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Travel essentials

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Electricity

Electricity supplies vary – sometimes 110V and sometimes 220V – so check before plugging anything in. Plugs have two round pins, as in continental Europe.

Gay and lesbian travel

Gay life in Brazil thrives, especially in the large cities, Rio in particular being one of the great gay cities of the world. In general, the scene benefits from Brazil’s hedonistically relaxed attitudes towards sexuality in general, and the divide between gay and straight nightlife is often very blurred.

Attitudes vary from region to region. The two most popular gay destinations are Rio and Salvador. Rural areas and small towns, especially in Minas Gerais, the Northeast and the South, are conservative; the medium-sized and larger cities less so. A useful resource to consult before your trip is w http://www.guiagaybrasil.com.br; although the text is in Portuguese, there are enough English indicators to allow non-Portuguese speakers to navigate easily through it and benefit from the listings and tips.

Insurance

Prior to travelling, you should take out an insurance policy to cover against theft, loss and illness or injury. Before paying for a new policy, however, it’s worth checking whether you already have some degree of coverage – credit-card companies, home-insurance policies and private medical plans sometimes cover you and your belongings when you’re abroad. Most travel agents, tour operators, banks and insurance brokers will be able to help you. Remember that when securing baggage insurance, make sure that the per-article limit – typically under £500 equivalent – will cover your most valuable possession.

Laundry

Even the humblest hotel has a lavadeira, who will wash and iron your clothes. Agree on a price beforehand, but don’t be too hard – livelihoods are at stake. Larger hotels have set prices for laundry services – usually, surprisingly expensive. Very common in larger cities are lavandarías, which operate a very useful por peso system – the clothes are weighed at the entrance, you pay per kilo, and pick them up washed and folded the next day for a couple of dollars per kilo. Ironing (passar) costs a little more.

Mail

A post office is called a correio, identifiable by their bright yellow postboxes and signs. An imposing Correios e Telégrafos building will always be found in the centre of a city of any size, but there are also small offices and kiosks scattered around that only deal with mail. Queues are often a problem, but you can save time by using one of their franking machines for stamps; the lines move much more quickly. Stamps (selos) are most commonly available in two varieties, either for mailing within Brazil or abroad. A foreign postage stamp costs around R$1.70 for either a postcard or a letter up to 10g. It is expensive to send parcels abroad.

Mail within Brazil takes three or four days, longer in the North and Northeast, while airmail letters to Europe and North America usually take about a week. Surface mail takes about a month to North America, and two to Europe. Although the postal system is generally very reliable, it is not advisable to send valuables through the mail.

Maps

We’ve provided maps of all the major towns and cities and various other regions. More detailed maps are surprisingly hard to get hold of outside Brazil and are rarely very good: there are plenty of maps of South America, but the only widely available one that is specifically of Brazil is the Bartholomew Brazil & Bolivia (1:5,000,000), which is not very easy to read. Much better are the six regional maps in the Mapa Rodoviário Touring series (1:2,500,000), which clearly mark all the major routes, although these, even in Brazil, are difficult to find.

A useful compendium of city maps and main road networks is published by Guias Quatro Rodas, a Brazilian motoring organization, which also has maps to Rio, São Paulo and other cities, states and regions. These are easy to find in bookstores, newsagents and magazine stalls. Very clear 1:960,000 maps of individual states are published by On Line Editora, and are usually available in Brazilian bookstores and newspaper kiosks; topographical and hiking maps are difficult to come by, though very occasionally they are available from municipal tourist offices or national parks in Brazil, or from local trekking equipment shops or tour operators.

Opening hours and public holidays

Basic hours for most stores and businesses are from Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm and Saturday 9am to noon, with an extended lunch hour from around noon to 2pm. Shops in malls stay open until late Saturday night. Banks open at 10am, and stay open all day, but usually stop changing money at either 2pm or 3pm; except for those at major airports, they’re closed at weekends and on public holidays. Museums and monuments more or less follow office hours but many are closed on Monday.

Phones

Phones are operated by phonecards (cartão telefônico), which are on sale everywhere – from newspaper stands, street sellers’ trays and most cafés. For local calls, a 5-real card will last for several conversations; for long-distance or international calls, higher-value phonecards come in 10, 20, 50 or 100 real denominations. Calls to the US or Europe cost about US$1.50 per minute. Before dialling direct, lift the phone from the hook, insert the phonecard and listen for a dialling tone. Note that long-distance calls are cheaper after 8pm.

