This week’s expert interview is with Stephanie Marie Kempker. Stephanie is originally from the States and lived in Brazil for one year and gives us an insight into visiting Brazil as a solo traveller.
Can you tell us about your background?
I have degrees in religion and in psychology, and worked in marketing and business development for a few years before moving to Thailand, where I worked in medical tourism. Now in Brazil, I am concentrating on freelance writing and volunteering.
What drew you to Brazil?
I wanted to try something different from living in Bangkok (where I was for 2 years), and I longed for fresh air, and to be out of a concrete jungle and near to real trees! I also dreamed of a city with a beach (I’ve never lived in one). So I started looking for new cities to try, and my fiancé and I both applied for different positions around the world. When my fiancé received an offer to work for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, it was impossible to say no. So he works there full time, and I write and travel throughout Brazil.
What do you think is Brazil’s attraction for solo females?
Many women come here to learn the language (Portuguese), especially those from French and Spanish speaking countries, since the language is easy to pick up for them. Also, the beaches of Brazil are amazing, and for nature-lovers it is almost unbeatable. Rio de Janeiro is a city that has EVERYTHING – cultural attractions, amazing beaches, mountains, hiking, forests, all those things within walking distance of Zona Sul (the main and most popular tourist area) And, for solo SINGLE females, Brazilian men are GORGEOUS! 😉
Have you met many other women travelling solo?
Yes, but I meet more women living here alone than travelling alone. Most of my friends in Rio de Janeiro are solo women who live and work or study here.
Are there any hidden gems in the country that people should definitely visit?
Everyone skips over Sao Paulo, but if you’re in Brazil for a long time, I think it is definitely worth a visit! I think it is the heart of culture in Brazil, with so many cool museums, and parks. It is very sophisticated, and has the best international food in Brazil.
Brazil is so huge! If you only had one month to see the country, what would your perfect itinerary be?
Brazil IS seriously huge! You’ve got to prioritize by what’s important. Do you like nature, or beaches, or culture? A few of my tips (and any must-dos). Probably arrive to Sao Paulo because that tends to be the cheapest airport. Spend a few days there before continuing to Rio (either by plane or bus). At least 5 days in Rio de Janeiro, especially if you like beaches. You’ve got to check out some samba, whether at a bar or in lessons. Take a responsible, respectable favela tour as well, to see how many of Rio’s citizens live. Of course, the classics of Christ the Redeemer and Pao de Acucar are must-sees. If you have time, a walking tour of Central and a hike in the forest (or Morro do Leme or Morro da Urca) are amazing.
* Iguazu Falls – amazing waterfalls that put Niagara to shame! See the Argentina side as well
* Santa Catarina
* Pantanal or Amazon (or both if you really love nature) – rainforest, perfect for someone who wants to see the wild side of Brazil
* If you like beaches, a stop in Buzios is great too. Make sure to rent a car or a go-kart, as the beaches are best explored by private transportation.
How easy is it to get around?
Knowing a bit of Portuguese is almost essential for travel to Brazil. Very, very few people speak English outside of the big cities, and even those that do are shy to speak it. In the cities, there is excellent public transportation (in Sao Paulo and Rio, a great metro). In between the cities, long distance buses link them. Taxis tend to be fair and inexpensive especially if you are used to a USD currency. As a woman, only take metered, registered taxis. There is an app, EasyTaxi, that I would recommend for ANY woman, as the taxis are registered and safe.
Is there anything to do in the evenings as a solo?
I’ll talk about Rio de Janeiro in specific, as I think this is the most common and popular destination for women. Definitely, if you feel nervous about going out at night alone, choose a hotel/hostel near the nightlife scene you want to check out, or stay at a hostel and go with a group. Or make friends during the day and go out with them at night! Also, language schools (like Casa do Caminho) often organise group events, and this is a fun and safe opportunity for solo women.
Many women go out alone in Rio and have no problems, but it is important not to get too drunk (like in any unknown place) and to remain aware of your surroundings. Sexual attacks in Rio are not uncommon, including against foreigners. Don’t take the minibuses late at night, as these are especially problematic. Use EasyTaxi for an assured safe taxi.
Is it easy to meet other travellers?
Yes, if you stay in the tourist region, in a hostel, or attend a week at a language school (which I would recommend, even just to meet other travelers). Otherwise, it is also very easy if you speak Portuguese, as most of the tourists are domestic.
What would you avoid in the country?
Being flashy with phones, cameras, jewellery or money. Theft is very common, and it is always best to just hand the valuables over… as nothing is worth your life.
What would you say to someone who is looking to go to Brazil alone for the first time and is unsure about it?
Brazil is a beautiful country and has so much to offer. The vast majority of the people are so warm, friendly, and kind. If you are scared to travel alone, know that you are never truly alone. The first day you are in Brazil, I guarantee you will make a friend, whether another traveler at the hostel, or just a random person on the beach. Brazilians are seriously the friendliest people I have ever met. Try to go to activities and events, that is a great way to meet other people.
Describe Brazil in 3 words
Beautiful, laidback, talkative.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
The “macho” culture is very strong here, as in other places in South America, and many men are very forward (please note: not ALL guys here are like that, I have many awesome friends that are super respectful and polite to women). You’ll likely have to deal with unwanted grabbing, obscenities, and rude gestures, especially in Rio when you are alone. Sometimes, it is scary.
Women who look noticeably foreign (very blonde or red hair, blue or light eyes) attract a lot of attention when alone, and more of the above unpleasantness.
You believe in travel as a catalyst for change. Can you explain more?
Travel exposes you to so many new places, ideas, and people in such a short period of time. Even the most stubborn person cannot help but change their perspective. And for someone who is very open and wants a positive, life changing experience – travel is the best way to do it (in my opinion). My philosophy is “open heart, open mind”, and I feel that when you approach travel in that way, you gain new knowledge and greater understanding, not only of the place you are visiting but of yourself and your beliefs as well.
What are your plans for the future?
I’ll be based in Rio until after the Olympics. After that, I’ll spend a few months in Israel, one month each in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Myanmar, and then move back to Bangkok.
Where can people go to find out more about you?
At my blog – Joy and Journey.
Is Brazil on your bucket list?