Brazilian Interstate Buses
The good news is that the quality of Brazilian interstate buses is excellent compared to the state of the roads they travel on. You can be unlucky and get a breakdown but as a rule the major bus companies are punctual and run a good service. In ascending order of leg room the major classes of buses are convençional (convencional), executivo (executive), semi leito (half bed) and leito (bed). Leito services are typically about twice the price of the convencional.
For overnight and long distance trips pay extra for the leito or semi leito service. Semi leito buses are a good compromise between price and comfort. The seat reclines to such an angle that marketers can make the 'half a bed' claim. It's partly true because the incline only allows you to get half sleep.
All long distance buses have a little fridge up near the back of the bus stocked with fresh supplies of bottled water. It is complimentary and self service. I continually forget about this and buy water unnecessarily. Buses also stop every 4-5 hours to give the driver a break and you an opportunity to grab a light snack or coffee.
Any leito or semi leito bus should be relatively new reducing the odds of breakdown and guaranteeing a TV and air conditioning. Describing the air conditioning on overnight buses as a little enthusiastic is an understatement so pack an extra piece of clothing in your carry on luggage. The full leito service is luxury bus travel and actually employs your mum to tuck the blanket in for you. If the length of your trip demands this level of comfort you should start to look at the getting a plane ticket instead.
At half the price of leito buses the convençional bus offers quite affordable tickets for shorter bus journeys. The executivo service is slightly more expensive again. Try and avoid overnight trips in these buses if possible. Don't be tight and pay a little extra. Your legs will thank you. 6 to 8 hours is the maximum length I'd be willing to sit on these buses for.
Providing the route has enough traffic there will be a choice of buses. That is, a choice between the new bus and the comfort of modern airconditioning systems and the old bus with its old seats. Once again you get what you pay for so make your choice. On long trips it is always worth the extra money. The quickest way to end a travel relationship is to take a long trip on a cheap bus ticket.
I would say that if a bus trip gets beyond 12 hours in length air travel begins to look increasingly attractive. When comparing the cost between the two remember to factor in lost time, cost of meals, comfort or discomfort and safety (road transport is significantly more risky than air in any country). The premium that air travel commands may outweigh some of the negatives of bus travel.
Many people worry about booking tickets in advance. Relax. You can normally get a ticket on the day of travel. The earliest I bought a ticket was the day before travel. Tickets for travel on major public holidays need to be booked a little earlier again but the bus companies schedule more buses to meet the expected demand.
Brazilian bus stations and buses feel infinitely more secure than Greyhound stations and buses in the US. Whoever chose the location of the LA terminal must have decided bus travellers needed ready access to crack dealers and chose the location accordingly. Indeed Chilean, Argentine and Brazilian bus lines all offer superior service to Greyhound.
When you buy a bus ticket you will be given a little form in addition to the ticket to fill out. You are required to put your name, address, contact details as well as origin and destination. I'm not sure if this is a legacy of the military dictatorship who possibly wanted to track people's movements or just a security and safety initiative. Most likely the latter. If the bus crashes then they have your details and your relatives will get a midnight phonecall from your embassy to deliver the bad news. Whilst probably not affecting most visitors to this site for those travelling with children under 18 years of age proof they are your child or that you are their gardian is required. Note to people smugglers: for less hassles prepare your paperwork in advance.
The pleasing thing in regard to Brazilian bus travel is that all baggage is almost always ticketed and the ticket stub must be retained to receive those bags. Bus drivers and attendants are usually quite thorough in this regard.
Finally, the food. As with all long distance buses they will stop for short meal breaks. The food at these locations can be hit and miss depending on the time you arrive but generally speaking it's edible. If the chicken looks like its harbouring a germ warfare agent go to the safety of bolo (cake). Flour and water is about as safe as you can get.