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As my biggest getaway of 2016, I spent plenty of time meticulously planning my six week trip to Brazil. And yet for all my research and reading, nothing can actually prepare you for the culture shock of completely immersing yourself in a new country, new language, and new lifestyle.

So many aspects of Brazil took me completely by surprise — both good and bad! While I’ve sprinkled in plenty of stray observations throughout my coverage, here are a few final thoughts on the biggest bombshells of my trip. Of course, in the end these are just the musings of a tourist — my experience was shaded heavily by my luck and by my mood. Others might have a different take. Brazilians, feel free to set me straight if I’ve misinterpreted your culture in any way.

Brazil Travel Blog

How safe we felt

One of our pleasant surprises of the trip was how comfortable Heather and I felt as two women traveling alone through what is often considered a very dangerous county. I should note that we had very low expectations in this regard. Stories of theft in Brazil are so rampant that I literally considered buying a backup iPhone before this trip, because that’s how much I had pre-accepted that I was going to be robbed blind. My first day in São Paulo was a hilarious wake up call that I really needed to chill.

While we were constantly — like literally, constantly — warned by everyone we encountered to be careful with our cameras (to which we were like, yeah, duh), we were vigilant and cautious and had zero issues and really felt surprisingly safe and secure throughout our time in Brazil, with a few uneasy but brief exceptions. Of course many travelers do experience crime in this country, hence the constant warnings, but our experience was a reminder that there are plenty of travelers who move through the country grief-free, too.

Brazil Travel Blog

How no one gave a flip about Zika

Our trip was at the HEIGHT of Zika mania. My dad, a busy CEO who probably isn’t really sure what country I am in the vast majority of the time, called me specifically to ask if I might consider postponing or canceling my trip — Heather’s parents did the same.

So I arrived half-expecting some sort of Hazmat-covered country under quarantine. And seriously? No one cared. No. one. cared. The first few times Heather or I casually brought up Zika to Brazilians, they looked at us like we were paranoid nutjobs. When we told them that Zika was still headline news every night in the US, they were baffled. “Oh yes, Zika. I had it last year. Dengue is much worse,” a doctor we met at Tomorrowland told us flippantly before casually ordering up another caipirinha. As someone who is kind of the opposite of a hypochondriac, I found the whole attitude very refreshing.

Also? We literally did not see one mosquito. Anywhere. Ironically, our two biggest fears before arriving in Brazil could not have been less of an issue.

Brazil Travel Blog

How hard it was to communicate

Yet the thing I didn’t think to fear left me so frustrated I nearly flew home early. Living in Thailand, a country where I speak no more than a pitiful few throwaway phrases in the country’s notoriously difficult and tonal language, I have done plenty of pantomiming and getting by with little-to-no shared vocabulary. I’ve traveled to 37 countries now and before Brazil, communication has never been an issue beyond a passing flicker of frustration — I certainly never imagined that a language barrier would negatively influence one of my trips.

It started with a very misplaced sense of confidence. I like to classify myself as a “blissfully barely-competent Spanish speaker.” Which is a winking way of saying that while I’m far from fluent, I love speaking Spanish and embrace the challenge with gusto, never letting an improperly conjugated verb get in the way of a productive conversation in Latin America. And I thought, how different can Spanish and Portuguese be?

Ha! That false sense of security was only heightened by the planning stage of our trip, in which I was able to fairly easily understand several all-Portuguese websites. Oh, how naive I was! I’d soon learn that written Portuguese and spoken Portuguese are two entirely different beasts. While the former is quite similar to its Spanish cousin, the ladder was unlike anything I’d ever heard. “When we first boarded our plan to Brazil for Argentina, we wondered why they were giving the announcements in Russian,” confessed my Israeli travel companions in Jericoacoara. At the risk of offending my Portuguese-speaking readers, the primary adjective I’d use to describe Brazilian Portuguese was mushy. Without the sharp clarifying corners I’d grown to love in the Spanish language, I couldn’t even pick up the different words when spoken to in Brazilian Portuguese. And again, I greatly hesitate to write this and offend any Portuguese speaking readers, but the truth is the language didn’t agree with my ears. In the same way that some people’s taste buds are predisposed to certain foods, the sound of different languages appeal to different people. Portuguese just isn’t my jam.

Of course, I accept full responsibility for not knowing more than the basic guidebook phrases when I arrived in Brazil. Translation apps can only go so far, and I should have been better prepared.

