I am not led, I lead
As so excited it can get, finally travelling to Brazil, although a very tiny part of the massive country. We managed to find a nice open-jaw ticket, the ones we are more and more frequently starting to seek and take advantage where possible. This means, you depart from one city in a country, but do not return to the same city, but to another, also likely to be in a different country too. So to give you our example, it was a Madrid to Sao Paulo, few days there and then the leg Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro; while for the return flights, it was Rio to Sao Paulo and to London, all with TAM Airlines. But for more information on the different kind of tickets, and when is best to find nice offers do not forget to take a look at the section The Flight Search Guide.
Although the highlight for this trip was getting to Rio de Janeiro of course, one should never underestimate the beautiful and gigantic city of Sao Paulo. Forget what you hear from the mouth to mouth, or even from locals there saying there is nothing to see, or if it’s ugly, dangerous and nothing to do. This is absolutely wrong; and yes, although not much from the historic colonial town remains, it is enough for at least 2 days or even more of full sightseeing.
The city is well divided in neighbourhoods, and as a tourist, the chances are you will be for sure in 2 of them. These are around Paulista Avenue, and the Downtown, where both the historic colonial city was founded and the business district that grew around it.
Paulista Avenue is the main and most iconic avenue of the city, where the major hotels, theatres, banks, museums and shops are. Most of the city buses pass through it, and also the metro line underneath. This is the safest area of the city at all times, and where most of the tourists usually select their hotels. No historic buildings are along it, but instead, sky-rises of offices, banks and apartments of various styles, few from art-nouveau or art-deco, but majority post-modern.
Downtown as opposed, is full of history and old buildings. From the very first buildings constructed by the Portuguese upon the foundation of Sao Paulo, to the great neo-gothic, art-deco, classic skyscrapers, the National Theatre, Central Post Office, beautiful train stations and nice parks and squares.
Talking about safety, which is why most people are scared and even away from coming to the country in first place; if you are cautious, like how you would normally be in any other country or city in the world, you should not fear at all. It is true that Brazil has a high level of crime, noticeable in Sao Paulo and Rio, but honestly, forget what people tells you of not going with a photo camera or even showing your phone and much more pile of scary things. The fact is that maybe the mobile you are having is older than what Brazilians actually have. They are very advanced I have to say. Petty crime as robberies could happen of course, like anywhere else in the world and in the less expected moment.
Said that, there are other rules you should follow. While Paulista Avenue is one of the safest areas of the city, Downtown during the day is totally fine, but not at dusk and night. The area changes very quickly, and lots of homeless start to appear, and many others under drugs. Certainly we did not encounter any issue with them, but the area indeed felt quite unsafe.
With regards to food, you are in heaven. You don’t need to look for long or far to find a “churrascaria”. Here you can enjoy the many meats Brazil is famous for. You pay a set price, and they keep coming to you offering different meats. This is the famous rodizio. And if you are not up for this meats, they do offer a big selection of other dishes, on the same basis of a fixed price. Other options are pay per weight places. You will see them almost everywhere. The best is to compare the 100g price in few of them so you get the idea.
For more information about Sao Paulo check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Brazil’s currency is the Brazilian Real (R$). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Sao Paulo
- Downtown The old town, still retaining some of the original Portuguese colonial structures, and beautiful examples or architecture from all eras, including grand art-deco skyscrapers.
-Praça da Sé Cathedral Square, between ruas 15 de Novembro and Direita. Sé metrô station. Catedral da Sé and Palácio da Justiça are located here.
-Pátio do Colégio Near Praça da Sé, this is the place of the foundation of São Paulo back in Portuguese colonial times.
-Viaduto do Chá and Shopping Light. Near Metro station Anhangabaú. Linking Rua Barão de Itapetininga to Rua Direita. Marks the transition from old to the new part of the center.
-Vale do Anhangabaú Near Metro station Anhangabaú. Giant boulevard with gardens, sculptures and a view of the main downtown office buildings. Edifício Altino Arantes and Palácio dos Correios are nearby.
