Magnificent land offers spectacle and adventure
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FOR the tourist entering Brazil for the first time, the sheer magnitude of the country is staggering.
The fifth biggest country in the world, Brazil is the same size as the United States, covering an area of 8.5 million square kilometres.
It is a cultural melting pot of people who arrived as immigrants from every corner of the world.
The Portuguese navigator and explorer, Pedro Alvares Cabral, encountered the aboriginal Tupi-Guarani Indians in the heavily afforested land in 1500.
His discovery opened the country to a steady influx of settlers from The Netherlands, France, Portugal and Spain during the next 200 years. As agriculture took root, thousands of slaves were shipped in from Africa to work on sugar and cotton plantations.
Midway through the 19th century, freed from 322 years of colonial rule, Brazil opened its doors to the world in a concerted attempt to exploit the riches of its thinly populated regions.
The drive to attract immigrants brought a new influx of Germans, Italians, Lebanese, Israelis, Japanese, Ukrainians, Poles, and Koreans.
German settlers brought technical skills, the Protestant faith, draught beer and the Oktoberfest; Italians contributed with vineyards, pizza, macaroni and Catholicism; Jews and Lebanese helped expand commerce; while Japanese brought Buddhism, disciplinedfarming and sushi.
Brazil has a population of 156 million; 70 per cent below the age of 30.
As a tourist attraction, Brazil has almost everything: spectacle, excitement, adventure and beauty.
Brazil's coastline stretches 7,400 kilometres along the Atlantic Ocean and is rich in beautiful beaches and sheltered bays.
In the north, is the Amazon rain forest, which is directly responsible for the production of 50 per cent of the Earth's replenishable oxygen supply.
The Amazon River and its tributaries hold 20 per cent of the world's supply of fresh water and, of the 20 biggest rivers in the world, 10 are in the Amazon basin.
The force of the water pouring out of the Amazon River at its mouth is so great that it generates waves 12 metres high.
The twin gateways to the rain forests are the 19th century rubber towns of Manaus and Belem. From Manaus, deep in the heart of the forest, the visitor can take a day trip by boat to the ''meeting of the waters'', where the black waters of the Rio Negro join the clearer waters of the Rio Solimoes and flow side by side for several miles without mixing - a spectacular phenomenon.
The world's biggest water falls are found far in the south, at the confluence of the Parana and Iguassu rivers, where the borders of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet.
About 275 waterfalls throw 630 cubic metres of water per second over a precipice 78 metres high. The roar of the falls can he heard several kilometres away.
The south is also home to the legendary gaucho - the Brazilian cowboy. The great pampas are the feeding ground of vast herds of cattle tended by the poncho-clad horsemen.
In the northeast, the Golden Coast offers some of Brazil's finest beaches dotted along more than 3,200 kilometres of coast.
The two main cities are Recife, known as the ''Brazilian Venice'' because of its canals, waterways and bridges, and Fortaleza.
The ''Wondrous West'' is centred at Brasilia, the capital. Famed for its futuristic architecture, the city is also the gateway to a remarkable wildlife reserve, the Pantanal. The huge lowland plain, covered with lush vegetation, is home to a rich mix of plant and animal life, including jaguars, bobcats, alligators, wild boars and countless species of birds.
Brazil's two biggest cities, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, are in the southeast, and form the twin axis of the tourism's ''thrilling circuit''. The pace of life is at its most frentic, the costumes most vivid, and the parties are seemingly endless.
Brazil conjures up images of some of the most fascinating tourist attractions - Copacabana Beach, Sugar Loaf Mountain, the Rio Carnival and the Maracana, the world's biggest soccer stadium in the world's most soccer-crazed nation.