Sao Paulo, Brazil
Value for Money:
Personality Types that Like it Best
Did You Know … ?
- Sao Paulo is capital of a state that generates almost half Brazil’s gross domestic product.
- The city boasts the largest Japanese community outside of Japan.
- The architecture of the Banespa Building was inspired by New York’s Empire State Building.
- More than 100 bird species live in the city’s 370.5-acre Ibirapuera city park.
- Sao Paulo has the developing world’s largest civilian helicopter fleet (400+) and 250+ helipads.
An outsized metropolis
Sao Paulo is the largest city in South America, with about 11 million inhabitants, and around 19 million in the metro area. This huge sprawling metropolis near the Atlantic coast in southeast Brazil is a challenge to become well acquainted with — and it suffers with outsized versions of big city problems, including slums, pollution, crime and traffic jams.
Millions visit this important business center each year for work, and some add or incorporate private time to be tourists in the city. Among leisure-only travelers, the city mostly attracts those on the venturesome side of the personality scale. It is sometimes included in escorted package tours, the best way for the less adventurous to visit.
Tourists come for the bustle of a lively city where there is an abundance of top restaurants, nightclubs and other nighttime diversions, combined with a selection of good museums and, for the sports minded, lots of soccer.
Shopping is another favorite pastime; specialized shops offer authentic Brazilian gifts and souvenirs. There is some sightseeing, but Sao Paulo, although founded in the 16th century, is a late-blooming city with little, beyond some churches, that predates 1900.
Sao Paulo is a city of parks, and it is known for the remarkable variety of bird species found in those parks. Visitors have access to the Atlantic Forest, which is on UNESCO’s list of protected natural sites. Depending on traffic, Atlantic beaches are fairly near, too. And, finally, the Sao Paulo Carnaval competes with the larger and better-known event in Rio de Janeiro.
Visitors must take traffic into consideration because congestion is ubiquitous. However, tourists can stroll the downtown (called Centro), site of the best collection of older buildings and other interesting architecture. The horrendous traffic is one reason there are many private helicopters in Sao Paulo — but security is the other reason.
Responsible sources advise travelers to undertake activities with companions, be very aware of the surroundings and use official taxis at night. Also, avoid the slums. Some operators offer shantytown tours, but the U.S. State Department warns against them.
Things to do for Venturers
- Make the rounds of the cantinas and bars in Bixiga, the city’s Little Italy. The area also has theaters and boasts one of the city’s best samba schools, Vai-Vai, whose students rehearse in the streets. Or choose the swinging Vila Madalena district, which has lots of restaurants, bars and clubs for entertainment.
- Time your visit for the local Carnaval, an event that gives Rio’s more famous event a run for its money. Join in the madness while remaining mindful of the pickpockets in your midst.
- Attend a soccer game. The sport is extremely popular here.
- Include samba as part of your nighttime entertainment. Take a dance lesson or two.
- Choose mountain biking at Serra da Cantareira, where trails wind through a lush, green forest. It’s all in the city limits and, if traffic conditions allow, about 30 minutes from downtown.
- Join a guided trekking tour into the Atlantic Forest, a band of forest that extends along great stretches of Brazil’s Atlantic coast.
Things to do for Centrics
- Shop for kimonos and other Japanese souvenirs in the Liberdade area. Yes, you can.
- If an architecture buff, consider spending time in Higienopolis, one of the city’s most traditional neighborhoods. It claims one of the highest concentrations of Modernist buildings in the world.
- Visit a working coffee plantation.
- Go bird-watching in Horto Florestal, located 30 minutes north of the city. Also, when there, use the 10 miles of walking trails in the next-door Serra da Cantareira park.
- Eat at least one dinner at a churrascaria, or barbecue house, where you can eat all kinds of grilled meats. Also, try the pastel, a deep-fried pastry and popular street food.
- Explore the humongous Ibirapuera Park on a bicycle.
Things to do for Authentics
- Get your best view of Sao Paulo from the Banespa Building, which sits on high ground and lets visitors see as far as 25 miles.
- Shop for handicrafts at a pretty colonial town called Embu, 17 miles out of the city. Or, on Saturday, head for the in-town arts and crafts fair in the Benedito Calixto Square.
- Go to the beach at Santo Amaro Lake in the Santo Amaro section of the city. Or, go to a beach on the coast at Guaruja, Santos or Sao Vicente.
- Visit the Butantan Institute for a look at the poisonous snakes resident there. The institute develops vaccines and antitoxins.
- Book a private guided tour to ensure you see the city’s top tourist attractions.
- Choose a museum or two. The city is well supplied with good art museums, but, for the unique, you may choose the interactive exploration of Brazilian Portuguese at the Museu da Lingua Portuguesa, or choose the Museu Afro-Brazil, highlighting the legacy of Africans in Brazil.
For more information, consult the Brazilian Tourism Board (Embratur) at www.visitbrasil.com and choose your language if necessary.