Brazil travel tips & advice
Brazil, or Estados Unidos do Brasil (the United States of Brasil), is the largest of all South American nations. It has an area of 8.5 million square kilometres (which is larger than the USA or Australia). The country shares its borders with all but two of the continent’s 13 nations and, by virtue of its size and 207 million inhabitants, is the leading nation of South America. Brazil straddles the equator from 5°N latitude to 33°S latitude and extends from 35°W to 74°W longitude. It is largely a lowland area dominated by the mighty Amazon River system. The Amazon is the world’s largest river system in terms of size and volume of water carried.
The Amazon River, Brazil
The convectional systems operating above the Amazon River’s dense equatorial evergreen jungles form one of the major climatic influences of the world. The vast tropical low-pressure air mass system draws in huge volumes of moist air from the surrounding oceans and produces heavy rainfall as it is cooled.
The Amazon drains more than one fifth of the entire world’s fresh water through its river system. It is frequently more than eight kilometres wide, and more than 65 kilometres wide near its mouth. The Amazon rises in the Andes of Peru and is more than 6,200 kilometres long. It carries more than 14 times the volume of the Mississippi system and has at least 15 tributaries, each more than 1,600 kilometres long. Ocean-going vessels navigate more than 3,700 kilometres upstream from Belem to Iquitos in Peru. The waters of the Amazon can still be identified more than 250 kilometres out to sea.
The Brazilian Highlands
To the north of the Amazon the Guiana Highlands rise and, to the south, the Brazilian Highlands cover most of the remaining area of the country. Both these upland areas would be better described as plateaus, especially when compared with the mighty Andes. The Brazilian Highlands and plateau descend steeply to the Atlantic Ocean so that there is often only a very narrow coastal plain flanked by the scarp. This scarp significantly restricted settlement to the coastal areas, until modern engineering techniques allowed the roads and railways to be built across the scarps. Brazil is the one nation in South America which was a Portuguese colony, when almost the entire continent was under Spanish rule.
Brief history of Brazil
Brazil was discovered by the Portuguese Admiral Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500. The country was colonised later that century. Until the arrival of Jesuit missionaries, plantation owners freely exploited the local inhabitants as slaves. Brazil achieved independence from Portugal in 1822 with Dom Pedro I — a member of the Portuguese royal family — as Constitutional Emperor and Perpetual Defender. The country was declared a republic when Dom Pedro II was dethroned in 1889, after which it was placed under military rule. Since that date, military leaders have played an influential role in the politics of Brazil.
From 1964 – 1985, Brazil was under military rule. Pressure for a return to civilian rule gathered momentum during the early 1980s, particularly after the military in neighbouring Argentina ceded power in 1983. The army consented and at the election held in January 1985, Tancredo Neves, a former prime minister and latterly a state governor, became Brazil’s first civilian President. He held this position for 21 years.
Brazil’s capital city, Brasilia
Until 1834, Salvador de Bahia was the original Portuguese colonial capital. The capital city was shifted to Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro is topographically constrained on all sides. As such, it became extremely congested because it allowed little room for orderly expansion.
All power was concentrated in Rio, while an intensive rivalry developed with the rising industrial centre of Sao Paolo. San Paolo is now the largest city in South America. In 1955, the newly elected President Kubitschek announced plans for a new federal capital, to be named Brasilia. This city would be carved out of the jungle on a plateau 900 metres above sea level, 925 kilometres north-west of Rio. On 21 April 1960, Brasilia was inaugurated as the capital of Brazil.
It is a planned city with an artificial lake and clearly defined sectors of government, very similar to the plan of Canberra, Australia.
Exports of Brazil.
Brazil has a wide variety of resources with more than one-third of the world’s iron ore deposits and large quantities of bauxite, and is a major producer of coffee, sugar, cotton, rice and timber. The vast resources of the Amazon region are being exploited as new highways are pushed through the lowlands. As in other South American nations, corruption is a major problem and extremes of wealth and poverty create major political, social and economic problems.
