Brazilians often say they live in a continent rather than a country. Despite the immense expanses of the interior, roughly two-thirds of Brazil's population lives on or near the coast and well over half live in cities – even in the Amazon. Brazil is a land of profound economic contradictions. Rapid post-war industrialization made it one of the world's ten largest economies by the 1990s and it is misleading to think of Brazil as a developing country; it is quickly becoming the world's leading agricultural exporter and has several home-grown multinationals competing successfully in world markets. The last decade has seen millions of Brazilians haul their way into the country's expanding middle class, and across-the-board improvements in social indicators like life expectancy and basic education. But yawning social divides are still a fact of life in Brazil. The cities are dotted with favelas, shantytowns that crowd around the skyscrapers, and there are wide regional differences, too.

The traveler will find human wealth in a country where insecurity and economic growth coexist and compete every day in a communicative joy. It is perhaps not surprising that the Brazilians loudly proclaim that "Deus e Brasileiro" (God is Brazilian).