Brasil covers nearly half of South America and is the continent's
largest nation. Brasil may be divided into the Brasilian Highlands, or
plateau, in the south and the Amazon River Basin in the north. More than a third
of Brasil is drained by the Amazon and its more than 200 tributaries. The Amazon
is navigable for ocean steamers to Iquitos, Peru, upstream.
For hundreds of years, Brasil has symbolized the great escape into a
primordial, tropical paradise, igniting the western imagination like no other
South American country. From the mad passion of Carnaval to the immensity of the
dark Amazon, it is a country of mythic proportions.
Perhaps it's not quite the Eden of popular imagination, but it's still a land
of staggering beauty. There are stretches of unexplored rainforest, islands with
pristine tropical beaches, and endless rivers. And there are the people
themselves, who delight the visitor with their energy and joy.
After 40 years of internal migration and population growth, Brasil is also an
urban country; São Paulo is the world's second most populous city.
The people are also diverse in origin, and Brasil often boasts that the new
“race” of Brasilians is a successful amalgam of African, European, and
indigenous strains. Portuguese is the official language, and Spanish, English,
and French are also widely spoken. Most of the estimated 150,000 indigenous
peoples (chiefly of Tupí or Guaraní linguistic stock) are found in
the rain forests of the Amazon River basin; 12% of Brasil's land has been set
aside as indigenous areas.