other week. If you would like to share your culture with us or send us feedback, please write to me at [email protected]
Places to Visit
Rio de Janeiro is the most famous tourist destination in Brazil. There you will find gorgeous beaches next to towering geological formations such as Sugar Loaf, a large granite formation accessible by cable car; and the Corcovado Mountain with its statue of Christ the Redeemer. Rio is known for its laid back lifestyle; people often take a break from work to jog along the beach or go surfing.ÿ Rio’s beaches are beautiful but they are also often crowded.
If you are looking for a more secluded destination Parati is an excellent option.ÿ Still in the state of Rio de Janeiro, the city of Parati has similar natural beauty but without the large urban feel. The cobble stone streets and colonial architecture give tourists a peek into Brazil’s past. The city has a large population of artists who sell different kinds of souvenirs. If you visit in the summer, make sure to book a boat to take you snorkeling by some of the small islands along the coast.
If you enjoy beaches the Northeastern Coast of Brazil is another great region to visit. The most beautiful beaches in the northeast can be found in Natal, Fortaleza and Porto Seguro. Located closer to the Equator, this region is warm all year round so you can enjoy the white sand beaches any time of the year. The water is so warm you can actually go scuba diving in your swimsuit!
Fernando de Noronha is an archipelago off the coast of Recife. It is a National Park and one of the most beautiful places to visit. There are a limited number of people allowed on the island each day so it should be booked in advance and can be a bit expensive. The cities of Salvador and neighboring Olinda are famous for their street carnivals, but they have plenty more to offer at other times of the year. Both cities have historical areas with colorful colonial architecture.
If you are of a more adventurous type you might enjoy a trip to the Amazon. In spite of all this region has to offer, the tourism industry in the Amazon is not as well established as in the rest of the country. Most tourists base their Amazon travels from one of two major cities: Belém, situated by the mouth of the Amazon River, or Manaus, further up the Amazon River. The Brazilian airline TAM now offers flights from Miami direct to Manuas and then stopping in Belém. Both these cities offer good hotels and restaurants and all you would expect of a large city; but in only a few minutes by boat or car you will be in the middle of the rain forest. If you enjoy nature and wildlife you should definitely visit the Amazon. This region also has a multitude of fruits that you can only find here. The locals’ diet is mostly based on manioc flour, fish and a‡ai berries.
Another very wild region to visit is the Pantanal. Located in central Brazil near the border with Paraguai and Bolivia, the Pantanal is the perfect destination if you enjoy fishing. Fishing is only allowed between March and October. It is the largest flooded lowland on the planet and sustains a very fragile ecosystem of colorful birds and larger animals such as jaguars, giant otters, ant eaters and more!
If you are planning to visit the Amazon or Pantanal and no one in your group speaks Portuguese or Spanish it would be wise to try to book an organized tourism package since these regions are not as well prepared to receive foreign tourists and most people do not speak English. If you are determined to try without Spanish or Portuguese, be prepared to use lots of gestures. Even though people may not speak your language they are usually kind and willing to help.
Food & Beverage
Most dishes in Northeastern Brazil include seafood, beans and “dendˆ oil” which comes from a kind of palm tree and can be quite heavy if you are not accustomed. If you enjoy spicy food you will love “acarajé”. One delicious vegetarian treat you will find in the North and Northeast is “tapioquinhas” a thin white pancake made from manioc flour that can be served with different salty or sweet fillings. If you like meat, make sure to visit a “churrascaria”. These all you can eat restaurants specialize in meats roasted on long spits. Remember the cheaper cuts are usually served first, so take your time. If you do not eat meat, you can still eat very well at the large churrascaria such as “Fogo de Chao”, they have very nice buffets with all types of salads and warm dishes.
You will also be able to find most of the items you would see in an American supermarket in any large Brazilian supermarket. A greater variety of fruits and vegetables will be available due to the tropical climate. Tap water is usually not good for drinking; buy bottled water or drink from water fountains/ filters.
Brazil’s culture has been heavily influenced by the U.S. So if you are used to the American culture it should not be too hard to adapt to Brazil. Brazilian people are very friendly and welcoming. A few differences do exist though. A noteable difference is in the greeting. Brazilian’s usually greet each other with one or more kisses on the cheeks between two women or between a woman and a man. Between two men the most common greeting is a handshake or a pat on the back if they already know each other. The same is done to say goodbye.
When dining, tipping is not common. In restaurants there may be a 10% service fee, but it is usually included in the bill and should be paid with the bill and not left on the table. Brazilians also usually take longer lunch breaks. Co-workers frequently go out together to eat at a restaurant and it is an important time to get to know each other better. Sometimes work is discussed over lunch as well, so make it a point to join your team for lunch at least a few times per week.
