Explore Sao Paulo, Brazil
Explore Sao Paulo the largest city in Brazil, with a city population of about 12 million and almost 22 million in its metropolitan region. It is the capital of the Southeastern state of Sao Paulo, and also a beehive of activity that offers a jovial nightlife and an intense cultural experience. São Paulo is one of the richest cities in the southern hemisphere, though inequality between the classes typically observed in Brazil is blatant. Historically attractive to immigrants as well as Brazilians from other states, it’s one of the most diverse cities in the world.
São Paulo – or Sampa, as it is also often called – is also probably one of the most underrated cities tourism-wise, often overshadowed by other places in the Brazilian sun & beach circuit such as Rio de Janeiro and Salvador. It is in fact a great city to explore, with its own idiosyncrasies, the exquisite way of living of its inhabitants, not to mention the world-class restaurants and diverse regional and international cuisine available to all tastes. If there is a major attraction to this city, it is the excellent quality of its restaurants and the variety of cultural activities on display.
Just south of the city lies the Parque Estadual Serra do Mar (part of the Atlantic Forest South-East Reserves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), a mountain range covered by exhuberant rainforest that faces the coast and provides various ecotourism options.
Following São Paulo’s extraordinary growth during the 20th century, most of the old city buildings have given way to contemporary architecture. This means that most historical buildings are concentrated downtown, where 17th-century churches stand in the shadows of skyscrapers. The best of São Paulo’s gastronomy, nightlife, and museums are concentrated in the historic downtown and neighboring areas to the west. Consequently, this is where most visitors to the city tend to stay. Those who are adventurous enough to venture beyond these areas may discover a completely different São Paulo, including areas of preserved natural beauty, affluent suburban neighborhoods, as well as more dangerous and impoverished districts.
Regions of São Paulo.
- The birthplace of the city, with many historical areas, cultural centers, and a universe of diverse people rushing to work or to school.
- Home to the government of the state of São Paulo, it is probably the most vibrant area of the city for business, science, gastronomy, nightlife and culture.
- The wealthiest region of the city contains Parque do Ibirapuera, one of the most important recreational and cultural areas of São Paulo, and innumerous shopping malls.
- Home to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who settled in the city, that is where Museu do Ipiranga, the São Paulo Zoo and other attractions are located.
- The Northeast is São Paulo’s “event arena”, where the annual Carnival and and many other large scale events take place. Part of the magnificent Parque da Cantareira is also here.
- The largest region of São Paulo is still have some parts covered by forest, farms and water, and can offer many unique experiences to a visitor.
- São Paulo’s City of Workers contains two of the most beautiful parks of the city, and was the host of the FIFA 2014 World Cup in the city.
- The Northwest is a more suburban area which is home to Parque Estadual do Jaraguá, where the highest point of the city is located.
Embu das Artes – Town just Southwest of Sao Paulo, known for its talented local artists. If you are looking for authentic Brazilian art, handicrafts, furniture, or just want to browse around some really cool shops, this is the place to go.
South – The South of Greater São Paulo, also known as the “Great ABC” region, is composed of mostly industrial cities separated from the coast by Parque Estadual Serra do Mar, a hilly area covered by Atlantic rainforest. The area offers innumerous opportunities for ecotourism.
Santo André – City containing the main campus of Federal University of ABC, the historical village of Paranapiacaba, and the nature area of the same name.
São Bernardo do Campo – City historically linked to Brazil’s labor movement, offering nautical leisure at the Billings reservoir and ecotourism at Parque Estadual Serra do Mar, including a walking route in direction of the coast.
A large sprawling city can present numerous challenges to sensibilities. São Paulo is no exception. Although the first impression might be that of a grey concrete jungle, soon it becomes apparent that the city has a great number of pockets of beauty. The population and environment of São Paulo is diverse, and districts within it range from extremely luxurious areas to hovels housing the poor and destitute, located usually in suburbia far from the so-called “expanded center”.
São Paulo, together with Rio de Janeiro, is the spot where most visitors from abroad land in Brazil. While a complete experience of the city would take a few weeks (since the lifestyle of Paulistanos and every-day routine in the city are huge attractions in themselves), it’s possible to visit all major sites within three days. Staying a little longer than that is always a nice idea. As the financial and cultural center of the country, the city is a sea of possibilities. Sightseers will be disappointed however, because the city does not have a single major tourist attraction.
The city has a so called clean city law that prohibits advertising such as billboards. Likewise, heavy trucks are not allowed on most streets except during the middle of the night. These are small but constant improvements which make the city more beautiful and pleasant to live in.
Native American Chief Tibiriçá and the Jesuit priests José de Anchieta and Manuel de Nóbrega founded the village of São Paulo de Piratininga on 25 January 1554 — Feast of the Conversion of Paul the Apostle. Along with their entourage, the priests established a mission named Colégio de São Paulo de Piratininga aimed at converting the Tupi-Guarani native Brazilians to the Catholic religion. São Paulo’s first church was constructed in 1616, and it was located where today is the the Pátio do Colégio.
São Paulo officially became a city in 1711. In the 19th century, it experienced a flourishing economic prosperity, brought about chiefly through coffee exports, which were shipped abroad from the port of neighboring city Santos. After 1881, waves of immigrants from Italy, Japan, and other European and Middle Eastern countries, such as Syria and Lebanon immigrated to São Paulo State due to the coffee production boom. Slavery in Brazil was coming to an end, so incentives were given to immigrants coming from European countries such as Italy, Germany, Lithuania, Ukraine, Poland, Portugal, and Spain. By the beginning of the 20th century, the coffee cycle had already plummeted due to, among other factors, a sharp decline in international coffee prices and competition from other nations. The local entrepreneurs then started investing in the industrial development of São Paulo, attracting new contingents of overseas immigrants to the city. Many of those entrepreneurs were Italian, Portuguese, German, and Syro-Lebanese descendants such as the Matarazzo, Diniz, and Maluf families.
