Fast Facts

Brasília; 3,099,000
8,547,403 square kilometers (3,300,169 square miles)
Roman Catholic
Life Expectancy:
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $7,600
Literacy Percent:
Flag: Brazil
Map: Brazil

Brazil is the giant of South America with nearly half of the continent's area and people; worldwide it ranks fifth in both area and population, which is as diverse as it is large. About 54 percent (103 million) are mainly of European origin, descendants of immigrants from Portugal, Italy, Spain, Germany and Eastern Europe. More than 44 percent (85 million) are black or of mixed-race, a legacy of the African slave trade. Less than 1 percent (700,000) are from indigenous groups, mostly Indians in the Amazon region; smaller numbers of Japanese, other Asians, and Arabs live in the larger Brazilian cities.

The motto "Ordem e Progresso"—(Order and Progress)—appears on Brazil's flag. Political progress continues after years of military dictatorship gave way to civilian rule in 1985. Recent censuses reveal social progress, with lower infant mortality rates and higher literacy rates. Brazil's growing urbanization rate helps economic development (some 80 percent of Brazilians live in urban areas), but creates serious social and environmental problems in cities.

São Paulo, with some 10.9 million people, is Brazil's largest city—and one of the world's largest metropolises. It is the leading industrial producer and financial center, but problems with pollution, overcrowding, and poverty abound. The Southeast region of Brazil includes São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, and Rio de Janeiro—the economic hub of Brazil, containing more than 40 percent of the country's population. South of São Paulo is a rich agricultural region with European-style standards of living, where German and Italian are still spoken alongside Portuguese. Itaipu, the second largest hydroelectric power facility in the world, provides electricity to power-hungry São Paulo.

Brazil's second most populous region is the Northeast region, from Maranhao in the north down to Bahia (the most African of Brazilian states). The architecture of cities like Recife and Salvador (Portuguese colonial capital, 1549-1763) shows an earlier age of plantation wealth, but today this is a poor region subject to devastating droughts. Millions have left here for jobs in the Southeast. However, tourism has begun to boom due to sunny weather, samba music, and soft sand beaches.

The North, dominated by the Amazon, is the largest region with the fewest people. The government is making progress in conserving the tropical rain forest and protecting the indigenous people. Tumucumaque National Park, created in 2002, is the world's largest tropical forest park.


  • Industry: Textiles, shoes, chemicals, cement, lumber, iron ore
  • Agriculture: Coffee, soybeans, wheat, rice; beef
  • Exports: Transport equipment, iron ore, soybeans, footwear, coffee

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

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