Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Luggage Limits on Domestic Flights in Brazil

International flights from South & North America to Brazil have a luggage limit of 40kg/88lb per person with TAM, with similar limits for other international carriers that cover Brazilian air routes. Many European, African and Asian airlines limit luggage to 32kg/70lb.

Domestic flights in Brazil with TAM and GOL, the two major internal carriers, have luggage limits of 23kg/50lbs per person. This is made up of two bags maximum. If flying in with TAM, any connecting domestic flights have Hand luggage is limited to 5kg/11lbs per person, with a size of 10x10x20cm.

Most business visitors and tourists can manage to pack less than this, although cruise passengers touring Brazil after finishing in Santos/Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro quite often exceed those limits (due to needing more outfits of course!). Excess charges depend on the class of airline seat bought. The smaller airlines such as Avianca, WebJet, Trip, Azul and JetSul also have a general limit of 23kg on inter-city flights, but this may be lower on some of the more local flights with smaller planes. Check your tickets before every flight to make sure, they should state the limits, or Baggagem.

In practice, airlines do not always charge for baggage that exceeds 23kg. If the flight is not full, you may be lucky and find your luggage being passed through without a word, just a smile in return. If you arrive with excess luggage, then a friendly smile and perhaps even a little flirting may help, as long as it is directed at the correct person - it has been known to work in the past!

Oversize Baggage

Of course, many visitors to Brazil will be thinking of bringing oversize items with them - surf boards, kite-surf and scuba-diving equipment, instruments, golf clubs, triathlon bikes even. These will be charged extra, and it is necessary to check with the airline for details in advance.

Domestic Flights in Brazil

If visiting other parts of Brazil during tours or on business, rather than just Sao Paulo and Rio, it is worth checking a few different options before buying your flights. if only visiting one other city, Salvador  say, you can check prices for flying into Rio then out of Salvador. Even if you have to connect back in Sao Paulo or Rio first, the price of the final domestic flight from Salvador to make your connection may work out cheaper when included as part of your international package. Your options are also opened up a little by having two major cities for flying home, rather than just buying returns to Rio.

This can be especially important for people visiting places far distant from Sao Paulo or Rio. For example if you finish a tour of Brazil at an Amazon lodge close to Manaus, the lodge boats might only have you back in the city for midday. Flights to Sao Paulo can then be better options for connecting to your overnight international flight. It can often be cheaper to buy single flights from inside Brazil. The cheapest seats for online booking are only available inside the country, although the passenger doesn’t necessarily have to be in the country themselves at the time. You do need  an agent in the country though.

Domestic flights in Brazil are mainly covered by TAM and GOL airlines. Other smaller airlines cover a selection of routes, with OceanAir, Trip, Azul, Jetsul and WebJet offering more than just local coverage. If you find the correct flight, these airlines can often work out cheaper for just a couple  of flights if your route is covered.

If you are touring Brazil and visiting a few different destinations though, it is best to use only one of the two major Brazilian airlines for all your domestic flights. Both TAM and GOL have a Brazil Airpass to enable foreign visitors to travel around the whole country more cheaply (with the exception of the Fernando de Noronha islands!).

The TAM Brazil and South America Airpasses and the GOL Brazil/South America/North-East Airpasses are options that you should explore. TAM have also recently joined forces with LAN, who cover far more of the Spanish-speaking countries and have lots of domestic routes from Buenos Aires, Santiago and Lima. This may mean a vast increase in the amount of South America destinations that can be covered on one airpass in the future.

Whichever airpass works best for your itinerary, the idea is generally the same as they work on similar lines. You must already have bought your international flights for entry into Brazil and exit too, although one flight only is possible for those travelling overland from Argentina or arriving by cruise boat for example. As long as you have your international flight ticket number, you can organise a Brazil Airpass, or one for South America. This must be done from home though, before you travel, the airpass is not open to international visitors already in South America.