Liberdade district, São Paulo Downtown. One of the areas of the city where the immigrant influence is noted the most.
Don’t be surprised at the diversity of Paulistanos. For example, São Paulo is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. It is not uncommon to see businesses and churches being conducted by Chinese and Korean-Brazilians in Liberdade, which was originally an Italian district, then Japanese and currently is heavily populated by Koreans and Chinese. The city’s Italian influence is also very strong, mainly in the upper and middle-class spots, with about 6 million people in the metropolitan area having Italian background. The small but notable Arab and Jewish communities are also represented in the high-levels of society, from arts to real estate businesses, and notably in politics. But overall the most notably communities of São Paulo is the “Nordestinos”, people with a northeasterner backgrounds or descent, which have a very particular culture and accent. Almost 40% of “paulistanos” have one of the parents or grand-parents who came from Brazilian northeastern region. Rarely this so important part of population reaches a high-developed level of economy or living, in exception of popular music and sports. It is too much more common to hear northeasterner accents in the streets of São Paulo, rather than immigrant accents.
The citizens of São Paulo have a reputation as hard-working and industrious or shallow money-grubbers. It is common to hear that the people in São Paulo work while the rest of Brazil relaxes; even though many say this, it is plainly wrong. It is a fact, nonetheless, that the city of Sao Paulo alone actually contributes with 15 percent of the country’s gross national product (45 percent if the entire São Paulo state is taken into account).
But when Paulistanos are not working, they are often clubbing. The city nightlife is as intense as it gets, which makes going to a club a total must-do. Everything is possible in a city that doesn’t dare to blink.
Although traditionally a working and not a tourist city, its inhabitants, if more educated, probably speak better English (and perhaps Spanish, Italian or French) than anywhere else in Brazil. English is generally spoken at main hotels and tourist-related businesses, although a menu in English is a rare find. Locals are often friendly, and will try to help visitors, but language difficulties can offer a barrier. It’s a good idea to print out some key phrases.
Public telephone booths can be found on almost every corner of town. They work with phone cards only, which can be bought at any newspaper stand. Regular phone cards allow you to make local and national calls, but the credits fall at an incredible rate if the call is directed to another city or to mobile phones. There is a special phone card for international calls, so make sure you ask the clerk for the correct one if that’s the case.
Internet cafés (also called cyber cafés or lan houses) can be easily found in every neighborhood.
The city of São Paulo is only one hour driving from the Paulista Coast, which is a typical Brazilian region full of splendid beaches and great seafood. The young and the old of São Paulo alike head there on the weekends to enjoy the sand, sun and fun. The rich agricultural state offers winter destinations, upscale retreats and large Rodeos.
Santos (1h) – Estuary city near São Paulo, home to Pelé’s famous football team Santos F.C. and Brazil‘s most important seaport.
Guaruja (1h) – Many Paulistanos have their beach houses in this town, which becomes packed with tourists during the summer months of December, January and February. Be careful, despite being a beautiful place, it’s a city with a lot of occurrence of crimes , most of them related to burglary , theft and robbery.
Bertioga (2h): just NE of Santos and Guaruja, this beach town hosts a variety of annual festivals, including a Japanese, an Italian and a Native Brazilian. Don’t miss the waterfall on the way down the mountain (via Moji das Cruzes), as there’s no access on the return trip.
São Sebastião (2:30h) – Second in preference for summer houses, the beaches of São Sebastião are a mixture of rustic paradisiac nature with first class night life. Contains one of the most famous beaches of the São Paulo coast, Maresias.
Ubatuba (3h) – Beautiful beaches are the main attraction of this place, as well as its well-preserved nature. Hotels sometimes provide leisure activities such as scuba diving, mountain biking and trekking. The city is known for providing a good surfing environment.
Ilhabela (3:30h) – Accessible only from São Sebastião by ferry, it is an archipelago with various savage beaches and ecotourism options.
Peruibe (2:00h) – City located on the south coast with beautiful beaches. In urban area, are distributed many seaside resorts of high standard construction with predominantly horizontal architecture. At south is located ecological reserve Jureia with dozens of preserved and virtually unspoiled beaches, plus many water clean rivers with waterfalls and natural pools.
Campos do Jordão (2h) -Charming little town in the mountains, at 1,600 m high. Well-off Paulistanos buy their winter house in Campos do Jordao, due in part to the famous winter classic music festival in July, when the high season takes place in town. Many upscale club and bar owners go up the mountain and promote events and parties at this time of the year.
Indaiatuba (1:30h) – Millionaires addicted to the Polo lifestyle have always loved this town and its Helvétia neighborhood. Today, the region that began as a small swiss colony holds the highest density of private Polo fields in the world.
Hopi Hari (1h) – A big theme park located in the city of Vinhedo, one hour from São Paulo. It offers many rides, from those for children to the radical ones. Various food, from snacks to a la carte. You can get there by car or shuttle buses from many places.
Wet’n Wild São Paulo (1h), Itupeva (See the Vinhedo article). A water park of the American Wet’n Wild chain, just beside Hopi Hari, with 12 rides and many food shops.
Official tourism websites of Sao Paulo
For more information please visit the official government website: