Brazil is a wonderful country to explore with the family. It has a bit of everything: incredible natural beauty, friendly people, a vibrant culture and beautiful beaches. If you have considered a Holidays in South America with children, Brazil is also a relatively safe choice, thanks to its infrastructure and developed tourist industry. The following tips for family travel to Brazil come from my annual trips with my children for the past nine years.
Brazil Vacation Tips 101
Pick the right time to travel
Brazil can be very expensive compared to other South American destinations, so it’s important to think carefully about your travel dates. First, you’ll want to avoid times when Brazilians are on vacation: late December through January; July; and during the week before Easter and Carnival. Flight prices increase at Christmas and New Year and in July. A plane ticket in April, for example, costs about half the price of a ticket in July. Hotels and restaurants can also be quite expensive, especially during high season. To avoid high prices and crowds, try traveling at other times of the year.
Take basic hygiene precautions
Brazilians pride themselves on their cleanliness. Many restaurants and stores have a handwash or sanitizer station near the entrance. Public restrooms are often busy all day with someone cleaning, and some restaurants even have dental floss and mouthwash to use in the restrooms! In general, the general interest in maintaining a clean environment can be seen.
Tap water is safe to drink in some parts of the country. For example, in São Paulo, tap water is drinkable and tastes good, but it is better to buy bottled water unless you are sure the water is safe to drink.
Food in Brazil is generally clean and safe, especially in the heavily touristy areas of Rio de Janeiro and the south. However, since the country is so vast, first check the area where you will be staying to find out if there are any food safety issues.
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Be proactive to stay healthy
Check the CDC website for detailed health information for each region you plan to visit. Consult your doctor at least one month before traveling to find out what vaccinations are necessary. Depending on the part of the country you plan to visit, you and your children may need vaccines for typhoid, yellow fever, or hepatitis A. Zika is less of a concern if you are not pregnant or plan to become pregnant , but it’s always a good idea to discuss this with your doctor. Dengue fever is a more serious risk for adults and children; a good insect repellent, such as one with Picardin or DEET, is essential in most parts of the country.
Limit the number of travel destinations in the country
Brazil is a huge country with most cities far apart, so getting from place to place is difficult. Driving in Brazil is not easy and not recommended. Some travelers use domestic flights to travel between destinations; there is also an extensive bus system with nice long distance buses. Unless you want to fly or bus from one place to another, it’s probably a good idea to base yourself in an area.
For example, you can choose to fly to Rio de Janeiro, spend several days there, and then spend a week on the spectacular beaches of the nearby Costa Verde (“Green Coast”). To get there, hire a driver or a travel agency, or take the bus. If you’re basing yourself in the beautiful colonial town of Paraty, it’s easy to book a tour company to take you by boat to nearby islands or by car to local towns and other beaches. Finally, once back in Rio, you can fly to another destination before returning home – perhaps the Iguaçu Falls, the southern coastal town of Florianópolis and its beaches, or Recife or Porto Seguro on the spectacular northeast coast.
Practice common sense safety
In Brazil, it is important to apply certain basic safety rules. Avoid going out at night, especially in big cities, and walk in populated areas. Try to blend in as much as possible with the local population. Always keep an eye on your belongings, even in places that seem perfectly safe.
Flashy jewelry and big, expensive cameras will draw unnecessary attention to you and your family. Leave your valuables at home, use a small camera and carry small amounts of cash.
Be vigilant about safety, especially in the car, with your children. Brazil can be a very family-friendly and safe destination, but it’s important to practice a heightened level of awareness. If you are unsure of the area where you are staying, ask a local for advice.
Essential travel tips for families in South America
Expert tips for exploring Brazil and other South American countries with kids
Learn a few phrases in the local language
Portuguese is the language of Brazil, but you will meet many people, especially young people in the tourism industry, who speak good English. Portuguese is similar to Spanish, so if you know some Spanish it will give you a head start. If you speak Spanish to Brazilians, most will understand you, but that doesn’t mean you can understand them. Portuguese doesn’t look like Spanish at all and most common words are completely different.
Locals will appreciate your efforts to communicate in Portuguese, so if possible, try to learn a few basic phrases before you go. And note that the most important word, obrigado (thank you), has a masculine and feminine form. If you are a man, say obrigado, but say obrigada if you are a woman!
Enjoy the child-centered attention
Brazilians love children. You will have people approaching you and asking about your children, commenting on their hair color or their beautiful smiles. If your kids are loud during dinner at a restaurant, strangers are more likely to give them an affectionate pat on the head than a dirty look. While kids’ menus aren’t common, many restaurants have a play area with a monitor to keep the kids entertained while you dine, and most bathrooms have changing tables.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Jenna Francisco unless otherwise noted.