Last Updated on January 19, 2020 by Audrey Scott
Are you interested in traveling to Brazil, but only have a limited amount of time? Maybe you have a couple of weeks and you feel overwhelmed by Brazil's size and variety of destinations. Don't worry, we've been there. That’s why we created this Brazil Experiential Travel Guide to get you started in organizing and planning your own trip.
Early in our around-the-world journey, we spent fifteen months traveling through Latin America, but we never made it to Brazil. How did we miss the largest country on the continent, the fifth largest in the world?
Short answer: we ran out of time. Real answer: we psyched ourselves out thinking we must experience Brazil all at once. Given Brazil’s size and diversity, we understood it could take months or even years to travel and fully explore. So we put off a visit, waiting for that perfect timing, our minds darting back often to how we might approach it.
Recently, we decided: Brazil, now’s the time. We embraced the “you don’t need to do it all at once, but choose wisely” approach.
Take a ride on Brazil's southern coastal highways and you'll find roads and towns engulfed in lush, flourishing green, and jungle that opens to dazzling seas and beaches. Marvel at vast swathes of savannah, forest and rivers throughout its inland tropical wetlands. No matter the level of development and modernization across the country — and there’s plenty across its cities, towns and infrastructure — nature appears poised to reclaim.
Against the backdrop of that nature exists a cultural diversity and expression shaped from Portuguese colonial rule, the African slave trade, and waves of immigration and internal migration. This forms the foundation on which we began to understand the country – not entirely, yet deeply — in a short period of time.
If, similar to us, you've wondered how to approach this vast and diverse country with a limited amount of time, this guide is for you. The goal: to inspire ideas of things to do in Brazil, places to visit, and how to engage so as to make the most of your own travels in Brazil.
Table of Contents
Brazil in two weeks, from Rio de Janeiro to the Pantanal: An Experiential Guide
For those of you who love maps — as we do — here is a visual of the first two weeks of our route through Brazil on the Wonders of Brazil tour with G Adventures.
Rio de Janeiro, 1-4 days
1. Take the Corcovado Railway and enjoy Rio from above, at Christ the Redeemer
What really struck me most about Rio de Janeiro when we first arrived were its natural features – dramatic mountains, urban rainforests, and long stretches of white sand beaches. Human life, including downtown skyscrapers and densely populated neighborhoods are tucked between Mother Nature’s crevices and cliffs.
We took the Corcovado Railway through the thick rainforest of Tijuca National Park, a place remarkable for both its lushness and size. Tijuca, an urban rainforest, was the result of a massive reforestation project from the mid-19th century when the city realized that the deforestation due to coffee plantations and coal mining had dried up some of the city's main water sources. A reminder not to mess with Mother Nature and her delicate balance.
Christ the Redeemer, the 30-meter high Art Deco statue atop Corcovado mountain, overlooks it all, embracing the city.
The view from the top is remarkable. I found myself wondering how all this may have appeared to colonialists upon their first arrival in the 16th century. Something must have struck them, too. Rio de Janeiro was the country’s capital for almost 200 years; its cultural significance and atmosphere still hold sway.
2. Visit the Planeterra Favela Experience in Vidigal and challenge your perception
You may wonder: “Can a ‘favela tour’ ever be ethical and respectful?” It's important to ask that and other difficult questions when it comes to tours in favelas or other marginalized communities. To find our own thoughts on the matter, we interacted with a Favela tour in Rio and met community members and leaders.
When tourism and tours are developed from and by members of the community, respectful engagement is possible. A community-focused approach enables immersive experiences shaped by local culture, stories, people, and life — just as it did with the one we experienced with Planeterra Foundation and its local partners Favela Experience and Favela Inc.
Local community leaders and organizations create and deliver the favela tour. The experience zeroes in on respect, sharing and cultural exchange. Positive impact is amplified economically and socially since the money stays local and benefit is accrued throughout the community.
Though no one experience will by itself dissolve the otherness of a favela, this one helps. It does so by swapping the story of poverty and danger with the story of human beings making their way — creating, working, living — for themselves and their families.
3. Immerse yourself in Rio’s urban art
Street art and urban art installation fanatics will find no shortage of inspiration in Rio de Janeiro (and elsewhere in Brazil). Across Rio's neighborhoods — from back alleys in the favelas to formal street art public galleries — you'll spot colorful street murals carrying socio-economic, cultural and political messages.
Perhaps no installation better illustrates how public art can impact neighborhoods and urban development than the colorful Selarón Steps at the edge of Rio's Lapa and Santa Teresa neighborhoods. A 20+ year private art project of now deceased Chilean artist Jorge Selarón has transformed a once marginal neighborhood of Rio into one of the city’s most visited sights.
Featuring tiles from over sixty countries, the Selarón Steps are living art history, a community project maintained by local artists in honor of the original project’s inclusive vision.
Ilha Grande, 2 Days
4. Hike Pico do Papagaio (Parrot Peak), the highest point of Ilha Grande
Ilha Grande, just a few hours’ drive and ferry ride from Rio de Janeiro, was a former leper colony and then high security prison (until 1994). Nowadays, the island is open to the public. It's also a car-free natural reserve whose development is restricted, meaning that you won't find any big resorts or development. And that's a good thing.
One of the best ways to appreciate the span of the island’s beauty and also that of Brazil’s southern coast is to climb Pico de Papagaio (Parrot Peak), Ilha Grande’s highest peak. Many people choose to do this as a summit-at-sunrise hike, setting off at 2:30 AM to reach the peak in time for sunrise over the ocean. (Note: Several people in our group did the sunrise hike with Sunrise Pioneers and had a great experience.)
Some of us, however, enjoy an occasional good night's sleep on the road (yes, guilty!!) and question the trade-off between that sleep and a nighttime jungle hike with headlamps. We opted to set off for our hike just after 8AM from Abraão (Ilha Grande’s town center) and reached the peak some 2.5-3 hours later after four miles uphill through thick, steamy jungle. We poked around, took in gorgeous views and watched vultures and frigate birds circle somewhat ominously overhead.
We may have missed the colors from sunrise and the nighttime jungle experience, but the mid-morning views were still spectacular. No regrets.
Note: If you do choose to hike Pico do Papagaio during the day, get an early start and carry lots of water. The heat and humidity intensify noticeably as the day progresses. This impacts comfort and the summit view due to increasing haze.
5. Relax from your hike on a tranquil (and nearly empty) beach on Ilha Grande
Our original post-hike plan was to take a boat taxi to Praia de Lopes Mendes on the opposite side of Ilha Grande. However, by the time we inquired about transport possibilities in the early afternoon it was already too late because boats were no longer headed in that direction.
We literally missed the boat. We were discouraged and disappointed.
However, we quickly discovered the jungle trails eastward from the main port area of Abraão. They allowed us to easily hop from one laid back beach to another. We sampled a few beaches along the way and settled on Praia Comprida.
Completely surrounded by jungle it felt like our own private, tropical retreat. Besides an enterprising local caipirinha salesman (who churned out cocktails from his own cooler and perhaps sampled too much of his own product), only a sprinkling of other beachgoers were about.
The water was the perfect temperature for a long swim, float or lounge. We relaxed our muscles, watched the caipirinha guy drink all the cocktails he failed to sell, and knew we’d found the place we hadn’t really been looking for after all.
6. Devour a local moqueca on the beach
A Brazilian moqueca is a hearty stew usually made with a combination of coconut milk, palm oil, relatively mild seasoning and fish, seafood or a blend of the two. On Ilha Grande, the local moqueca specialty was made with roasted bananas (moqueca de piexe con banana-da-terra). Although that combination may sound odd — particularly to the banana-averse like me – the contrast of rich savory and sweet was delicious.
A note about Brazilian food portions and serving sizes: In a word: HUGE. Many restaurants will list dishes as serving two people (or sometimes three to four people). Prices are accordingly — and sometimes shockingly — high. As a rule of thumb: take the number of people the menu indicates the dish will serve, then double that (i.e., a dish for two will usually feed four people. Strategize and order accordingly. We found single portions (that is, meant to feed one person) usually featured more than enough food to feed the two of us.
Paraty, 2 days
7. Wander the preserved Portuguese colonial cobblestoned streets of Paraty
Frozen in time, Paraty is. As one of Brazil’s oldest port towns dating back to the late 16th century, Paraty has seen the rise and fall of the gold, slave and coffee trades over its time. Its own fate and prosperity has proceeded accordingly. Thanks to a near abandonment of the city in the early 20th century, its preservation offers a living gallery of 17th to 19th century Portuguese colonial architecture. Streets run in large cobblestones and are punctuated with colorful doors, windows, and decorations. You’ll see how and why Paraty remains a traveler favorite.
