Our Experience Traveling to Brazil During the Pandemic
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Our Experience Traveling to Brazil During the Pandemic

6 min read

Feb 26, 2021

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By Juergen Keller

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Last updated on March 1st, 2021 at 03:08 pm

SouthAmerica.travel’s Co-Founders Juergen Keller and Bradley Nehring recently traveled to Brazil to get a first-hand experience of what it’s like to travel during the pandemic. Read below for information on their trip preparation, airline and hotel safety guidelines, restaurants, and more. 

Traveling to Brazil During Covid-19 (Jan & Feb 2021)

There were many rumors about traveling to South America during Covid-19 that we needed to experience and determine if they were true. We also were intrigued by the fact that Brazil’s weather is simply a lot sunnier and less rainy at this time of the year compared to Seattle.

Preparing for our trip

Let us start with the beginning: travel preparation. We needed to get a Covid test before boarding our flight to Brazil. We got our test near the airport in Miami, three days before take-off (the maximum time before travel that is allowed). Surprisingly, we received our test results the next morning. With our test results in hand, we checked-in to our flight, which took a bit more time as the test needed to be verified.

After boarding, the flight itself was quite nice. It was 8 hours (flying through the night), and many people were taking advantage of the empty seats to stretch out and sleep. When we arrived at the international airport in Rio, it was eerily empty! We found this a contrast to the domestic airports later in our journey, full of travelers.

Arriving in Brazil

On our itinerary, we planned to visit Rio de Janeiro – of course -, the colonial gem of Paraty, São Paulo, Vitoria – sometimes referred to as the little Rio de Janeiro because of its size, yet almost identical landscape. We also added the exciting modern architecture of Brazil’s capital Brasilia and the historical, colonial former capital of Pernambuco State, Olinda.

The safety protocols you would expect during Covid were present whenever and wherever we went. Masks, distances, and hygiene. As for the rest of the travel experience, everything was the way it always has been, with some exceptions. One exception, for example, was that taxis in Rio had to operate with their windows open to allow for ventilation. Another example is the check-in procedure at the hotels. This was different as there were markers for social distancing, masks enforced, and plenty of alcohol gel dispensers. Finally, breakfast in the hotel was also a bit different. As usual, the rich, overwhelming buffet was there, but now behind plexiglass and waiters serving what you wanted. They also would take your order for the eggs and how you wanted them.

airplane getting ready for take off
aerial view of rio de janeiro and christ the redeemer statue

Last updated on March 1st, 2021 at 03:08 pm

Eating out & observing the locals

In regards to eating out, we found all our favorite restaurants (not far from our hotel) operating normally. We always chose to sit outside. Sitting outside was a great choice for restaurants nearby Copacabana and Leme beaches because of the very wide, famously ornate boardwalk along Atlantic Avenue at the beach. All waiters wore masks, patrons wore masks while going to and from the table – even when outside. There was also hand sanitizer everywhere, sometimes even on the table, like pepper and salt.

However, on the first or second day, we witnessed why Brazil developed high infection rates: family contact. Culturally speaking, Brazilians are very close to their family. We observed how families met, sometimes in parties of 12, 15, or more. They all arrived with masks but greeting as always hugs and kisses with not much distance. And from our time living in Brazil, we knew those family gatherings repeat every Sunday!

We also observed a large group gathering down the road at the border of São Paulo state. During our tour of Paraty, we encountered tourists in sizable numbers. Though, we never did hear another language other than Portuguese. It was again, Brazilians vacationing with their families in tow. Large family groups heading for dinner with masks that would soon be forgotten. But as solo travelers, we never felt at risk.

outdoor cafe in rio de janeiro with view of sugarloaf mountain
leme beach and huge sidewalk in rio de janeiro

Last updated on March 1st, 2021 at 03:08 pm

Transfering to São Paulo

Our next stop: São Paulo. We love São Paulo. Why do you ask? Everything from the theaters, cinemas, and restaurants is more sophisticated than in laid-back Rio. On arrival, everything was open, so we had our hopes up for a lot of good entertainment and fun. But the bummer came the second day when the governor had to decide to close restaurants and bar at 6 pm and cultural activities for 100%. In most Brazilian states, these restrictions are based only on the hospitals’ occupancy with Covid patients. Once that reaches 80%, restrictions come into effect! Some states then also bring in pop-up impromptu hospitals.

Brazil’s Capital

In Brasilia, we wanted to see more of the Oscar Niemeyer buildings, and we started with staying at the Brasilia Palace Hotel

Brasilia, of course, was empty due to summer vacation and the weekend. We had the hotel practically to ourselves. All sights were open and with very few tourists. Additionally, cleaning protocols were obsessively followed.

patio do colegio in sao paulo brazil
se cathedral in sao paulo brazil

Last updated on March 1st, 2021 at 03:08 pm

Transfering to Olinda

Next, we were off to Olinda, taking an almost full domestic flight. Masks and social distancing guidelines were cleverly imposed. The boarding procedure was by row number, but in a way that enforced social distancing! Rows boarded by three’s starting from the back. For example, row 30, then 27, then 24, then 21, etc … very cool, we found, and a lot faster and safer once on board.

Once in Olinda, we choose -again- a hotel with outdoor seating. Everything in northeastern Brazil is cheaper than in Rio or São Paulo, so we decided to stay for a week. Daily open air Brazilian Buffet Breakfast is one of the key features of the Hotel 7 Colinas.

The hotel features this unique setting downtown and has this huge tropical garden with a swimming pool. Dinners near the Olinda cathedral featured incredible views of the sunset over the sea, with Recife in the background.

aerial view of olinda
colorful buildings in olinda recife

Last updated on March 1st, 2021 at 03:08 pm

Our journey home

Before we flew home to the United States, we stayed again in Rio, this time at an empty business hotel. At this time, after all those huge Brazilian breakfasts and delicious dinners, we also needed a gym! Here, too, masks were required in the gym. Only a few people needed reminding to wear it correctly. Then before our flight home, the lab came to the hotel. They took our sample and provided our Covid test results the next morning. It was very convenient!

Our Conclusion

Overall, we thought it was easy to stay safe while traveling in Brazil by following all the hygiene protocols and always eating outside. The only caveat we have is that if your intention is to see friends within families in Brazil, we recommend postponing your trip. If you’re looking to travel privately (solo or with your travel partner(s), we believe it’s feasible to stay safe, healthy, and enjoy your vacation!

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Oscar Niemeyer's classic Brasilia Palace hotel

Breakfast at the Hotel 7 Colinas Olinda, Brazil