Brazil country overview

The land of Brazil

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

Brazil information index

Geographic regions

The Federative Republic of Brazil has organized its administrative divisions into five principal geographic and statistical sectors known as the Major Regions. These include the North, Northeast, Central-West, Southeast, and South. The North Region, encompassing the states of Acre, Rondônia, Amazonas, Pará, Tocantins, Roraima, and Amapá, spans over forty percent of the nation’s landmass. This area is home to a significant portion of the Amazon rainforest and sections of the Guiana and Brazilian highlands. Despite its vast territory, the North holds a smaller fraction of Brazil’s populace and contributes modestly to the country’s overall economic productivity.

The Northeast Region, characterized by some of the most arid and warm climates in Brazil, occupies close to one-fifth of the country’s landmass and houses over a quarter of its population. This region includes the states of Maranhão, Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Alagoas, Sergipe, Bahia, and Pernambuco, with the latter state encompassing the remote island of Fernando de Noronha. The Northeast has a rich history dating back to the 16th century with the establishment of Portuguese sugarcane plantations. Although it contributes to one-fifth of Brazil’s agricultural output, the region’s industrial and service sectors are less developed compared to the Southeast and South, and it experiences higher rates of unemployment.

The Southeast Region, despite covering a mere tenth of Brazil’s territory, is the most densely populated, with two-fifths of the country’s inhabitants. It is also the hub of industrial and agricultural activity. The region is composed of the state of São Paulo, which stands as the economic and demographic nucleus of the nation, the mineral-rich state of Minas Gerais, and the populous coastal states of Espírito Santo and Rio de Janeiro. The city of Rio de Janeiro, which served as the national capital until 1960, continues to be a focal point for culture and tourism in Brazil.

The South Region, located beneath the Tropic of Capricorn, comprises the states of Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul. Its land area is comparable to that of Great Britain, yet it is the smallest of the Brazilian regions. The South boasts a diverse economy with robust manufacturing, agriculture, and service industries, and it is home to roughly one-seventh of the national population, including a significant number of European descendants, notably from Germany and Italy. The region’s tourism is enhanced by the magnificent Iguaçu Falls on the Argentine border.

Lastly, the Central-West Region is made up of the states of Goiás, Mato Grosso, and Mato Grosso do Sul, along with the Federal District, where the capital city, Brasília, is situated. This region, which accounts for about a quarter of Brazil’s area, is characterized by forested valleys, semiarid highlands, and expansive wetlands. Although it has a smaller population density, there has been a notable influx of settlers expanding the agricultural boundaries of the region.


Brazil, renowned for its vast Amazonian lowlands, is primarily characterized by a tropical climate. Nonetheless, it is important to note that highland regions constitute a significant portion of the country’s landscape. The geographical structure of Brazil can be categorized into five principal physiographic regions: the Guiana Highlands situated in the northern part of the country, the expansive Amazon lowlands, the Pantanal wetlands located in the Central-West, the extensive Brazilian Highlands which also encompass the coastal mountain ranges, and the low-lying areas along the coastline.

Guiana Highlands

The Guiana Highlands, a region characterized by forested plateaus, mountainous terrain, picturesque waterfalls, and rapids, is a shared geographical feature among Brazil and its neighboring countries: Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. Brazil’s pinnacle of elevation is found at Pico da Neblina, which ascends to an impressive height of 9,888 feet (3,014 meters) near the border with Venezuela within the Serra do Imeri range. To the east, the Serra da Pacaraima mountain range boasts Mount Roraima, reaching 9,094 feet (2,772 meters), a tripoint where the frontiers of Venezuela, Guyana, and Brazil converge. Additionally, the Acaraí and Tumuc-Humac (Tumucumaque) ranges, though less steep, form part of the border with the Guianas.

Amazon lowlands

The expansive Amazon lowlands exhibit their greatest breadth adjacent to the eastern flank of the Andes Mountains. Progressing eastward, the expanse constricts, culminating in a slender corridor of seasonally inundated plains, known as várzeas, beyond Manaus. This corridor delineates the Guiana Highlands to the north from the Brazilian Highlands to the south. As the river system advances towards the Atlantic Ocean, the várzeas broaden once more, although the basin does not culminate in a delta that protrudes into the sea. The most pervasive topographical elements within the basin are the subtle, rolling elevations termed terra firme, or “solid ground.” These are constituted by strata of alluvial deposits that date back up to 2.5 million years and have been elevated to remain above the floodplain. The landscape is also interspersed with shallow, meandering oxbow lakes and extensive wetlands.


The Pantanal, a vast expanse that continues from the Gran Chaco plain, encompasses a significant area characterized by swamps and marshlands. This region is predominantly situated in the northwestern part of Mato Grosso do Sul and the southern portion of Mato Grosso states, with smaller areas extending into northern Paraguay and eastern Bolivia. It stands as one of the world’s most extensive freshwater wetlands, spanning approximately 54,000 square miles (140,000 square kilometers). The landscape of the Pantanal is intricately shaped by the tributaries of the upper Paraguay River. During the wet season, the river breaches its banks, resulting in widespread flooding that spares only the crests of isolated levees and modest elevations.