But regardless, you must be thinking, surely there are plenty of Brazilians who speak English? Nao muitos! Studies claim only 3% of Brazilians speak English as a second language. And I found that those who might were extremely reluctant to speak it.

In Southeast Asia, for comparison, my experience has been that there is no expectation among locals that foreigners will speak Thai, Khmer, or Laotian. Fluency in English is also a rare trait in this region, though communication between traveler and local is generally light-hearted and earnest. There’s a sense of, we’re in this together, and neither of us is leaving until we figure out how many papayas I want to buy and how much you’re going to charge me for them, gosh darn it. 

Brazil Travel Blog

But I found that in Brazil, it was harder to get anyone to even attempt to communicate — my apologetic English or hapless attempts at Portuguese were frequently met with terror, blank stares, and the person I was speaking to simply walking away from me. At Tomorrowland Brazil, I was unable to hear an employee at the information booth’s hesitant reply to me in English due to the loud music playing; when I asked her to repeat herself, she shook her head over and over again in mortified horror until I finally gave up and walked away. In Duty Free at São Paulo’s international airport, multiple employees practically sprinted from me in fear when I, again, always apologetically, requested assistance in English. When I wrote emails to hostels with English websites, they went unanswered. And more than once, I called a business and was told harshly, in perfect English, “we don’t speak any English,” before being hung up on. Needless to say my attempts to politely ask, “puedo hablar in Español?” were, with a few exceptions, also a giant flop.

I don’t think any of the people — just a few random examples plucked from six weeks of exasperation — were trying to be rude or unhelpful (in fact, the Brazilians we met who were comfortable speaking English were overwhelmingly warm and bubbly.) It was explained to me that many Brazilians are simply embarrassed by their lack of English abilities. In fact, one Brazilian I met explained that the reason we’d encountered so many domestic travelers at the hostels we stayed at was that Brazilians are often hesitant to travel to other countries, given their limited English abilities. It affects not just travel but business, too. And while many articles I’ve read in researching the lack of English speaking in Brazil assured me that locals would go out of their way to help me despite our lack of shared languages, I unfortunately did not find that to be the case. Maybe we just had bad luck.

Heather and I spent a lot of time reflecting on why we personally found the language barrier in Brazil so upsetting. We met quite a few men on the road (women traveling without male companions in Brazil were rare from our observation) who were basically like, “ha ha yeah we don’t understand anything! Who cares!”

Is it that as women we have to be more concerned about our physical safety? Is it that we are highly attuned to being talked over and brushed off? Do we just find communication to be more important? Whatever it was, I found myself very on edge knowing that I was unable to express myself in the local language, and that if I were to try to use body language or, heaven forbid, my mother tongue, I’d clear the room. I felt invisible and vulnerable in a way I never have before while traveling.

Brazil Travel Blog

The champagne campaign

On a lighter note, I couldn’t believe how much Brazilians LOVE bubbly. I was extremely onboard with this. Tomorrowland Brasil had more champagne tents than beer ones, our brunch restaurant in Rio de Janeiro had a DIY Bubbles Bar for creative mimosas, and at three out of the five hotels I stayed at on the trip, sparkling wine was handed to us at check-in — at in some cases, again at check-out!

We learned at our cooking class in Paraty that the sparkling wine industry in Brazil is booming, which made it all click.

Brazil Travel Blog

How diverse it is

One thing that struck me immediately is how many nationalities Brazil encompasses, especially coming from uber-homogonous Thailand. Brazil is enormous and incredibly ethnically diverse, and there is no one way to look Brazilian.

From the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, German-descended Brazilians of the south to the Afro-Caribbean Brazilians of the northeast to the indigenous tribes of the Amazon and everyone inbetween, Brazil is a really beautiful mosaic of different faces.

Brazil Travel Blog

What novelties we were

I mean hello — this is the country that has hosted the World Cup and the Olympics in just a few short years! Surely a few blonde gringas wandering around would be no big deal? Yet even in one of the most famous cities in the world, we were blessed with some very authentic little interactions that reminded us that we were a fairly exotic sight to some, and provided a sweet and refreshing counter-point to the frustrating anecdotes I outlined above.

It started with the dozens of Brazilians whose eyes lit up with excitement when they saw the American flag I was waving at Tomorrowland and came over to give me a high five — a refreshing reaction, as a citizen of a country that tends to take a lot of international flack.

