Brazil is the biggest country in South America, bordering every country except Chile and Ecuador, and is the fifth largest country in the world. It can be divided into five major geographic regions: North, Northeast, Central, Southeast, and South. Each of these regions has characteristics which make it completely different from the others.
In the North, there is the Amazon region and rain forest, which contains 30% of the world?s remaining forest area. Northeast Brazil is most famous for its beautiful beaches and national parks.
The Central region is a high plain with many large parks where hikers can see a variety of animals and rich vegetation, for example, in The Pantanal (swamp region).
The Southeast is known for its beaches (Rio de Janeiro, Búzios, Angra dos Reis), as well as for the unique little towns in the State of Minas Gerais where time seems to have stopped in the 18th century. Ouro Preto, the signature of these architecturally rich towns, is surrounded by mountains, plains and small plateaus. Southern Brazil also has beautiful beaches and coastline, though it is in the temperate zone. In the interior of the southern states, there are cities that resemble Bavarian towns; the immigrant descendants still speak German.
Brazil's central plateau covers a great part of the nation's territory, extending from the coastal plains to the Amazon basin. Two of the world's biggest rivers, the Amazon (the world's biggest in size and water volume) and the São Francisco (San Francisco), the world's only great river that doesn't originate in a mountain or a lake.
The Brazilian coastline extends over 3,000 km (2,000 miles) on the Atlantic Ocean, and ranges from the northern State of Amazonas to Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil's southernmost state. All along this coast, one can find superb beaches, several of which include preservation areas of Atlantic Rain Forest where hikers can hire guides to discover lakes, waterfalls, small rivers and mountains that lead to the sea. Off the coast there are a number of paradisiacal islands with a full array of lodging and camping options. On some of these islands, like Fernando de Noronha, one can still find places untouched by man.
Brazil has many Chapada regions (plateau and mesa formations) that have become national parks. The most famous of them are Chapada Diamantina (Bahia) and Chapada dos Guimarães (Mato Grosso). These areas could be described as the South American version of canyon country. They are ideal for several day hikes, camping, climbing, rappelling and other outdoor activities. There are also beautifully located short trails for the more comfort-oriented visitor.
Those who wish to discover an Atlantic rain forest without desiring to travel to the Amazon can visit The Araguaia National Park in the northern State of Tocantins, a rain forest park with excellent infrastructure. Another unforgettable option is the Pantanal region, where wetlands are home to wild animals such as jaguars cougars, iguanas, alligators, deer, anacondas, river otters and numerous bird species.
Brazil has an incredible diversity of fauna and flora, being home to the greatest number of species of mammals, freshwater fish and plants on earth. The greatest danger to this natural wealth is the practice of queimadas, huge fires purposely started to open spaces for grazing pasture to raise cattle in and around the Amazon region. Tremendous quantities of trees are also cut illegally to be sold as wood, mostly in European countries. In order to combat these abusive practices, the Brazilian Government has enacted numerous environmental protection programs during the last fifteen years, some of them with international support.
The Tamar project, in Praia do Forte (Bahia) has been saving green sea turtles that were nearly extinct. Today, the green sea turtle population has grown in such a way that they are no longer a threatened species. Other projects in the south and southeast deal with the preservation of mammal species such as the guará wolf, the mico leão dourado (golden lion monkey) and the mico leão de cara preta (black faced lion monkey). National Parks have been created and heavily financed by the federal government along with programs destined to educate the local communities how to protect and how to deal with the environment. Most of these environmentally protected areas and national parks can be visited.