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5 things I wish I knew before traveling to Brazil

I truly believe there is something for everyone in Brazil. Adventure seekers can spend a day barreling through the rugged Amazon rainforest on a Jeep tour. Beachcombers can lounge on Rio de Janeiro’s famed Copacabana beach. Party animals can samba the night away at hot Brazilian clubs. Brazil is simply unlike any other place on Earth, and is still a surefire bucket-list destination for anyone seeking beauty and excitement.

But before you book your flight, check out my list of five tips that you’ll find handy to know before traveling to Brazil. It’s sure to clear up some common misconceptions and help prepare you for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure:

1) Embrace the Brazilian culture

I’ve traveled from Chile to China, and dozens of countries in between, but Brazil stands out as a true cultural gem. The 3.288-million-square-mile country was built on a foundation of indigenous Brazilian traditions, Portuguese customs, and African influences. These independent cultures have shaped modern-day Brazil, creating a unique mix of food, music, religion, and local sights. Visitors can view the intersection of African and indigenous Brazilian traditions by attending a capoeira performance — a Brazilian martial art that combines dance, aerobatics, and music. They can indulge in European sophistication by sampling pastéis de nata, a Portuguese custard tart, in a Brazilian café. Finally, they can feel the unbreakable union of a diverse country by attending a Brazilian national team football game. Brazil has embraced its past to create a nation that accepts all traditions. My only advice is to leave all preconceived notions at the door before traveling to Brazil, as it’s unlike any other Latin American country.

2) Venture beyond the beach

Copacabana beach might be one of Brazil’s most famous attractions, but don’t just spend your days lounging on the two-mile beach that buttresses Rio de Janeiro because there’s much more to see. Take an exotic jeep tour through the Tijuca Forest, a rainforest that exists within Rio’s city limits. Travel to Iguazu Falls, on the boarder of Argentina, and watch the water dance as it free falls 200 feet into the river below. Finally, wander through Pelourinho, the colonial historic district of Salvador, and experience its vibrant restaurants, bars, fascinating religious traditions, and shops. While tempting, don’t let the gorgeous beaches keep you from experiencing all of the amazing sights this country has to offer.

3) Don’t let fear derail your trip

Crime is definitely a problem in Brazil, especially in some of the larger cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, so security and safety should always be on your mind. But don’t let it deter you from visiting and fully embracing the magic of Brazil. My best suggestion is to be aware and smart. For instance, don’t wear expensive jewelry or flaunt cash while in open air markets. Keep an eye on purses and wallets, including when sitting down for a meal in an indoor or outdoor restaurant, or use a money belt. Remain alert to your surroundings, but also don’t let fear dictate your entire trip. On my visit to the country, I never had a single issue with personal safety. Instead, make friends, talk with locals, and always enjoy the lively culture that is Brazil.

4) Skip Carnival

Carnival is one amazing tourist draw and a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. And while the celebration’s filled with extravagant costumes, endless parades of beautiful Brazilians, and entrancing music, you don’t have to travel there forty days before Easter to enjoy the Carnival experience. My recent visit to Brazil was in early May. I missed the festival by a few months, yet I was still able to savor a taste of the party by attending a traditional folk show at the Plataforma club. It incorporated many elements of the bigger, pre-Lent party, complete with bedazzled costumes and samba, without the heavy crowds and high prices. Oh, and the show’s capoeira exhibition was fabulous!

5) Pack for Brazil’s many climates

Brazil’s the fifth largest country in the world, and that means it spans multiple climates, including equatorial, tropical, semiarid, highland tropical, temperate, and subtropical. Due to the country’s varying temperatures, make sure you research the weather in the regions that you plan to visit. By knowing the climate extremes ahead of time, you can pack accordingly and eliminate unnecessary items. I also suggest packing a light rain jacket, a small folding umbrella, and bug spray, no matter what part of the country you visit. The humid weather and rain serve as a perfect breeding ground for pesky insects.

There you have it, five tips to prepare you for a trip of a lifetime. Anything else you would like to share from your own Brazilian travels? Add them to the list by leaving a comment below.

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