Unless you’re entering Brazil overland from a neighbouring country, you’ll almost certainly arrive by air. Airfares always depend on the season: specific dates vary between airlines, but high season is generally July and August, then again mid-December to Christmas Day; low season is any other time. Fares don’t normally rise over Carnaval (Feb–March), but getting a seat at this time can be difficult. Airline competition is fierce, however, and offers are often available.
The internet is rapidly making specialist travel agents less of an essential first stop, but you may want to use one if you prefer to book your first few days’ accommodation before you arrive or you’re looking for a tailor-made package. Apart from discounted tickets, it’s worth checking fares directly with the airlines that fly to Brazil; they frequently offer competitive fares, especially during low season, although these may carry certain restrictions such as having to spend at least seven days abroad (maximum stay three months).
If you plan to do a fair amount of travelling within Brazil, think about buying a TAM air pass with your main ticket, available whether or not you fly your international legs on TAM – though the price will be higher if you arrive with a different airline. Depending on your itinerary, it can save you a lot of money, but can only be bought outside South America. For more information, see Getting around for details of the various options.
There are numerous gateways to Brazil in the US and Canada; direct flights leave from Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York, Orlando, Washington and Toronto. TAM is the only Brazilian carrier serving the US at present, while the North American airlines are American, Air Canada, Continental, Delta and United; Japan Airlines and Korean Air also carry passengers between the US and Brazil. Most flights go to either Rio or São Paulo; if you want to fly anywhere else, your options are limited to TAM from Miami to Manaus, Belém, Recife, Belo Horizonte and Salvador; American, also from Miami, to Belo Horizonte; and Delta from Atlanta to Fortaleza, Manaus and Recife, although Copa will fly you to Manaus via Panama if you want to focus your trip on the Amazon. If your ultimate destination is somewhere other than these cities, it is usually best to connect in Rio or São Paulo.
Excursion-fare ticket prices vary depending on your length of stay in Brazil: count on spending at least US$150 more for a ticket valid for up to three months than a ticket for up to one month. Fares to Rio and São Paulo are almost always the same. Excursion fares are around US$1000 out of New York, US$900 out of Miami; for unrestricted fares, add at least US$400.
It’s worth going to some trouble to avoid São Paulo’s Guarulhos airport, where queues can be nightmarish and the airport layout is extraordinarily confusing. Even if you have what on paper looks like a direct flight to Rio, make sure that it doesn’t stop at São Paulo on the way, where you will almost always have to deplane and hang around for a weary couple of hours, or even change planes to Rio – take care with TAM on this, since they are ruthless about shunting international passengers onto domestic connections in São Paulo even if your ticket is to Rio.
For slightly cheaper fares (but longer flight times), or if you’re tempted to break your journey, it’s worth checking out what the national airlines of Brazil’s South American neighbours have to offer. Aerolíneas Argentinas, for instance, flies to Rio and São Paulo from Miami and New York via Buenos Aires. Others routings worth investigating include travelling via Bogotá with Avianca, Panama with Copa Airlines, Lima with LAN Peru and Santiago with LAN Chile. If you can get yourself to Lima, Santiago, Buenos Aires, or Santa Cruz in Bolivia, the Brazilian no-frills airline Gol has cheap onward fares to Rio and São Paulo. If you do route yourself via another South American country, however, you may need a vaccination certificate for yellow fever.
If you plan on travelling in other South American countries besides Brazil, the TAM South American Airpass is a good-value option.
There are plenty of choices of carrier to Brazil from the UK, with São Paulo and Rio being the usual points of arrival. If your ultimate destination is neither of these cities, it is usually best to connect in Rio, or connect with a flight on the continent, where your options are TAM to Recife from Paris, or TAP via Lisbon to Recife, Salvador, Fortaleza, Natal, Belo Horizonte and Brasília. If you only want to go to the Amazon, Manaus via Miami with TAM is your best bet, but it’s unlikely to be cheaper or quicker than a flight to Rio or São Paulo and then a connection north.
