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ecoDestinations - Brazil
Brazil is the 5th largest country in the world and is full of awe inspiring natural and cultural beauty. There’s a huge list of things to do: trek within the Amazon, surf new waves, dive shipwrecks, learn about important archaeological discoveries, explore Iguaçu Falls, ride on horseback along the beach, find the perfect place to relax and renew, go after views that take your breath away, gaze at birds in the Pantanal, discover local cuisine, dance to the sounds of samba…so many destinations and so many possibilities. Experience them all sustainably.
Brazil measures 8.5 million square kilometers, 7% of which is under conservation protection. It is one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries, containing 70% of the world’s animal and plant species and a great number of endemic species. The main threats to biodiversity are loss of habitat, introduction of invasive species and exotic illnesses, overexploitation of plants and animals, pollution, and climate change. According to the 2006 Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Brazil has 339 endangered wildlife species, including the black-faced lion tamarin, the Northern Bahian blond titi monkey, the giant armadillo, the maned three-toed sloth, and the white-whiskered spider monkey.
Natural Brazil: Breakdown of Brazil's Major Biomes
From the Amazon, the largest rainforest in the world, to Pantanal, the largest wetlands in the world, Brazil's natural and marine landscapes feature a diverse range of ecosystems, all with unique ecotourism opportunities.
THE AMAZON - The Largest Rainforest in the World: The mythical Amazon can only be described in superlatives. It covers an area of 5 million square kilometers of which 60% is on Brazilian territory. It is the largest and most intact rainforest region in the world. Unfortunately, if the agricultural and timber industries are maintained at the current levels, the forest cover will continue to be reduced at alarming rates.
PANTANAL - The Largest Wetlands in the World: In the center of the South American continent lies the largest wetlands in the world: the Pantanal. It is home to a wealth of exotic wildlife species including spoonbills, chaco chachalacas, coatis, jabiru, and rheas. It displays an enormous amount of ecological sub-regions, such as river corridors, gallery forests, lakes, and grasslands. The area is under threat from extensive cattle ranching.
THE ATLANTIC FOREST - The Forgotten Rainforest of Brazil: The Atlantic Forest is one of the most threatened rainforests in the world. It used to stretch all along the Brazilian coast, occupying an area of about 1.1 million square kilometers. Now less than 10% remains. Most of the forest cover in the states north of Salvador is gone.
CERRADO - The Magical Brazilian Heartland: The heartland of Brazil, the "cerrado", covers an area equal to Western Europe (2 million sq km) and is thought to be one of the South American continent's more ancient ecosystems.
CAATINGA - Ancient Badlands of Northeastern Brazil: Caa-tinga (caa = woods, tinga = white) is the Tupi indigenous name for the typical vegetation of the backlands of the Northeast of Brazil. In the prolonged dry season, most of the thorny bushes, scrubs and contorted trees of the caatinga lose their leaves and you see a thicket of dull grey-white trunks and twigs.
PAMPAS – The Southern Fertile Plains:Located in the southernmost part of Brazil, the pampas are known for its mild climate, creating fertile soil ideal for agriculture. It is also a unique habitat for wildlife including, the rhea, deer, armadillos, white-eared opossums, and the elegant-crested tinamou. Cattle ranches and plantations have critically altered this ecosystem.
Natural Brazil: Breakdown of Brazil’s Marine Areas
Brazil also has very diverse coastal and marine ecosystems, which stretch across 4.5 million kilometers. It has the only reef environments in the South Atlantic Ocean, most of which is endemic to Brazilian waters. You will not find structures like these anywhere else in the world. Currently only 3.14% of Brazil’s coastline is under protection. Alarmingly, coral reefs have been undergoing rapid degradation due to coral harvesting, overexploitation and predatory fisheries, uncontrolled tourism, coastal development and occupation, pollution, and deforestation along water sources.
