Brazil’s passenger-train services have been scaled down to almost nothing, supplanted long ago by the personal automobile. There are still over 30,000km of track, but most trains carry only cargo. Rail enthusiasts should not quite despair, however, as there are still a couple of great rides. The outstanding trip goes from Curitiba to Paranaguá, descending the coastal mountain range with some unforgettable views. The Belo Horizonte–Vitória run, via Santa Bárbara and Sabará, is far more pleasant than the bus ride.
Steam trains in Brazil are affectionately known as Marias Fumaça (Smoking Mary), and a couple of them still run as leisure attractions. One such is the 13km ride from São João del Rei to Tiradentes in Minas Gerais. Another pleasant short trip, this time by electric train, is the ride through the Serra da Mantiqueira of São Paulo state from Campos do Jordão to Santo Antônio do Pinhal, the highest stretch of track in the country.
Subway / Metro
Both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have excellent metro systems. These are a safe, cheap and efficient way of exploring the city. One-way fares cost R$ 3,00 in São Paulo and R$ 3,20 in Rio.
Bus & Tram
Except in the Amazon Basin, buses are the primary form of long-distance transportation for the majority of Brazilians and many foreign travelers. Bus services are generally excellent. Departure times are usually strictly adhered to, and most of the buses are clean, comfortable and well-serviced Mercedes, Volvos and Scanias.
All major cities are linked by frequent buses – one leaves every 15 minutes from Rio to São Paulo during peak hours – and there are a surprising number of long-distance buses. It is rare that you will have to change buses between two major cities, no matter what the distance. Every big city, and most small ones, has at least one main long-distance bus station, known as a rodoviária (pronounced ho-do-vi-ah-ri-ya).
Bus service and road conditions vary by region. The South has the most and the best roads. Coastal highways are usually good; while the roads of Amazonia and the sertão (backlands of the Northeast) are quite bad. The Quatro Rodas Atlas Rodoviário, a very useful road atlas for any traveler, helpfully marks the worst stretches of road with lines of large Xs and classifies them as estradas precárias.
Brazil has numerous bus companies and the larger cities have several dozen rival agencies. Before buying a bus ticket from São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro to other destinations, be sure to shop around.
Bus travel throughout Brazil can be expensive; convencional fares average from R$6 to R$9 per hour. Sample fares from Rio are as follows: São Paulo (six hours), R$ 76,25 convencional, R$ 166,00 leito; Florianópolis (18 hours), R$196,50 leito; Salvador (25 hours), R$ 279,00 golden; Foz do Iguaçu (22 hours), R$184,50 convencional; Belém (52 hours), R$ 320,40 convencional.
Local bus services tend to be pretty good in Brazil. Since most Brazilians take the bus to work every day, municipal buses are usually frequent and their network of routes is comprehensive. Fares range from R$1.50 to R$ 3.
Jumping on a local bus is one of the best ways to get to know a city. With a map and a few dollars you can get an overview of the town.
Taxi rides are reasonably priced, and are the best option for getting around cities at night, and across town in a hurry. Taxis in cities usually have meters that start at R$ 4.10 and rise by something like R$4.78 per km (more on nights and weekends). Occasionally, the driver will refer to a chart and revise slightly upwards. This reflects recent official hikes in taxi rates and the meter has not yet been adjusted.
In small towns, taxis often don’t have meters, and you’ll have to arrange a price beforehand.
Some airports and bus stations have a system for you to purchase a fixed-price taxi ticket from a bilheteria (ticket office). At a few such places it’s much cheaper to go onto the street outside and find a cab that will take you for the meter fare or sometimes even less. If you are carrying valuables, however, the special airport taxi, or a radio taxi, can be a worthwhile investment. These are probably the safest taxis on the road.
If possible, orient yourself before taking a taxi, and keep a map handy in case you find yourself being taken on a wild detour. The worst place to get a cab is where the tourists are. Don’t get a cab near one of the expensive hotels. In Rio, for example, walk a block away from the beach at Copacabana to flag down a cab.