924km (574 miles) NW of Rio de Janeiro, 870km (540 miles) N of São Pãulo
By Plane -- Gol (tel. 0300/115-2121; www.voegol.com.br), TAM (tel. 061/4002-5700; www.tam.com.br), and Webjet (tel. 0300/210-1234; www.webjet.com.br) have several flights a day to Brasilia from major Brazilian cities. Brasilia's airport, Aeroporto Internacional de Brasilia -- Presidente Juscelino Kubitschek (tel. 061/3364-9000), is about 10km (6 1/4 miles) west of the Eixo Monumental. Taxis from the airport to the hotel zones cost about R$35. Regular city buses aren't worth the trouble. They take you only to the main bus station, leaving you a painfully long walk (or taxi ride) from the hotels. Note: Brasilia's layout is so striking from the air that's it's worth getting a window seat on the flight in.
By Bus -- Long-distance buses arrive at the Rodoferroviario (tel. 061/3363-2281), located at the far western point of the Eixo Monumental. Keep in mind that Brasilia really is in the middle of nowhere: 1,000km (620 miles) from Salvador, 930km (577 miles) from Rio, and 870km (539 miles) from São Paulo.
What makes Brasilia unique -- besides its amazing architecture -- is its layout. Two main traffic arteries divide the city. Eixo Monumental runs dead straight east/west; Eixo Rodoviario runs north/south, curving as it goes. Seen from above, the city resembles an airplane or an arrow notched into a partially bent bow. Where these two axes intersect is the city's central bus station, the Rodoviaria (not the same as the long-distance bus station).
The other main distinguishing feature of the city plan is the strict separation of uses by zoning. All of the city's important government buildings are located at the "point" of the arrow -- that is, on the eastern end of the Eixo Monumental. All of the city's hotels can be found in two hotel districts near the Rodoviaria. Similarly, the city's offices, shopping malls, theaters, and hospitals are in their individually designated clumps, usually close to where the "bow" meets the "arrow."
Because the plan is so simple, people mistakenly believe it's easy to find their way around. Figuring out how to navigate Brasilia requires delving back into the city structure in a bit more detail.
The Eixo Monumental (the east-west avenue with all the monuments and government buildings) divides the city into two perfectly symmetric wings, the Asa Norte, or N (north wing), and Asa Sul, or S (south wing). (Always check whether an address is in the south or north wing; otherwise, you could find yourself in the complete opposite part of town.) The various single-use zones (one in each wing) are designated on maps by letter codes. SHS for Setor Hoteleiro Sul (hotels), SBN for Setor Bancario Norte (banks), or SCS for Setor Comercial Sul (commercial business).
Addresses in Brasilia read like a futuristic code: "SQN 303, Bl. C, 101" or "SCS, Q. 7, Bl. A, loja 43" or "SHN, Q. 5, Bl. C." Here's how to do the decoding. The first three letters are the sector code (for example, SHS for Setor Hoteleiro Sul -- hotels). Within each sector, a group of about 10 or so buildings is called a Quadra. Sometimes you can tell the buildings of a Quadra belong together either by appearance or spacing. Within each Quadra individual buildings are identified as Conjunto (conj.) or Bloco (B or Bl.). An individual store or office can be identified by loja or lote. So an address that reads "SCS Q. 7, Bl. A, loja 43" means that the office is located in the Setor Commercial Sul (the commercial zone in the south wing), Quadra 7 and building A, and the shop number is 43. "SHN, Q. 5, Bl. C" would be Setor Hoteleiro Norte (the hotel zone in the north wing), Quadra 5, building C.
Residential addresses are given a three-letter prefix -- SQN (Super Quadra Norte) or SQS (Super Quadra Sul). Within each wing, each Super Quadra is given a three-digit number (for example, 203, 404, or 508). Each Super Quadra then consists of 16 buildings or Blocos (Bl. or B) that are identified by a letter. Within each Bloco there are apartment numbers. So SQN 303, Bl. C, 101 refers to Super Quadra 303 in the north wing. Within that Super Quadra you look for building C and apartment 101.
One final note: When looking for restaurants or bars, it's important to note the following distinction. SCLN (or CLN) means Setor Commercial Local Norte and refers to the local block of retail and commerce that is found within each Super Quadra; CLN404 is the 1 block of small shops and restaurants found within the Super Quadra 404 in the north wing. Do not confuse this with SCN, Setor Commercial Norte, which is the large mall sector adjacent to the Eixo Monumental.
The bus hub in the center of town, where the Eixo Monumental and Eixo Rodoviario intersect, is called the Rodoviaria. All city buses go through the Rodoviaria. It's where you transfer from an east-west to a north-south bus. Most of the city's malls and hotels are within walking distance of the Rodoviaria.
As long as you're on the Eixo Monumental looking at monuments or shopping, Brasilia is easy to understand. Stray into the residential sections, and confusion ensues. Costa's mass-production mentality means that every single Super Quadra looks identical. There are no landmarks whatsoever, so pay close attention to the street addresses. Get even one digit wrong, and you'll never find your destination. For visitors, it's often wiser to save yourself the hassle and just take taxis.
By Bus -- Buses run from the tip of the south wing to the tip of the north wing, along W1 and W3 on the west side of the Eixo Rodoviario (the bow) and on L1 and L3 on the east side of the Eixo Rodoviario. To travel across town you catch a bus traveling to the opposite part of the city: From Asa Sul catch a bus that says ASA NORTE, or vice versa. On the Eixo Monumental you can catch buses labeled PLANO PILOTO CIRCULAR that just circle up and down this main boulevard. Many buses will go via the Rodoviaria, located in the center of town. These will get you pretty close to the main monuments, hotels, and malls along the Eixo Monumental. Bus tickets are R$1.85.
By Tourist Bus -- Brasilia City Tour (tel. 061/3356-1707 or 9298-9416; www.brasiliacitytour.com.br) offers a double-decker bus that covers the main tourist destinations along the Eixo Monumental. The bus operates Tuesday to Sunday, departing at 10, 11:30am, 2, 3:30, and 5pm from the Torre da TV (TV tower). It stops at 16 different attractions, including the City Park, the Memorial JK, the Cathedral, and main government buildings. For R$20 (children 6-12 pay half price), you can get on and off wherever you like. As the bus only comes by every 90 minutes you may want to plan your stops strategically around the more interesting museums and monuments.
By Metrô -- Brasilia has a Metrô, but is unfortunately of little use to most visitors as it currently only runs from the bus station along the Asa Sul to the satellite cities and doesn't cover the hotel section or the Eixo Monumental.
By Taxi -- Taxis are plentiful and my preferred transportation method, especially if I can't easily figure out where I'm going. Just hand the address to the driver and he'll figure it out. From the hotel sector to the tip of the Asa Sul costs approximately R$25. For taxis call Brasilia (tel. 061/3344-1000) or Rádio Táxi (tel. 061/3325-3030).
By Car -- Brasilia was designed specifically for cars. One of the big selling points of the original plan was that it made traffic lights unnecessary. All intersections were originally designed to be roundabouts (there are now traffic lights, but not that many). The rule for roundabouts: The car that's already in the roundabout (for example, going around on a curve) has the right of way. Traffic is relatively calm in Brasilia; residents even stop for pedestrians, but they're fierce if you break the roundabout rule.
The official government tourist agency Setur is reorganizing all of its information booths. The only information desk (Tues-Sun 9am-6pm) currently in operation is located on the ground floor of the Museu Nacional, the large white dome next to the cathedral. The site www.infobrasilia.com.br has short biographies of the city's founders, and some great photos.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.