And it continued with the hilarious National Park Ranger at Christo Redentor who whipped out a notebook and solemnly quizzed us on random English slang and insults after hearing us chatting; furrowing his brow and taking detailed notes at each of our replies. The employees at the pet supply shop it Botafogo who were very indiscreetly taking photos of us with their cell phone until we started chatting in broken Spanish and showing them pictures of our dogs, at which point they dropped the secrecy and each took turns taking photos with us and shyly gifting each of us a special free dog toy to bring home to our pups. The man in the favela who waved us over and insisted I try his BBQ meat straight off the grill, wanting only a smile in return. The salesgirl who sold me a $12 dress and gave me a huge, heart-felt hug before I left the store.

The Uber driver who saved us from disaster and drove us all the way from Rio to Buzios, calling everyone in his phonebook and excitedly repeating the same story — we got the gist of it when we heard “Americanos!” sprinkled in over and over again. Though he didn’t speak a single word of English, he chivalrously tried to be of assistance when we stopped at a rest area for snacks, hugged and kissed us when we got to Buzios, and looked back at his star fares with pride as he started the long three-hour drive back to Rio.

Brazil Travel Blog

How much I loved São Paulo

While planning this trip I kind of considered São Paulo a necessary evil; a place we had to fly into and out of and stop in on the way to and from Tomorrowland. And yet it literally turned out to be one of my top two favorite destinations of the trip (alongside Jericoacoara, its polar opposite).However, while São Paulo might have been the greatest surprise, all the destinations I visited were great in their own ways. There’s not one stop on our trip that was a disappointment in and of itself, though some were somewhat marred by terrible weather and other circumstances.

I originally only planned four nights in São Paulo, but it was long enough to have lingering moments of wondering what it might be like to move there. (And also to my great surprise, I never once had that “if I lived here…” daydream in Rio.) I loved South America’s largest city so much, however, that I ended up stopping there for three more nights on my way back out of the country.

I spent most of it chilling out and reflecting on the six weeks behind me and little else (hence the lack of a blog post on this time), and what a better place to do so than Hotel Unique, where I wildly splurged on one last night of luxury. One of the most architecturally distinctive hotels I’ve ever stayed in, Hotel Unique summed up the cutting edge art, stylish design and bold style that made me fall for São Paulo in the first place — what a perfect note to say goodbye to the city, and the country, on.

Brazil Travel Blog

Brazil Travel Blog

Brazil Travel Blog

Brazil Travel Blog

Brazil Travel Blog

The crazy kissing culture

Heather and I didn’t go out much for the first five weeks we were traveling together (my final week, when I was itinerary-less in Jericoacoara, I let loose a bit more.) However, we had one big night out in Rio and one big night out in Buzios, and both of them had one common theme — we were fending off random liplocks left and right!

In Buzios, we actually ended up chatting to a group of guys away on a bachelor weekend who spoke great English, and playfully confronted them about the apparent Brazilian preference for kissing first, asking names second. They conceded with a laugh that it was true, but countered with a scandalized observation of their own. “But American women… it’s crazy… they dance like they want to [redacted term for intimate activities]!” 

The finer nuances of twerking, it seems, have not reached the shores of Brazil. We couldn’t stop laughing. But it’s true — in the US, it’s fairly common sight in nightclubs for people to wordlessly approach each other and dance pretty intimately, which we were learning was as shocking to Brazilians as their saying-hi-with-a-snog was to us.

Brazil Travel Blog

That Brazil is not a year-round tropical paradise

Perhaps some of you will read this and say “duh.” But Heather and I were ridiculously unprepared for the weather we encountered throughout April and May in Brazil, which is their autumn. Our first week was glorious (residents of São Paulo complained of a heatwave but it felt great to us!), our second was a disaster (it downpoured in Paraty non-stop for days), and the two weeks that followed were mostly nice with a few full days of rain tossed in to keep us on our toes. We had to cancel a bunch of activities as a result, which was a bummer.

However, the larger issue is that we were just completely unprepared for the evening temperatures. During the day, these two Southeast-Asia expats were happy and smiling in sleeveless tops and sundresses. But as soon as the sun went down at 5:30pm, the temperature would drop down to the fifties — omg! — and we would literally be sent into a frenzied cold panic. Neither of us had anything more substantial than jeans and a cardigan, and I kid you not when I say there were multiple people in Paraty wearing puffy coats and winter hats to keep warm. There were many days where we’d make big plans to go out for a few drinks in the evening and as soon as we felt that chill in the air we would freak out, run back to our rooms, put on as many layers and possible, make ourselves into bedding burritos and wish for for the warmth of the sun until morning. Dramatic? Abso-freaking-lutely. But there is very little that I loathe more than being cold — I’ve literally designed my entire life around avoiding it. And I didn’t do a very good job in Brazil.

Don’t let the pictures of palm trees fool you. Brazil is an enormous country with four seasons and a major range of eco-systems. Do your research and pack accordingly!

Brazil Travel Blog

How carefully you need to pack

In addition to the weather wake-up call above, we also discovered a few other surprises that make packing well essential for a happy trip to Brazil. First of all? Laundry is surprisingly tough to do. Hostels don’t offer per-kilo laundry service like travelers might be used to in Southeast Asia or other parts of Latin America, and laundromats are few and far between.

Second? Electronics are insanely taxed and tough to track down. For long trips, bring extra camera batteries, a spare laptop chargers, the works. I got the shock of my life when my MacBook charger fried and it was going to cost a cool $17oUSD to replace it. No joke! I heard at least one Brazilian explain that Apple products in particular are harshly marked up by both authorized and off-the-books retailers — one of the reasons iPhones are one of the prime targets for street snatchings.

How few backpackers we met

I’ve touched on this before, but in our weeks of traveling through Brazil, I was absolutely blown away by the lack of English-speaking travelers we encountered (which meant, compounded with our issues communicating with locals, Heather and I got to have a lot of deep and meaningful conversations with each other. I’m pretty sure she was ready to never, ever hear the sound of my voice again by the time she headed home.)

Having experienced the Gringo Trail full blast in Peru and Ecuador and throughout Central America, I found it baffling at first. Hello… where are all the battered-passport, backpack-toting Europeans, Australians, and North Americans on long haul trips around the continent?! Where are the retirees in zip-off pants? Where are the honeymooners? I didn’t find a heavy concentration of any of them, or any sort of traditional backpacker scene, until I hit Jericoacoara.

Why? Brazil has more visa restrictions than its neighboring countries, it is bigger and more expensive and thus a bit more intimidating to travel. Plus, six of the seven hostels I stayed in throughout my six weeks in Brazil were overwhelmingly populated by domestic Brazilian travelers. The cool thing is that the Brazilians staying in hostels are more likely than the rest of the population to speak a bit of English, and getting to bond with locals who are also traveling is pretty unique and fun — I went to the beach and to dinner with Brazilians in Jeri, we partied with Brazilians at Tomorrowland and I had some awesome chats over breakfast with Brazilians in São Paulo. However, those were kind of the exceptions and for the most part, everyone in the hostels spoke Portuguese and it was hard to break into that clique as an English speaker. Speaking Spanish does help, as many non-domestic travelers hail from neighboring Spanish-speaking countries, specifically Argentina.

Typically I love traveling alone, however in this case I was incredibly grateful to be on the road with Heather for the majority of my trip, lest I feel totally linguistically isolated from the world for six weeks straight.

Brazil Travel Blog

How unique the beach culture was

As a certified beach girl, I thought I knew a think or two about spending a day on the sand. Nah. Brazilians have the most unique beach culture I’ve encountered anywhere in the world — I wrote a whole post about it! People always talk about how Brazilians can teach the world a thing or two about how to party. I think they can also show us how to go to the beach!

Brazil Travel Blog

How tough it was to get a visa

Seriously, hats off to those of you who have to go through the difficult process of procuring a visa for every country you travel to. As a US citizen, most of the visas I’ve applied for in my life have been because I have desired to stay in a specific country longer than the standard visa-waiver would allow. And while they’ve often been a headache to procure, Brazil was the biggest eye opener by far.

First, I had to travel in-person to Bangkok to apply, and by that point I’d already gone back and forth with the embassy multiple times with questions about the application questions and procedure and other logistical issues. The amount of information I had to procure was astounding and I felt like I had assembled approximately twenty-seven documents by the time I was finished. My appointment was stressful, with my interviewer grilling me on minute details of my trip, cross checking my application with Heather’s (who had gone in separately) and berated me for not photocopying my passport ahead of time to the point that I broke down after my appointment worried that my application was going to be denied.

And it was expensive! The whole shebang set me back about $230, not including the cost of a trip to Bangkok, where thankfully I was going to be anyway. I was definitely left with a newfound respect for my fellow travelers who have to cut through this much red tape and more for every trip.

Brazil Travel Blog

Have you been to Brazil? If so, what surprised you about your trip? If not, which of these would catch you off guard?

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62 Comments...
  • becky hutner
    May 1 2017

    I absolutely love this roundup. To be honest, Brazil has never been at the top of my bucket list but your coverage has really sold me on Sao Paulo & Rio (for the beach scene alone!). I actually have an open invitation from a Brazilian friend to stay in his parents’ penthouse condo in Rio and their mango farm in the countryside. Given your issues with communication, I’m now even more keen to take advantage of this “in.”

    PS – I hate being cold more than ANYTHING!!! So you can imagine how I feel every damn day in London, lovely as it is. This is the longest stretch I’ve gone without decent sunshine in my whole life — my Ibiza trip next month CAN’T COME FAST ENOUGH.

    • Alex
      May 11 2017

      I’m so glad to hear from a fellow sunshine addict. I know sometimes poke fun at me in the comments for freaking out (and not in a good way) as soon as the temperatures drop below 65… BUT I CAN’T HELP IT! I just loathe the feeling of being cold!

  • Gabi Uechi
    May 1 2017

    I’m brazilian and i’ve surprised about the champagne info, I didn’t knkw that, where had you been ! For me, about drinks, we’re more beers than others. I’m glad tha despite a lor you enjoyed Brazil! And i’m sorry about less english speaking , I didn’t know tha was so difficult to find english speaking. I live near Sao Paulo, and I love to receive travellers and show then my favorite beach that is located in Ubatuba city, about 3h by car from Sao Paulo. And you’re right about way brazilians used enjoy beaches, it’s a thing that we do right well done! =)

    • Alex
      May 11 2017

      Aw Gabi, I love that you love to show travelers around 🙂 I too was surprised by the statistics on English speaking! Who would have guessed?

  • Cate
    May 1 2017

    Ahhhhhh you have completely sold me on Brazil- despite some of the surprise in this post. I would definitely have the most trouble with not being able to talk to people- and not meeting many travelers as it is! I think I would definitely choose to go with a friend as well, after reading your experience. That kiss first talk later thing is so funny!
    Cate recently posted..A Love Letter to the Sea

    • Alex
      May 11 2017

      Yup, definitely one of the very few countries I’ve been to where I wouldn’t recommend traveling solo — unless, of course, you speak Portuguese. It’s just more fun with someone to talk to! And that’s coming from someone who loves to be alone!

  • Sarah
    May 1 2017

    Thank you so much, Alex, for this amazingly detailed post! I’ve never been to Brazil and didn’t know any of this: $170 for a charger! Few foreign backpackers! Crazy-cold temperatures! I’ll definitely be using this post as a guide when I make it over there.

    • Alex
      May 11 2017

      Well, to be fair, the temperatures aren’t cold everywhere or all the time 🙂 But we definitely should have done a little more research there and been a bit better prepared! Thank goodness I specifically bought a pair of jeans in Koh Samui for this trip — I’d have been lost without them!

  • marku
    May 1 2017

    Have you ever thought that maybe you had such a hard time getting in and lots of Brazilians running from you cause they just don’t want dumb American Blondes in their country? Yes…I experienced on my first but not last visit to Brazil that the Brazilians didn’t speak English..until I took out my guitar on Leblon beach and began playing and singing. Then the very same folk I asked questions to earlier and fiend no comprende..called me over, spoke perfect english and shared their joints with me, singing along. When other Gringo Frat boys came over thinking they could join in and take a smoke..they were snubbed hard…also with the no comprende. So get it..”no comprende” means they don’t think you’re cool, most likely an American who’s Cia made many of their parent’s friends “disappear” in the 60’s and 70’s.

    • Alex
      May 11 2017

      Hey Marku. No I didn’t consider that Brazilians were “running from me because they just don’t want dumb American Blondes in their country.” …Because I’m not a dumb blonde.

  • Interesting observations! I think sometimes we do so much research about a place, there aren’t many surprises left, so it’s great when something like Sao Paulo happens you’re swept off your feet!
    Leigh | Campfires & Concierges recently posted..Getting Fit for Active Travel

    • Alex
      May 11 2017

      Indeed! I am TOTALLY guilty of over-researching. Even when I want to stop, I can’t! It’s a compulsion! Sometimes I get lucky and am just way too busy or overwhelmed before a trip — LOL.

  • Amanda
    May 1 2017

    I am loving these longer posts/observations about Brazil! Great job xo

    Also, I too was surprised at the vast difference between Spanish and Portuguese when I visited Portugal. So many ooosh sounds.

    • Alex
      May 11 2017

      Oh my gosh, yes. “Oooosh” is the perfect description. And thank you! I had a LOT of feelings about Brazil that needed working out… took me some time but that’s where these big long reflection type posts came from, ha. Writing on your blog: far cheaper than therapy.

  • Eugenia Parrish
    May 1 2017

    Thanks so much for the heads-up on so many things. This reminded me of years ago when I was trying — operative word — to learn Spanish. To practice, I watched telenovelas on TV. I got pretty good, except for the ones filmed in Brazil. The lips didn’t match. Finally figured out that they were dubbed in Spanish from Portuguese! I later found out that if I watched a movie in Italian, I could follow it pretty well, because it was close enough to Spanish. But Portuguese? Forget about it — no clue.
    I wonder if my advanced years would protect me from the kiss first, say hi later thing? Did they buss the grannies too? Or just the beautiful young women?

    • Alex
      May 11 2017

      Ha, that is a great story about the telenovas! And interesting that Italian is fairly similar, but Portuguese is just another beast entirely. It does make me feel better to know I’m not the only one who struggled.

      As for the kissing — it only happened in bars and nightclubs, not just like, on the beach, ha ha. I’m not sure at what age you’re safe from random liplocks! But we were shocked by it! Someone catches your eye and you smile back and suddenly their lips are coming right at yours — whoa!

  • Elizabeth Trudel
    May 1 2017

    I don’t speak Portuguese (or spanish) but I have a friend from Portugal and one from Brazil and they can barely understand each other if they speak portuguese so they have to speak English!

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Wow, that’s amazing! I heard they were quite different, but that’s dramatic!

  • Leah
    May 1 2017

    It’s wonderful and terrifying that no matter how much you plan for a trip you can never be fully prepared for it.

    I’m guilty of “overplanning” my trips so I love when a place completely shocks and surprises me!
    Leah recently posted..Why Did I Start This Blog?

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Ugh, I’m the worst overplanner! I just can’t seem to help myself 😉 But yes, Brazil still managed to blow me away!

  • Marni
    May 1 2017

    I love in your posts that you don’t hide the downsides. You might not dwell on them too much, but it’s great that you don’t sugarcoat everything. I’m pretty sure I would be as lost language-wise as you were; I don’t even have any experience in Spanish to help. I guess that’s all part of the fun of traveling, right?
    Marni recently posted..2017: What’s Next

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Ha ha, just wait till you see my roundup — I got petty AF. But well, I think of it as a way to process any negative leftover emotions about the downsides 😉

  • Granted I was there 10 years ago (and only for a week at that), but I too was shocked by how safe I felt compared to all the safety issues people warned me against! I really want to go back now after reading all your posts.
    Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate recently posted..April 2017 Highlights: Highs + Lows

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Interesting you felt the same even back then — I assumed that the safety situation had improved and the reputation just hadn’t caught up with it. Maybe it’s always been overhyped.

  • Jill
    May 1 2017

    This was a fascinating read! I’ve wanted to visit Brazil for years. I spent a few months studying Portuguese before traveling to Portugal, but I don’t think it’ll prepare me in the least for crazy Brazilian accents and slang!

    I’m with you on the Great Zika Flipout. On a recent trip to Mexico, I met a health worker and fellow traveler who noticed my bug bites and said flippantly, “Don’t worry, Zika only stays in your system for like two weeks.” I didn’t catch the virus, but if I had, it seemed pretty clear to me that it wouldn’t have even been a big deal.
    Jill recently posted..Tips on traveling to Portugal

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Yeah, it’s crazy to compare the local reaction in Zika hotspots with the reactions of my friends at home who have literally changed travel plans — including their weddings! — to avoid being in areas that are labeled as low-risk.

  • Daniele
    May 1 2017

    What a great post! I really enjoy reading your insights; I often feel like I’m chatting with one of my girlfriends when I read your blog.

    (Especially since my girlfriends are all smart, interesting, bad asses…)

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      You are so sweet — and your friends sound bomb 😉

  • I have only visited a few countries never been to one where I was at a lost language wise, it is my big fear and has stopped me wanting to visit some countries as I age I am getting over that, there are so many wonderful countries that one day I would like to visit
    Joanne the crazy lady recently posted..It’s Monday so did you know…………………….

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Yeah, I get asked about language barriers a LOT from friends and readers who are just starting to get into travel, and I’ve always brushed it off as no big deal. After this trip, I now know that it definitely can be!