THE NORTH BRAZIL SHELF - The Most Protected Area: It extends beyond Brazil’s borders and is heavily influenced by the Amazon River’s discharges, mixing freshwater, estuarine, and marine ecosystems. It has a high number of species of amphibians, birds, and reptiles.
THE EAST BRAZIL SHELF – A Diver’s Paradise: This marine area is characterized by calcareous deposits and biogenic shoals. It also encompasses two of Brazil’s best scuba diving spots: Fernando do Noronha and the Abrolhos Archipelago. This area also contains the largest amount of coral reefs.
SOUTH BRAZIL SHELF - The Mangrove Forests: The marine region is a complex topography of valleys and submarine canyons, with seasonal wind-driven upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich waters. The southern coastline is also famous for its extensive mangrove forests, lagoons, and estuaries.
The indigenous people of Brazil have made significant contributions to our global society, including medicines used by pharmaceutical corporations and material development such as the cultivation of tobacco and cassava. However, during the past century almost all their land has been stolen from them by the mining, logging, and agriculture industries. Many groups have been brought to the brink of extinction.
Today, there are roughly 240 different indigenous groups, with a population of about 900,000. The two largest groups are the Guarani and the Tikuna, numbering 51,000 and 40,000 people. Smaller tribes number a couple dozen people. The Yanomami, a group of about 19,000 people, occupy the largest tract of land of about 9.4 million hectares in the northern Amazon.
In addition to Brazil’s indigenous peoples, there are a number of traditional groups such as the quilombolas, also known as Maroons, who are descendants of Afro-Brazilian slaves who escaped the plantations and established their own societies. Another traditional group are the Fundo de Pasto, who are the descendants of cowboys and live in small farming communities in the cerrado and caatinga. There are also descendants of ethnic groups from Europe, such as the Roma, or Gypsies, and the Pomeranos, a group of people originally from northern Poland and Germany.
Brazil also has the world’s largest number of uncontacted peoples. It is estimated that there are about 80 such groups deep within the Amazon. Some groups are thought to number several hundred while others may be as small as a few people. Contrary to popular belief, uncontacted people are aware of our presence. Most of them are survivors of tribes that were virtually wiped out through enslavement and disease by the agriculture and logging industries over the last century. Their decision not to maintain contact with the outside world is a result of previous violent confrontations and the ongoing and illegal destruction of their homeland.
Under the 1988 Constitution, Brazil recognizes indigenous and traditional people’s right to pursue their ways of life and maintain possession of their land. It has been noted in many scientific studies that indigenous lands are currently the most important barrier to deforestation of the Amazon from the logging and agriculture industries. The state of Maranhão is an example of this, as the last remaining tracts of forest are found only in the indigenous territory occupied by the Awá.
The Brazilian government has recognized 690 territories for its indigenous population, covering about 13% of Brazil’s land mass. Nearly all of these territories are in the Amazon. However, the protection and preservation of their land and livelihood continues to face many challenges. Demarcation of land is slow and often involves protracted legal battles. In addition, the mining, logging and agriculture industries illegally encroach on indigenous land and destroy the environment, provoke violent confrontations, and spread diseases.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
Salvador de Bahia: Salvador de Bahia was Brazil’s first capital from 1549-1763, and was a melting pot of European, African, and indigenous cultures. The city has managed to preserve many outstanding colonial buildings. Streets within the Old Town are characterized by brightly colored colonial homes. While there, be sure to check out São Francisco Church and Convent, the Municipal Plaza, and the Basilica Cathedral for great architecture.
Ouro Preto: Founded at the end of the 17th century, Ouro Preto, which means “Black Gold”, was the focal point of Brazil’s gold rush. It was created by thousands of opportunists, who were then followed by many artists, such as the talented Baroque sculptor Aleijadinho. The last building he designed was the Church of São de Assis and is considered to be a masterpiece of Brazilian architecture. Another famous church, Nossa Senhora de Pilar, was inlaid with more than 1,000 pounds of gold in homage to the Madonna.
