Bus Travel

The nation's ônibus (bus) network is affordable, comprehensive, and efficient—compensating for the lack of trains and the high cost of air travel. Every major city can be reached by bus, as can most small to medium-size communities.

The quality of buses in Brazil is good; in many cases better than in the United States. The number of stops at roadside cafés depends on the length of the journey. A trip from São Paulo to Curitiba, for example, which takes about six hours, has only one 20-minute stop. Usually buses stop at large outlets with food services, and souvenir and magazine stalls.

Lengthy bus trips can involve travel over some poorly maintained highways, a fact of life in Brazil. Trips to northern, northeastern, and central Brazil tend to be especially trying; the best paved highways are in the Southeast and the South. When traveling by bus, bring water, toilet paper or tissues, and an additional top layer of clothing (handy if it gets cold or as a pillow). Travel light, dress comfortably, and keep a close watch on your belongings—especially in bus stations. If your bus stops at a roadside café, take your belongings with you.

When buying a ticket, you'll be asked whether you want the ônibus convencional, the simplest option; the ônibus executivo, which gets you a/c, coffee, water, a sandwich, more space between seats, and a pillow and blanket; or the ônibus-leito, where you have all facilities of an executive bus plus a seat that reclines completely. If you're over 5 ft. 10 in., it’s prudent to buy the most expensive ticket and try for front-row seats, which usually provide more space.

Most buses used for long trips are modern and comfortable, usually with bathrooms and a/c. Note that regular buses used for shorter hauls may be labeled "ar condicionado" ("air-conditioned") but often are not.

Bus fares are substantially cheaper than in North America or Europe. Between Rio and São Paulo (6½–7 hours), for example, a bus departs every half hour and costs about $28; a night sleeper will run about $60. Sometimes competing companies serve the same routes, so it can pay to shop around.

Tickets are sold at bus-company offices, at city bus terminals, in some travel agencies, and online. Larger cities may have different terminals for buses to different destinations, and some small towns may not have a terminal at all (you're usually picked up and dropped off at the line's office, invariably in a central location). Expect to pay with cash, as credit cards aren't accepted everywhere. Reservations or advance-ticket purchases generally aren't necessary except for trips to resort areas during high season—particularly on weekends—or during major holidays (Christmas, Carnival, etc.) and school-break periods (July and December/January). In general, arrive at bus stations early, particularly for peak-season travel.

Traveling between Argentina and Brazil by bus is also a good idea if time is not an issue. The same can be said for Uruguay, Chile, Peru, and other neighboring countries. It's inexpensive and you can enjoy the landscapes. Expect to pay $200 for the 14-hour trip between São Paulo and Buenos Aires.

To ensure that your destination is understood, write it down on a piece of paper and present it to bus or taxi drivers, most of whom don't speak English.

Bus Information

Expresso Brasileiro. 0800/725--1211; 4004--1010; www.expressobrasileiro.com.

Itapemirim. 0800/723–2121; www.itapemirim.com.br.

Pluma Internacional. 0800/095--0836; www.pluma.com.br.

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