Iguaçu Falls, a unique waterfall in Brazil
The mighty Iguaçu Falls on the Iguaçu River divides Brazil from Argentina. Furthermore, they are only a few kilometres from the tri-border with Paraguay. The falls, with a drop of between 60 and 80 metres, are far higher and wider than Niagara and have several hundred waterfalls or cataracts. They are arguably more spectacular even than the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi in Africa. This is a sub-tropical jungle region and the falls are within a national park. Easy walking paths allow close-up views of the cascading water crashing over the falls. Take a raincoat, or alternatively, spend some time drying out in the sun.
For the more adventurous, it is possible to view Iguaçu Falls by helicopter. Otherwise, the most spectacular views of the falls from land are obtained from the Argentinean side. A visit to Iguaçu is truly a memorable experience. Cross into Argentina to walk along the cascades, and enjoy a spectacular boat ride through the gorge to the rapids just below the main cataracts and the Devil’s throat.
The Itaipu Dam on the Parana River on the border of Brazil and Paraguay is a hydroelectric power scheme and was the world’s largest hydroelectric plant. In 2012, the top spot went out to the Three Gorges Dam in China.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro (river of January) is one of the most famous and spectacular cities of the world. The city is built around its natural harbour of Guanabara Bay, and every square metre of land is occupied. The gracious boulevards and buildings of Rio contrast with the less attractive ‘favelas’, the flimsy slum dwellings clinging to hillsides around the city. They are home to more than one million people who live very precariously: hundreds may die in the landslides caused by heavy downpour.
Rio is very much a European-style city and a major commercial centre. Modern freeways cut straight through the massive granite outcrops, which stand as spectacular evidence of an earlier volcanic age. The famous statue of Christ the Redeemer atop the Corcovado is a must-see, but the view is often enveloped in fog. Fogs are frequent around the hills of Rio as masses of very warm moist air move in from the Atlantic Ocean. They immediately rise above the mountains, and so cool and condense as fog.
The spectacular cable car ride to the top of the Sugarloaf monolith at the entrance to Rio Harbour is a must for all visitors to the city. There is action day and night along the Copacabana Avenida Atlantica, and the beach. There is a wide choice of restaurants and outdoor cafes. Along the beach it is possible to see the flickering candles of the devotees of voodoo and macumba or black magic. They have little shrines in the rocky outcrops on the south end of the beach – testament to the continually diverse cultures within the nations of South America. Brazil’s official tourism website is a great resource for planning your trip.
Odyssey Traveller tours of South America
On Odyssey Traveller’s small group tour of South America, participants will be introduced to spectacular contrasts in the physical and climatic geography that provide the setting for major contrasts in human cultures, both historical and contemporary. Our journey incorporates the study of the major archaeological sites and museums of the Tiahuanaco, Moché, Chimu and Inca pre-Columbian civilisations, together with visits to Spanish and Portuguese colonial-era cities and towns. The subsistence economies of the altiplano villages will be contrasted with large modern urban centres. We will experience the cultures of the Andean peoples with their dances and music as a contrast to the stylised Brazilian samba and the Argentine tango. If you are passionate about learning while you travel, you will find a variety of opportunities with Odyssey Traveller. If you have a keen interest in archaeology, Odyssey Traveller offers further specialised tours. Alternatively, you may be inspired by this colonial-era architecture to explore Spain and Portugal, too! As long as you remain inquisitive, we continue to design tours to challenge and excite.
About Odyssey Traveller
Odyssey Traveller is committed to charitable activities that support the environment and cultural development of Australian and New Zealand communities. Accordingly, we are pleased to announce that since 2012, Odyssey has been awarding $10,000 Equity & Merit Cash Scholarships each year. We award scholarships on the basis of academic performance and demonstrated financial need. We award at least one scholarship per year. We’re supported through our educational travel programs, and your participation helps Odyssey achieve its goals.
For more information on Odyssey Traveller and our educational small group tours, visit our website. Alternatively, please call or send an email. We’d love to hear from you!