Winging it on the notorious Brazilian roads might not be towards the top of your bucket list, but my aspiring Brazilian wanders, it should be. Driving in Brazil is the best way to make the most of Brazil’s hidden gems!
I for one can sincerely tell you that my absolute best photos came from a series of events that were triggered by first hopping behind the wheel.
Brazil is a whopping country and between each megacity you have a hundred towns, miles of stunning countryside and a handful of drool worthy eateries.
Photographic evidence of what awaits you on the Brazilian road:
For you wildlife buffs, amid our monthly road trips I’ve seen eagles (Carrapateiro, or Carcará Branco), a king fisher (Martín Pescador), skunks (Gamba, like in bambi), owls nesting on the ground and the reflections of the eyes of wild cats speeding down the highway at night.
For foodies you must understand that service stations in Brazil are not just for a quick pee.
Sometimes it will be a tiny hut on the edge of the Mata Atlântica, other times a towering mega-block with numerous options. They all specialize in some sort of regional food and it’s your best shot at getting the real deal not just touristic mush.
My personal favorite finds on the road include: Bananas-ouro purchased by the bunch from a shack right on the edge of the forest they’ve been harvested. These bananas are the size of your finger with a super sweet flavor. The real Pão de Queijo stuffed with sausage, like a cheesy, sausage bap. Bottles of liquid butter, which is traditionally used in cooking in the state of Minas Gerais.
Now you are convinced, time to move on to the practical stuff.
To begin with I’m here to endorse driving in Brazil and secondly to ensure you its going to be funner than candy floss at carnival. Brazil has its fair share of dodgy laws and areas, so read through my tips to keep your trip safe, lawful and economical.
If you are looking to rent use decolar.com to scour the best deals. Longer-term residents with a permanent visa hoping to get their own wheels, need to validate their license (if it’s possible). There are a number of countries that have international agreements with Brazil, which allow you to get a Brazilian license without taking the driving tests again. You must check to see if your country has an agreement with Brazil. If you are lucky you then must translate your documents, book the psychiatric test (it’s easy peasy) and medical exam and you are good to go.
Righty ho, let’s dive right in, starting with facts you may not know (but definitely should) about driving in Brazil.
The Super-Quick Guide to Driving in Brazil:
1. Drive on the left.
2. Speed limit on highway outside city 110km/h
3. Speed limit in city: 30 km/h; Avenues: 60 km/h; Highways: 80 km/h
4. 18+ driving age
However, usually you must be 21 to rent a car.
5. 0% alcohol limit
Not even one beer folks.
6. Use headlights on highway
If in doubt use headlights is my motto.
7. Bring cash for tolls
On the swish roads (São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro) the tolls are rather frequent. You can always choose the road less travelled, if you fair well with potholes. Though I believe that with a couple of people in the car the toll roads balance out and in Brazil they can cut hours off your trip.
8. Top up gas in the cheaper states
Gas prices vary from state to state. Do a little research beforehand. We always top up in Minas Gerais because it is significantly cheaper than in RJ.
9. Service stations use a tab card you pay on the way out
In most service stations there will be a barrier where you collect a card. This card will be topped up with whatever you eat, drink or buy inside and you pay on the way out like a tab. Don’t misplace this card.
5 things to bear in mind when driving in Brazil
You can go through a red light at night.
Make sure the road is clear, but it is A ok to run a red light rather than stopping in an isolated area, which can be unsafe. Thieves can approach cars at night so keep your wits about you as you go down deserted roads.
No alcohol tolerance
Since 2008 Brazil has been a zero alcohol kind of country and the police take it extremely seriously. Lei Seca (Dry Law) officers set up random breathalyzer barriers on main roads and exits in the cities. They are ruthless and caught red handed you’re looking at a R$3000 fine, confiscation of the car and possibly losing your license.
Pay the street ‘guard’
Although parking metres are springing up here and there, the norm is the pay the street ‘vigilante’. Sometimes legit, dressed in a city fluorescent jacket; usually any young mug who has claimed the street. Either way, I suggest you pay up the R$2 to avoid a fine from the first or something worse from the second.
Frentista fills gas/petrol tank for you
Keep your butt on that seat because you aint going anywhere. Just tell the gas station frentista how much you want and pay cash or card right from your seat.
Watch out for motorbikes:
You will enviously stare after the bikers as they weave in and out of the hour traffic jam you’re stuck in. They are reckless and beeping their horns as they whizz 50mph through the traffic so ALWAYS check your side mirrors.
Congratulations, now you are a fully bona fide Brazilian driver. Heck you might even know more than the Brazilians themselves.
Good luck or Sucesso in Portuguese!
Tell me, where is your favorite road trip in Brazil?