Though there are highways and buses, the sheer vastness of Brazil (and the absence of rail travel) makes air travel the only viable option for those who want to visit a variety of cities and regions. However, the Brazilian airline industry has been experiencing turbulent times of late. The last 6 years has seen the bankruptcy of two Brazilian carriers, Transbrasil and Vasp, followed by the near demise of the country's flagship carrier Varig. A new, smaller Varig flew out of bankruptcy protection, minus most of its international and domestic routes. On top of that there has been ongoing labor unrest among air-traffic controllers, set off by a mid-air collision over the Amazon, the blame for which controllers felt was unfairly placed on them. And as if that wasn't enough, a still-unexplained crash (investigators are leaning toward pilot error) at São Paulo's busiest domestic hub led to a complete re-shuffling of Brazil's domestic air routes. All of which has meant delays, delays, cancellations, and more delays. The president sacked the head of the civilian air agency in mid-2007, and the new chief seems to be bringing order back to the skies. However, travelers should stock up on patience before entering a Brazilian airport. (It may well not be required, but you never know). During peak travel times (holidays, high season) long delays are a not unlikely occurrence.
The big winner from all this uproar has been domestic no-frills carrier Gol, which now even offers international flights within South America. Tam has also increased the number of destinations, internationally and domestically.
For those traveling larger distances in Brazil there is also the option of purchasing an air pass with Tam (much to the envy of Brazilians this pass is available to foreigners only). The pass offers travelers four flights within a 21-day period. Air passes need to be purchased and booked outside of Brazil. Only limited changes are allowed once you arrive in the country. Also, it's a good idea to read the small print before choosing your pass. Often flights between Rio and São Paulo's downtown airports are excluded (meaning you have to use the international airports) and the pass does not allow returns on the same stretch.
TAM (tel. 0800/123-100 in Brazil; www.tam.com.br) offers four segments for US$479 if you arrive on an international Tam flight (otherwise the pass costs US$560), with the option of a fifth leg for another US$120. The pass is valid for 21 days. Check TAM's special English-language site for more details on the air pass (www.tamairlines.com). If you're traveling to only one or two destinations within Brazil, it can be cheaper to skip the air pass and buy a separate ticket. You can check the prices with TAM or Gol (tel. 0300/789-2121 in Brazil; www.voegol.com.br). This airline has modeled itself after American discount carriers like Southwest Airlines -- quick bookings online and no-frills flights between popular destinations such as Rio, São Paulo, Salvador, Recife, Fortaleza, Manaus, Belém, Campo Grande, and Brasilia. Tickets can be purchased at the airport or on the Internet. The company flies brand-new Boeing 737s and provides friendly and efficient service.
Domestic Travel Do's and Don'ts -- There are a few tricks to avoiding delays and cancellations when flying domestically in Brazil. First up, if at all possible, avoid flights stopping or connecting through São Paulo. That may be hard to do; the city serves as Brazil's major hub, and its airports as a result have a tendency to get clogged and backed up. Second, travel early in the day: Delays tend to accumulate throughout the day and lead to bigger and bigger backlogs. Third, don't book tight connections, especially if you have to transfer from the domestic airport in Rio or São Paulo to the international airport. For a simple connection within the same airport, give yourself an hour. For a transfer from domestic to international airports, allow for at least 2 hours in Rio and 3 hours in São Paulo.
Bus travel in Brazil is comfortable, efficient, and affordable. The only problem is, it's a long way from anywhere to anywhere else. Tickets can be purchased ahead of time with reserved seats. All buses are nonsmoking, and in most cases people adhere to the regulations. On many popular routes travelers can opt for a deluxe coach with air-conditioning and leito (seats that recline almost flat).
Car rentals are expensive, and the distances are huge. From Recife to Brasilia is 2,121km (1,315 miles); Salvador to Rio is a 1,800km (1,116-mile) drive. Within Brazilian cities, renting a car is only for the bold and foolish: Drivers are aggressive, rules sporadically applied, and parking a competitive sport. That said, there are occasions -- a side trip to the mountain resorts of Rio, a visit to the historic towns of Minas Gerais, or a drive to the Chapada dos Guimarães outside of Cuiabá -- where a car makes sense. Contact numbers for rental companies are given in each chapter.
Each company normally has a national rate, and only rarely are there local discounts or special offers. For a tiny car (a Fiat Palio or Gol) with air-conditioning, you can typically expect to pay around R$70 (US$35/£19) per day plus R$.55 (US27¢/£.15) per kilometer or R$110 (US$55/£30) per day with unlimited mileage. Add to that another R$30 (US$15/£8) per day for comprehensive insurance. Gasoline costs R$2.60 (US$1.30/£.70) per liter, about US$4.50/gallon. Officially you need an international driver's license but we have never encountered any problems having a U.S., Canadian, or European license. To obtain an international license, contact your local automobile association. While expensive, the comprehensive insurance is probably a good idea as Brazilian drivers are not as gentle with their cars as folks in North America. Bumpers are meant to be used, Brazilians believe, and if a bit of nudging is required to get into that parking spot, so be it. Note that Embratur warns travelers to avoid the cheaper local car-rental companies, which sometimes skip on the requisite insurance and maintenance.
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.