First claimed by Portugal in 1500, Brazil’s colonization began in 1534, with Portugal assimilating some native tribes and exterminating or enslaving others. The Portuguese developed a bustling international market for sugar, even importing more slaves from Africa to supply the demand for Brazil’s most important export at the time.
Portugal extended the boundaries of Brazil, taking territory to the southeast and northwest from France, including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo. They also captured a number of Dutch and British holdings.
Near the end of the 17th century, sugar exports began to dwindle, but the discovery of gold in the region revitalized their trade and economy, prompting a flood of immigrants. The Portuguese territory flourished, with Rio de Janeiro even becoming the center of the entire Portuguese empire in 1808, when the Portuguese monarch Dona Maria I and her court of nearly15,000 fled the advance of Napoleon Bonaparte.
In 1815, Brazil was proclaimed a kingdom, equal to Portugal, elevating the country from a colony. But in 1821, after the exiled monarch of Portugal returned to Europe, an attempt to once again relegate Brazil to colonial status touched off a rebellion. The Portuguese monarch’s son and heir apparent, Prince Pedro, became the first Emperor of Brazil and the country gained her independence after more than 320 years under Portuguese rule.
In 1888, slavery was abolished in the republic and a year later, a military coup d’état put an end to the monarchy and proclaimed the country to be the Federal Republic of Brazil.
Typical growth pains of a foundling republic haunted Brazil, with coffee exporters exercising tremendous de-facto control until 1930. When the populist movement installed a leader, the country began a tumultuous half century of military dictatorships and populist rule that finally stabilized when the military regime stepped aside in 1985 for a peaceful turnover to civilian rule.
Since that time, Brazil has been politically stable and has flourished, overall, even during lean times. The largest nation in South America, with enviable resources and a huge workforce, Brazil was able to lead the recovery of the South American economies from the financial crisis of 1999-2002, due largely to her abundant natural resources and established, diverse export markets.
Since gaining her independence, Brazil joined the Allies in World War II, but aside from that, has managed to keep out of international military conflicts. Brazil is a founding member of the United Nations, the G20, CPLP, Latin Union, the Organization of American States, Mercosul and the Union of South American Nations.
Brazil is the largest country in South America and is the fifth largest in the world, in terms of both area and population. It’s also the largest Portuguese speaking nation in the world and the only such in South America.
An estimated four million different species of plants and animals can be found in Brazil, many of them in the famous Amazon, the largest rainforest in the world. The country also contains the largest number of uncontacted indigenous tribes in the world (67 in 2007). Brazil is proudly supportive of interracial mixing in the culture, with nearly half its population being a racial mix.
Nonetheless, like many cultures, Brazil is class-conscious, but tending to separate along socio-economic lines rather than racial or ethnic. And while economic inequality is increasing in most of the developed world, Brazil’s is decreasing.
Home to the second longest but most voluminous river in the world, the Amazon, the largest rain forest, with the greatest use of renewable energy in the world, Brazil is also one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Additionally, they sported nearly two million kilometers of highway system in 2002, as well as about 2,500 airports, second only to the U.S.A.
- While Portuguese is the official national language of Brazil, there are another 182 distinct Amerindian languages in use in various parts of the country, as well as considerable use of German and Italian;
- K-12 public education mandates the study of a second language, either English or Spanish. Brazil is also the only country in South America to offer Esperanto in its secondary schools;
- Every year, the Amazon Basin of Brazil gets seven feet or more of rain;
- Brazil is #9 in the world for the number of billionaires;
- Brazil has been 100% self-sufficient, in terms of energy, since 2006, which is a dramatic change from the relatively recent past when they had to import oil to supply nearly 70% of their energy needs;
- Brazilian women won suffrage in 1931, ahead of many “progressive” nations.
- Teatro Amazonas, in the city of Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest – a massive, elegant opera house, inaugurated in 1896 – if you enjoy opera, this is a must;
- The Pantanal, the world’s largest wetlands – located in the west side of Brazil, this is the place to go if you want to be assured of seeing a lot of diverse wildlife;
- Carnival, Rio de Janeiro – Carnival is like a combined Mardigras and Spring Break, on steroids. If you enjoy a fiercely festive atmosphere, peppered with pomp and circumstance, be sure to hit Rio during Carnival;
- The Amazon River – if seeing nature at its most primal level sounds like fun, go the extra mile and treat your senses to a memorable experience… take a boat ride down a portion of the 4,000 mile Amazon river;
- Iguazu Falls – a smaller version of Niagara, you might say. But you’d be mistaken. Iguazu Falls, on the border between Brazil and Argentina, is unique, with its system of 275 waterfalls, cascading up to 269 feet;
- Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro – this 130 foot tall statue of Christ, overlooking Rio from 2,300 feet above the city is a site that many will recognize. Another must-see when you’re in Rio;
- Ouro Preto (Black Gold) – this colonial town was founded in the late 17th century, and displays classic Portuguese colonial architecture, and 18th & 19th century churches, decorated in gold leaf, with rich sculpture;
- Fernando de Noronha - located off the northeastern coast of Brazil, this beautiful archipelago of 21 islands makes a perfect stopover, especially if you enjoy pristine beaches and amazing diving visibility;
- Olinda – another beautifully preserved colonial city, near Recife on the northeastern coast of Brazil. This stop features more traditional Portuguese colonial architecture and magnificent churches. And the famous Carnival of Olinda is worth scheduling your trip around.
And of course, if you were to just hop a flight to nearly any major airport in Brazil, chances are you wouldn’t be far from one of their great tourist attractions. And with over 4,500 miles of beach, the Pantanal, the Amazon Rainforest and thousands of great spots in between, you have plenty to choose from.
How to Get Cash
There are a number of ways to acquire cash in Brazil, apart from what you bring into the country with you.
- Banco do Brasil – any of these banks will exchange dollars and reals, for a fee of $15 per transaction, regardless of the amount exchanged;
- ATM (debit) – there are ATM rooms in most Banco do Brasil branches, and these are the most secure locations. Note: Different machines serve different transaction types and denominations) Maximum daily withdrawal rates will apply;
- ATM or Bank (cash advance) – With your credit card pin number, you can draw limited amounts as cash advances on your credit card, or with your passport, at a Banco do Brasil. Substantially higher interest rates may be incurred, however;
- Casa de Cambio – These are the currency exchange portals that exist in many locations. Be cautious of counting your money openly or being followed;
- Western Union – Some Banco do Brasil branches interface with Western Union, if you should need emergency money sent to you by someone at home.