The flights must be bought via a registered flight agent based outside of Brazil, such as the wonderful Linda at Vision Travel. The airlines’ own websites and those such as Expedia do not offer this service.

The airpasses work on coupons, with a minimum of four destinations included. If you are only visiting three cities it may be worth including a fourth ‘dummy’ flight to use the airpass, rather than buying your flights individually, especially if longer domestic journeys are involved.

The prices vary, with TAM being cheaper if your international flight to Brazil is also with the airline. As yet, GOL do not fly long-haul routes outside of South America. 

Buying International Flights for Brazil

There are many different entry points for international flights arriving in Brazil, and with a little information you can make your journeys to and from Brazil, and around the country too, cheaper and easier on yourself logistically.

The main entry point for international flights is Guarulhos Airport (code GRU) in Sao Paulo, which received some 26 million passengers in 2010, almost 40% of those on international flights. Guarulhos is the largest airport in South America, and sits 25km north-east of the city. New international routes are opening regularly there all the time.

Rio de Janeiro is another popular place to arrive of course, with many airlines covering the two major cities of Brazil, sometimes on the same flight. Both cities also connect with the other South American capitals and major cities.

There are also international flights leaving directly from Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Recife, Fortaleza, Natal and now Porto Alegre for Europe and the USA, with Florianopolis and Porto Alegre also having direct connections to Buenos Aires in Argentina and Montevideo in Uruguay to the south. Iguazu Falls also has a direct connection over The Andes to Lima in Peru. 

Below is a list of the airlines that cover routes involving Brazil. 

Brazilian Airlines that fly outside of South America: TAM

Brazilian Airlines that fly to South American capitals: TAM; GOL

Brazilian Airlines that fly around Brazil: TAM; GOL; OceanAir, Trip, Azul, Jetsul and WebJet

South America: Aerolineas Argentinas; Aero Sur; Avianca; LAN; Pluna; Surinam; TACA.

North & Central America: Aeromexico; Air Canada; Air Caraibe; American; Continental; Copa; Delta; Korean (via LAX); United; US Airways.

Europe: Air China (via Madrid); Air Europa; Air France; Alitalia; British Airways; BMI; Condor; Iberia; KLM; Lufthansa; Spanair; Swiss; TAP; Turkish; Transaereo (Rio only); TUIfly; US Airways (Rio only)

Africa: South African; TAAG;

Middle-East & Asia: El Al; Korean (via LAX); Emirates; Malaysian (via Cape Town); Nippon; Qatar; Singapore (via Barcelona); Turkish.

Below is a list of the airlines which have links with each major city in Brazil. Please note that this does not mean that the airlines themselves fly there, but they share flights with TAM usually, so they may be the best option for you, or at least help you find the place to begin your searches.

Sao Paulo

TAM; GOL; TRIP; Puma; AviancaBrazil; Azul; 

Aerolineas Argentinas; Aeromexico; AeroSur; Air Canada; Air China; Air France; Alitalia; American; Avianca; British Airways; BMI; Condor; Continental; Copa; Delta; EL AL; Emirates; Iberia; KLM; Korean; LAN; Lufthansa; Nippon; PLUNA; Qatar; Singapore; South African; Spanair; Swiss; TAAG Angola; TACA; TAP; Turkish; United; US Airways.

Rio de Janeiro

TAM; GOL; TRIP; Puma; AviancaBrazil; Azul; 

Aerolineas Argentinas; Air Canada; Air France; Alitalia; American; Avianca; British Airways; BMI; Condor; Continental; Copa; Delta; Iberia; KLM; Korean; LAN; Lufthansa; PLUNA; Qatar; Swiss; TAAG Angola; TACA; TAP; United; US Airways.


TAM; GOL; TRIP; AviancaBrazil; Azul; 

Air Canada; Air France; American; British Airways; BMI; Condor; Continental; Copa; Delta; Iberia; KLM; LAN; Lufthansa; Qatar; PLUNA; Swiss; TACA; TAP; United; US Airways.

Belo Horizonte

TAM; GOL; TRIP; AviancaBrazil; Azul; 

Air Canada; Air France; American; Condor; Copa; Delta; Iberia; KLM; LAN; Lufthansa; Qatar; PLUNA; Swiss; TAP; United.


TAM; GOL; TRIP; AviancaBrazil; Azul; 

Air Canada; Air Europa; Air France; American; Blu-Express; Condor; Continental; Delta; Iberia; KLM; LAN; Lufthansa; Qatar; TAP; TUIfly; United; US Airways.


TAM; GOL; TRIP; AviancaBrazil; Azul; 

Air Canada; Air France; American; Condor; Continental; Iberia; KLM; LAN; Lufthansa; PLUNA; Qatar; Swiss; TAP; United.

Porto Alegre

TAM; GOL; TRIP; AviancaBrazil; Azul; 

Aerolineas Argentinas; Air Canada; Air France; American; Condor; Continental; Copa; Delta; Iberia; KLM; LAN; Lufthansa; PLUNA; Qatar; Swiss; TACA; TAP; United; US Airways.


TAM; GOL; TRIP; AviancaBrazil; Azul; 

Air Canada; Air France; American;  Condor; Continental; Delta; Iberia; KLM; LAN; Qatar; TAP; TUIfly; United; US Airways.


TAM; GOL; TRIP; AviancaBrazil; Azul; 

Air France; Air Italy; American; ArkeFly; Condor; Delta; Iberia; KLM; LAN; Qatar; TACV; TAP; United.


TAM; GOL; TRIP; Azul; Puma; SETE.

Air Caraibes; Air France; American; Condor; KLM; Surinam Airways; TAP; United.


TAM; GOL; TRIP; AviancaBrazil; Azul; 

Air France; American; Condor; Continental; Delta; KLM; LAN; Qatar; Swiss; TAP; United.


TAM; GOL; TRIP; Azul; 

Air France; American; Condor; Copa; Delta; KLM; LAN; Qatar; TAP; United.


TAM; GOL; TRIP; AviancaBrazil; Azul; 

Air France; Air Italy; American; Condor; KLM; LAN; TAP; United.


TAM; GOL; TRIP; AviancaBrazil; Azul; 

Condor; Delta; KLM; TAP; United.

Campo Grande

TAM; GOL; TRIP; AviancaBrazil; Azul; 

Condor; Delta; KLM; Qatar; TAP; United.

Cities connected directly with Brazil: Buenos Aires; Montevideo; Santiago; Santa Cruz; Asuncion; Lima; Bogota; Caracas; Panama City; Mexico City; Miami; Orlando; New York; Atlanta; Washington DC; Houston; Charlotte; Los Angeles; London; Lisbon; Paris; Amsterdam; Madrid; Barcelona; Frankfurt; Rome; Cape Town; Johannesburg; Luanda; Abu Dhabi; Doha; Dubai; Kuala Lumpur; Seoul; Beijing; Tokyo. 

Monday, 1 August 2011

Great Things to do in Brazil – The Botanical Gardens, Rio de Janeiro


There are so many places to visit in Rio de Janeiro that the Botanical Gardens often get overlooked, especially by those who don’t have such green fingers. Personally I would recommend it for just about any visitor to the city, and most would find it rewarding. The gardens can be visited in a couple of hours, and combined easily with some of the city’s more famous sights, or perhaps with the Sitio Burle Marx gardens further out of town. On a sultry summer day in Rio, the shade from the tall palms and other assorted trees is more than welcome.

The Botanical Gardens lie between the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon and the mountains of the Parque Nacional da Tijuca, which can always be seen through tree trunks and leaves while wandering around, including Corcovado with the statue of Christ the Redeemer almost directly above.

