Brazil is the largest and most dynamic South American country, bordering all but two of the continent's other nations. In Brazil, wild Amazon adventures can be coupled with stimulating city sights and leisurely beach escapades. Brazil's Portuguese colonization along with its participation in the Atlantic triangle slave trade with Africa produced a fusion of cultures that is celebrated today in the form of fantastic food, unmatched festivals, eclectic music beats and a diverse national identity that is finally being embraced.
When Portuguese settlers arrived in 1531, the native population that existed was relatively small and decentralized compared with other indigenous empires on the continent. They were quickly enslaved on sugar plantations but soon replaced by Africans. Today, their small surviving populations live mainly hidden in the interior of Brazil's thick jungles; however, their influence in art and abundance of intricate handmade crafts are unavoidable, especially inland. The history of Brazil's entangled interior is also touched by African slaves who escaped the coastal plantations and built secret settlements. Quilombo dos Palmares was the most impressive of these settlements; with a peak population of 30,000 inhabitants and over 200 buildings, the town functioned independently for nearly a century until a bloody battle with the Portuguese erupted in 1694.
Brazil's expansive terrain is endless with natural wonders. Nearly forty percent of the world's remaining tropical rainforests is part of Brazil's Amazon and Atlantic forests, which are home to over 2.5 million species of insect and one-fifth of the world's bird species! The notorious carnivorous piranha lingers in numerous quantities in the Amazon River's waters, along with the fascinating Boto, the largest species of river dolphin. The mysterious Anaconda snake also lurks in the river's basin; but have no fear, they are generally harmless to humans. At the Argentinean border, Iguaçu Falls embodies the extent of Brazil's beauty with over 275 different waterfalls merging together into one harmonious rush of thunder with a vast number of scenic trails winding around the cascading cliffs and lush estuaries. Another aquatic phenomenon occurs 10 kilometers upstream from the city of Manaus where the dark waters of the Negro River join the yellowish Solimoes River without blending for a few kilometers. This dual colored waterway is the beginning of the Amazon River.
Though some claim that the festival of Carnival is the best time to visit Brazil's liveliest city, Rio de Janeiro, this pulsing metropolis is booming with life all year long. The dense population provides unrelenting entertainment while the beautiful beaches tend to be the ultimate draw. The urban centers of Sao Paulo and Brasilia, the official capital, are also teeming with nightlife, activities and history. Remember when you travel to Brazil that the southern urban regions experience a (very) mild winter during the months of June to August and the peak of summer is in January. The northern tropical regions are steadily warm year-round.
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