Brazilian Highlands

The expansive Brazilian Highlands encompass over half of the nation’s territory and serve as the primary repository of Brazil’s extensive mineral resources. Within Brazil, these highlands are frequently referred to as the Planalto Central, or Central Highlands, though this designation may specifically pertain to the vicinity of Brasília and Goiás. The topography of the highlands is characterized by an array of geological features, including precipitous cliffs, mesa-like plateaus, deep gorges, undulating hills, and prominent rock formations. Despite this rugged landscape, the highest points do not surpass 10,000 feet (3,000 meters). The most significant elevations are found in two distinct regions: one along a chain of ridges within 300 miles (500 km) of the eastern seaboard, and another near Brasília, straddling the boundary between Bahia, Tocantins, and Goiás. To the northwest of Goiás, the highlands stretch approximately 600 miles (1,000 km) before transitioning into the Amazonian lowlands.

An imposing escarpment delineates the eastern boundary of the Brazilian Highlands, tracing the coastline for roughly 1,600 miles (2,600 km) and giving rise to mountain ranges with an average height of about 2,600 feet (800 meters), although several peaks exceed 7,000 feet (2,100 meters).

Notable mountain ranges in the northeastern segment of the highlands include the Serra Grande along the border of Piauí and Ceará; the Chapado Araripe in the state of Pernambuco; and the Chapada Diamantina in Bahia. The Serra do Espinhaço extends from central Minas Gerais to southern Bahia, culminating in Almas Peak at 6,070 feet (1,850 meters). The Serra Geral de Goiás demarcates the western boundary of Goiás and Tocantins from eastern Bahia. Within Goiás state, the Planalto Central encompasses higher elevations, including the Serra dos Pirineus and the Serra Dourada. The northern and western ranges and plateaus, which are less elevated and dissected than their eastern counterparts, are home to mineral-rich areas such as the Serra dos Carajás in eastern Pará, the Serra do Cachimbo primarily in southwestern Pará, and the Chapada dos Parecis between Rondônia and Mato Grosso. Other elevated regions within Mato Grosso state are sometimes collectively referred to as the Mato Grosso Plateau.

The Serra do Mar, with an average elevation of approximately 3,000 feet (1,000 meters), represents the most significant portion of the coastal escarpment along the Atlantic seaboard. This mountain range stretches from the southeastern region of Minas Gerais to the eastern part of Paraná. In the area surrounding Rio de Janeiro, the Serra do Mar is also referred to as the Serra dos Órgãos, where it rises almost vertically from the coastline, forming notable geological features such as the Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açúcar) and Gávea peaks, as well as a series of minor islands.

To the north of the Serra do Mar, yet in proximity to the coast, lies the Serra da Mantiqueira, which extends southwards from the Serra do Espinhaço. In the southern part of Minas Gerais, the Mantiqueira range attains its highest elevations at Agulhas Negras Peak, with an altitude of 9,143 feet (2,787 meters) on the border of Rio de Janeiro state, and at Bandeira Peak, which reaches 9,482 feet (2,890 meters), near the Serra dos Aimorés on the border between Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo.

Further southwest of the Serra do Mar, a series of mountain ridges is identified as the Serra de Botucatu within the state of São Paulo, and as the Serra Geral extending from Paraná towards the south. The Iguaçu River, located in the southwestern region of Paraná, cascades over a precipitous edge of diabase rock, creating the magnificent Iguaçu Falls. The Guaíra Falls, once found on the Paraná River, were another natural wonder until 1982, when the construction of the vast Itaipú hydroelectric dam led to their submersion.

Coastal lowlands

The Atlantic lowlands of Brazil, which constitute a relatively minor fraction of the nation’s landmass, exhibit a breadth of up to 200 kilometers in the northern region, tapering as they extend into the Northeast and receding intermittently in certain Southeastern segments. Despite their limited expanse, the lowlands present a diverse array of geographical features. These include flat floodplains, marshlands, lagoons, sand dunes, and extensive tracts of pristine sandy beaches. In select locales, these beaches benefit from the protection of coral reefs and barrier islands.

The region is also characterized by numerous deep harbors, particularly where the precipitous inclines of the coastal mountain ranges meet the sea. Notable examples include Guanabara Bay—home to the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Niterói—and All Saints Bay, upon which the city of Salvador is situated. Urban settlements in these areas are often confined to narrow valleys or slender coastal strips. However, many economically disadvantaged communities are found on the steep slopes that fringe these urban centers.

Further south, the coastal plain expands once again, notably around the Patos Lagoon, which ranks among the largest lagoons on the continent, and the Mirím Lagoon, which lies adjacent to the border with Uruguay.

