To the eyes of a foreigner Brazil looks like a big green chunk of Southern Hemisphere about which little is known, other than Football and Carnival. But there is a lot more to this giant of continental proportions!
It is quite normal for people from different continents to know relatively little about each other’s countries. So when we talk about Brazil, what are the first things that come to mind? Football, Pelé, Ayrton Senna, Carnival, caipirinha? But there is much more to this South American giant than you might think. Within Brazil’s borders you could fit 27 entire nations, one for each of its states and then one more in the Federal District – Brasilia, the country’s capital. The state of São Paulo, by way of example, is larger than the whole of the UK! With such exceptional dimensions, how is one to understand Brazil? We take a look at each of the five Brazilian regions and explore some of the interesting facts about each, and their main attractions.
The North is the most extensive region of Brazil with a landmass of 3,869,637 km² and divided by seven states: Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins. Besides being the largest region, it is also home to the two biggest states of Brazil, Amazonas and Pará, as well as the world’s largest ecosystem, the Amazon rainforest. The highest point in Brazil, the Pico da Neblina at 3,014 metres above sea level is located in the state of Roraima. As if this weren’t enough, the North also has the largest river basin in the world, made up of the Amazon River and its tributaries.
The Amazon River is 6,992 km long and has over a thousand tributaries, cutting right through the heart of the rainforest. The daily volume of water would be enough to satisfy all the water requirements of England for almost two years! More than 60% of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil and accounts for nearly half of Brazil’s territory. The rainforest itself is responsible for producing more than half of the oxygen used by the planet. It hosts 10% of the 10 million living species in the world, as well as over 30% of all known species of plants and animals, including an estimated 1,800 varieties of bird, 250 different mammals and equally diverse universe of wildlife and insects. The river is home to approximately 2,000 different types of fish.
The Mid-West represents the states of Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul and the Federal District, where Brasilia, famously designed by legendary architect Oscar Niemeyer, is located. Further west, is home to one of the most beautiful reserves of flora and fauna on the planet, the Pantanal. The total area of the Mid-West is 1,612,077 km², the second largest region of Brazil.
Brasilia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for its unique and modern architecture and innovative urban planning.
The Pantanal was relatively unexplored by foreigners until recently. Today, however, it has become an attractive destination for the more adventurous traveller. In the heart of South America, it spreads through the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul and then further west into Bolivia and Paraguay. In total, it covers an area of 195,000km², one of the largest wetlands in the world. The area around the town of Bonito towards the South is considered a must-see for visitors. Its wealth of waterfalls, caves and crystal clear water gives divers the opportunity to explore an indescribable natural aquarium.
It is the third largest region of Brazil and has the largest number of individual states: Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte and Sergipe, which make up a landmass greater than the combined area of Italy, Germany, France and the UK, 1,561,177 km² in total. The region has 3,338km of beachfront; Bahia is the state with longest stretch of coastline, 938km in total, compared to Piauí with the least, only 60km. It is a true paradise with picturesque beaches, fine weather, stunning scenery, and a culture replete with history, culinary delights and fascinating folklore. Along the coast, visitors can visit historic villages and preserved colonial cities – several named UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The region is home to some of the other spectacular sights of Brazil, including the Chapada Diamantina, Rio São Francisco, Jericoacoara, Serra da Capivara and the breath-taking landscape of Lençóis Maranhenses, a large desert dotted with thousands of pure crystal clear lakes. There are also the islands of Fernando de Noronha and Abrolhos, which are considered amongst the world’s best dive sites.
It is the wealthiest and most populated region of the country, despite accounting for only 11% of the Brazil’s national territory. The region’s states, Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, cover a combined area of 924,511 km². For many visitors, the Southeast is the natural gateway to Brazil, since it is home to two of the country’s busiest international airports, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Visiting Rio, especially during Carnival and New Year, is naturally on the wish list of most tourists. It boasts miles and miles of golden beaches, great weather most of the year, hotel accommodation for all tastes and budgets, and typical Brazilian food and entertainment. Minas Gerais is Brazil’s fourth largest state in terms of area, and third in terms of population. For anyone with an interest in history or architecture, its colonial cities are remarkable! São Paulo is the epicentre of business in Brazil and South America, with a larger economy than any other South American country. With a population of nearly 12 million, it is the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere, whilst the population of the greater metropolitan area exceeds 20 million, equalling that of New York. In terms of area, it is five times bigger than Paris.
The smallest region of Brazil, 576,409 km², it consists of just three states: Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. The region has been greatly influenced by the influx of Europeans during the nineteenth century, especially from Germany and Italy. This influence is evident in urban architecture, language and local cuisine. One of the big tourist attractions in the south of Brazil is also one of the natural wonders of the world: the waterfalls of Foz do Iguaçu, which are on the border between Brazil and Argentina. Five times higher than the Niagara Falls, the 275 individual falls account for nearly 3 km of the Iguaçu River. The main fall, called the Garganta do Diabo (Throat of the Devil) is the largest in the world in terms of volume of water per second.
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