Before I left on this trip, I had no idea where to go or what to expect of Brazil.
So I wanted to write a general overview of my Brazilian experience answering all the questions I had when preparing my trip.
How to get here?
I started my South American trip in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Being Belgian, I had to fly to get here. I like to take a direct flight, minimalizing the chances of getting your bike thrown around at the airport.
Four and a half months before leaving, I found an affordable (550 euro) flight from Barcelona, Spain to Sao Paulo with Singapore airlines. The baggage allowance was amazing! I could take two pieces of 32 kg each with just an economy ticket. The best part: the bicycle just counts as checked-in luggage, so there is no additional fee if you don’t exceed the 64 kg divided over two pieces.
Once landed in Sao Paulo, I was thinking of taking the bus to the city centre from where I could take a taxi. But when I asked someone how to catch the bus, he offered me a ride instead! His family even dropped me off all the way at my address! So I don’t know much about the busses etc. in Sao Paulo. But what a great start of my trip!
I arrived at 5pm, so didn’t have much daylight to reach my address. Therefore I thought it was better to take the bus. If you would land earlier and would like to cycle into the city, you’ll be cycling on some very big roads where you’ll have to be careful. But I would say it’s possible (when leaving, I cycled out of the city). Read more over at ‘is it safe?’
I wanted to change some money at the airport to pay for the bus or taxi. The commission was a staggering 40 reais (11 euro). You may want to change some beforehand to avoid this commission. I didn’t check, but there must be plenty of ATM’s at the airport too. So you could also just get money straight out of the wall.
Where to withdraw money
I always used ‘Banco do Brasil’ to withdraw money with my Maestro card. Once I used another bank cause I quickly needed some cash. Unfortunately I don’t remember the bank’s name, but I do remember there was a 20 reais fee and that the rate was almost 10 % worse… In every town there was a ‘banco do Brasil’ btw, so there is no need to carry much money on you.
Where to go?
All I knew about Brasil when I arrived, were the waterfalls over at Foz de Iguacu. I did find a route from a Brazilian cyclist going from Curitiba to Foz over smaller/quieter roads. Check this link (In Portuguese, but easy to find the road numbers and names of towns on your map): http://vadebike.org/2015/12/cicloturismo-atravessando-parana-curitiba-ate-foz-do-iguacu/
But I met many cyclists around Sao Paulo who showed me pictures of the canyons and waterfalls down South. Google ‘Serra do Rio do Rastro, Corvo Branco and Canyon de Itaimbezinho’ if you wonder why I went South instead of visiting Foz de Iguacu, one of the seven wonders of the world.
Also, I thought that cycling from Foz de Iguacu to Montevideo would be rather boring, so the South of Brazil sounded more exciting.
Cycling in and out of Sao Paulo
The size of Sao Paulo is impressive and with about 20 million inhabitants it sure makes up for its nickname ‘the concrete jungle’. I stayed a week, because the people hosting me were lovely and I had a great time going out every night. But I don’t think it’s a must to stay/ visit here.
It took 65 km to cycle out of the city. Of course it’s not very relaxed. I didn’t find any cycle paths and the busses are pretty aggressive. But I do have a small rear-view mirror which keeps me safe.
Later I did some research and found this great map showing all the cycle-paths around Sao Paulo:
If you would link these up, cycling out of the city wouldn’t be THAT bad. I only left in the afternoon, making me finding a place to sleep in the suburb. This was not so straightforward but turned out pretty funny (read my blog!). But obviously it would be smart to leave early and get to the country side in one day.
Flying to Sao Paulo and don’t fancy staying in the city/ cycling out of it?
But here’s a tip! There is a ‘casa de ciclistas’ in Sao Vicente, close to Santos, at about 100 km from Sao Paulo. There are direct busses from Sao Paulo to Sao Vicente (about 50 reais). So you might also land in Sao Paulo, hop on a bus, and put your bike together in the ‘casa de ciclistas’ (more info: where to stay). The company ‘cometa’ seems to have direct busses going there: http://www.viacaocometa.com.br/pt/
This way you would avoid cycling out of the city. Of course, you could also visit Sao Paulo and take the bus out of it.
Where to stay
- Casa de ciclistas
Casa de ciclistas literally means: ‘house of cyclists’. It’s basically a place where cycle tourers can stay for free. In Sao Vicente for example, I saw how the cyclists from the area contributed to make this place happening.
