Introduction

Occupying nearly half of the continent of South America, Brazil is the fifth largest country in the Americas, bounde by the Atlantic Ocean to the east with a total coastline of over 4,655 miles. Brazil is also bordered inland by Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Containing most of the rain forest of the Amazon, Brazil also has a reputation as the most progressive and cosmopolitan of the South American countries. With its large population and metropolitan cities, such as Rio de Janeiro and San Paulo, it is a country as much defined by its vast wilderness as its urban modernism.

Brazil has also gained a well-earned reputation as a party country, due largely to the traditional festival of Carnival, the South American version of Mardi Gras, and Gavea sem lei (without law), street parties. In addition Rio's nightlife is famed to be the best in the world.

People

With a total population estimated at 191,241,714, Brazil has a diversity second only to the United States. Mostly composed of Caucasians, (49.4%), the varied racial groups represented in this vast country also encompasses Latin Americans, Africans, Asians, and Native Americans. In the late 19th century, Brazil opened its borders to immigration and subsequently has had an influx of Europeans, mostly from Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Germany, and a fledgling, but growing, immigration from Japan and the Middle East. The average age of a typical segment of the population is between 14 and 65 years of age, with the majority of the population being female. A characteristic of Brazil is race mixing with highly varied racial types and backgrounds, but without clear ethnic sub-divisions.

Geography

Brazilian terrain is as diverse as her people and includes hills, mountains, plains, highlands, rainforests, and scrublands. Most of Brazil lies between 660 feet and 2,600 feet in elevation, with the highest point in Brazil being the Pico da Neblina at 9,890 feet. Brazil also has an extensive and complex system of rivers, including one of the world's largest, and eight major drainage basins, all of which drain into the Atlantic Ocean.

Brazil has a wide range of weather conditions consistent with its large area. The largest part of the country is tropical, but there are also semiarid deserts, temperate coniferous forests, and various starkly different microclimates.

History

In 1500, Portuguese explorers arrived to find the natives were mostly semi-nomadic tribes, concentrated along the coastal areas and along the banks of major rivers. By the 18th century they had discovered both gold and diamond deposits in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, setting off a vast Portuguese immigration, much like the Gold Rush of the United States.

In 1930 a military junta took control of Brazil, and Getulio Vargas took the office of dictator soon after, remaining in power until 1945. During his term in office, Brazil also took part in both World War I and World War II.

The military took control of Brazil in a coup d'etat in 1964 and remained in power until March 1985, when it fell from grace through the political struggles between the regime and the Brazilian elites. Democracy was re-instated in 1988 when the current Federal Constitution was enacted, and national voting was established to elect the current president.

Famous Attractions

Christ the Redeemer:

The over 200 foot tall statue of statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro is considered to be the largest art deco statue in the world. On July 2007, this amazing monolith was named by the Swiss-based The New Open World Corporation as one of the Seven Wonders of The New World, and it is a must see for every tourist.

The Brazilian Carnival:

Celebrated through out the country, the Brazilian Festival of Carnival is perhaps most famous for its extravagant parades, and the same free spirited celebration that marks its cousin celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Both celebrations are held before the Catholic observance of lent, and are well known for their uninhibited displays.

Rio's Botanical Gardens:

Created by the Prince Regent of Portugal in 1808, the Botanical Gardens of Rio are now host to well over 2,600 species of plant life, particularly bromeliads and orchids. First conceived of as a temporary site for acclimatizing imported plants, the fame of the gardens took on a life of its own and it is now considered a national treasure of Brazil.

Nightlife

While nightlife in Brazil, particularly in Rio, has become something of a legend throughout the civilized world, it might be necessary for some to adjust gradually to experience the best the scene has to offer. While there are some interesting clubs and bars, the best scenes are all on the street in the sporadic gatherings of the samba blocos rehearsing for the coming carnival, or just street parties like those held in Lapa.

For the more contemporary minded the best nightclubs and bar scenes are, once gain, located in Rio de Janeiro, where the idea is to chat and flirt to the maximum.

The street parties that used to operate under the idea of Gavea sem lei, (without law), are not what they once were, but are still a good option on a Monday night. At the very least you'll get a great percussion show and everyone will be on thier feet, dancing the night away.

Culture

Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, and it is spoken by virtually all of the population, much in the same way that English is spoken in the United States. It is the only language used in newspapers, radio, television, and for all business and administrative purposes. The only exception to this rule is an indigenous language of South America called Nheengatu, granted co-official status in the municipality of Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira.

The Roman Catholic Church is the dominant religion, making Brazil the largest Catholic nation in the world. However, the number of Protestants is rising with immigration, and the majority of Brazilian Protestants are members of "traditional churches", mostly Lutherans, Presbyterians and Baptists.

Cuisine

Cuisine in Brazil, like Brazil itself, varies greatly by region. The country's mix of ethnic groups has created a national cooking style marked by the preservation of regional differences. The national dish of Brazil is whole feijoada, a meat and bean stew that is popular through out the region.

Another favorite is Caruru. Made with okra, dried shrimp, alfavaca and chicory, dry and fine flour and oil from palm. The green sauce and shrimp are placed in water, and flour is added to make the dish more homogeneous. After that, the mixture is added to the well-drained okra. The shrimp, having already been mixed with all seasoning all that is left, is added to the oil palm and mixed thoroughly.

Within the Brazilian state of Bahia the predominant cuisine is Afro-Bahian, a mixture of Native American and African cooking that plantation cooks improvised on, with the traditional Portuguese dishes, by using locally available ingredients. One of the resulting staples of the region is known today as Moqueca.