Rio de Janeiro – Carioca landscapes between the mountain and the sea: This site consists of sections of the city itself, and parts of Tijuca National Park, as well as the Botanical Gardens, Sugar Loaf Mountain, the statue of Christ the Redeemer, and Copacabana Bay. This city has also made significant contribution to the arts, in music, architecture, and literature.
Iguaçu Falls: Iguaçu is a large and impressive horseshoe-shaped waterfall, extending over 2,700 m (8,800 ft). The clouds of spray from the waterfall foster a lush growth of vegetation. The surrounding rainforest is home to many rare and endangered species of flora and fauna, including the giant otter, the solitary tinamou, the crested caiman, the urutu viper, the great dusky swift, and the giant anteater.
Fernando de Noronha and Atol das Rocas: Both are volcanic islands located off the coast of Brazil, and are surrounded by rich waters that are extremely important for the breeding and feeding of tunas, sharks, and turtles. At Fernando de Noronha there is a community of 600 whitebelly spinner dolphins. While Atol das Rocas has a spectacular seascape of lagoons and tidal pools, as well as awe-inspiring reef formations. Both are characterized by year round crystal-clear visibility, making them one of the world’s greatest sites for scuba diving and snorkeling.
Serra da Capivara National Park: This park is famous for containing numerous rock shelters decorated with cave paintings, some of which are more than 25,000 years old. In addition, the park has some of the most important archaeological sites in the Americas, containing evidence and artifacts that challenge the Bering Strait theory and human migration.
Tijuca Forest: Located within Rio de Janeiro, it is one of the world’s largest urban forests and contains the celebrated Christ the Redeemer statue. Other highlights include the Cascatinha Waterfall, Mayrink Chapel, and the pagoda-style gazebo at Vista Chinesa Outlook. There are also about 30 waterfalls within the park.
Serra dos Órgãos: This park is located just one hour outside Rio de Janeiro, along a spectacular mountain range. The most famous attraction in the park is the Dedo de Deus (God’s Finger) rock, which resembles a hand with its index finger pointing to the sky. It can also be seen as a motif in the flag of Rio de Janeiro.
Aparados da Serra National Park: The highlight of this park is Itaimbezinho Canyon, which extends over 10,250 hectares. There is also a rich biodiversity, being situated between coastal forests and grasslands. There are 143 bird, 48 mammal, and 39 amphibian species documented. Endangered fauna include the red-spectacled Amazon parrot, the maned wolf, and the cougar.
Itatiaia National Park: This is the oldest national park in Brazil, having been established in 1937. The park is situated in part of the Mantiqueira mountain range and is home to Brazil’s third highest mountain, Pico das Agulhas Negras. This peak is visible when driving between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The park attracts bird watchers from all over the world and is also popular amongst hikers and rock climbers. Other highlights include a visit to Lago Azul, Veu da Noiva and Itaporani Falls.
Ubajara National Park: Ubajara is the smallest of the national parks. Set amongst the Ibiapaba Mountains, its caves contains impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations. There are seven trails in the park where you’ll encounter waterfalls, rivers perfect for swimming, and dense vegetation.
Bonito: This small town is surrounded by hills in the southern edge of the Pantanal. It is famous for its crystal clear blue rivers, which are due to the enormous quantity of limestone in the ground, so that impurities are deposited at the bottom of the riverbeds. All the rivers teem with colorful tropical fish.
Manaus: This city is the gateway to the Amazon, established during the rubber boom of the late 19th century. Just outside the city is the “Meeting of the Waters” where the Rio Solimoes flows alongside the Rio Negro for 6 km (4 miles) until they finally meet to form the Amazon River. Legend has it that the two waters never mix. Indeed if you take a dip, you can feel the differences in consistency and temperature of the two rivers. Be sure to also check out the Mercado Municipal and Maus Teatro Amazonas.
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