I only know two in Brasil: one in Foz de Iguacu and one in Sao Vicente (close to Santos and Sao Paulo). I stayed in Sao Vicente for about 4 days. You’ll find the address and the WhatsApp number there of the caretaker, Rafael Rizzato Santos, here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/casadocicloviajante/about/?ref=page_internal
I never wild camped in Brasil. I would say it’s possible to find a place out of sight in more remote areas, but I find it much more interesting to ask people to camp in the garden.
- Staying with locals
After traveling in Brasil for more than two months, I can say people are really hospitable! During this time, I only got refused once! But I would say, that it’s essential to speak some Portuguese though (don’t worry, when I arrived I also couldn’t speak a word!).
About one hour before it gets dark, I start looking for a garden to pitch my tent. I talk about myself and my trip as long as it takes to gain confidence. This is something you’ll have to do in Brazil, because there do is some criminality here. But with the bicycle in your hand, it’s always easy to convince them you’re not a thief, just a tired traveller looking for a place to roll out your mattress for the night. I also took a shower EVERY night and was offered food! So once they accept you, they take care of you like you’re part of the family.
I’ll write a blogpost later with all my tips for staying with locals!
- Cyclists: one big family
Apart from this, I met many cyclists along the way who put me in touch with their friends in the towns/cities on my route. They always received me wonderfully. And of course, they have friends in the next town… This was great to spend more than one day, make new friends, do some laundry…
There is also a big community of warmshowers.org in Brazil. With so much help from cyclists I met along the way, I just had to use it once in Cambara do Sul (a must go!).
Is it safe?
There are two rules I have for all my travels though:
- No cycling at night
- Camping only with permission of people or in the wild and out of sight.
Many people will tell you it’s very dangerous. The media sure succeeds to scare the people by showing only what went wrong. But if you follow those two rules, I don’t see any danger.
Take care on the road though. Traffic on big roads is dangerous. I basically did a crazy amount of detours to avoid the big roads and to visit the most spectacular places. A mirror is an absolute must. Drivers normally don’t slow down to overtake you. They also don’t horn if they don’t have enough space to overtake you safely, they just go for it. So if you’re on a big road, it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on the traffic with your mirror.
Paved roads are of good quality. Usually there is a hard shoulder. But a paved road with not much traffic was quite rare in the region I cycled. So you might want to head down some dirt roads!
I spend 800 euro in just over two months of traveling. This comes down to about 12,50 euro or 46 Brazilian real/ day. I never paid for accommodation. But I did go out quite a lot to bars and ate a lot in restaurants.
Brazil is not so cheap. The supermarkets are roughly twice as expensive as the Belgian ones.
Food in restaurants is affordable though. If you cook a meal yourself, it won’t be that much cheaper. Definitely in the South there are amazing restaurants for lunch, offering an all you can eat buffet for about 15 Real (4 euro). Food is very tasty and nutritious too. Main course is rice with sauce of black beans with meat.
In the cities I always spend a lot of money with going out, visiting the city,… There are just much more distractions. But once on the road, the Brazilians really took care of me, feeding me super good! And not accepting any money in return.
So if you plan your own trip and you have a different way of traveling, bear in mind that this budget is based on basic comfort, with no budget for accommodation and with many meals offered to me.
Which sim-card to get for your phone
I got a ‘chip’ from Claro. In the cities and bigger towns this worked fine, but that’s about it. It was also a hassle to get it set up.
I would advise you to get one from Vivo or TIM, which are the biggest companies.
With Claro, I paid 20 real for 600 MB with a one month validity.
You’ll find Wi-Fi in many bakeries, petrol stations etc. so even on the road you’ll be able to connect when just taking a small break to refuel.
You can do it! Learn some basic Portuguese! I didn’t study before arriving, because I basically needed all my time to work to save money for this trip. I had a listening course on my Ipod which thought me some basics, but most I learned with Google translator.
I would advise you though to get a small phrase book, because it will be easier to study. Brazilians really respect their guest, and they won’t correct you often. I speak French pretty good which is a great asset to learn Portuguese because it has many similar words.
It’s a beautiful country with amazing people. Check out my different blog posts to read more stories and examples of hospitality.
Any question? Don’t hesitate writing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by commenting below.
See you on the road!