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Landfall-Learning > Geography > South America

South America

Until we are close to visiting these countries, we are using this page to collect information about particular cities and areas that capture our imagination. Collecting information about these "dreamplaces" helps us to plan our travels.

South America is a huge continent. Brazil alone has almost as much land area as the entire US. Our choices are somewhat narrowed by only visiting the coastal areas in the tropics, but that sill is a lot of territory to cover!



Following three centuries under the rule of Portugal, Brazil became an independent nation in 1822. By far the largest and most populous country in South America, Brazil has overcome more than half a century of military intervention in the governance of the country to pursue industrial and agricultural growth and development of the interior. Exploiting vast natural resources and a large labor pool, Brazil is today South America's leading economic power and a regional leader. Highly unequal income distribution remains a pressing problem.

Located in Eastern South America, bordering the Atlantic Ocean, at 10 00 S, 55 00 W

Brazil is the largest country in South America and shares common boundaries with every South American country except Chile and Ecuador. The population is 184,101,109. The climate is mostly tropical, though with temperate climates in the south. It boasts 7,491 km of coastline. The terrain is mostly flat to rolling lowlands in the north, with some plains, hills, mountains, and a narrow coastal belt. The lowest point is the Atlantic Ocean at 0 m and the highest point is Pico da Neblina at 3,014 m.

Natural hazards include recurring droughts in the northeast, and floods and occasional frost in the south. Current environmental issues include deforestation in the Amazon Basin, which destroys the habitat and endangers a multitude of plant and animal species indigenous to the area. There is also a lucrative illegal wildlife trade. Air and water pollution are problems in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and several other large cities. Land degradation and water pollution is caused by improper mining activities; also, wetland degradation and severe oil spills are serious problems.

The official language is Portuguese, with many people also speaking Spanish, English, and French.

Places to Visit in Brazil

Marajo Island

Information in this section is adapted from the New York Times Online article Equatorial, Wild and Most Curious by Larry Rohter, November 7, 2004.

Marajˇ is an island located at the mouth of the Amazon River. The size of Switzerland, Marajˇ abounds with exotic wildlife, jungles, beaches, lagoons, mangrove swamps and flood plains, but has few permanent human inhabitants and is permeated with an end-of-the-world feeling. Rarely does nature in all its intimidating majesty seem so close at hand. Two gigantic bodies of water, the Atlantic Ocean and the Amazon River, confront each other offshore and together shape human life onshore into a battle of another sort, against the stifling exuberance of the tropics.

Located at 0║ 42' 49 S, 48║ 32' 02 W, Marajˇ Island

One thing to do is to chase down a pororoca, the endless wave of the Amazon. A monthly phenomenon related to the cycles of the moon, a pororoca develops when the Atlantic Ocean tide advances into the river basin and creates a giant swell that flows upstream for several hundred miles at speeds of 20 miles an hour or more. Pororocas occur in river channels all over the eastern Amazon, but some of the most spectacular waves, 10 feet high or so, occur near the north shore of Marajˇ - as local people, forced to rely on canoes rather than motorboats - know all too well. For residents and visitors alike, island life tends to be concentrated in the northeast corner, where the towns of Salvaterra and Soure, both on the Bay of Marajˇ, face each other across the placid, half-mile-wide Paracaury River, which can be crossed by ferryboat or water taxis. The main hotels are all there, down along the riverfront or the bay, and many of the working ranches that offer lodging to tourists and a glimpse of the Marajˇ cowboy's rugged life are close by too, less than a half hour by car.

The ranch experience is an essential part of any Marajˇ visit, and the most comfortable of the rural settings available to visitors is at the Marajˇ Park Resort Hotel, which is actually on the island of Mexiana, just north of the main island, across a narrow channel. The Equator runs through the middle of Mexiana, and the island teems with tropical wildlife in a way that is scarcely imaginable, from alligators and jumbo catfish in the rivers to graceful egrets and noisy toucans in the air.

Be forewarned not to fall into the water, which is full of stingrays and lamprey and electric eels. On land are herds of wild boars, Marajˇ ponies and capybaras, large, short-tailed, semiaquatic rodents native to the Amazon, and troops of squirrel monkeys scream from the trees. There are also areas known to be leopard habitat.

Marajˇ's signature animal, odd though it may seem, is the water buffalo, said to have arrived accidentally from French Indochina in the 1920's, when a ship bound for French Guiana wrecked just off the coast. The island today has four times as many buffalo as people - 600,000 versus 140,000 - and the animal's presence permeates life on the island. The local police, for instance, patrol on water buffalo rather than horses, and visitors to any ranch can also ride the beasts, which, despite their fierce look, are docile.

Marajˇ also fascinates archeologists and others interested in Amerindian cultures. From about the fifth century AD, the island was inhabited by a people renowned for pottery featuring complicated geometric designs, most often in red and black, and anthropomorphic figures. Though this group vanished, examples of its Marajˇara pottery, some of it recovered by caboclos as they go about their normal farming and fishing activities, are on display at the unusual Museu do Marajˇ, in a former Brazil nut factory in the village of Cachoeira do Arari, in the middle of the island. Getting to the museum requires a ride of more than an hour through the jungle on a dirt road, with occasional delays at riverbanks waiting for a ferry. The museum was the pride of an Italian priest, the Rev. Giovanni Gallo, who lived on Marajˇ for many years until his death in 2003 and wrote several books about Marajˇ culture.

The museum is a curious grab bag. There are exhibits focusing on Amazon legends and folklore (with captions only in Portuguese) and a collection of stuffed animals, including sloths, parrots, coatis, anteaters and armadillos. But the pottery display is remarkable and varied. It includes a type of large funeral urn known as an igašaba, which the Indians used in a process archeologists refer to as secondary burial. What that means is that inside each urn is a smaller vessel containing the bones of the deceased and an object associated with him or her: a doll for a child, for instance or an ax for a man.

Where to Stay (on Land) and Eat


The cozy Paracauary Eco-Resort, Avenida Prado 6, Soure, (55-91) 222-6442,, which opened in 2001 and has eight rooms, stands out. A double is $40, with breakfast, with a 25 percent discount is offered for stays of longer than two days.

Paraiso Verde, at Travessa 17 2135, Soure, (55-91) 3741-1581, specializes in regional dishes like duck, crab and water buffalo in large portions, with a friendly, leafy atmosphere that lives up to its name, Green Paradise. Lunch or dinner for two is about $25, including beer. Open daily to midnight.

At first glance, Delicias da Nalva, 1051 Fourth Street, Soure, doesn't seem like a restaurant at all. That's because the owner, Nalva, is operating out of her own home, focusing on dishes made with water buffalo steak and cheese. A meal for two runs about $20 with beer. It is open until 10 p.m. There is no telephone, and payment is cash only.