Most people who visit Brazil never witness a crime. However, as any in developing country, Brazil’s crime rates are higher than those in the U.S. So a few safety tips should be kept in mind:
– Avoid wearing expensive jewelry, watches and bags especially if you’ll be walking or using public transportation.
– When you go out take only what you need. Leave return flight tickets, passport and any unnecessary documents locked up in the hotel safe.
– Keep your possessions with you at all times, if you leave things unattended at the beach to go for a swim, they may not be there when you come back.
Be aware of pickpockets and scams. There have been cases in which a person will ask for money, wait until you take out your wallet, and then grab it and run away. Instead of giving money directly if you really want to help, offer to buy a snack at a nearby shop or bakery. That way you’ll make sure the money is well spent and you’ll be safer.
Laptop theft is a growing problem in Sao Paulo. If you’ll be taking a taxi, place your laptop in the trunk and ask the driver to drive into the building. Also try to prepare your payment as you arrive at your destination so that you can exit the cab quickly once you arrive.
Portuguese is the official language in Brazil and the only language spoken by the majority of the population. However, in large cities like Sao Paulo or Rio you will find a greater number of people who know some English.
A few useful word/phrases to know:
– Bom dia (bong-gee-ah) -> hello
– Por favor (pour- fah- vour) -> please
– Obrigado (oh-bree-gah-dough) -> thank you if you are a man
– Obrigada (oh-bree-gah-dah) -> thank you if you are a woman
– Vocˆ fala Inglˆs? (vow-sayÿÿ fall-ahÿÿ ing-lays) -> Do you speak English?
If you are going to Brazil for work you would most likely be going to Sao Paulo which is the business and financial capital. Sao Paulo is a huge city; the Sao Paulo metropolitan area has nearly 20 million inhabitants. Traffic jams can be significant, particularly during rush hour (from 5pm to 9pm). Drivers don’t always respect pedestrians, so be careful. If you’ll need to drive be prepared for aggressive drivers and be extra cautious with motorcycles which drive in between the lanes of traffic.
In Sao Paulo you will find plenty of good museums, fine restaurants offering different type of cuisines and abundant night life-whether you enjoy night clubs or just a beer at a bar listening to live Brazilian music.
General living costs, hotel prices and meal prices in major cities are similar to prices in the US; prices in small towns are usually cheaper. Beer is very cheap in Brazil; it often costs less than bottled water. Electronics and items such as cars or home appliances are expensive in Brazil due to high import taxes. One great thing to purchase in Brazil is semiprecious gems. You’ll find many stores selling gems and jewelry made from stones at very competitive prices.
Brazil is the 5th largest country in the world. To go from one region to another, air travel is usually the best option since Brazil doesn’t have any significant rail service and bus rides could be take over a day on precarious roads.
Most apartments are rented. They are generally unfurnished with no appliances, so it can be quite expensive to set up a home. If you’ll be living in Brazil for only a few months but still want more space than a hotel room then a flat is probably your best option. These small serviced apartments usually have one bedroom, a bathroom and a small living room and kitchen. They come with all the appliances, utensils and furniture and are usually located close to business areas.
There are places to visit in Brazil any time of the year. The North and Northeast have warm weather all year round; while the South and Southeast have two clear seasons-a warm summer and a mild winter. Even during winter, temperatures hardly ever go below freezing and it does not snow. Most houses and commercial buildings do not have central heating. So if you are going to Southern or Southeastern Brazil in the winter (June, July, and August) make sure to take along plenty of warm clothes.
Also, Brazilian school holidays happen twice a year- winter holidays in July and summer holidays in December, January and February. Hotels and flights would be fuller and travel might be a bit more expensive during those periods.
There are three major festivities that take place in Brazil at different times of the year in different regions. Festa Junina is held in June to commemorate St. John in Southeastern Brazil. Carnaval (Carnival in Portugese), a country-wide festival that happens in March, includes parades displaying colorful costumes. Festa do Boi Bumba is a blast featuring dance and music which takes place in October in the state of Amazonas.
Largest City: Sao Paulo
Area: 3,285,618 mi2
Year of Independence: 1822
GDP Per Capita: $8205
Form of Government: Democracy
5-star hotel room tariff in major cities:
Smita Pranav Kothari, a proud Indian, is an EC partner. She likes to help new partners adjust to life at the B-school as the HBS International Partners Club Co-chair. She is taking Journalism classes at the Harvard Extension School. Besides learning about different cultures and learning international languages; she loves traveling, cooking, dancing and watching movies.
Kathy Cunha is the wife of EC student Daniel Cunha. Kathy teaches toddlers at the Peabody Terrace Children’s Center. She loves working with children and also enjoys traveling, photography and getting to know people from different cultures.