Brazil, like all large countries, has a varied landscape. The country can be divided into uplands and lowlands. The two main upland areas--the Brazilian Highlands and the Guiana Highlands--cover more than one-half of Brazil. The three major lowland areas are the Amazon Basin, a small area in southern Brazil drained by the Rio de la Plata system, and the small area of the upper Paraguay river system in the southwest. There are not many high mountains.
Brazilians usually divide their country into five regions. These are the Northeast, the East, the South, the Central West, and the Amazon Basin. Each region contains several states.
The Northeast. In the region known as the Northeast are the states of Maranhão, Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe, and Bahia. This area, along the upper Atlantic coast, has rich, fertile soil, but the inland area, called the sertão, or "backland," is quite rocky. Many unusual plants grow in the caatinga, a tropical thorn forest of the Northeast. One, the carnauba palm, is found only in Brazil. Its leaves yield a widely used commercial wax.
The East. The eastern region is made up of the states of Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, and São Paulo. A combination of favorable climate, rich soils, and abundant natural resources has made these states, with the exception of Espírito Santo, the richest and most important in Brazil.
The South. The three southern states are Santa Catarina, Paraná, and Rio Grande do Sul. This region consists of a narrow coastal plain and fertile, rolling grasslands in the interior. The coastline has many beautiful beaches. The Great Escarpment is a steep slope along the southern coast. Huge rolling grasslands are located in the south of this region, near Uruguay.
The Central West. Brazil's frontier states are Goiás, Mato Grosso ("Great Forest"), Mato Grosso do Sul, and Tocantins on the western plateau. This is a vast, thinly populated area. It is rich in plant and animal life.
The Amazon Basin. The six states of Amapá, Acre, Amazonas, Pará, Rondônia, and Roraima are situated in this enormous basin formed by the Amazon River and its tributaries. It is a rich area filled with rain forests, jungles, and swamps. So much rain falls in the Amazon Basin that Brazilians divide the seasons into the "time of the big rains" and the "time of the little rains."
Rivers and Rain Forests. The Amazon River, which flows across northern Brazil, is the world's second longest river, after the Nile. Brazil has the world's largest tropical rain forest, the Amazon. The selva, or rain forest, is home to many rare forms of wildlife, including endangered butterflies, giant spiders, huge beetles, snakes, boa constrictors, and other animals. More than 1,000 different species of fish live in the river. One of these is the pirarucú, a codfish that often grows to 5 feet (1.5 meters) in length. Another is the piranha, a small, flesh-eating fish.
A second important river is the São Francisco River, which runs from the coast to the mountainous highlands of Minas Gerais. This river has provided a means of transportation to and from the eastern interior of Brazil.
Climate. Most of Brazil has a tropical climate. The Amazon basin is extremely humid; in Acre, near the border with Bolivia, temperatures hover near 95°F (35°C) most of the time. The climate along the Atlantic coast, however, is mild, aided by ocean breezes. South central Brazil has mild winters. In the far south, snow has fallen and there have been frosts that have killed coffee trees and other crops.
Natural Resources. Brazil's largest gold deposits and a mountain of iron ore have been discovered in Pará. The Amazon Basin also contains large reserves of bauxite (aluminum ore), copper, manganese, and tin. However, scientists fear that opening the Amazon to large-scale development would destroy the fragile balance of the tropical rain forest.
The country has tremendous iron reserves at Itabira and a wealth of industrial diamonds, aquamarines, beryls, topazes, and tourmalines elsewhere in the region.