Brazil’s five regions: an introduction for ‘gringos’

Brazil is a country the size of a continent. It’s incredibly diverse in terms of culture, climate and ethnic mix, but sadly most foreigners probably think of it as one big homogenous kingdom of football, samba, beaches and carnival.

For the friends and family following my journey, I wanted to emphasise that although I’ve visited the country before, the Brazil I see this time in the North-East is going to be a very different Brazil to the one I saw last time in the South-East.

Leaving aside Brazil’s cultural diversity, I also wanted to point out that, in terms of economic development, this is a country of extremes. In very general terms, the North is poor while the South is rich.

This article is my terrible and (probably quite offensive!) attempt to give a ‘flavour’ of what each of the different areas are like.

DISCLAIMER: Of course, what follows is stereotyping hugely, but that’s the point – it’s a tongue-in-cheek attempt to shed a bit more light on Brazil’s diversity, for those who really don’t know much about the country at all in the first place. If you think I’ve treated a region unfairly, let me know in the comments!

Brazils regions.png

The North:

Home to the Amazon (though sadly much of it is still being destroyed every day).

Pretty sparsely populated.

Region with most people of indigenous heritage/ethnicity and mixed indigenous ethnicity.

Very nearly as economically disadvantaged as the North-East.



The North-East:

It’s the North-East that I’ll be visiting for my project on the Zika virus.

This is the poorest region of Brazil. The ‘sertão’ or inland arid area, is even more impoverished than the costal cities.

Includes Baihia, which is Brazil’s most African-influenced region and the greatest proportion of people of African heritage.

Recife, the city I’m going to, is the 3rd largest city in the region (after Salvador and Fortaleza). I’ll be staying in a particularly culturally-rich area called Pernambuco, which I’ve written about here.

The Central-West:


Lots of cattle ranches and backcountry farmland.

Swamps (the Pantanal). Attenborough’s recent documentary, ‘Hotel Armadillo,’ gives a beautiful overview. Check it out while it’s still on iPlayer.

The capital was deliberately moved from São Paulo to here (Brasília) in an attempt to even-up the distribution of power across Brazil’s regions.

The South-East:

Home to both of Brazil’s mega-cities: Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo – and overall, the whole region is the most urbanized.

Brazil’s economic powerhouse (accounts for 60% of Brazil’s GDP and is the region with the highest GDP per capita).

I’ve been to the South-East of Brazil before: you can find some reflections on my experience here.

The South:

alpine village in brazil
Yes, this really is in Brazil!

Might as well be in Europe.

Region with the highest proportion of white people. Lots of people with Italian, German and other European heritage. You even get these little Alpine-style villages where everyone speaks German.

Not quite as wealthy as the South-East but actually registers a higher standard of living in terms of social indicators (highest Human Development Index).

European weather (can you believe it snows in Brazil?!)


Economic inequality across Brazil

I feel this deserves a few extra words. In my opinion it’s a big issue for Brazil as a nation, and one which most of the rest of the world may not be that aware of.

Overall, Brazil isn’t poor. It’s probably fair to classify Brazil as a ‘middle-income country’ (in fact, it’s GDP/capita is almost exactly the world’s average) but the distribution of this income is where things become problematic.

In terms of the metric economists use to measure income equality across a country (GINI index), Brazil registers a lowly 12th place, right near the bottom of the list, worse even than countries like Swaziland and Rwanda. The issue is that although economic growth has created a burgeoning middle-class, in all areas of the country there remain many people still without stable jobs, healthcare and educational opportunities.

In the country’s defence, however, it must be noted that inequality is on a downward trend (at least according to the World Bank).


Brazilians: Have I missed anything out? Treated anyone particularly unfairly? Anything to add? Let me know in the comments below!


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