Brazil is the largest and most populous country in South America. It is the fifth largest country by geographical area, the fifth most populous country, and the fourth most populous democracy in the world. Its population comprises the majority of the world's Portuguese speakers. Bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east, Brazil has a coastline of over 7,491 kilometers (4,655 mi). It is bordered on the north by Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana and the overseas department of French Guiana; on the northwest by Colombia; on the west by Bolivia and Peru; on the southwest by Argentina and Paraguay and on the south by Uruguay.
Brazil was a colony of Portugal until its independence in 1822. Initially independent as the Empire of Brazil, the country has been a republic since 1889. The Constitution defines Brazil as a Federal Republic formed by the union of 26 States, the Federal District and the Municipalities.
Portuguese is the official language, Spanish, English, French are also widely spoken.
Brazil is the world's tenth largest economy at market exchange rates and the ninth largest in purchasing power. Economic reforms have given the country new international projection. It is a founding member of the United Nations, the Union of South American Nations, and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries. The Brazilian population is predominantly Roman Catholic, almost all Portuguese-speaking and multiethnic. Brazil is also home to a diversity of wildlife, natural environments, and extensive natural resources in a variety of protected habitats.
Brazil can be reached from most US cities within 8 to 12 hours. It's population is concentrated in the major cities of its coast. The urban sprawls of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo dominate the southern coast. Further north, towns such as Salvador and Joao Pessoa retain the colonial atmosphere of the early Portuguese settlers. The great interior, much of which is covered by the rainforest basin of the Amazon, remains sparsely settled. The Amazon River Basin alone accounts for about 40% of Brazil's national territory.
More than 800 million people travel to Brazil each year, and since most major cities are on the coast, the country's best beaches are within easy reach. Visitors who want to experience unspoiled wildlife can find it in remote areas of the Amazon and the interior.
The legal system is based on the Federal Constitution, which was promulgated on 5 October 1988, and is the fundamental law of Brazil. All other legislation and court decisions must conform to its rules.
It spans three time zones and has a diverse topography, including hills, mountains, plains, highlands, and scrublands. Much of Brazil lies between 200 metres (660 ft) and 800 metres (2,600 ft) in elevation.
The climate of Brazil comprises a wide range of weather conditions across a large geographic scale and varied topography, but the largest part of the country is tropical.
Brazil hosts five major climatic subtypes: equatorial, tropical, semiarid, highland tropical, and temperate; ranging from equatorial rainforests in the north and semiarid deserts in the northeast, to temperate coniferous forests in the south and tropical savannas in central Brazil.
Religion is very diversified in Brazil; the constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. The Roman Catholic Church is dominant, making Brazil the largest Catholic nation in the world.