The old town is laid out in a grid, making for easy wandering. If a particular street seems too busy for you, just head one or two streets away and you’ll likely have it all to yourself. Although Paraty’s streets are laid back and sleepy during the day, they come alive at night as street musicians and artists take up their acts on every corner.
8. Experience Samba da Benção, the samba night free-for-all on Paraty's main square
Samba is a Brazilian type of music and dance whose West African roots run deep. Heavy in drums and rhythm, samba makes it hard to stand still as the beat makes its way inside you. If you’re timing is good, catch Samba da Benção, the Monday-night Paraty samba dance party on Praça da Matriz, the Paraty main square. It’s free, but donations are kind…and keep the music and party going.
It starts from 8PM. Musicians come out in force, and locals and visitors get their dance on well into the night. The moves are serious, but the attitude not so much – all seem to come as they are.
If you don’t experience samba in Paraty, be sure to ask around along your journey. You'll find samba somewhere – and it will be an important stitch in your understanding of the tapestry and psyche of Brazil.
9. Soak up a lazy beach day at Trindade Beach
Trindade, an easy public bus ride from Paraty, is a favorite beach spot for locals and travelers alike. Walk the three or four beaches connected by jungle trails and determine which one fits you best in terms of atmosphere, crowds, waves and shade. From the town, we walked Praia do Meio all the way to Piscina Natural da Caixa d'Aco, which we found crowded and murky.
Our favorite beach: Praia do Cachadaço. Why? It was huge, relatively empty, surrounded by lush jungle and home to some big trees perfect for shade. In other words, the ideal location from which to ponder the world during a day at the beach.
You can also do as we did by taking ten steps from your towel and grabbing a seat at the low key beachside Restaurante Caiçara. Then, finish and cool the day off with a bowl of açaí from the café across the street from the bus stop before you return to Paraty.
Iguazu Falls (Brazilian and Argentine sides), 2 days
10. Take in the vastness of Iguazu Falls from the Brazil side
When it comes to waterfalls we often find ourselves skeptical. “Big, beautiful waterfalls!” can often translate to the reality of a far away trickle.
Not so, Iguazu Falls (Foz do Iguaçu). Remarkable, vast, powerful, wide. Humbling. Evidence of Mother Nature’s grip of beauty and power. And a restorer of the promise of a waterfall.
From the Brazil side of the falls (they are shared with Argentina), you can truly appreciate the vastness of Iguazu — or Iguaçu in Brazil, a word derived from a Guarani indigenous root meaning “big water” — the largest network of waterfalls in the world. So large are they that a 90-120 minute walk is flush with panoramic views.
BONUS: Enjoy watching the coati, an animal which looks like an anteater cross-bred with a raccoon. You’ll see coatis all along the trail, especially when food is nearby. Do not feed them, however, as they are already too accustomed to human food and contact.
11. Get up close with Iguazu Falls from the Argentine side
While the Brazilian side of Igauzu Falls provides perspective on their vastness, the Argentine side allows you to get up close to admire — and feel — the sheer power and size of these falls. The network of walking paths throughout the park are really well done and interpreted, taking you through forest above and under slightly smaller falls. Several of the overlooks bring you very easily right next to some of the largest falls. Spend some time; you'll feel the power of rushing water right next to you as you cool off in its mist.
Cap your visit to Iguazu Falls by going into and under them aboard a speedboat. There’s no better way to feel the full force of the falls. The cool water feels excellent, and a full dose negative ions and thrill puts everyone on a natural high. Our boat went three or four times into the falls, with our group cheering for more each time we emerged. We were soaked through by the end and had perma-grins on our faces.
Although we took a similar boat ride nine years ago when we first visited Iguazu Falls in Argentina, this ride was worth the revisit. We would do it again. It’s that much fun.
Bonito, 1-2 days
12. Drift-snorkel through the clear waters of the Rio da Prata
Snorkeling a river?
When our G Adventures CEO (tour leader) told us the river would be crystal clear and full of fish, we had our doubts. Yet, snorkeling in the Rio da Prata at Recanto Ecologico near Bonito exceeded all expectations. Spectacular.
The experience of a drift snorkel down a river, whereby you swim down the river with the satisfying assist of the current, is something remarkable. No video can do it justice, but we share our brief one as a taste.