The dialling tone is a single continuous note, engaged is rapid pips, and the ringing tone is regular peals, as in the US. The phone system in Brazil is continually overloaded. If you get an engaged tone, keep trying – nine times out of ten, the phone is not actually engaged and you get through after seven or eight attempts. The smaller the place, the more often you need to try.

Long-distance and international calls can also be made from a posto telefônico, which all operate in the same way: you ask at the counter for a chave, are given a numbered key, go to the booth, insert the key and turn it to the right, and can then make up to three completed calls. You are billed when you return the key. To make a call between cities, you need to dial the trunk code, the código DDD (pronounced “daydayday”), listed at the front of phone directories. For international calls, ask for chamada internacional; a reverse-charge call is a chamada a cobrar. Reversing the charges costs about twice as much as paying locally, and it is much cheaper to use a telephone charge-card from home. Except in the most remote parts of Amazônia and the Northeast, everything from a small town upwards has a posto, though note that outside large cities they shut at 10pm.

Long-distance telephone access codes

The privatization of Brazil’s telephone system has led to a proliferation of new telephone companies and increased competition. Before making a national or international call you must now select the telephone company you wish to use by inserting a two-digit code between the zero and the area code or country code of the number you are calling. To call Rio, for example, from anywhere else in the country, you would dial zero + phone company code + city code followed by the seven-digit number. For local calls, you simply dial the seven- or eight-digit number.

As different phone companies predominate in different areas of the country, pay phones will display which company code should be used from that particular phone, or the hotel receptionist will let you know the correct code to be used if calling from your hotel. The commonest codes are 21, 23 and 14. If you want to reverse the charges, dial 90 and then the number with company code as above. To reverse the charges on an international call, dial 00080 followed by the country code. As ever, the simplest option to make international calls is a phonecard bought before you leave.

Time

Most of Brazil is three hours behind GMT, but the states of Amazonas, Acre, Rondônia, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul are four hours behind – that includes the cities of Manaus, Corumbá, Rio Branco, Porto Velho, Cuiabá and Campo Grande.

Tipping

Bills usually come with ten percent taxa de serviço included, in which case you don’t have to tip – ten percent is about right if it is not included. Waiters and some hotel employees depend on tips. You don’t have to tip taxi drivers (though they won’t say no), but you are expected to tip barbers, hairdressers, shoeshine kids, self-appointed guides and porters. It’s useful to keep change handy for them – and for beggars.

Tourist information

You’ll find tourist information fairly easy to come by once in Brazil, and there are some sources to be tapped before you leave home. Brazil’s embassies or larger consulates have tourist sections, where you can pick up brochure information and advice.

Popular destinations such as Rio, Salvador, the Northeast beach resorts, and towns throughout the South have efficient and helpful tourist offices, but anywhere off the beaten track has nothing at all – only Manaus, Belém and Porto Velho have offices in the Amazon region, for example.

Most state capitals have tourist information offices, which are announced by signs saying Informações Turísticas. Many of these provide free city maps and booklets, but they are usually all in Portuguese. As a rule, only the airport tourist offices have hotel-booking services, and none of them is very good on advising about budget accommodation. Tourist offices are run by the different state and municipal governments, so you have to learn a new acronym every time you cross a state line. In Rio, for example, you’ll find TurisRio, which advises on the state, and Riotur, which provides information on the city. There’s also EMBRATUR, the national tourist organization, but it doesn’t have direct dealings with the general public apart from its excellent website.

Travellers with disabilities

Travelling in Brazil for people with disabilities is likely to be difficult if special facilities are required. For example, access even to recently constructed buildings may be impossible, as lifts are often too narrow to accept wheelchairs or there may be no lift at all. In general, though, you’ll find that hotel and restaurant staff are helpful and will do their utmost to be of assistance to try to make up for the deficiencies in access and facilities.

Buses in cities are really only suitable for the agile; taxis, however, are plentiful, and most can accommodate wheelchairs. Long-distance buses are generally quite comfortable, with the special leito services offering fully reclining seats. Internal airlines are helpful, and wheelchairs are available at all the main airports.

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