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BRAZIL: Getting Around

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By Plane: Though there are highways and buses, the sheer vastness of Brazil (and the absence of rail travel) makes air travel the only viable option for those who want to visit a variety of cities and regions. Regular fares on the main domestic carriers are outrageously expensive, but affordable air travel is available to foreigners through the purchase of an air pass (much to the envy of Brazilians). Tam, Varig, and Vasp each offer one (see below for details). Prices, number of flights, and destinations vary, but all air passes offer a number of flights over a set time period. Air passes need to be purchased and booked outside of Brazil. Only limited changes are allowed once you arrive in the country. Also, it's a good idea to research the small print before choosing your pass. Often flights between Rio and São Paulo's downtown airports are excluded (meaning you have to use the international airports) and the pass does not allow returns on the same stretch.

If only traveling to one or two destinations within Brazil, it can be cheaper to skip the air pass and fly instead with one of the new discount airlines. Gol (tel. 0300/789-2121 in Brazil; www.voegol.com.br) has modeled itself after American discount carriers like Southwest Airlines -- quick bookings online and no-frills flights between popular destinations such as Rio, São Paulo, Salvador, Recife, Fortaleza, Manaus, Belém, Campo Grande, and Brasilia. Tickets can be purchased at the airport or on the Internet (see note below). The company flies brand-new Boeing 737s and provides friendly and efficient service. Use your international cell phone rental to book tickets in Brazil.

Another discount carrier that specializes in destinations in the Northeast such as Salvador and Natal is Fly Airlines (tel. 021/2533-7605). They do not offer the same level of service as Gol, but their flights are reasonably priced compared to the other major airlines. Making airline reservations is convenient and easy when using your Brazil mobile phone rentals.

By Bus: Bus travel in Brazil is comfortable, efficient, and affordable. The only problem is, it's a long way from anywhere to anywhere else. To see the country by bus you will need a lot of time, especially in the west and northwest where roads are precarious (or, in the Amazon, nonexistent). To go from Campo Grande to Cuiabá, the two gateway cities into the Pantanal, is a journey of 700km (434 miles) that takes about 11 hours on the bus. For shorter distances and for the occasional long haul, Brazilian buses are excellent. Bus stations are clean and efficient, very airportlike. Tickets can be purchased ahead of time with reserved seats. All buses are nonsmoking, and in most cases people adhere to the regulations. On many popular routes travelers can opt for a deluxe coach with air-conditioning and leito (seats that recline almost flat). For information on bus travel check individual destination chapters. Many local travel agencies will have schedule information and may sell tickets. You can also contact the bus station (rodoviaria) directly.

By Car: Car rentals are expensive, and the distances are huge. From Recife to Brasilia is 2,121km (1,315 miles); Salvador to Rio is a 1,800km (1,116-mile) drive. Within Brazilian cities, renting a car is only for the bold and foolish: Drivers are aggressive, rules sporadically applied, and parking a competitive sport. That said, there are occasions -- a side trip to the mountain resorts of Rio, a visit to the historic towns of Minas Gerais, or a drive to the Chapada dos Guimarães outside of Cuiabá -- where a car makes sense. Reserve a car rental easily by using your international cell phone rentals in Brazil.

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