The Pantanal, 2 days
13. Go wildlife tracking and bird spotting on a late afternoon boat ride in the Pantanal
Although not as famous as Brazil’s Amazon further north, the Pantanal — the largest inland wetlands in the world, stretching from western Brazil into eastern Bolivia and Paraguay — is also one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Home to more than 650 known species of birds and to the greatest concentration of wildlife in South America, this vast area of seasonally flooded savannah, tropical forests, grasslands and rivers is bustling with life, most of it imperceptible to humans.
For us, the most enjoyable method to get amongst it in the Pantanal: a late afternoon boat ride with a local guide. Just as the game of “who can spot the most birds?” began, we soon lost count. We encountered so many species – of kingfishers, herons, cranes, cormorants, storks, and toucans – and in such quantity, that is was imperative not to count and click, but rather to enjoy.
Pedro, a self-taught birding and wildlife expert who’d lived his entire life in the Pantanal, was our guide. His ability to spot and identify birds near and far in the distance was stunning. As he explained, any time he’d see something unfamiliar to him during an outing, he’d do his research — until he was familiar with just about every species in the Pantanal. His passion and admiration for birds and wildlife – still after all this time – is genuine and contagious. Despite his having encountered these species thousands of times, each encounter unfolds as if it were his first.
The experience of the boat itself, floating atop and within nature, delivered a peace of stillness and reflection.
14. Go piranha fishing…and feed the caimans!
In full disclosure, I’m not much into fishing and really didn’t think this was going to be particularly enjoyable or interesting. However, Pedro had a way of making it so.
Using simple bamboo fishing rods with chunks of raw meat as bait, we threw our lines into the murky river and waited. I expected that we’d leave without catching anything, as is often the case with fishing. Within minutes, however, piranhas were popping up on the lines everywhere. Piranhas are smaller than I'd expected, but their teeth look like they could do some serious damage.
Not wanting to take our catch back with us, we threw the piranhas back. This turned into dinner time for the caimans circling about.
15. Hang out with a family of capybaras and spot an elusive tapir
This time, we wished to see them in their natural habitat.
During our boat ride, we came across an extended capybara family complete with mother, babies, teenagers and aunts. In nature, capybaras look serious, like all business. I suppose we might all be so if we and our offspring happened to be the meal of choice among a range of predators, including caimans, jaguars and eagles.
More than satisfied with the capybaras, our boat had the good fortune to also spot an elusive tapir emerging from the water. Frightened, he scampered onshore and tried to hurry away. Due to his size and clumsy fear, it took him three tries to finally scale a nearby hill of lightly packed sand.
This time, Pedro’s excitement went off the charts. Tapirs are nocturnal, so daytime encounters are quite rare.
Looking at the shape of the tapir, it seems that Mother Nature carries a sense of humor.
If all this is not enough, you’re also likely to encounter howler monkeys, capuchins, and pecarries (pig-like non-pigs) just as we did. Your birding experience will be rounded out by hawks, a spotted owl, macaws (scarlet, hyacinth and even hybrids), in addition to all the other birds we mention above.
16. Chill out at a pousada in the Pantanal
During the Brazilian summer, the Pantanal can become incredibly hot during the day. This means activities typically take place either in the early morning or late afternoon, providing ample time to slow down. What to do with the rest of that time? Enjoy it.
Sleeping or reading in a hammock, listening to the call of the macaws in the trees above, or just doing nothing but taking in the sights, smells of your surroundings quickly turns to calming bliss. (Note: doing nothing is important and under-appreciated.).
Down time will allow you to better process the remarkable experience that is the Pantanal. And it may also deliver some moments which lend clarity to the life you'll return to after your holiday.
Our days were punctuated with an early morning walk through the forest, horseback riding, a boat ride, and an evening a nighttime walk. Everything is taken at a slow, relaxed pace. This is not only good for us as humans. The animals seem to like it, too, and are less likely to be frightened away.
If you really wish to bring it down a notch – or perhaps take it up a notch – avail yourself of the strongest caipirinha in Brazil served up in a tumbler at the Santa Clara Pousada.
One is enough to lend further clarity…or haze. Trust us.
17. Get your Japanese food and sushi fix
“Japanese food in Brazil?” you might be asking. Yes, it’s a thing. Brazil features the largest population of people of Japanese origin outside of Japan, explaining the Japanese influence on the cuisine. The history of this features a fascinating twist you’d be unlikely to guess.