The gardens are now neighboured by the Jockey Club, making the whole area one of the least developed in the city. It was even less developed in 1808, when King João of Portugal decided to inaugurate the gardens, soon after arriving in Brazil to escape a potential revolution at home. The original idea was to have a place for spices to become accustomed to Brazil, as they had after being imported into the Caribbean, with nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper having successfully taken there following introduction from the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Strangely despite the success of the gardens, Brazil still seems to be the only Latin country in the world that doesn’t have black or white pepper on every table.

The gardens were opened to the public in 1822, the same year that João’s son Pedro had declared independence from his returned father’s kingdom. There are now over 6,000 tropical tree and plant species, with the 900 types of palm being possibly the most spectacular, including the centre-piece Avenue of Royal Palms, and the incredible colours of the Pau Mulatto trees This Amazon spruce sheds its bark completely between July and September, the bark being one of those used in Ayahuasca rituals, and the colours of the smooth trunk include bronze,  green, orange and purple. The sight of the whole alley of pau mulattos in their annual Carnaval parade makes you wonder if you actually drank some ayahuasca before arriving at the gardens.

The other essential tree to look out for is the pau brasil. This is the tree that is responsible for the whole of Brazil. Or for the name at least. The Portuguese explorers found the tree with its red resin being useful for dyes. It grew in the Atlantic Rainforest from Rio de Janeiro up to Rio Grande do Norte, including most of the original areas that the colonialists went ashore. The Portuguese cut down this 15m tall tree in thousands and thousands, shipping them off for sale in Europe in order to pay off debts to the English government of the time. They were the original reason for colonisation, before the sugar and coffee plantations had even been considered.

The Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens also boasts an impressive Bromeliário and a colourful Orquidário, as well as houses for carnivorous and cacti plants, the Sensorial Garden, and also the Fountain of the Muses focal point. Waterfalls and trails through the Atlantic Rainforest  keep the scenery interesting, while the local wildlife colours the trees and grasses, and would hold the attention of young children, at least for a while! The turtles climbing over each other to catch some sun at the entrance are supplemented by enormous carp in the ponds. Visits from monkeys are common, including the cute tuft-eared marmosets, and the less cute howler monkeys - renowned for their piercing grunts, and also for throwing their faeces at other creatures that invade their personal space.

Hundreds of bird species can be found too, including the vivid colours of parakeets, macaws, humming-birds (the more poetic beija-flor in Portuguese – the Flower-Kisser) and many different types of toucan. They are generally quite small compared to their Amazon and Pantanal cousins, but the yellow-breasted or black-beaked toucans, and the classical tucanuçu are numerous in the gardens, flying from tree to tree for berries. Sightings of these wonderful birds and others are far more common in the gardens than outside, as they have become accustomed to the presence of humans over the years, and do not fly off quite so readily as in the forests. Their habit of taking flight at regular intervals, just as you have your camera set on them amongst the foliage, only makes them even more loveable. Personally, I think the toucans are worth the bargain R$6 entrance fee on their own, even if the gardens themselves might not appeal.

They should though. The Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens are one of the most impressive in Brazil, South America or anywhere else, and should definitely be on the list of Things To Do in Brazil.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Rio de Janeiro Marathon

The Rio de Janeiro Marathon is a great way to see a great city. It includes parts that some visitors may never otherwise visit, and the marathon route certainly takes in roads of the city that would be suicide for a pedestrian on any other day.

The marathon begins in the far east of Rio, at Praia do Pontal, the edge of the city before the nature reserves of Prainha and Grumari. From there, the route takes you all along the Atlantic shoreline of Rio, with just a few tunnels  to pound through between the different beaches until the Finish Line at Flamengo. There are also the Half Marathon and the Family Run participants, with a total of around 10,000 runners in all on the middle Sunday in July.

There may have been less though. With some classic Brazilian organisation, the Family Run changed date with only five days to go. Perhaps closing these roads on two separate days was deemed too sophisticated an undertaking, as it certainly wasn’t done properly that one time either.

