Brazil is known for carnival, beautiful beaches, dense jungles and of course, wild parties. But there’s so much more to this astonishing country!
As a nation built on the back of mingling cultures, races and religions, Brazil bristles with interesting stories just dying to be shared. Keen to learn more? This list of facts about Brazil will demonstrate exactly why this diverse and colourful country NEEDS to be on your bucket list!
19 Brazilian Facts You Should Know!
1. Brazil is MASSIVE
At roughly 8.5 million square kilometres, Brazil is easily the largest country in South America. In fact, it’s the largest country in the Southern Hemisphere and equates to 50% of the landmass of South America!
It could engulf the European Union twice with room to spare and takes up more than 5% of the entire world’s land. It’s often touted as the world’s longest country too, but so is Chile…*
*Depending on which sources you use, you’ll find both countries are listed at around 4300km at their longest points. Accurately measuring a country this large is much harder than you’d expect but if you can get me a tape measure long enough, I’ll give it a bloody good go!
East to West, the country is large enough to span four time zones, although one of these only covers a few small Atlantic islands. For five years, Brazil only had three time zones, having abolished the westernmost zone in 2008. However, it was reinstated in 2013.
Brazil also shares a border with almost every other South American country. The only countries that don’t share a land border with Brazil are Ecuador and Chile.
Finally, Brazil is the only place in the world where both the equator AND the Tropic of Capricorn run through a single country.
2. The population of Brazil is over 210 million
In 2021 the population of Brazil is around 213 million— four times more than the next largest population in South America (Colombia) and the sixth-largest in the world!
Brazil is also one of the most diverse countries on earth. It’s often said that anyone can pass for Brazilian no matter the colour of their skin, hair or eyes. This diversity is thanks to the massive waves of immigration since Brazil’s official “discovery” by Europeans in the year 1500.
Large numbers of people from Portugal, Italy and Spain have been joined by smaller, but not insignificant numbers from Germany, Japan, Poland, Lebanon, Syria and Russia, to create a cultural melting pot. On the whole, modern-day Brazil is a nation very tolerant of immigration and opts for a policy of acceptance and assimilation.
However, we can’t discuss Brazil’s ultra diverse culture without talking about the slave trade…
3. Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery in 1888
During 300 years of slavery in Brazil, it’s estimated that 4-12 million African slaves were “imported” into the country. This accounts for around 40% of all slaves sent to the Americas.
Government sanctioned slave labour lasted so long in Brazil that high-quality photographs of slaves working in fields, carrying children and escorting their “owners” around town can be seen today.
The sheer number of slaves in Brazil over the centuries has had a heavy influence on the country’s culture and demographics. Millions of modern-day Brazilian nationals can trace their roots back to the Atlantic slave trade.
But slavery doesn’t end with the abolition of the slave trade. The Global Slavery Index estimates that there are over 300,000 people trapped in “conditions of modern-day slavery” in Brazil today. And according to the Council on Foreign Relations, “more than 55,000 individuals have been removed from conditions analogous to slavery in Brazil” since 1995.
It’s also worth noting that slavery in Brazil often involved vast numbers of indigenous people as well as African populations.
4. Brazilians are not considered Hispanic
The terms ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latin American’ are often used interchangeably by the English speaking world. However, this is incorrect.
Hispanic refers to people who descend from a Spanish speaking nation. With Brazil’s official language being Portuguese, Brazilians are not considered Hispanic.
But they are considered Latin American…
Latin American refers to anyone from a Central or South American country that uses one of the romance languages: French, Spanish or Portuguese*.
*There are other romance languages but these aren’t used as official languages in South America.
To complicate things further, Belize and Guyana, where English is the primary language, and Suriname, where Dutch is spoken, are not considered Latin American or Hispanic nations.
5. Evidence suggests human settlement of Brazil began over 30,000 years ago
This is one of the earliest examples of human beings in the Americas. Previously it was believed that the Clovis people, who probably crossed into the Americas via the Bering land bridge, were the first humans to step foot on the continents.
Within the Pedra Furada rock shelter, in Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park, scientists discovered burnt wood and what appear to be stone tools dating back around 50,000 years. Although this is disputed by some scholars, it marks the earliest possible evidence of humans in the Americas.
Within the same national park, rock paintings dating to between 22,000 and 36,000 years old have also been found. There is much less dispute surrounding these as images that clearly depict humans involved in the ‘four Fs’ (fighting, feeding, fleeing and… mating).
6. Brazil hosts the world’s largest party every year
Brazil’s carnival is famous across the world. During the event, over two million people take to the streets every day to witness the parades and parties!
Carnival begins the Friday before Ash Wednesday and ends at midday on Ash Wednesday. It’s the precursor to Lent, which is 40 days of fasting for Judeo-Christian religious groups. Although very few who practice these religions actually fast, most tend to give up a pleasure or vice, such as chocolate or smoking, for 40 days. Either way, carnival sure beats Pancake Day as the pre-lent blowout!