Drainage of Brazil

The Brazilian landscape is traversed by the Amazon River, a pivotal element of the world’s largest river system, complemented by other significant basins such as the Tocantins-Araguaia in the northern region, the Paraguay-Paraná-Plata system in the southern sector, and the São Francisco in the eastern and northeastern territories. Additionally, a multitude of minor rivers and brooks flow directly from the interior of Brazil towards the Atlantic Ocean; however, the majority of these are relatively short, possess steep inclines, and are not utilized for hydroelectric projects or navigable transport. Among the more accessible rivers in this category are the Paranaíba, which lies between the states of Piauí and Maranhão, and the Jacuí in Rio Grande do Sul.

Originating near the Peruvian Andes, merely 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the Pacific Ocean, the Amazon River embarks on an intricate 4,000-mile (6,400-kilometer) journey to the Atlantic Ocean. It is responsible for up to one-fifth of the global continental runoff entering the oceans. The river is fed by substantial tributaries, including the Juruá, Purus, Madeira, Tapajós, and Xingu rivers to the south, and the Negro River to the north. Remarkably, six of these tributaries span over 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) each, with some surpassing the Mississippi River in water volume, resulting in the Amazon discharging over ten times the volume of the Mississippi into the Atlantic annually.

Vessels of significant size can navigate the Amazon River as far as Manaus, while smaller craft can reach Iquitos in eastern Peru, approximately 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) from the ocean. Nevertheless, navigation on the Amazon’s tributaries is constrained due to the presence of waterfalls and rapids where the waterways descend from higher elevations. To date, none of the primary tributaries have been developed for hydroelectric power generation.

The Paraguay-Paraná-Plata river system holds the distinction of being the second major fluvial network within Brazil, while also extending its reach across substantial regions of Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay. Originating from the elevated terrains of the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso, Goiás, and Minas Gerais, this extensive system bifurcates into two primary branches—the Paraguay and the Paraná rivers, with the latter being referred to as the Alto Paraná prior to their confluence.

The Paraguay River courses through the Pantanal wetlands and delineates a portion of the international boundary between Brazil and Paraguay. The Alto Paraná River, meanwhile, is fed by a plethora of tributaries originating from southeastern Brazil, among which are the Paranaíba (distinct from the northeastern Paranaíba), Grande, Tietê, and Paranapanema rivers. These two rivers, the Alto Paraná and the Paraguay, converge near the Argentina-Paraguay border, southwest of Brazil, to form the main stem of the Paraná River. This river then advances towards the Atlantic Ocean, emptying into the Río de la Plata estuary. The hydrography of Brazil’s southernmost states includes the Uruguay River, which also contributes its waters to the Río de la Plata. Historically, these rivers in Brazil were navigable only in limited sections until extensive dredging efforts in the 1990s improved their accessibility. The Brazilian authorities have constructed an array of hydroelectric facilities and dams on several tributaries within this system, including the Iguaçu, Paranapanema, Tietê, and Grande rivers.

The Tocantins-Araguaia river system, with its source in the Goiás and Mato Grosso highlands, ultimately empties into the Pará River, located just south of the Amazon River’s delta. The Tocantins River, often misconceived as an Amazonian tributary, is in fact an independent river system that drains an expansive area of approximately 314,200 square miles (813,700 square kilometers)—accounting for nearly a tenth of Brazil’s total landmass. The Araguaia River’s midsection, situated roughly 220 miles (350 kilometers) northwest of Brasília, bifurcates into two branches, creating the immense Bananal Island, before reconvening and flowing northward to join the Tocantins after an additional 600 miles (1,000 kilometers). In the 1980s, the construction of the Tucuruí Dam on the lower Tocantins, located about 120 miles (200 kilometers) southwest of Belém, was undertaken to generate hydroelectric power serving the states of Pará and Maranhão, as well as the Carajás mining complex.

The São Francisco River Basin, an expansive and significant hydrological region, encompasses in excess of 249,000 square miles, or 645,000 square kilometers, within the eastern territories of Brazil. This river originates from the elevated terrains situated in the western part of Minas Gerais and the southern region of Goiás, subsequently extending over a distance exceeding 1,000 miles, or 1,600 kilometers, in a predominantly northward direction. Subsequent to this, it alters its course eastward, culminating its journey in the Atlantic Ocean.

Maritime transportation along this river is facilitated by shallow-draft vessels, which operate between Pirapora, located in Minas Gerais, and Juàzeiro in the state of Bahia. This navigable stretch includes the eastern extremity of the Sobradinho Reservoir. The river’s potential is industriously exploited for hydroelectric power generation, with significant installations situated proximate to the Paulo Afonso Falls and also within the vicinity of Juàzeiro. It is pertinent to note that the segment of the river downstream from the falls is capable of accommodating ocean-going vessels, thereby providing a navigable route for maritime trade.

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