While renowned for its pristine beaches and lively street parties, Brazil is also laden with history and culture. So in case you’re looking to learn more about the South American giant to make the most of your upcoming visit, we have you covered. Just dig into our list of most exciting facts about Brazil for an insider’s take on the country. I’ll be your guide!
Weird facts about Brazil
1. New Year’s Eve is a very superstitious deal in Brazil. Wearing all-white outfits, putting on either white, red, or yellow underwear (for peace, love, and money, respectively), eating grapes and keeping the seeds in your wallet till the next New Year’s… The list of superstitions associated with the last day of the year goes on forever. Even people who don’t care much about them often adopt one or two superstitions to avoid being tagged as boring.
2. In some parts of the Brazilian countryside, pan-frying ants with cassava flour creates a highly-regarded delicacy. Farofa, i.e. regular pan-fried cassava flour, is worshipped by 101% of Brazilians. (That might not seem too appealing, but tastes perfect when mixed into bean stew.) Adding ants to the dish sounds bizarre to most of us, though.
3. Motels are not what you think they are. The fact that Brazilians tend to linger at our parents’ house for longer than in many other countries is partly to blame for the ubiquity of these love hotels. Offering hourly rates, like conventional motels they’re found on the outskirts of large cities, especially on highways. Many pretend to be actual hotels by putting up signs with M’s that ambiguously resemble H’s. Yet the tacky design normally gives them away.
Soccer facts about Brazil
4. Brazil’s national team is the only one to have participated in all 20 FIFA World Cups (and won it five times). Brazilians call the World Cup simply “the Cup”, given our close relationship with the event. Much to our chagrin, the team’s performance in the editions since 2002 has been middling at best. Still, because soccer is also about past glories, it’s currently third on FIFA’s ranking of national squads (behind Belgium and France).
5. Ironically, most Brazilians would rather forget the two editions of the tournament that the nation hosted. In 1950, Brazilians were thrilled at what we thought would be our first championship win. Losing the final match to Uruguay at brand-new Maracanã Stadium came as a devastating shock. Some people even had heart attacks and died.
That was Brazil’s worst soccer trauma until… well, 2014. Everybody remembers what happened in the fateful semifinal against Germany. “7-1” has since become shorthand for any frustrating experience.
6. Marta, the leading forward in the women’s national soccer squad, has scored more goals in World Cups than any other player in history — both male and female. She has also been named FIFA Player of the Year six times (and five in a row 2006-2010). That’s another record.
Facts about Brazilian Food
7. Indigenous, European, and African culinary traditions are the foundations of Brazilian cuisine. Today, it’s hard to tell who contributed what. Yet one possible consequence of this fusion is Brazilians’ penchant for importing culinary trends and adapting them to local tastes.
8. With the exception of the northeastern state of Bahia, Brazilian food is not very spicy. In Bahia, the influence of West African cuisine was exceptionally strong. The largest cities, though, are located in the Southeast of the country. The Portuguese and the Italians had the upper hand there, and their food is considerably blander.
9. Desserts, on the other hand, tend to be extra sweet. Condensed milk, dulce de leche (or doce de leite in Portuguese), and egg yolk (thank you, Portugal!) are the basis of most sweet fillings. While this tends to drive many Europeans and Asians away from Brazilian desserts, woe betide anyone who speaks ill of them in front of a local!
Facts about the culture of Brazil
10. Brazil has the most sizeable Italian, Japanese, and Arab diaspora communities in the world. Legend has it that the Brazilian passport is the “fraudsters’ favorite” because anyone could pass off as a Brazilian. While it’s not really the most expensive passport on the black market, it was indeed North Korean dictators Kim Jong-un and Kim Jong-il’s ID of choice to travel freely across Europe…
11. Despite changing trends, it has the largest number of Catholics on the planet. Protestants and particularly evangelicals have gained a lot of ground in the past 30 years and could turn into the majority by 2040. Still, as of 2021 more than 120 million Brazilians identify as Roman Catholics.
12. There are 107 uncontacted tribes living in the Brazilian Amazon. Whereas some are apparently aware there’s “something else” out there due to sporadic accidental contacts, they don’t seem much interested in “us”. The Brazilian government’s policy in the last few decades has been to map these tribes from a distance and respect their right to living isolated.
Facts about the geography of Brazil
13. Brazil is one of 17 megadiverse nations. Encompassing rainforests, mangroves, prairies, savannahs, wetlands, mountains, and canyons, each with specific flora and fauna, Brazil’s landscape is truly one-of-a-kind.
14. Its population is heavily concentrated on the coast. The country’s historic role as an exporter of raw materials, as well as the chain of mountains and thick rainforests separating the coast from the countryside, has traditionally given Brazilians little incentive to move westwards. The last 60 years have witnessed changing patterns, but about a quarter of the entire population still lives on a tiny seaside strip.
15. It’s the world’s leading exporter of soybeans, sugar, and coffee. Despite a mildly strong industry and a thriving service sector, Brazil is more well-known at the global level as an agricultural powerhouse. Coffee has contributed enormously to this fame, since the country provides 35% of the world’s beans and has been the biggest exporter of them for 150+ years.