After you’ve enjoyed your fill of traditional Brazilian food — moquecas, steak, salgados (fried, stuffed snacks) – take a dive into Japanese-Brazilian food. You’ll find plenty of the sushi restaurant standards (e.g., sashimi, nigiri, rolls), and a few Brazilian twists where “hot” rolls and combinations are flash fried or seared.
Sushi is relatively and surprisingly inexpensive in Brazil, particularly given the quality.
18. Get your city beach on at Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches in Rio
The name “Copacabana” conjures images of tropical, exotic, luxury, scene-y. Strutting like supermodels. The Copacabana Beach we found was more inclusive and approachable, featuring ordinary people of all ages enjoying themselves on this 2.5-mile long stretch of public city beach. Same goes for Ipanema Beach right next door.
If you visit the beach, you'll have everything you need as vendors make the rounds selling everything from caipirinhas to grilled cheese logs. Frequent visits to the beach seem the ordinary rhythm of life for many in Rio. In fact, Rio's beaches take on a second surge of traffic at the end of the work day as locals drop by the beach for a cocktail, a dip in the ocean and to watch the sun go down.
Not a bad way to end the day. Or, in our case, to wrap our G Adventures tour in Brazil.
Itinerary ideas for one more week in Brazil
If you happen to have a bit more time and are wondering what to do during a third week in Brazil, we recommend taking a look at Salvador, the capital of Brazil's Bahia region, and São Paulo, Brazil's largest city. These destinations offer complements and contrasts to the experiences, culture, nature and places visited earlier. Here's why.
Salvador de Bahia, 4-5 days
Prior to our visit, we knew little about Salvador and Bahia until our friend Barbara, a travel colleague and friend who knew Brazil well, suggested we pay it a visit to round out our time in the country. She explained that Bahia would be very different from everything else we'd seen experienced on our trip.
It turns out that she was spot on.
Salvador, the capital of the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia, features a long, deep history — one that is evident and in many ways still alive today. Founded in 1549 by the Portuguese as the country's first colonial capital, Salvador also served as the first slave port and market in all of South America. A significant portion of the estimated 4-5 million slaves that were brought to Brazil, mainly from West Africa, were trafficked through Salvador.
Today, Salvador and Bahia are considered the epicenter of Afro-Brazilian culture. An estimated 80-90% of the population are descended from African slaves, and much of the music, spirituality, and cuisine that arrived with them has been passed down through the generations. Adding further complexity, some of this culture and style blended with indigenous and European traditions. What you encounter on the streets is colorful, vibrant, and lively.
All of this history, together with the backdrop of 16th-19th century Portuguese colonial architecture in Salvador's old town, has earned it UNESCO status. In fact, Pelourinho, the name of the neighborhood which forms the heart of Salvador and its old town center, is the Portuguese word for pillory, a kind of whipping post once used in the main square to punish slaves. A clear sense of local cultural pride in the Afro-Brazilian culture, music and cuisine — formed in part as a resistance and response to hardship — stands in contrast to this harsh reminder.
Our visit to Salvador happened to coincide with the season of preparation and practice just prior to Carnaval. As Salvador features the largest Carnaval celebration of its kind in Brazil, this is a serious affair. We were fortunate to take in “blocks” — or groups of musicians and performers — coursing through the street of Salvador, working out the rhythm and moves of their routines. That and arriving on the day of the Festival de Música e Artes Olodum, meant that the sound of drumbeats and voices echoed through the colonial streets from early morning to well into the night.
Salvador street art, from graffiti to full-on murals — impressed us, too. Works were striking, provocative, colorful, cultural, and reflected some serious artistic skill. Salvador featured some of the best street art in all of Brazil, really.
Our recommendation is to walk around Pelourinho, keeping your eyes open for street art and murals lining side alleys or wrapping around corners. Continue up the hill along Rua do Carmo to Largo do Santo Antonio, perhaps stopping at Cadê Q'Chama? for a hearty moqueca baiana, a traditional coconut milk and seafood stew. Make a big loop back to Largo do Pelourinho, wandering and drifting freely to admire the art and also the Art Deco architecture, much of which is in a state of revitalization.
