Brazil country overview

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

Brazil information index

Brazil summary

Learn about the ethnic groups, the Highlands, and the culture of Brazil

The Federative Republic of Brazil, a sovereign state in east-central South America, encompasses an area of approximately 8,502,728 square kilometers (3,282,907 square miles). As of the estimated population in 2024, it is home to 205,223,000 inhabitants. Brasília serves as the nation’s capital. The demographic composition of Brazil is largely derived from European descent or a mixture of ancestries, including Indigenous-European and European-African lineages. The country’s ethnic diversity has its roots in its colonial past, with Indigenous populations largely confined to the remote Amazon River basin due to minimal contact with settlers.

Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, and the predominant religion is Christianity, with a majority identifying as Roman Catholic, alongside Protestant denominations and various traditional beliefs. The Brazilian real is the official currency.

Geographically, Brazil can be segmented into several regions, with the Amazon lowlands and the Brazilian Highlands, also known as the Central Highlands or Central Plateau, being the most prominent features. The highlands, averaging an elevation of 1,000 meters (3,300 feet), are situated primarily in the southeast, while the Amazon lowlands, which lie below 250 meters (800 feet), are found in the northern part of the country. The Amazon River basin, with its extensive network of tributaries, covers nearly half of Brazil’s total area. Other significant rivers include the São Francisco, Parnaíba, Paraguay, Alto Paraná, and Uruguay. The Atlantic coast of Brazil, stretching approximately 7,400 kilometers (4,600 miles), is largely devoid of large islands, with the exceptions of Marajó, Caviana, and Maracá.

Brazil’s ports, such as those in Belém, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, Santos, and Porto Alegre, are strategically important. The nation’s vast forests yield a variety of products, while its savannas are conducive to cattle ranching. Agriculture plays a significant role in the economy, and the country possesses substantial mineral reserves. Brazil’s market economy is in a developmental phase, with a focus on manufacturing, financial services, and commerce.

The nation operates as a multiparty federal republic with a bicameral legislative system, and the president serves as both the head of state and government. The early history of Brazil’s indigenous people remains largely uncharted. Although the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 theoretically granted the territory to Portugal, it was not officially claimed until the arrival of Portuguese navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500. Portuguese settlement began in the early 1530s, and over the following century, the French and Dutch established minor settlements. A viceroyalty was formed in 1640, with Rio de Janeiro becoming the capital in 1763. The arrival of John VI of Portugal in 1808, fleeing Napoleon I’s invasion, led to the establishment of the Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and Algarve, with John ruling from Brazil between 1815 and 1821. Following his return to Portugal, Pedro I declared Brazil’s independence. The monarchy ended in 1889 with the deposition of Pedro II and the adoption of a federal republic constitution.

The 20th century saw increased immigration, industrial growth, and frequent military interventions with subsequent suspensions of civil liberties. The construction of Brasília aimed to promote the development of the interior but exacerbated inflation. The military government initiated a gradual reversion to democratic practices after 1979, culminating in the first popular presidential election in 29 years in 1989. Brazil faced a severe economic crisis starting in the late 1990s.


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