British Airways and TAM operate direct flights to Brazil from the UK; despite BA having newer planes and a much higher level of service, their official fares are usually very similar, starting at around £700 return to Rio or São Paulo in low season, £900 high season (July, Aug & Dec 14–25). With these tickets, return dates are in theory fixed, but once in Brazil both airlines will allow you to change the date (within 30 days) for a fee of around £75. You can usually get the same tickets through websites and specialist travel agencies at reduced prices; fares are sometimes as little as £500 in low season, rising to around £800 for high-season departures. The cheapest fares, however, are often offered on routes via Europe – with Air France via Paris, TAP via Lisbon, Iberia via Madrid or Lufthansa via Frankfurt, all to both Rio and São Paulo. Other inexpensive options to São Paulo include Alitalia via Milan, KLM via Amsterdam and Swiss Airlines via Zurich. Prices tend to be the same whether you begin your journey in London or at one of the UK’s regional airports.
As Brazil is such a large country, an open-jaw ticket – flying into one city and leaving from another – may, according to your itinerary, make sense. Rio and São Paulo offer most airline possibilities, but flying with TAP broadens your options, including also Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Fortaleza, Natal, Recife and Salvador.
There are no direct flights from Ireland to Brazil: connect via London or other European capitals. The best deals are available from budget or student travel agents in Ireland, but it’s also worth contacting specialist agents in England for cheap fares, an unusual route or a package.
Several airlines offer stopovers to or from Brazil at no extra cost. Apart from the airlines with European transit points already mentioned, stopover possibilities most commonly involve the US. United Airlines via Washington or Chicago is generally the least expensive option (around £550 low season, £800 high season) with good deals also sometimes available with American Airlines via Miami, Continental via Newark or Houston, Delta via Atlanta or Air Canada via Toronto.
Combining Brazil with a longer trip in the southern hemisphere, or putting together a Round-the-World (RTW) ticket, is possible but expensive. The most popular ticket option is a one-way to Sydney via Brazil and Argentina and a separate ticket back to London via Southeast Asia or North America. Another possibility is onward to Johannesburg from São Paulo on South African Airways.
The best deals and fastest routing to Brazil from Australasia are offered by Aerolíneas Argentinas and LAN Chile. There are fewer options flying via the US, flights take longer and the tickets are more expensive. Round-the-World fares that include South America tend to cost more than other RTW options, but can be worthwhile if you have the time to make the most of a few stopovers.
From Australia, flights to South America leave from Sydney. The most direct route is with Aerolíneas Argentinas, which flies via Auckland to Buenos Aires, from where there are good connections direct to Florianópolis, Porto Alegre, Rio and São Paulo. LAN Chile has a weekly direct flight via Auckland to Santiago, with connections to Rio or São Paulo. More long-winded, there are twice-weekly connections via Papeete and Easter Island with Air New Zealand and LAN Chile to Santiago. Travelling through the US, United Airlines, American Airlines or Delta can fly you to São Paulo or Rio via either Los Angeles or San Francisco and Atlanta or Miami. From New Zealand, you can pick up one of the United, Aerolíneas Argentinas or Air New Zealand/LAN Chile flights in Auckland.
In general, fares depend on the duration of stay, rather than the season – cut-off points when flying via Chile and Argentina are 35 days, 45 days, 90 days, 6 months and 1 year; flying via the US they are 21 days, 45 days and 180 days – but bear in mind that availability is a problem during Christmas and Carnaval (Dec–March). On the more direct routes with Aerolíneas Argentinas you should be able to get a return fare for A$2400/NZ$2600. Flying via Santiago with LAN Chile, you can expect to pay around A$3100/NZ$3300, while fares via the US will be at least A$3500/NZ$3700.
An open-jaw ticket can work out to be a convenient option. Flying into Rio and out of São Paulo (or vice versa) on Aerolíneas Argentinas or LAN Chile, for example, won’t cost you any more than a straight through-fare to Rio.
From South Africa, Brazil can be reached directly from Johannesburg with South African Airlines to São Paulo. For indirect flights, your best option is Malaysian Airlines from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Buenos Aires and a separate onward ticket to a Brazilian destination. Also worth investigating are flights with TAAG Angolan Airlines from Johannesburg to Rio via Luanda.