When you've had your fill of the city's sights and sounds, head out to the beach for a few days. Bahia's most famous beaches like Itacare and Ilhaus seemed a little too far away for us for the couple of days we had. We did, however, enjoy a couple of chill days at Stella Maris beach, in the far north suburbs of Salvador.
São Paulo, 2 days
Although São Paulo doesn't feature the same allure and beauty as Rio, we still wanted to visit Brazil's biggest city before leaving the country. With limited time there, we decided to focus mainly on street art, the Vila Madalena neighborhood, some more sushi and a fresh market or two. We used Jenna's delightful guide to São Paulo to help us plan our remaining time. Her husband's family is from São Paulo, so her guide offers the perspectives of both a visitor and local.
Were our timing better, we would have booked a walking tour with Andre to explore the the older parts of São Paulo and to learn more about its history and development. Although we didn't experience this tour ourselves, we're confident to recommend it. We were able to meet Andre one evening — he's passionate about his home city and has the bearing of a thoughtful yet humorous guide. He also kept us well fed by steering us towards Tanuki Restaurant in Vila Madelena (excellent sushi!) and Mercado Municipal de Pinheiros, whose flea market center is ringed with fun restaurants and bars.
Visas to Brazil
Fortunately, visas to Brazil have recently become easier than they once were for many nationalities. Travelers from EU countries can travel visa-free for up to 90 days. And from June 17, 2019 citizens of the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia will enjoy visa-free travel to Brazil. Win-win.
If you do need a Brazil visa before this change of legislation, then you can get an e-visa here for around $44. It’s a pretty straightforward process requiring that you upload a copy of your passport and a photo, then fill in an online form. We received a response within a few days.
Safety in Brazil
We were told that safety has improved in many cities and locations in Brazil. Places that are popular with travelers are often patrolled and thus quite safe, too. We also felt safe taking the metro in Rio and São Paulo. All that said, it's wise to remain diligent, careful and aware of your belongings and surroundings.
We always asked our tour leader, local guides or hotel staff for advice. If there was any doubt, we would take a taxi or Uber instead of walking, even if the distances were not particularly long. We'd also heard stories about taxis being problematic — ripping off or robbing travelers. So we always took either an Uber or an official, authorized taxi at the hotel. [Note: Uber in Brazil is great for travelers – easy to book on the app, no money is exchanged as you can pay by credit card through the app, and we always felt safe with our drivers. We also met some interesting people along the way.]
If we were highly recommended to avoid a particular area, then we did so. For example, when we arrived in Salvador there was a huge music concert festival underway on the main square. Our guest house host told us to avoid the crowds because of pickpockets and theft — something that's common to huge throngs of partiers and concert-goers no matter where you are — so we enjoyed watching the concert from our balcony instead.
Transportation around Brazil
Brazil is huge — truly. Even though something may look close on the map, be sure to verify the distance and time on Google Maps or similar. For example, we took a 12-hour bus between Iguazu Falls and Bonito. According to our map, we'd barely moved.
Especially if your time is limited, domestic flights are worth considering to avoid spending all your time on a long-distance bus. The internal flights on our G Adventures Wonders of Brazil tour were included as part of the tour. However, we also booked one-way flights from Rio de Janeiro to Salvador, then Salvador to São Paulo — with Avianca and Latam, with generally good results.
We used Skyscanner to understand all flight possibilities and options, including those from low-cost airlines. When we booked our flights directly on the Avianca Brazil website we found that the cost in Brazilian Reals was considerably less than the cost in USD. So, it's wise to do a quick calculation comparison between currencies to be sure you’re booking in the currency featuring the lowest cost.
Buying a SIM card in Brazil
If you're a foreigner, you'll need to go to one of the official mobile phone company shops to register your passport and personal details when you buy a mobile SIM. We chose Claro as it was recommended to us for having good coverage. Their shop was also convenient to the hotel area in Copacabana, Rio. We've also heard that TIM and Vivo are good options for staying connected while traveling in Brazil.
The registration process to buy the SIM takes some time as employees must fill in forms and scan your passport. Allocate about 45-60 minutes for this initial process. After that you can recharge your prepaid plan at most pharmacies and grocery stores around the country. We ended up choosing a weekly data plan that cost 14.99 Rs ($3.75) and included 2GB. It worked pretty well throughout the country, but we just had to remember to recharge our plan just before it expired each week.
As always, the thoughts contained herein — the what, the why, and the how — are entirely our own.