Facts about the history of Brazil
16. The Dutch and the French once ran thriving settlements in Brazil (yet not for long). For over a century starting in the 1500s, Brazil was only sparsely settled by the Portuguese. The Dutch and the French, who lacked meaningful colonies in the tropics, consequently felt compelled to build their own trading posts in the territory. The Portuguese, however, were quick to set up alliances with indigenous nations and kick out the invaders.
17. More people were sold as slaves in Brazil than in any other place, ever. This is extremely serious and tragic; we can’t gloss over history, though. Between 1530 and 1850, almost 5 million Africans were brought over to Brazil to work as slaves, mostly from the Gulf of Guinea and the region between Angola, Mozambique, and the Congo.
In 1888, Brazil became the last independent nation in the Americas to abolish slavery — and didn’t pay reparations to the newly freed citizens, but to former slaveholders instead. This has left racial wounds to this day in areas like access to jobs and education, income distribution, and police brutality.
18. Before being a republic, Brazil was an independent Empire for almost 70 years. The first Emperor, Pedro I, was the heir apparent to the throne of Portugal, but ended up proclaiming Brazil’s independence from it. Nine years later, he abdicated in favor of his son and moved back to Portugal to fight for the throne.
Pedro II was crowned at 14 and presided over a prosperous and expansionistic period in Brazilian history. Yet he seemed more interested in his many intellectual pursuits rather than ruling. After a military coup replaced his 49-year reign with a republic, he went into exile in Paris, dying two years later.
Brazil facts for Kids
19. One of the smallest frogs on Earth (seen above) lives in Brazil’s coastal rainforest. The “Brazilian gold frog” is actually brown, so “flea-frog” sounds way more appropriate as a nickname. Interestingly, males will often fight each other to death over a female, but go on to become great fathers as mothers die right after laying their eggs.
20. The rufous-bellied thrush is the country’s national bird. Brazilians love the thrush’s soothing humming early in the morning and late in the afternoon, as well as its striking colors. Countless poets have sung the praises of this little bird, which is widespread in both urban and suburban Brazil.
21. The layout of Brasilia is shaped like an airplane. The bulk of Brazil’s capital was built between 1956 and 1960, when “development” and “modernization” were hailed to the point of obsession. And nothing embodied that spirit better than a plane, especially one pointing toward the Atlantic. Over time, a more spontaneous layout ended up surrounding the original master-planned area. But the so-called “Pilot Plan” is still home to most of the city’s political, cultural, and financial institutions.
Facts about Rio de Janeiro
22. Rio is the only capital of a colony to have served as its colonizing power’s capital. In 1808, then Prince Regent, would-be King John VI decided to move the court (meaning 15,000 people) from Lisbon to Rio in order to avoid the collapse of the realm in the face of imminent invasion by Napoleonic troops. The Portuguese naturally felt betrayed and left to their own fate, but Rio (and Brazil) benefitted enormously.
The transfer earned the city its first library, museum of natural history, publishing house, academy of fine arts, and its now 200+-year-old botanical garden. The king adored his new home so much that he didn’t leave until six years after Napoleon had been defeated for good. (And only because an insurrection was threatening to overthrow him.)
23. Selarón Steps (pictured above) underwent 23 years’ worth of tiling by its namesake creator. Though neighbors initially mocked what they perceived to be a cheesy color scheme, the gaudiesque steps went on to become one of the city’s most famous landmarks.
After working on the basic layout between 1990 and 2000, the artist spent the remainder of his life embellishing the steps and adjacent walls. Foreign tourists sent around 2,000 themed tiles from 60 countries to Selarón, who scattered them all over the place. You’ll find many gems if you take a closer look!
24. Locals and tourists alike clap at the sunset on Ipanema Beach. This might share a connection with the beach’s hippie scene, which gradually evolved into its current boho-chic aura. Crowds gather on top of Arpoador Rock, at Ipanema’s easternmost tip, to take part in the new-agey spectacle.
Facts about São Paulo
25. In 1959, voters elected a rhinoceros for the city council. Cacareco, a female rhino who actually lived in Rio’s zoo, became an instant hit when the São Paulo zoo borrowed her earlier that year. In October, 100,000 voters wrote her in; all the candidates from the biggest party put together wouldn’t count 95,000 ballots. Since the early 2000s, Brazil has moved to a 100% electronic voting system. That means protest votes like the ones for Cacareco are impossible these days. Bummer!
26. São Paulo residents eat 700 pizzas every minute, across about 6,000 pizzerias. Granted, feeding such a gigantic metropolis is by itself a huge deal. Yet the fact that about 34% of the State of São Paulo’s population descend from Italians (or 13 million people for that matter) makes the case for their intense love for pizza.
27. With more than 400 helicopters, the most populous city in the Southern Hemisphere has the largest helicopter fleet… on the planet. As a matter of comparison, New York ranks second with mere 120 helicopters. Over 1,000 flights take place every day over its skies. São Paulo is the sole city worldwide that had to implement an air traffic control system exclusively for choppers.
As you can see through our list of facts about Brazil, in addition to being the go-to place for a perfect tropical vacation, the South American country is an essential destination for history and culture buffs too.
And now that all you have left to do is pack and catch your plane! Next, hop on to read about what Brazil is famous for, the best books about Brazil, or the stunning souvenirs to bring home from your trip!