  • Gracie
    May 2 2017

    I’ve never been to Brazil but one of my best friends did a mission trip down there and she really liked the country so I would be interested in going some day. I think I would definitely be most frustrated with the language barrier! I don’t know Portuguese and my Spanish isn’t very good so I wouldn’t even have that going for me haha. Also I enjoy my personal space so I’d be pretty shocked at the “kiss first” culture if I didn’t know about it!
    Gracie recently posted..5 Lessons Learned From My First Trip to Spain

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Honestly, I’m not sure if Spanish helped at all — it may have hurt by giving me a false sense of security! And at least now you’ve been warned about the kissing 😉

  • Elizabeth Howell
    May 2 2017

    We went through the same visa grief getting visas for India – it is a bit of a shocker when you’re used to VOA with a US passport!

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Indeed! I’ve had to procure visas all over Southeast Asia since I tend to do longer stays than the visas on arrival allow for, but this… this was a whole other beast! I’ve heard India is crazy too.

  • Mike
    May 2 2017

    I read so much about safety in Rio that I was shocked how comfortable it felt wandering Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon etc. That being said, parts of Rio were also the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt traveling. Walking down the completely deserted winding stretch from Aprazível (best meal of trip?) to the heart of Santa Teresa and parts of Lapa made my heart pound. Luckily no bad encounters though.

    I spent about 30 hours on duolingo practicing Br. Portuguese before the trip. I am also fairly good with Spanish. Still, communication was difficult in many cases in Rio without digging into broken Portuguese (no issue in Buzios). It’s so deceptive because plenty of nouns, verbs and conjugations are similar to Spanish. However, they have different pronunciations for letters and do this 2-3 word blending thing that’s different than Spanish. The Portuguese helped out a ton though because I could at least get out a verb or noun they could recognize. Now I always accidentally speak Spani-guese when I go to Mexico though, so maybe not worth it.

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Yeah, the one “off” feeling we had walking in Rio was in Lapa, but we booked it out of that particular area (around the Aquaduct) and felt fine moments later.

      I have to say your story about trying to learn Portuguese makes me feel SO much better, so thank you for sharing. I worked so hard to get to where I am with Spanish — languages do not come naturally to me — and so I was very paranoid about confusing myself by adding Portuguese into the mix. You make me feel less guilty for not trying, ha ha.

  • John
    May 3 2017

    Wow, what a great blog! Brought back many memories of Brazil! But I was only there for 10 days. Maybe someday I can see some of the things I missed. Gorgeous photos!

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      It’s such an enormous country! I saw only a teeny tiny bit in six weeks — I too definitely need to go back to see more!

  • Kate Storm
    May 3 2017

    Don’t mind me, I’m just busy browsing tickets to Brazil and idly daydreaming about views of Rio while reading your posts.

    But really, I’ve loved the Brazil coverage. Sad to see it go!
    Kate Storm recently posted..Horseback Riding in Nicaragua with Rancho Chilamate

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Ha, I love it! Well, there is still a roundup post to come 😉

  • Ijana Loss
    May 3 2017

    I have definitely heard that when traveling to Brazil it’s best to speak some Portuguese. I’m actually going to start learning Portuguese pretty soon, in anticipation of a Brazil trip next year. If you do speak the language though I imagine Brazil could be a really cool place to meet loads of locals and have experiences that are hard to have in other places where you’re surrounded by other foreign hostel goers all the time. On another note, I never personally considered either Rio or Sao Paolo as somewhere I’d like to visit, but after reading your coverage I’d love to visit both!

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Absolutely — it’s super unique that Brazilian hostels are full of Brazilian people! I really lucked out in Jeri and met a couple that spoke English, and it was so fun to get to hang with them and get their perspective on things.

  • Traveling LADY
    May 3 2017

    The fact that crazy intimate dances wasn’t a scene in Brazil is very surprising to me. I pictured completely opposite in my head ? ? ?
    Traveling LADY recently posted..ULTIMATE GUIDE TO PARIS CAFES

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Ha nope, they do actual dancing moreso than just the grinding/twerking that is popular in American nightclubs 😛

  • Dominique
    May 4 2017

    I’m starting to look forward to visiting Brazil one day! Your posts about the country are so well written and you explain the country and its manners so well that I feel I’ve already been! What a great introduction!
    Dominique recently posted..Doha – A Long Transit

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Wow Dominique, what an amazing compliment! Thank you so much!

  • Dan
    May 4 2017

    I lived in Brazil for over 2 years and loved reading your take! I speak Portuguese so didnt experience that frustration. Makes me want to go back!

