Far from being just a jungle paradise, Brazil has both the largest rainforest and the biggest city in Latin America. You have cowboys in the South and Wild West Stories from the Northeast. Brazil is my second home and it surprises me every day. So I’ve put together 40 facts on Brazil.
A bunch of statistics, curiosities and wild myths that you’d have never guessed fit into one country.
Brazil Facts on Food
- Brazil produces the greatest quantity of coffee in the world. The coffee plant was imported from Africa, and turned many of the Brazilian elites extortionately rich. The most lucrative coffee area was in the Vale do Paraíba, where the farmers deforested the hills to expand crop yield. Eventually, business suffered with the prohibition of slavery and over-exhausting the land. Nowadays, many of the old coffee farms have been converted into holiday resorts known as Hotel Fazendas. The slave quarters, called Senzalas became hotel rooms and they offer tours (including typical attire from the 18th century) of the farm owners’ majestic house.
- Guaraná is an Amazonian fruit that contains more caffeine than coffee beans. For this reason the fruit extract makes a syrup that forms the basis of Brazil’s most popular soda, Guaraná. When cut the fruit looks like eyeballs … a source of many indigenous fables in the region.
- Mandioca (yuca or cassava in English) is one of the staple foods of Brazil, produced in all 27 states. Tapioca also derives from this root vegetable. Brazil is the second biggest producer of mandioca, only behind Nigeria. There are several names for mandioca: aipim, macaxeira, castelinha, macamba, as well as the nickname “Brazil’s Father.”
- Cachaça is Brazil’s national drink, which is made from distilled sugarcane product, similar to rum. It does however, have a very distinct taste and can reach up to 50% alcohol percentage.
Learn more in our post What is Cachaça?
- Açaí, hailed a super-food, is a berry produced in Brazil and throughout South America. The berry is popular in a drink that takes the same name. The drink açaí, however, also contains various ingredients for sweetness, including the Guaraná syrup.
- Cow farming in Brazil is so valuable that a prize bull can be worth up to US $1 million. The farms in Brazil occupy huge amounts of flat land highlighted for the cattle to graze freely. Nova Piratininga in Goiás is the biggest farm in Brazil with 135 thousand hectors, about the size of New York City. Some of the largest cattle herds live in the Pantanal in both Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.
- Brazilians love chicken heart so much that despite producing 6 billion chickens a year, they occasionally still have to import extra chicken hearts. This barbecued treat comes on skewers.
Natural World’s Facts on Brazil
- Brazil borders every country in South America apart from Chile and Ecuador. That’s 10 country borders, which adds up to a lot of border control. It has also caused recent influxes of Venezuelan Refugees forced to migrate due to the humanitarian crisis in their country.
Read about the Refugee Crisis here: Fleeing Through the Jungle: Venezuelan Refugees in Brazil.
- Two-thirds of the Amazon rain-forest lies in Brazil. The Central Amazon Conservation Complex is the largest natural reserve in the world and protects a region of 6 million hectares.
- In São Paulo there is an island solely inhabited by venomous snakes. The Brazilian navy prohibit entrance to the island, as the snakes, the Golden Lanceheads or Pit Vipers, are those that kill the most people in Brazil. Luckily there are no beaches for anyone to surreptitiously wonder onto this risky island.
- Natural rubber comes from the Brazilian tree, Hevea Brasiliensis, or the rubber tree. Sadly, in 1876 an English explorer Sir Henry Wickham smuggled rubber tree seeds from Brazil, from which point it became a worldwide crop.
- Biologists consider Brazil to be the most bio-diverse country in the world. Though it doesn’t top the charts for birds nor mammals, it wins for plant life and amphibians.
Along these lines, the population is pretty diverse too. Why not read about how even Kim Jong-un has a Brazilian passport?
- Brazil is the land of giant emeralds. Two of the biggest finds of Emeralds in the world were discovered in Pernambuco and Bahia states. One is considered worth US$400 million. Imagine digging $400 million from your backgarden one day? The name is the Bahia emerald. The problem? Who owns this beast? There have been on going disputes on ownership rights and so far no one has hit the jackpot. Just last year a lucky miner discovered another emerald weighing 341kg. This time the “owner” went into hiding with his family. He also relocates the gem every now and then fearing kidnap if people knew about it.
- Though the Amazon is most famous for its ferocious piranhas there is a giant that lives in the Amazon basin. The Pirarucu can reach 3 metres in length and breathes air, though it can stay underwater for 30 minutes. This allows the fish to hunt in water that is low in oxygen.
Historical Facts on Brazil
- Brazil harbours the remnants of one of the world’s most Ancient civilizations in UNESCO World Heritage Site, Serra de Capivara park. Located in the state of Piauí (pronounced pee-a-wee), here you can find the most extensive caving painting sites in the world. They date back 50,000 years, knitting together a cave system of 750 archeological sites and totaling 30,000 cave painting figures.
- The country has had two impeachments of presidents, so far. The first was Fernando Color de Mello who suffered impeachment in December 1992. The second impeachment removed Dilma Rousseff, 24 years later, in December 2016.
- Brazil as ruled by a military dictatorship between 1964 – 1985.
