Cultural Discoveries: A Brazilian Bonanza

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Caipirinha, Brazil’s national drink

Discover the Brazilian Beat

Among various forms of artistic expression, it is perhaps music that defines the Brazilian soul. Music is not only inseparable from daily life, but it plays a starring role in all types of celebrations, and of course, is inextricably linked to dance in such rhythms.

Samba: The birth of modern Brazilian music essentially began with the samba in the early 20th century in a Rio neighborhood, with a high concentration of Bahian immigrants from the northeast. The 1930s are known as the golden age of samba and Carmen Miranda—one of the big radio stars of that decade—would become an ambassador of Brazilian music. This was also the golden age of songwriting for Carnival when theme songs were created for the samba schools. Traditional samba was reborn a decade ago with the opening of old-style gafieras (dance halls) in the Lapa district in Rio.

Bossa Nova: Introduced in the 1950s, cool and urban bossa nova was a product of an inspired mixture of samba and imported American jazz, with the new music slowed down to thus alter the basic samba rhythm to create a more harmonic style. The godfather of bossa nova was Bahian composer Joao Gilberto, and one of the biggest international hits was “The Girl from Ipanema.” By the 1960s, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald were crooning to the bossa nova beat.

Choro: A distant relative of the samba, and popular first in the 1930s, choro is mostly instrumental music and highly improvisational. It is played on the cavaquinho, a small string instrument of the European guitar family, and recorder or a flute. Choro has made a comeback in the bars of Rio and Sao Paulo.


Fast Facts

Capital City: Brasilia

Population: 191 million (for 2011, approximately)

Climate: In Brazil, seasons follow this pattern: spring (September-December); summer (December-March); autumn (March-June); winter (June-September). The dominant climate is tropical: some areas of the north have summer almost year-round. The south has a different pattern, where winters can sometimes be severe, with lowest temperatures in June and July.

Health: Standards for hygiene and public heath are generally high in Brazil. However, before leaving to Brazil, travelers may want to check with a doctor or with the Centers for Disease Control ( for specific advisories.

Entry Documents: An entry visa is required for all Americans traveling to Brazil, for Brazil has a reciprocal visa system. A visa can be obtained in one of the Brazilian consulates around the United States and Canada. For U.S. citizens there is a processing fee of $130 in reciprocity for an identical fee paid by Brazilians for visas to the U.S. Presently, a visa issued to U.S. tourist travelers is valid for 10 years. Travelers arriving in Brazil without a visa will not be permitted to enter the country. Questions about requirements for visas are available online at; necessary forms may be downloaded.

Getting Around Brazil: Because of great distances, flying is usually the most practical option for moving about Brazil. Internal air services are highly developed and provide excellent and frequent service, but are expensive. For travelers taking more than a couple of domestic flights, using a Brazil Airpass, covering four or five domestic flights and purchased before arriving in Brazil in conjunction with an international flights, may be just the ticket.

Bus service is the second major way people get around Brazil; buses are clean, comfortable, run on time, and connect such major cities as Rio and Sao Paulo with frequent departures. For overland road travel, the best paved highways are heavily concentrated in the southeast, although those serving the interior are continuously being upgraded to all-weather levels. Most main roads between principal cities are paved. Buses, of course, run frequent departures between major airports and terminals in city-centers; taxis are available at all airports, and in cities, fares on the meter are reasonably priced.

Time Zones: Brazil’s standard time is Brasilia’s—GMT-3; Rio and Sao Paulo fall in this time zone also, which is two hours later than Eastern Standard Time. However, there are three time zones in the country. For instance, Acre (in western Amazonia near the Bolivian border) is GMT-2, and Manaus is GMT-4, while Noronha is GMT-2.

Money: The official Brazil currency is the real (pronounced ray-all; the plural is reais, pronounced ray-eyes) issued in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 bills and 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cent coins. With ATMs available at airports, it is no longer essential to change money before coming to Brazil; however, it’s a good idea if convenient in one’s hometown. International credit cards are generally welcome in most major hotels, restaurants, and other tourist-related businesses; in small towns and villages and at local markets, Brazilian reais are the main currency.

Electric Current (varies countrywide): 110 or 120 volts in Sao Paulo and Rio; 220 volts in Brasilia; always check with the hotel before plugging in. Most hotels have current converters available at no charge.

Internet: WiFi is increasingly common in Brazil. Many hotels offer it either in the lobby or in the rooms, or both; generally hotel hourly rates are high. There is paid WiFi in Rio and Sao Paulo airports, and Internet cafes everywhere—bookstores, cafes, shopping malls. (Beware of old cable plug-ins; bring your own cable.)

Cell Phones: International GSM cellphones work in most parts of Brazil, but charges can be high. A better option is to buy a local SIM card, which allows you a local Brazilian number and payment in local Brazilian rates. Purchasing a SIM card from TIM (a major operator that offers nationwide service) permits roaming rates; find TIM kiosks most easily at airports.

Information Please: Brazil Tourist Board: