Carnaval in Rio De Janerio is legendary and the city’s gay beach at Ipanema is increasingly drawing a global, jet-setting crowd. Soon you will be hearing a lot more about Brazil as the South American country will host the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association convention in 2012, the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.
Remember, Brazilians speak Portuguese not Spanish. So before you visit, you will want to learn a few words to get by, especially when traveling outside of urban centers like Rio de Janeiro to ocean resort destinations, such as the picturesque, gay-friendly island Florianopolis.
Here are three tips to plan your visit to Brazil.
Visas and exit cards Traveling to Brazil requires you to obtain a tourist visa in advance. Some South American countries, such as Argentina, provide an instant visa at the airport when you arrive — for a fee — but this is not the case with Brazil. Allow for at least three weeks to obtain your visa to Brazil. To simply your trip, consider IGLTA member Visas & Passports 2 Go (www.vp2go.com), based in Washington, D.C. You need to fill out an application and send your U.S. passport to the company, who then takes care of the process for you. You will receive your passport back via FedEx. A 10-year Brazilian visa costs $160. Additional fees apply.
When traveling to South America, be sure to keep your exit card. When you arrive in some countries, you will be given an exit card upon entry to the country — usually on the plane. Local immigration officials will stamp it with the date that you arrived in the country. Do not lose this card. You will have to present it to the immigration officials at the airport when you depart. This is part of their antiquated system to make sure you are leaving the country and did not stay longer than you were allowed. If you do lose your exit card, you may have to pay a fine and could be delayed at the airport.
Travel insurance When traveling internationally, it is important to ensure you have adequate insurance coverage — especially medical insurance — because the unexpected can happen. While many airlines and credit cards offer a range of insurance products for parts of your trip, I always travel with Travel Guard, a one-stop shop that comes with a wide-range of coverage including lost luggage, emergency medical and even lost prescriptions. Check out www.travelguard.com for more information.
Getting there and getting around Most major international carriers serve South America, including American Airlines. For a real authentic Brazilian experience try TAM Airlines, a Star Alliance South American airline that will soon merge with LAN Airlines. (www.tam.com) TAM Airlines offers an exceptionally comfortable business-class service to Brazil. Most flights out of New York and Miami are overnight flights, so having a near-flat bed is key to arriving in good shape the next day.
Gay-owned tour operators, such as Chicago-based Zoom Vacations (www.zoomvacations.com), organize trips to Rio for Carnaval. The next six-day trip begins Feb. 17, 2012, and starts at $3.499, international and domestic airfare not included. Zoom Vacations has negotiated a 5 percent off your fare with American Airlines on this trip. Go to www.aa.com/rainbow, type in your departure city and arrival city and don’t forget to enter the promotion code: 8821BC, then click "Get Fare."
ATMs are not as easy to find as in the United States and it’s easier to use your Visa or MasterCard vs. American Express. Check with your local bank about getting some Brazilian currency, the real, in advance of your trip.
Jeff Guaracino is a vice president for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, author of “Gay and Lesbian Tourism: The Essential Guide for Marketing” and vice chair of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association. He has learned how to find the best deals and travel resources for the LGBT community. If you’re traveling locally, check out visitphilly.com/gay and friend visitgayphilly.com/facebook.