Few people include a visit to Sao Paulo, Brazil, on their travel wish lists, but it’s time to change that.
Ask folks who live in Sao Paulo, and they may tell you it’s the largest city in the world. Whatever the truth is, it’s definitely in the top 10 or 20. San Paulo is HUGE. It’s a bustling world-class city, up there with Paris and New York; and it feels very urban. Much like Los Angeles, with stunning skyscrapers everywhere, it does not have a single downtown area. It has typical urban problems—homelessness, pollution, and traffic jams included—although the drivers are very polite and hardly honk a horn. Its clean, wide boulevards are filled with big city attractions, often at a lower cost than comparable cities. Street art is everywhere, and, unfortunately, so is graffiti.
There are many all-you-can-eat meat restaurants, “churrascarias,” in Sao Paulo, including a branch of our local iteration, Fogo de Chao, which does a surprisingly excellent job of duplicating the authentic experience. In Sao Paulo the full dinner costs about $50 and includes the local favorite alcoholic drink, capiriha, a mixture of the local brandy, cachaça, with lime and cane sugar.
Brazilian coffee is excellent. I found that cappuccino is not a good option. The coffee is usually served in a very small cup. Cappuccino is usually served in an American-size cup but is often made with a mix. Steer clear.
Getting around is a challenge, making it difficult to see many tourist sites in a day. Uber is your friend. An efficient but expensive ($1/ride) metro can get you around to some locations. Note: senior citizens (over 60) travel the metro free. Traveling alone? Consider downloading an app for Carona Verde for a free transportation option. It’s a single passenger, bicycle powered tuk-tuk that is free! Reserve online. Once you get to where you are going, the quality of the entertainment options is top-notch.
Ask a Brazilian what there is to do in Sao Paulo, and they are likely to tell you it’s just a commercial center. It’s true that Sao Paulo is the financial capital and largest city in South America, but there is a lot of energy here. You can find great Brazilian jazz and local typical music and dance from the rural parts of Brazil, often influenced by candomblé, the religion of the African slaves.
Sao Paulo is a melting pot of cultures, like the U.S. You can find ethnic restaurants of every kind. People that live in Sao Paulo say it has the best pizza in the world…and it is quite good. In addition, it has the largest Japanese population outside Japan. Visit Japantown. A few metro stops away—at the Paulista Avenue stop—enjoy a good walking tour starting at the Japan House, a propagandistic cultural exhibit erected by the Japanese government, but nevertheless fascinating. On Paulista Avenue, walk alongside many restaurants and museums, including the Museum of Art of Sao Paulo (MASP), with one of Latin America’s best collections. The building itself, designed by Lina Bo Bardi, is extraordinary, with a long expanse suspended above the street. Stop into the building marked SESC for its amazing rooftop view. Close by Itaú (a major bank) has a great cultural exhibit well worth visiting. Both are free.
Another attraction is the city’s Parque Ibirapuera. This park has several theater venues that offer great performances. Or head to the beautiful and acoustically wonderful Sala Sao Paulo Concert Hall to hear a symphony or other performance. The venue is an ornate, converted train station which has been named by many authorities as one of the greatest concert halls in the world.
Since the city is so large, one suggestion is to stay outside the center. Some of the best neighborhoods to stay in are Jardins, Vila Madalena, and Moema, all of which are walkable and have restaurants, bars, parks, and shopping.
Another tip: if you travel to Sao Paulo during our summer (winter in the Southern Hemisphere), bring some warm clothes. With winter temperatures in the morning dipping to the low 50’s and rising during the day to the high 70’s, as Brazilians say, you get four seasons in a single day in Sao Paulo.