- The biggest slave population in the world was in Brazil, which imported approximately 4 million Africans into slavery. Historians believe this to be 10 times more than in the USA. Furthermore, Brazil was the final country to abolish slavery in 1888.
Read about how the abolition of slavery is linked to the emergence of favelas in Brazil: Visiting Favelas Responsibly.
- Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil from 1763 until 1960, when the president at the time had a vision to transfer the capital to the center of the country. Brasília was so far from other structures that they had to fly in concrete and building materials to actually construct the city. From above the planned city takes the shape of an airplane.
- Brazil has a document saying it would not participate in wars, unless it is directly attacked. That means they only technically had one international war, which was against Paraguay who tried to simultaneously invade three countries. They do, however, participate in peace movements such as the UN missions. That’s why the Brazilian army were stationed in Haiti from 2004 – 2017.
Celebrations and Festivals in Brazil
- Brazilians have a tradition of wearing white on New Year’s Eve. It is a sign that you want peace for the year to come. There are though a whole array of colour to choose from depending on your aspirations for the New Year.
Red is for passion and romance.
Green is nature and good health.
Yellow is for money.
Blue is for harmony.
Orange is for professional success.
Purple is for inspiration.
- Brazil technically has a Second “independence day” called Tiradentes Day. Tiradentes was a dentist who plotted against the Portuguese court (conquistadores). BUT after a dramatic grass-up authorities caught and quartered Tiradentes, as an example to others trying to follow in his path.
Read more about it in our Tiradentes Guide: How Brazil Wrangled Two Independence Days.
- Brazil has 13 official national holidays (Carnival has 3 days) and extra ones for each city and state. For example Rio de Janeiro also has Saint George’s Day and Black Awareness Day. On top of this, special events like days of the World Cup Football games in which Brazil participates become holidays (or at least for half a day).
- At Christmas it is tradition to eat Turkey and cod fish. The festivities happen in the evening of the 24th and the 25th the shops and restaurants will often be open as usual. The Easter traditional food is fish on Good Friday.
- The 12th October is a national holiday for Nossa Senhora Aparecida (Our Lady Aparecida), which leads to the great pilgrimage each year to the cathedral dedicated to the miracle that happened in 1717. They march to the location where the small, black statue of Mary appeared to fishermen in the coffee region of Brazil, Vale do Paraíba.
Sports Facts on Brazil
- Brazil has won the most World Football Cups ever. They hold 5 titles.
- Brazil has its own martial art form called Capoeira. It was developed by the slave population as a form of self defense and at the time was prohibited.
- Rio was the second city in the Southern Hemisphere to host the Olympic Games, behind Australia that has hosted the games twice. It is the first country in South America to host the prestigious sporting event.
Cultural Facts on Brazil
- Brazil has 21 World UNESCO sites, including a central reserve in the Amazon, colonial mining town Ouro Preto and the largest waterfall system in the world, Iguaçu Falls.
- Telenovelas are Brazil’s high budget, dramatic soap opera genre. The shows are so popular they have been broadcast to 180 countries in total. The frequent export market of telenovelas lies in 100 countries, and whereas usually soap actors are C-list celebrities, they hit the big bucks in Brazil and are A-list.
Population Facts on Brazil
- There are 240 indigenous tribes in Brazil. That’s 900,000 people belonging to an indigenous ethnic group. Despite popular believe, not all this population live in the Amazon. In fact, the Guarani, the largest indigenous group live in the Southern Savanas. The Guarani have a population of 51,000 and live in Mato Grosso, as well as Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia.
- São Paulo is largest city in Latin America with more than 13 million people. There’s a more sinister flip side to this, there are more rats than people in this mega city.
- Brazil has the most Catholics in the world, 130 million. It is believed that 64% of the population is Catholic. However, change is on the rise as the evangelical church is gaining momentum. The ex-mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Crivella is a bishop of the Universal Church, an evangelical institution with its own TV channel.
- Brazil has a zero alcohol tolerance. If you drink anything and drive in Brazil you will be subject to a steep fine, losing your license and having your car confiscated.
- Gambling is prohibited in Brazil. There isn’t a single casino in the whole of Brazil. Also, you cannot sunbathe topless in Brazil, although the rest of the bikini is pretty skimpy.
- The prisons in Brazil are split into 2 categories, the inmates of each are incarcerated separately. In the first those who haven’t graduated from university and in the other those who have a degree. Quite dubious and undoubtedly unjust.
- Brazil is the country with the most VW kombi vans in the world. Whereas in other places they ceased production in the 1980s, in Brazil the line production ended fairly recently in 2013.
- Brazil has its own Wild West Story involving the Cangaço gangs (cangançeiros). In the North East of Brazil there is a huge area of arid land, not dissimilar to the Wild West of the USA, known as the Sertão. The most famous Cangaço was Lampião, a mixture of hero and villain, who hated the government and rich land owners.
- Brazil or more specifically the Amazon River Basin has its own pink dolphins. These river dolphins, named Botos, can range from grey to pink in colour and have poor vision, thus uses sonar to navigate the murky river waters. Botos are also star of Brazilian folklore, the supposed culprit of unexplainable pregnancies in the Amazon region.