From Pão de Açúcar and Cristo Redentor to samba, capoeira, the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana and the islands of Florianopolis and Ilha Grande, Brazil is home to more iconic attractions and unique experiences than you can sample in one visit. The thing is, you don't have to overspend to enjoy all there is to see and do. Here, we at GET.com share with you seven ways you can save your reais (pronounced "hay-ice") while traveling Brazil.
1. Drink Cachaça
Cachaça (pronounced "ka-sha-sa") is derived from sugarcane juice, and is the main ingredient of caipirinhas (pronounced "kai-pi-reen-ya"), Brazil's national cocktail. A bottle of run-of-the-mill cachaça costs about $7, while shots of flavored cachaça at a bar can run up to up to $5 each, although the pistachio and bubblegum flavors are sometimes worth the extra expense.
If you really want to save money, try making your own caipirinhas. Just cut half a lime into 4 wedges, add 5 dashes of cachaça, 2 teaspoons of sugar and a handful of ice cubes and you're in business.
2. Stay Off The Beach
Are you tempted to rent an apartment within walking distance of the white sands of Copacabana or Ipanema? Well, so is nearly every other traveler to Rio, which makes the price of accommodation in these trendy neighborhoods very expensive.
The northern "center" of Rio is a financial and business district. There's plenty to do, but you're further away from the best beaches on the south side of the city.
I recommend staying in Botafogo, Lapa or Santa Theresa. Lapa and Botafogo are both trendy neighborhoods located close to Metro stations for easy access to the beach, while Santa Theresa is in the hills to the west of the city proper, right next to an ecological preserve and surrounded by colorful favelas.
Traveler's Note: There's sometimes a tradeoff between saving money and staying safe. You'll save money by booking accommodations away from the beach, but Rio's street crime tends to get worse as you get farther away from the shore. Staying in Lapa, my hostel and several others in the neighborhood were robbed at gunpoint during the Olympics last year.
3. Getting Around: Metro Rio, Uber, Easy Taxi and 99Taxis
Ride-sharing services are very popular in Brazil, despite attempts to ban Uber by local governments in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. In 2015, under pressure from taxi owners and drivers, a Brazilian judge ordered the Silicon Valley-based company to stop operating within the country, but the ban has proved impossible to enforce.
The 2 main competitors to Uber in Brazil are 99Taxis and Easy Taxi, both Brazilian startups with tens of thousands of licensed cab drivers in hundreds of cities.
If you prefer public transportation, getting around the capital is really easy on Metro Rio, the city's subway system, which just added a new line to the trendy shopping neighborhood of Barra de Tijuca.
Image source: GOL Linhas Aéreas Inteligentes via Facebook
Brazil is the world's 5th-largest country, and navigating its thousands of miles of dense jungle by bus can eat up a lot of precious travel time.
For example, a bus ride from Rio de Janeiro to the island of Florianopolis in the south takes from 12 to 18 hours. A flight from Rio to Florianopolis takes just 3 hours but costs more than twice as much, about $180 compared to $75 for a bus, according to Rome2Rio.com.
From Florianopolis to Porto Alegre further south, a flight takes just 1½ hours compared to an 8 hour journey by bus, and only costs about $85 if you book ahead of time.
Short weekend trips like a visit to Ilha Grande (the "Big Island") from Rio only takes a few hours by bus. For everything else, there's GOL, as in "goal," Brazil's largest airline and a great option for budget-conscious travelers.
Gol's frequent flyer program is called Smiles, and this budget airline is partnered with Delta so you can transfer your Smiles points for more flights through the Delta SkyMiles frequent flyer program. The other budget airline option is Azul, the 3rd-biggest airline in Brazil after Gol and LATAM. Azul's TodoAzul rewards program is partnered with United's MileagePlus.
To really save money on flights, you can buy consolidated tickets to many destinations from Brol.com. A flight from Florianopolis to Porto Alegre costs just $42 when booked a month ahead of time. Consolidated tickets can save you a lot of money, but don't forget to book your flight with a good travel rewards credit card.
5. Buy Domestic
Brazil's economic crisis is causing prices to soar, with inflation averaging nearly 11% in 2015. Since January 2016, the Brazilian real (pronounced "hay-ow") went from about 4 for $1 to about 3.3, thanks to a flood of dollars entering the country during the Olympic Games.
Even with runaway inflation, now is probably one of the best times in years for Americans to visit Brazil. The strength of the dollar is keeping Brazil affordable for most Americans, but you should try to buy domestic over imported goods to save money and support the local economy at the same time.
6. Master The Visa Games
For American travelers, there's no way around Brazil's visa requirements.
The processing fee for Americans applying for a tourist visa is $160. You'll also need to present a whole host of documents like proof of residence, proof of income like a bank statement, a copy of your plane ticket, a photo and your signature. If you fail to submit any of the required documents, you'll have to start over and pay the processing fee again, but each tourist visa lasts for 10 years and is good for stays of up to 6 months per year.
It's best to apply in person at a consulate located in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York or San Francisco, or the Brazilian embassy in Washington, D.C. You must apply at the consulate in your jurisdiction, usually the one closest to where you live. You can find a map of jurisdictions to find out where to apply here.
The reason you should get your visa from a consulate in the United States is that Brazilian consulate officials will need to keep your passport for up to several weeks for processing. If you wait until you're in Latin America to apply for your visa, you could end up waiting for an appointment at a busy consulate office and having to go without your passport for weeks while in a foreign country. Not smart!
During the 2016 Summer Olympics, the Brazilian government temporarily waived visa requirements for American, Canadian, Australian and Japanese travelers. That grace period expired in mid-September, just a few weeks after the closing ceremony, so American travelers are back to playing the visa games.
7. Stay Longer
Just getting to Brazil will probably be the biggest expense of your trip. The best way to save money in Brazil is to stay as long as you can. Most Airbnb hosts offer significant discounts if you stay for a month or more. The longer you stay in Brazil the more you'll get out of your trip and the more money you'll save.