The Start Line especially was a Triumph of Brazilian Organisation, with the starting gate sending runners away from the city for the first 1.5km, around the corner at Praia da Macumba and back along the very same stretch, separated by barriers in the middle of the road. This gives a wonderful close-up view of the elite athletes, a little group of little East Africans and assorted other runners, all sprinting for the line as though the Starting Gate were the end of the race, not just something that they would soon pass under once more with another 40km remaining.

The barriers separating the two sides disappear well before the start line, and this being Brazil, half the runners arrived after the 7.30am starting gun. This means that the Rio Marathon could well be the only marathon in the world where some people start the race with the genuine danger of being run over by potential winners. You can’t say that about many sporting events!

I was actually passed by somebody running far too fast to be anywhere near me, so I guessed that he must have been a local lad with local time-keeping. This was somewhere along the Praia da Reserva section, closed to traffic, and nice and peaceful, with only waves for company. Entering Barra da Tijuca, this changed quite quickly, and really makes me wonder about Rio’s ability to organise a whole Olympics. With two lanes on each side of the road, and parking spaces between them too, you would think that the obvious answer would be to close one half for the marathon runners only, and split the other half into one lane each way. It would only be necessary for a couple of early Sunday morning hours until all the runners had passed.

Brazil doesn’t like the obvious solution. The beach side was split in half, with cones and tape to separate thousands of runners from hundreds of passing Carioca drivers, some trying find parking spaces for their day at the beach, others blasting their horns behind at being delayed for ten seconds. You all know how it is. Again, the Rio Marathon must be the only one where there is a genuine danger of being run over while actually on the course, by an aggressive driver deciding to cut through the cones instead of letting somebody park in peace. The shouts of porra and filha da p... filled the fresh morning air.

Still, the best part was yet to come. The buses still pass down that lane too of course, and one stopped ahead of me. Three bewildered passengers descended just in front, trapped between tape and bus, and with a road full of runners right in front of their eyes. They were trying to edge into the middle of the race, having nowhere else to go, trouble in front and behind, coitados. It was like an Alpine stage of the Tour de France if it had far more cyclists than spectators. I ran past laughing and resolved to stick to the beira-mar side of the lane.

The tunnels through Pedra da Gavea to Sao Conrado, and the exciting Elevado do Joá were all great fun. Only runners, some shouting through the tunnels, a lovely breeze over the turquoise sea, and a classical music and laser disco for company. I didn’t expect that.

Av. Niemeyer, the road that hugs the hillside around the coast to Leblon, was also good fun, especially for the long-boarder who was using the open half for some quality long skating down the hill. Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana are the parts where things begin to hurt a little, the run becomes a trudge, and there are more people crossing to the beach than running as the field spreads out. Lots of people clapping, lots of encouragement, which really does help immensely at that stage. Except the well-meaning Carioca shouting ‘Vamos Argentino’ at me outside the Copacabana Palace. Why do some Brazilians think that all foreigners must be Argentinean? Or perhaps from the USA once they know that you speak English. The best mullet in the world couldn’t make me look Argentinean.

The final tunnels through to Botafogo and one more curve before the very welcome Finish Line in the shadow of Sugar Loaf, and a medal given under the gaze of Cristo. Wonderful.

A great place to end a great race. The only thing left to do was to relax in the shade of a tree and watch the medal ceremonies. Some more great organisational comedy, as the winner of the Women’s Marathon, Kum Ok Kim, had to suffer the ignominy of having no national anthem of North Korea to accompany her flag. No doubt somebody at this point was running around record shops in Rio, desperately trying to find a National Anthems CD, or to download one as quickly as possible. Ms Kim had to return later, alone, to hear her country’s anthem. Now bearing in mind that only 16 ladies finished in under 3 hours, you would think that the field of possible winners was limited enough to be prepared for the eventuality of one of the foreign winners requiring an anthem... Or perhaps to have a stock of them all.

As with all Big City marathons, the Rio de Janeiro Marathon should showcase the best sights of the city, and this beach-side run is definitely as good as anything in the world. I’ll go again in 2012, maybe take things a bit more seriously this time. I’ve got a Personal Best to beat now in the Rio de Janeiro Marathon. If I beat it by an hour and a half or more, I expect to be standing proudly on the Winner’s Podium saluting the flag as they play the national anthem of Argentina.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Personal Safety & Security While Travelling in Brazil

Visitors to Brazil are often scared of the reputation that the country has in terms of personal safety and security. Much of this reputation has been earned of course, but in the days of 24 hour rolling news channels and worldwide internet coverage, there is also a tendency to dramatise dangers, and Brazil is no different to anywhere else in this respect.

Some people arrive in Brazil expecting civil war in the streets, and to not be able to leave their hotels at night for fear of violence, but then arrive to find people strolling in the streets, eating dinner outside and laughing and joking as if the civil war never existed. With it didn’t. Even the recent trouble around Penha in the Zona Norte of Rio de Janeiro, with tanks and armoured cars travelling up the streets and drug-traffickers escaping Vila Cruzeiro for the Complexo do Alemão, even this didn’t affect most of the rest of the city too much, never mind the rest of Brazil. Life continued as normal for most people, and tourists in the city didn’t seem to notice the supposed civil war as they went to watch Bossa Nova bands on the Saturday night.

This is not to say that Brazil is a trouble-free country of course, and it never will be while such a huge gap between rich and poor continues to exist. Visiting foreigners will always be seen as rich by most Brazilians, and even the most hard-up, spent-up backpacker will still be comparatively wealthy by local standards, and may be a target for those locals who need some quick money and are prepared to use violence or the threat of it.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Around Brazil – Praia do Pontal, Macumba, Prainha & Grumari: Rio de Janeiro

 The beaches of Rio de Janeiro are possibly the most famous in the world, Copacabana and Ipanema especially. The city does have many more miles to explore as well though, principally those heading south and west along the coast. There are more beaches to explore heading up the north-east from Rio too, although these belong to the city of Niteroi across the bay.

Praia do Pontal, Recreio dos Bandeirantes
After passing the Dois Irmaos mountains at the end of Ipanema, you reach Sao Conrado, landing point for hang-gliders from Pedra Bonita above. The beach is also known as Praia do Pepino, after one of the pioneers of the sport in Brazil. Around more rocks and you come to Barra da Tijuca, the start of Rio’s longest stretch of sand at 20km. The first 5km of it are backed by the high-rises and condominiums of Barra, the next 10km known as Praia da Reserva by the nature reserve of Lagoa do Marapendi which makes it the quietest beach in Rio. Another 5km and you arrive at Praia do Pontal in Recreio dos Bandeirantes. The beach is named after the Gibraltar-like Pontal headland, which can be climbed reasonably easily for stunning views down the beaches and to the mountains behind. The headland also helps provide wonderful conditions on at least one of its two sides for some of the best surf in Brazil.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Are You Ready For – The Rio de Janeiro Marathon

There are many ways to see a country or a city. Rio has a whole host of different places to see and different ways to see them – cable cars, trails, wings, boards, kites, helicopters, planes, trains and automobiles.  Perhaps one way not considered by many people though is to see Rio on foot, or at least a good deal of it anyway. The Rio de Janeiro Marathon is a wonderful way to do this. You can also combine it with a first visit to the city and perhaps some time relaxing by the beach in Buzios or on Ilha Grande afterwards.

Rio de Janeiro Marathon
If a whole 26 miles/42km of running in the tropical heat of the world’s most exotic city doesn’t appeal to you, there is also the Half-Marathon and a 6km Family Run. They all take place on 17 July for the 2011 version. July is the middle of what passes for winter in Rio, and although it may still be anything up to 30˚C on a clear, sunny day, there is never the humidity of January or February, so even the hottest days are bearable. Temperatures on a cool, cloudy day can drop considerably, well below 20˚C especially if the weather comes from the south.