Often compared to the thriving cities of New York and Los Angeles, dare yourself to travel to the largest city in South America, not to mention the third largest city in the world: Sao Paulo, Brazil. However, the real attraction to Brazil’s most populous city is its people and vibrant culture. Renowned for its giant skyscrapers, looming architecture, vast helicopter fleet, and often-unreliable subtropical weather, give into the allure of Sao Paulo and partake in your own Latin American Adventure – like the city’s motto says, Non ducor, duco, “I am not led, I lead.”
Founded as the first coastal settlement in Brazil, Sao Paulo was also the first permanent Portuguese colony founded in the New World in 1532. Since then, it has grown to become the home of around one-third of Brazil’s industrial employment. Multinational corporations look to Sao Paulo as a place of strong economic profit, as it is a mixing bowl of both industry and cultural hubs.
Attractions and Neighborhoods: As one of the major cultural centers of Brazil, Sao Paulo offers many attractions that provide insight into its colorful Latin American roots. The Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (MASP) has been called one of the most important art museums in Latin America, showcasing artwork by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Renoir, Degas, Rodin, Matisse, Goya, and more. Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the nearby Santa Fe Plaza is a historic park marked by lines of large shade-trees and benches. The area is iconic of colonial Spanish times, and various other famous landmarks stand within walking distance. For a fresh look into Brazilian culture, the Mercado Municipal is the location of a large market where vendors sell locally produced fruit, cheese, vegetables, and other goods. Even if you are not looking to buy anything, the large stained-glass windows in the neo-Gothic style hall portray daily scenes from coffee plantations and are beautiful to look at. Whether in a museum, park, or market, the authentic Latin American culture in Brazil offers travelers a wide range of options as far as local attractions.
Sao Paulo itself is divided into 93 neighborhoods, most of which are best navigated on foot as the city thrives on pedestrian tourism. Centro is the original neighborhood in the city, founded on a hilltop and home to old missions and cathedrals. The Banespa Tower stands as an architectural wonder in the neighborhood, and the Metropolitan Cathedral can be viewed from most of the surrounding area like the two main pedestrian streets of Rua Direita and Rua Sao Bento. The neighborhoods of Pinheiros and Itaim Bibi both boast luxurious residential areas that feature posh restaurants, hotels and nightlife. Being two of the more modern neighborhoods in the city, they are connected to Centro by a streetcar line that gives easy access to areas throughout the city. Liberdade is known for its historical relevance, having received its name after the abolition of slavery in 1888. The Liberdade Metro stop will lead you to Rua Galvao Bueno, a street filled with shops and many notable sushi restaurants. The combination of these four neighborhoods shows the distinct aspects that Sao Paulo offers visitors: history, preserved Latin America culture, and also modernity encapsulated in twentieth century expansion.
Dining and Nightlife: Because Sao Paulo attracts national and international guests, visitors should expect to find an array of cuisine options. For a more authentic meal, look for a dish including “cahaca,” a spicy specialty with a sugarcane spirit that is popular among the locals. One restaurant offering this delicacy is Acqua Benedicta (located at 62 Rua da Matriz) which also offers American and Caribbean foods. Another local favorite is the restaurant Le Coq Hardy (located at Rua Jeronimo da Viega), which features a quaint piano bar and decorated wine cellar that showcases its many bottles of Bordeaux. The city’s restaurants also include a large amount of Portuguese cuisine, Italian specialties, and sushi restaurants.
A city that rarely sleeps, most Sao Paulo residents do not begin their nights out on the town until midnight or later. They also dress to impress – women favor black or darker colors while men are typically less formal. Because the nightlife scene tends to be spread out, it is best to stick to one area or neighborhood and bar and club hop in that region for the night on foot, to avoid the congested traffic coming into the city. Some of the city’s best bars and clubs for the younger crowd are located at Vila Olimpia, while Vila Madalena is a more posh location featuring mostly bars and restaurants instead of clubs.
Local Transportation: Pedestrians will find themselves in good company in Sao Paulo, since most of the city is set up exclusively for pedestrian traffic as most areas and neighborhoods can be explored on foot. However, Sao Paulo has the most motorcycle couriers in Brazil, which can pose a threat to pedestrians sharing the roads.
With public transportation demands on the rise due to the magnitude of business traffic commuting to the city, the expansive bus system has grown to include a fleet of more than 16,000 units. There are also three main train systems – the Sao Paulo Metro, CPTM, and the ETU-SP as well as the many other train lines that branch off from those systems. Those looking to travel across longer distances of the city should invest in a Bilhete Único, or “unified ticket” that is essentially a smartcard used for fare collection for the train, buses, and subway system. It also offers discounted prices and makes transitions easier between transportation systems. Ultimately, the reputation for transportation in Sao Paulo is one of chaos and congestion, but improvements are underway and are typically a platform of every local political election.
Traveling to Sao Paulo: Many popular airlines fly directly into Sao Paulo, such as American Airlines, United, Lufthansa, Air France, British Airways, Air Canada, US Airways, Mexicana, Delta, Continental Airlines, Aerolineas Argentinas and more. The biggest airlines that fly into Sao Paulo directly are TAM Linhas Aeras, American Airlines, and United. The best way to find direct flights to Sao Paulo from your local airport is to check www.skyscanner.com for flights, airlines, and prices. Average ticket prices to travel to the city range from $900 to $1,500, but cheaper prices from discount sites like www.kayak.com offer flights for around $800.
Anna Patrick is a Communications major at Boston College and a frequent commuter between Boston and the Washington DC metropolitan area in Northern Virginia. A seasoned traveler, Patrick has lived in London and traveled extensively throughout Mexico, Canada, Austria, Germany, Italy, France, the Czech Republic, Greece, Scotland, England and Turkey.