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Ah, I can only imagine what a beautiful country it would be to travel if I could take a magic Portuguese speaking pill 🙂

  • Breanna
    May 6 2017

    I have to agree with the majority of these.
    I never once felt unsafe in my three trips to the country. I was also always with a male friend, except for one day and yes you were treated differently, but never unsafely. I found Portuguese and French a little more similar. I could kind of understand it if people spoke slowly enough. Oddly enough I was able to speak it better while drinking, (maybe because I wasn’t overthinking for once).

    The kissing culture! I miss that, not the full on snog, but greeting your friends with a kiss on the cheek. According to my friends down there comsider us North Americans come across as cold for not doing that.
    I found by my third time to São Paulo I grew to love it in the way you love that old comfy sweater. I also noticed in Rio tourists were accepted as the norm but if you went to São Paulo you are kind of stared at like an anomaly,

    I loved your take on all things Brazil. Makes me miss my second home!

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Interesting that French and Portuguese are perhaps more similar than Spanish and Portuguese. My boyfriend speaks French and told me he didn’t find Portuguese too puzzling when he was living in Portugal, so that lends more evidence to that theory!

  • Kailey
    May 6 2017

    My husband and I went to Rio in November 2015. Agreed we felt totally safe and saw no mosquitos. My husband learned some Portuguese pre trip and we did pretty well with communication. And we ran into travelers from loads of other countries.

    But I do think it helps he can pass as Hispanic. And sometimes people didn’t want to converse with me because I was a gringa it seemed. We’d go back in a heartbeat if not for the visa pains.

    One of our highlights was hiking the mountain Christ the Redeemer is on. Not the easiest but fun and free.

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Glad you had such a positive experience Kailey! We did meet people from many other countries but definitely not the “backpacker culture” that you find elsewhere in Latin America. Interesting that your husband was more approachable — I wonder if it was his hispanic appearance or the fact that he is a man? Maybe a bit of both!

  • Caroline
    May 8 2017

    I know this is only a small part of your post, but in the name of refreshing honesty I am so glad you said you didn’t like the sound of Portuguese! I feel neutral about Portuguese, but I have always HATED the sound of French, and I feel silly at best or prejudiced at worst telling people that. But it’s not a value judgment, just a preference for certain sounds almost like a preference for certain kinds of music. I once spoke Italian fairly well, and I always loved the sound of that. But French drives me crazy, it’s so guttural.

    I’ve never made any serious attempt to learn Portuguese, but I’ve also found Portuguese phrases really hard. I think part of it is the gap between Spanish and Portuguese — I’m an American too, so even though I speak only survival Spanish, I see and hear Spanish phrases all the time. Portuguese looks similar at first glance, so I always go into it thinking “oh, I can puzzle my way through in Spanish, how different could this be?” — only to remember that it is hugely different

    • Kailey Ekstrum
      May 9 2017

      Ha I know what you mean. Spanish to me is just a long, not enunciated string of sounds. Portuguese we did end up liking weirdly. French I haven’t explored much of yet.

      • Alex
        May 12 2017

        Ha, I had the same “long, not enunciated string of sounds” problem with Portuguese, Kailey! I guess whatever you are most familiar with sounds the clearest and more distinctive 🙂

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      Well I am SO glad to hear you say that too Caroline! I felt so guilty writing that I almost deleted it a few times. But is is true, I just can’t stand the sound. And Spanish is so beautiful to my ears! You’re right though, it’s just like preferences in certain music or food. We can’t help it!

  • Pilot Mark
    May 9 2017

    Brazil is a beautiful, diverse country with buckets of culture, amazing food, weather, people and music, to name a few! I was in Rio de Janeiro too and didn’t want to leave!
    The beaches were a highlight, but I have to say, Carnival has to be one of the best experiences in Rio!

    • Alex
      May 12 2017

      I absolutely must go back for Carnival one of these days! It’s on the bucket list for sure!

  • Kat
    May 14 2017

    I’m so glad I read this blog post! Brazil is pretty high on my list of destinations and this gave me some fresh perspective on how to plan for the trip.
    I have to agree with you that to my ears Portuguese is not as beautiful as Spanish. I always jump on a chance to practice mi espanol!
    Kat recently posted..The best tours in Berlin for the young adult

    • Alex
      May 15 2017

      Me too, Kat! Or should I say, yo también 😉

  • Stefanie
    May 19 2017

    Woow, this looks really amazing,
    This is really on my have to do list before i get into my 40’s

    Keep posting,
    Kind regards
    Stefanie

    • Alex
      May 31 2017

      I will, Stefanie! Thank you!

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