Thursday, January 1, 2009

Taking tours in Brazil

A few short notes about taking tours in Brazil… I found it quite remarkable. We had experiences ranging from world class excellent to the most disastrous.

Don’t take a day tour in a big bus in Rio-de-Janeiro! It does not worth a trouble and money paid for it. The more people involved, the more trouble you will get. It takes around 3 hours (out of your 11 hour tour) to collect 40 people from different hotels, even if the hotels are located on the same street or very near. The tourists are never on time, including Western tourists, who are usually quite punctual in their own countries. At some point (actually a few times!) we became the same disorganised tourists who do not come on time. It is caused by very poore/leasurely communication. A tourist can be told to come at 9 while the bus comes at 8. A tourist can be told to come on Tuesday but the tour is on Monday… You never know that the information is correct until the guide and the bus turn up at the hotel. The bus waits for all tourists who did not turn up, and it takes ages!!!

Another set back is traffic. Rio is divided by the mountain and connected by one tunnel with a single line each way. 7 million people commute from one side to another and traffic jams start building up since 7am to 10 am. In the afternoon the story repeats itself from about 3.30 pm till 6-7pm. There is no way to escape the traffic jam, nowhere to go – the bus will spend other 2-3 hours in a queue. The morning traffic jam does not affect the tours, because the jam is long gone by the time all tourists are collected. But in the afternoon… 11 hour excursion cuts back to actual 5 hour excursion and 6 hours of waiting. We have not investigated a possibility to do the same tour on our own using public transport, but probably it would be much cheaper and more pleasurable. The subway is excellent in Rio, though it is a bit more expensive than the Argentinean subway. Taxis are readily available, but they will stack in the same traffic jam.

Another set back of a big excursion is languages. A big bus (as well as some small ones as well) collects Brazilian, Latin American and International tourists, and the guides run the show in 3 languages at once: Spanish, Portuguese and English. English is not the most popular language and comments can be very limited if any. And – in general – nobody speaks English apart from hotel receptionists, but Spanish is well spread and even very basic Spanish is better than nothing. Our lessons of Spanish were justified and helped us a lot in restaurants and on the streets of Brazil. Even people who picked us from the airports or took us to the airports did not speak a word of English. However, we met a couple of guides with exceptionally good English: one in Rio and 1 in Bahia.

Small excursion groups are cosier and friendlier. Our trip to Favelas was exceptionally good, as well as individual tours we had in Bahia.

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