-Largo São Francisco Near metro stations Sé and Anhangabaú. Church and Convent of Saint Francis and the historic Law School of the University of São Paulo aling the sides.
-Largo São Bento Near station São Bento. The square holds the 17th century São Bento’s church and monastery.
-Largo da Memória Near Vale do Anhangabaú. The obelisk in this square dates from 1814 and marks the year São Paulo became a true city.
-Republica Square Here you can find the 1935 Edifício Esther, considered the first in the modern architectural style; the s-shaped Edifício Copan designed by Oscar Niemeyer; and Edifício Itália which you can go to the top floor terrace for amazing views of the entire city.
-Luz train Station One of the main train stations in the city, and one of the most beautiful, perfectly restored to its former glory.
-Julio Prestes Train Station Another of the major railway stations in the area, also in great architecture and beauty.
-Edificio Banespa Or Edificio Altino Arantes, Rua João Brícola 24 at junction with São Bento, Metrô São Bento. There is a free viewing platform on the top floor. This is the most recognisable skyscraper of the city, an art-deco masterpiece, resembling somehow to New York’s Empire State building.
-Martinelli Building Another of the magnificent buildings of downtown, in clearly North American style.
- Paulista Avenue One of the major draws in the city, this very long and wide thoroughfare cutting through the city is where many companies make their headquarters, up-scale shopping and entertainment.
-Museu de Arte Famous for it’s design with the red structure.
-Edifício Gazeta Home to Fundação Casper Líbero.
-Teatros Augusta, Renaissance, Gazeta, do SES among many others. The avenue is also home to major cinemas and scenery spaces.
There are 2 airports serving the city of Sao Paulo. The international, Guarulhos (GRU) is 40km away. The cheapest way and not time consuming at all to reach the city centre is by taking the exit at Terminal 1 Arrivals and head for the middle island in the road, where the bus stops are. Look for buses 257 or 297 which goes to and from Tatuapé Metro station (on line 3). The bus costs R$4,30 one way. Once in Tatuapé you can change for the metro to your final destination elsewhere in the city.
Another direct way is by shuttle bus to Paulista, for R$35 one way. These buses are just outside of the terminal building, and run at around every 30 min. You must buy the tickets before boarding. The ticket office is near the bus stand.
The second airport, Congonhas, serves majority of the internal traffic, and it’s located inside the city hence connected directly to the public transport network of metro and buses.
Coming overland would only make sense if coming from the nearby regions. Yes, there are railways and buses, but distances are gigantic in this country. It is for this reason that the aviation industry keeps booming yearly. You cannot compete with 2, 3 hours flight against 24 hours and longer bus journeys.
Within the city, there is a great network of metro and buses. Both costs the same, R$3,00 per way and includes a free interchange within 3 hours between metro and bus after the initial validation of the ticket. Therefore pretty much every sight is interconnected by nice and reliable public transport.
There is no doubt there are choices for everyone’s taste. With such a huge city, the selection is also huge, but you must take in consideration prices can be quite high. The level of life is pretty high, so the prices for everything are way higher than what you think. Hotels are no exception.
The best area you can be is near Paulista Avenida, either side if north, south, east or west, but near it. You will see that a lot of the big hotel chains are around Republica Square. If you opt for one of these, keep in mind that in the night, the square fills with homeless and people under drugs, hence not the nicest nor safest feeling.
A good reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers. Then, if your budget is still not met, there is a good selection of properties through airb&b and the likes of course.
We stayed at the Quality Suites Bela Cintra, in Rua Bela Cintra 521. Just few minutes away from the metro station Paulista. This is a very big property with many rooms, all of them equipped with kitchen. Although the staff did not speak too much English, if you know Spanish then they will understand you well, but if not don’t worry, they will do all possible to understand each others. It was clean, quiet, with nice breakfast and huge swimming pool. Now remember, like for almost any hotel in the world, if arrive early in the morning, they will ask you for half day rate should you decide to check in. Otherwise leave your luggage and wait until check in time or whenever you return to the hotel. Having in mind most of the flights coming from Europe land between 4am and 6am, this can result a bit annoying as the first you want is a shower after that long flight, so just saying, have it in mind.