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Brazil is a huge and fantastic countryand the best way to discover it is by car or motorcycle.
Of course, if you are used to driving in Europe or the USA you will quickly notice a number of differences. In this post I want to provide some practical information and advice on driving in Brazil.
The rules of driving in Brazil
In my opinion, driving in Brazil can be divided into several conditions:
The „rules” (I don’t mean „the law”) vary depending on what situation you are in, but one thing that almost always applies is: Whoever has the bigger vehicle has the upper hand.
Don’t expect people to stop and give way even if you have priority (like in a roundabout). Don’t expect people to use indicators when turning left or right. Don’t be surprised if cars and even trucks run without lights at night.
- Big cities – traffic jams: In the big cities you almost always get stuck in a traffic jam. Rio de Janeiro, but especially São Paulo, are known for their hectic traffic. The already complicated situation is often made worse by accidents, broken vehicles, or storms (floods). There are also hundreds of motorcycles (125-250cc) riding through the rows of cars, honking their horns and changing lanes, often at considerable speed. So be VERY careful in traffic jams and check your mirrors before changing lanes.
- Major highways: These are usually in good condition and the toll roads in particular have a well-functioning towing service (free of charge). In the event of an accident or engine problems, you will be towed to the nearest gas station. One of the best highways in Brazil (also the most expensive in terms of tolls) is the BR116 (the „Dutra”) between Rio and São Paulo. São Paulo is the state with the densest road network. One quick look at the street m of Brazil and you will see this very easily.
- The condition of the vehicles (Cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles …) goes from excellent to literally falling art … I’ve seen cars Doors are missing or parts are held together with a piece of rope. You will also see a lot of cars with completely bare tires. Some of the vehicles you see here would take less than 10 minutes to drive in Europe.
I don’t want to scare anyone because A road trip in Brazil can be an extremely rewarding experience. It’s just that with the right information you can avoid bad situations, or at least avoid getting frustrated by the undisciplined or even reckless behavior of other road users.
Related reading: Most beautiful regions in Brazil for motorcycling
Tips for driving in Brazil
Here are five practical tips and recommendations for anyone looking to hit the road in this amazing country.
1. Road conditions in Brasil
As in most countries The road conditions in Brazil can be very different. In general, the roads in the south and southeast are much better than those in the north. When you cross the state border between Espirito Santo and Bahia, the BR101 suddenly transforms from a two-lane double road with perfect asphalt into a back road with potholes and no hard shoulders. No better example of the economic differences between the southeast and northeast of Brazil. Regardless of the location, Heavy rains can wreak havoc. Cause landslides, wash away part of the road surface, or leave impassable mud holes.
- Holes in the road: Sometimes water can wash away the soil from under the asphalt and at some point part of the pavement collapses and a hole in the road … people usually “mark” these places with a green branch. So If you see something that looks like a tree is growing out of the asphalt, it’s likely a deep hole in the road. Needless to say, this type of „signaling” is very difficult to see in the dark …
- Gravel roads: are very common in Brazil, especially in rural areas, and are used extensively by cars, motorcycles, but also by trucks and buses. Some of them have codes (like RJ153 or SP225) and are official state highways and are usually kept in fair condition, whereas The „unofficial” dirt roads can be very bad, especially after the rainy seasonwhen landslides make many roads very difficult to use. A good rule of thumb is, if you are on a dirt road and you don’t see any tracks from other cars (meaning the road has not been used for a while), chances are you are on the road nowhere it might be a good idea to turn around and find a different route to your destination.
- Signaling: Signaling is good on major highways, but in more remote areas and small towns and villages you shouldn’t have to rely on the following signs to get anywhere. You will often see signs on your destination for a while until they go away. Gas stations are usually a good source of information in case you get lost, but you need to get them from someone who only speaks Portuguese. The signaling of road works is usually good, even on unpaved roads.
- Speed bumps: To control the speed of vehicles in schools or in village centers and residential areas, there are numerous speed limits across the country. The official name is „Lombada”, but most people call it „Quebra Molas” (literally: suspension breaker). This is not an exaggeration as some of these bumps are so high and steep that they look almost like concrete half cylinders. If you hit one of these at high speed, your car will be destroyed. They should be painted in bright yellow and black stripes for better visibility. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Beware!
- Flanelin has: Often times when you park your car in most urban centers a man will come up to you indicating that he will be keeping an eye on your car. They also „help” people find parking spaces and sometimes even offer to wash your car. These people are called „flanelinhas” and what they do is illegal, but it is unwise to refuse them unless you want a few scratches on your car.
2. Gas stations in Brasil
Gas stations In Brazil, a lot is still done by people. Unlike in Europe, where in most countries you have to fill your tank yourself, each station has several companions who fill up the car for you. Paying with a credit or debit card is usually not a problem, but several gas stations in more remote areas only accept cash.
- Petrol prices and quality: Gasoline prices in Brazil are high compared to the US (around $ 7 per gallon) but lower than in Europe. Some gas stations – usually the small, unknown brands – have lower prices, but this usually means that the alcohol content in the gasoline is higher than the legal 20-25%. Some gasoline that you buy at Cheer gas stations contains up to 60% alcohol. It is always advisable to buy your petrol from a large distribution point like Petrobras or Shell …
3. Animals (and other things) on the street
Unfortunately, there are thousands, if not millions, of stray animals roaming the streets in Brazil. Cows, horses, donkeys, dogs … not to mention wildlife like civara, tatu, snakes, lizards … your reflexes can be tested.
4. Use a GPS for driving directions
A GPS can be a great tool and save you a lot of time and gas as long as a good meter is installed. I have a Garmin GPS I use this on my motorcycle as well as in the car and arrived in Brazil with the standard Garmin m from Brazil that I bought in Belgium.
As long as I was on a main road or major city, everything seemed fine, but when I ventured inland I learned that quickly The Garmin m was far from accurate. In fact, it was completely useless … (Sorry Garmin, but that’s the way it is ..)
If you come to Brazil and want to use your Garmin GPS make sure you have a good m installed. I recommend this „Tracksource„M. It’s completely free, developed by volunteers, and, as far as I’ve seen it so far, very accurate.
Another advantage of this m is that it not only contains the official roads (federal and state roads), but also an abundance of small roads, 4 × 4 paths and hiking trails that are not on any m. Some smaller towns don’t have all the streets yet, but there is a monthly update and the m becomes more complete each time.
To download and install the Tracksource m, go to: www.tracksource.org.br
5. Be prepared while driving in Brazil
When you set off, bring the following with you:
- Some food and water
- ms of the area you will be traveling through
- Flashlight / headlight
- A calling card: useful when you are in an area with no cell phone signal. Every small village has at least one payphone (orelhão). You can also call collect (a cobra) on the payphones
- Cash for motorway tolls (there is no way to pay with any type of card)
- Cash for gasoline (especially if you plan to travel to remote areas)
and make sure that:
Hope this was useful.