During carnival, more than half a million foreign visitors enter Brazil and over 10 million litres of beer are consumed. Public urination during carnival has become such an issue that fines have been raised from $44USD to over $130USD for anyone caught peeing outside! In Rio de Janeiro alone, more than 25,000 portable toilets are installed for the crowds — imagine being the poor cleanup team who have to deal with those!
There are hundreds of street parties and parades held in Brazil during carnival, all of which feature some of South America’s most iconic dances but the most popular takes place in Rio’s Sambadrome. Here Samba schools from across the city compete to put on the greatest show.
Huge floats, elaborate costumes and intricate dances mean these performances often cost millions of dollars to produce and last up to 75 minutes each. The Sambadrome itself can hold over 80,000 spectators with over half a million people visiting the arena during carnival each year.
7. The Amazon River finally reaches the ocean in Brazil
Stretching almost 7000km* from Peru to the Atlantic Ocean, the Amazon river finally meets the sea around Ilha de Marajó (Island of Marajo). This river island is rich in some of South America’s most impressive wildlife, including water buffalo, caimans and piranhas.
*This number is disputed because it’s so hard to accurately measure the length of a river!
Every second, over 209 million litres of freshwater flow into the Atlantic Ocean from the Amazon. This is the equivalent of 83 Olympic swimming pools per second! The sheer volume of freshwater is so great it can be detected over 100 miles out to sea!
8. Voting is mandatory in Brazil
As of 1932, everyone aged between 18 and 70 must vote in elections. Those aged 16-17 and those over 70 have the option to vote if they wish but do not have to. It’s also permitted for illiterate people to opt-out of voting.
To win the presidential election in Brazil, a candidate must win more than 50% of the vote. If this number is not achieved in the first round of voting, a second round commences. This second round only features the top two most popular candidates from the first vote.
Brazil also uses a mix of the standard ‘first past the post system’ as well as ‘proportional representation’ and variations of the D’Hondt method for electing officials.
9. Brazil’s capital city is Brasilia
Here’s one for the pub quiz — Brazil’s capital city is not Rio de Janeiro nor São Paulo. The third most populous city in Brazil, Brasilia, is the capital. It was built during the late 1950s to move the capital from Rio de Janeiro, where it had been for 197 years, to a more central geographical location. Brasilia was built in 41 months and was designed by Lúcio Costa.
10. Brazil was a Portuguese colony for over 300 years
Just like every other South American nation, Brazil was colonised by a European superpower. In the year 1500, Portuguese sailors made land in Brazil, claiming the country for their own. However, Spain and Portugal had already decided who ‘owned’ which areas of the New World when they signed the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Arriving in Brazil six years later was really just the Portuguese flexing their muscles and establishing a colony in the New World.
During the early 1800s, war in Europe and specifically Napoleon’s domination of the continent, forced the Royal Portuguese Court to move from Portugal to Brazil. In 1808, Brazil officially became part of the United Kingdoms of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves.
However, it was only a few years later in 1822 that Brazil would declare independence from Portugal. The war for independence was led by Dom Pedro I of Brazil, aka the King of Portugal’s son — I never get bored of the Kardashian-esque relationships of European royalty. Dom Pedro became known as “The Liberator” for his part in freeing Brazil from the colonial rule of his own family.
It took three years for Brazil’s independence to be recognised in Europe but as of 1825, Brazil was officially an independent nation.
Brazil celebrates independence day on September 7th each year and they consider themselves independent as of 1822.
11. Prisoners in some of Brazil’s most crowded prisons are offered the chance to reduce their sentences by reading
Certain prisons in Brazil offer inmates a four-day reduction of their sentence for every book they read. Inmates must produce a well written and mistake-free essay about each book to receive the reduction.
Prisoners have four weeks to read each book and may read up to a maximum of twelve books per year. This allows them to reduce their sentence by up to 48 days a year.
12. Brazil has the highest density of uncontacted people on earth
It’s estimated that between 30-100 uncontacted groups live within the Brazilian Amazon. This is more than anywhere else on earth!
Some of these groups are hunter-gatherers, constantly on the move while others get by with subsistence farming. Most choose to remain uncontacted. They flee and hide when encounters take place. Or they react violently, loosing arrows and throwing spears at anyone that gets too close.
Uncontacted does not mean undiscovered. Authorities have a basic knowledge and understanding of these groups, including roughly where they live, how they get by and if they have relationships with any other groups.
Furthermore, the uncontacted groups often have a much better understanding of the outside world than they’re given credit for. They’re masters of the forest and generally know everything that happens in their ancestral lands. They’ll know the location of population centres nearby and know which areas to avoid.
Many of these groups are smaller in number than they used to be — one is famously down to just one surviving member. They’re regularly hunted by loggers, ranchers or drug traffickers wanting to remove them from valuable lands.
