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, available whether or not you fly your international legs on TAM – though the price will be higher if you arrive with a different airline.
Note that when you fly into any Brazilian airport on an international flight you must clear immigration and claim your luggage, even if connecting with a domestic flight – you’ll have to re-check in once you’ve cleared customs (even if your airline insisted you were checked-in all the way). Once in the terminal there should be a special transfer desk so you can check-in again. Don’t be surprised for it to take an hour or more to clear customs and immigration at airports in Rio or São Paulo. If travelling with children, go straight to the front of the lines: families, pregnant women and seniors have priority.
From the US and Canada
There are numerous gateways to Brazil from the US and Canada, with direct flights from Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando, Washington and Toronto – most West Coast flights route through Dallas or Houston, though Korean Airlines (koreanair.com) operates a direct flight between Los Angeles and São Paulo. TAM (tam.com.br) is the major Brazilian carrier serving the US, while GOL (voegol.com.br) operates flights from Miami and Orlando. American (aa.com), Air Canada (aircanada.com), Delta (delta.com) and United (united.com) also carry passengers between the US/Canada and Brazil.
Almost all flights go to Rio or São Paulo; if you want to fly anywhere else, your options are limited to TAM from Miami to Belém, Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Manaus and Salvador; Delta, from Atlanta to Brasília; and American from Miami to Manaus, Recife, Salvador and Belo Horizonte. If your ultimate destination is somewhere other than these cities, it is usually best to connect in Rio or São Paulo.
Ticket prices vary considerably depending on how early you book your flight and on your length of stay in Brazil. Fares to Rio and São Paulo are almost always the same. The cheapest return fares typically range from US$1000–1300 out of New York, though these can drop to as low as US$750 for advance bookings in a quiet period (mid-February, for example); figure on US$800–1000 from Miami.
Flights via other countries
For slightly cheaper fares (but longer flight times), or if you’re tempted to break your journey up, it’s worth checking out what the national airlines of Brazil’s Latin American neighbours have to offer. Copa Airlines (copaair.com) will fly you to Manaus via Panama from various airports throughout the US if you want to focus your trip on the Amazon. Aerolíneas Argentinas (aerolineas.com.ar) flies to Rio and São Paulo from Miami and New York via Buenos Aires. Other routings worth investigating include travelling via Bogotá with Avianca (avianca.com) and Santiago with LAN Chile (lan.com). If you do route yourself via another South American country, however, you may need a vaccination certificate for yellow fever.
From the UK and Ireland
There are plenty of choices of carrier to Brazil from the UK, though São Paulo and Rio are the only destinations for direct flights. If your ultimate destination is neither of these cities, it is usually best to connect in Rio, or connect with a TAP flight in Lisbon to Belém, Recife, Salvador, Fortaleza, Natal, Belo Horizonte or 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 (britishairways.com) and TAM operate direct flights to Brazil from London; official fares are usually very similar, starting at around £800 return to Rio or São Paulo in low season and £1000 in high season (July, Aug & Dec 14–25). The cheapest fares, however, are often offered on routes via Europe – with Alitalia (alitalia.com) via Rome, TAP via Lisbon (flytap.com), Iberia via Madrid (iberia.com), Lufthansa via Frankfurt (lufthansa.com) and Swiss Air via Zurich (swiss.com) – all to both Rio and São Paulo. 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, for example, broadens your options.
There are no direct flights from Ireland to Brazil: you can connect via London or other European capitals, though the cheapest deals often route through the US on Delta and American, with rates as low as €550 return but journey times of around 24 hours.
RTW ticket options
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 (flysaa.com).
From Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
The best deals and fastest routes to Brazil from Australasia are offered by Qantas and LAN Chile. 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, the most direct route is with Qantas/LAN Chile, which involves an 11.5-hour non-stop flight from Sydney to Santiago followed by a 4-hour flight to São Paulo or Rio. Aerolíneas Argentinas also flies non-stop to Buenos Aires, from where there are good connections direct to Florianópolis, Porto Alegre, Rio and São Paulo. From New Zealand LAN also runs non-stop flights from Auckland to Santiago (10hr 20min) for connections to São Paulo or Rio.
Flying via Santiago with LAN Chile, you can expect to pay around A$3100/NZ$2800–3100. An open-jaw ticket – 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, South African Airlines files non-stop from Johannesburg to São Paulo (10hr), where you can switch to TAM or domestic airlines for Rio and other destinations. Prices range from R10,000 to R12,000 for a return ticket, depending on the exchange rate.
Specialist travel agents and operators
African American Travel Agency US 1215 473 6495, africanamericantravelagency.com. Tours that focus on the legacy of Africa in Brazil, in particular Bahia.
Birding Brazil Tours Manaus, Brazil [email protected], birdingbraziltours.com. Specialist birding tours run by experts in the field to the Amazon and Pantanal.
Brazil Nuts US 1800 553 9959, brazilnuts.com. Tours that promise to take you off the beaten track to experience Brazil’s cities, the Amazon basin and the Pantanal.
Festival Tours US 1800 225 0117, festivaltours.com. An all-encompassing tour operator to Latin America focusing on main tourist sights.
Journey Latin America UK 020 8747 3108, journeylatinamerica.co.uk. Flight agents and tour operators offering guided tours of Brazil as well as larger-scale overland options, which also take in Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru, or Chile and Argentina.
Last Frontiers UK 01296 653 000, lastfrontiers.com. Tailor-made itineraries to Brazil with a strong wildlife slant. Friendly and knowledgeable staff will point you towards small hotels in destinations throughout the country and occasionally organize small groups to attend rodeos or to learn to play polo.
Lost World Adventures US 1800 999 0558, lostworldadventures.com. Customized individual and group tours to Brazil, including Amazon River excursions, and multi-country tours.
Peregrine Travel Qld/Back Track Travel Australia 07 3850 7699, peregrinetravelqld.com.au. Independent and group travel specialists.
Solar Tours US 202 861 5864, www.tripmasters.com. A big operator throughout Latin America, offering cruises, city tours, jungle trips and Carnaval specials.
South America Travel Centre Australia 1300 784 794, southamericatravelcentre.com.au. Specializes in tailor-made trips to Brazil.
Steamond Travel UK 020 7730 8646, steamondtravel.com. Flight agents and tour operators for Brazil and Latin America.
Veloso Tours UK 020 8762 0616, veloso.com. Latin American flight specialist and tour operator with a range of Brazilian options including Rio de Janeiro, the Northeast and the Amazon.