With the country celebrating 195 years of independence, here are a few fascinating facts about Brazil.
1. Osama Bin Laden-themed bars are something of a trend in Brazil. Well, there is a couple, anyway. Bar do Bin Laden in Sao Paulo – run by an Osama lookalike – and Caverna do Bin Laden, or “Bin Laden’s Cave” – which can be found just in Niteroi, around 25 kilometres north of Rio de Janeiro.
2. The world’s best beach – according to TripAdvisor – is Baia do Sancho, in Brazil. It is found in the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, just over an hour by air from Natal. Here, 21 islands form a marine park that draws divers from far and wide to see green and hawksbill turtles, whales, lemon and reef sharks, clownfish, anemones and parrotfish.
3. Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country by both population (approximately 210 million) and geographical area (3,287,597 square miles). It borders every other South American nation, barring Ecuador and Chile, and makes up 47 per cent of the continent.
4. The country’s motto is “Ordem e Progresso”, meaning “order and progress”.
5. São Vicente, near Sao Paulo, is the oldest city in Brazil and was Portugal’s first permanent settlement in the Americas. Established in 1532, it is the birthplace of footballer Robinho.
6. Brazil’s highest mountain is the Pico da Neblina (Mist Peak), on the border with Venezuela, at 2,994 metres (9,823 feet) above sea level. Due to it being almost permanently shrouded in cloud, it was not discovered until the 1950s, and was first ascended in 1965 (12 years after Everest).
7. Brasilia, the country’s capital, took just 41 months to build, from 1956 to 1960 (Rio had been the capital for the previous 197 years).
8. Brasilia looks like an aeroplane from above.
9. Oscar Niemeyer, the chief architect of Brasilia’s public buildings, has designed more than 500 structures, most of which can be found in Brazil. The distinctive Cathedral of Brasilia is one of his most famous. It features 16 90-ton columns and a 66-foot bell tower, entrance is via an underground tunnel, and inside are three angels suspended by steel cables.
10. A number of Nazis fled to Brazil after the Second World War, including Josef Mengele (the “Angel of Death”), known for his cruel experiments and fascination with twins. The high rate of twin births in the town of Cândido Godói, near the Argentine border, has been attributed to him (but disproven).
The Nazis also sent an expedition to Brazil in 1935 with a view to setting up an outpost in the Amazon. According to the author Jens Gluessing, one of the party died during the trip. Gluessing found a 9ft-high wooden cross etched with swastikas on a tributary of the Jari River. The inscription read: “Joseph Greiner died here on 2.1.1936, a death from fever in the service of German Research Work.”
11. Brazil has been the world’s largest exporter of coffee for more than 150 years. It supplied around 80 per cent of the world’s coffee in the 1920s; that figure has fallen to around a third.
12. Tours of Brazil’s shanty towns, or “favelas”, have become popular tourist attractions in recent years. Among the most famous is colourful Santa Marta in Rio de Janeiro which has been visited by the likes of Michael Jackson, Madonna and Beyonce.
13. Sao Paulo has some of the world’s worst traffic jams. According to Companhia de Engenharia de Tráfego, the city's traffic management agency, a congestion record was set on November 15, 2013, with a total of 309 kilometres (192 mi) of queues around the city during the evening rush hour.
14. Sao Paulo has the largest economy by GDP of any city in the Southern Hemisphere (and 11th overall). For the best views of the skyscraper-studded metropolis, head to highest floor of the Edificio Italia (www.edificioitalia.com.br), the tallest building in the city centre at 46 stories.
15. The Amazon River is the world’s largest by volume of water discharged. Around 209,000 cubic metres per second flow into the Atlantic Ocean – more than the next seven largest rivers combined and enough to fill Lake Baikal – the world’s deepest lake – in less than four years. During the wet season the river is up to 30 miles wide.
16. The most popular surname in Brazil is Silva.
17. The statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro weighs 635 tonnes, is 38 metres high including its pedestal and was named one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” in 2007. It was damaged by a lightning strike in 2014.
18. Brazil has more than 4,000 airports – more than any other country other than the US (which has a remarkable 13,513).
19. According to a 2007 report, there are at least 70 uncontacted tribes in the Brazilian Amazon.
20. Brazil has 21 Unesco World Heritage Sites. Among the best known is the Iguacu National Park, home to one of the world’s largest and most impressive waterfalls at 1.7 miles wide and with a total of 275 drops. It is also occupied by several rare and endangered species, among them the giant otter and the giant anteater. Among the newest are the Pampulha Modern Ensemble, a garden city project by Oscar Niemeyer, added by Unesco in 2016, and the Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site, inscribed in 2017.
21. Some 1.5 million-2.5 million Brazilians are of Japanese descent. Many immigrants brought with them seedlings of cherry trees and cherry blossoms can be viewed outside homes in Sao Paulo, and in public parks in Curitiba.
22. Around 6.4 million tourists visit Brazil each year, one of the fewest of any country in the world as a percentage of its total population. Half of them head to Rio.
23. Manaus is located in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, but is home to more than 2.5 million people. Rubber made it South America’s richest city in the late 1800s and lured many wealthy Europeans. The Teatro Amazonas is one of its most notable buildings, and was opened in 1896.
24. The world’s largest open-air garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, was once found in the Brazilian city of Duque de Caxias. It closed in 2012.
25. Brazil is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, with a total of four million plant and animal species, according to estimates. It has more species of monkey than any other nation.
26. Rio de Janeiro became a World Heritage Site in 2012. Its annual Carnival attracts around 2 million revellers each day.
27. With 82 per cent of its population tracing their ancestry back to the sorry days of slavery, Salvador is described as “the biggest African city outside Africa”.
28. Henry Ford spent huge amounts of money trying to create rubber plantations and factories in the middle of the Amazon jungle. A town built in imitation of the American Midwest, and called, modestly, Fordlandia, grew up on the shores of the Tapajos river. The remains of his ultimately shattered dream can still be seen. This industrial ghost town is difficult to get to, but worth the effort.
29. Other strange abandoned sites are the Viaduct Petrobras – a stretch of elevated road in the middle of the jungle and part of the Rio-Santos Highway until plans were altered – and the Terra Encantada theme park, closed due to safety concerns.
30. Fishermen in Laguna, in the southeast of Brazil, are able to use dolphins to help them catch dinner. The animals will herd fish towards waiting nets, even flicking their head to indicate that the trap has been set. The practice has been going on for generations, the fishermen say, but was only recently been reported by Western media.