In an attempt to protect these groups, the Brazilian government has issued official protections on their lands. However, these are hard to enforce in such a vast, sparsely populated area.
13. Brazil is home to one of the most dangerous islands in the world
Ilha da Queimada Grande, otherwise known as snake island, is less than 100 miles from Sao Paulo but you won’t be able to visit.
It’s forbidden to step foot on the island without express permission from the Brazilian Navy. This is because the island is packed with the endangered Golden Lancehead snake. It’s estimated that there’s one snake per square metre on the island!
A dense population of snakes isn’t in itself a good reason to forbid anyone setting foot on the island. However, these Lanceheads have a super potent venom that causes necrosis, organ failure, brain haemorrhage and intestinal bleeding — not the souvenirs you want to take home from a trip to Brazil!
Only a few people are permitted on the island. Those are scientists studying the snakes and navy engineers performing yearly maintenance on the automated lighthouse.
14. Brazil is home to the world’s tallest vertical cemetery
Vertical cemeteries are not uncommon across the world but the Memorial Necropole Ecumenica in Santos stands as the world’s tallest.
Towering at 108 metres, this cemetery features 32 floors and can store tens of thousands of bodies. Inside there are function rooms for wakes and funerals — the largest of which offers enough space for 300 mourners in its white marble, Neo-Gothic walls. It’s even possible to arrange a minibar and waiting staff for large wakes or funerals.
But it doesn’t end there. The cemetery has a peacock garden, a small waterfall, an onsite restaurant and an on-call nurse should any funeral-goers become overwhelmed during their visit. Gentle piano and violin music plays across the building and there’s a large waiting area in the hotel like foyer for friends and family of the deceased to gather before a ceremony starts.
A three-year plot at Memorial Necropole Ecumenica costs $6000-$21,000USD which considering the view and facilities, doesn’t seem like a bad deal!
15. The foundations for Christ The Redeemer were laid before the statue was designed
In 1922, to celebrate 100 years of independence, the Catholic Church in Rio de Janeiro laid the first foundations for what would go on to become the world’s largest and most famous Art Deco style statue.
At the time, the statue had not even been designed — it was later that year that a competition was held to find a designer.
The designer that won the contest was Brazilian engineer, Heitor da Silva Costa. He originally envisaged Christ The Redeemer with a cross in one hand and a globe in the other. Over the following four years, the plans changed to reflect the statue we know today. Construction finally began in 1926 and the statue was unveiled in 1931 — almost a decade after the centennial celebration of independence.
Christ the Redeemer weighs more than 635 tons and stands over 38 metres tall. It sits atop Mount Corcovado which towers an impressive 710 metres above Rio de Janeiro. Ironically, the statue was damaged by lightning in 2014 — maybe Zeus is mad the statue isn’t of him…
16. Brazil is the most successful country in the soccer World Cup
The nation has five wins (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002), two second places (1950 and 1998), and two third place finishes (1938 and 1978).
They are the only team to have competed in every edition of the World Cup without absence or the need for playoffs.
They have a record 73 victories in 109 matches with a +124 goal difference and a total of 237 points. Brazil have only lost 18 games in the World Cup.
As an Englishman with French heritage (yes it means I tend to support two squads), I know the pain of seeing your team square up against Brazil in the World Cup!
17. Brazil’s Amazon basin features areas of artificially fertile soil called Terra Preta (Black Soil)
Communities have been farming the Amazon basin for centuries. But this practice is known to reduce the fertility of the soil. As soon as the jungle is cleared for farming, nutrients begin to be washed away by rain and flooding. This leads to deforested areas becoming barren, meaning groups would have to clear more forest to sustain their crops.
To keep their farms in the same place, Pre-Columbian civilisations discovered that mixing charcoal, bone, broken pottery, compost and manure with the soil would keep it fertile for longer periods. Over generations, this gave the soil a much darker complexion, hence the name Terra Preta. This dark soil reaches down to around two metres in some places and allows effective farming to take place across the Amazon Basin.
18. Brazil’s tallest mountain was not “discovered” until the 1950s
Pico da Neblina or ‘Mist Peak’ sits at 2995 metres above sea level and as the name suggests, is almost constantly enshrouded in clouds. Due to this, it was not officially discovered and measured until the 1950s and wasn’t climbed until 1965 — 12 years after Everest was conquered!
19. There are at least two Osama Bin Laden themed bars in Brazil
Both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are home to their very own Bar do Bin Laden.
In each instance, the bars are owned by a Brazilian man with a long beard who, when dressed in military fatigues, happens to look a lot like the ex Al Qaeda leader. Both gentlemen are reported as being friendly and gracious hosts, providing guests with good beer and a friendly place to spend the evening!
Oh, there’s also a pool hall north of Rio de Janeiro called Caverna do Bin Laden (Cave of Bin Laden)…
Have we missed your favourite Brazilian fact from our list? Let us know in the comments!