Sao Paulo – the largest city in Sao America; a megalopolis that will chew you up and spit you out unless you are a born Paulistano. I moved to this hot and polluted city in October, 2014. As I flew in over the expansive and seemingly never-ending night-lights I wondered, “What the heck am I doing here?” The city is overwhelming, and as Sao Paulo is not a city known for tourism, few people speak English or Spanish well enough to help you extensively. It’s now almost 18 months later and I wish someone had shared some of these tips about Sao Paulo with me before I had arrived!
Brazil is a massive country and so the weather varies a lot from place to place. When I arrived, like an idiot gringa, I assumed that Sao Paulo would always be hot! Boy, was I wrong! The summer in Sao Paulo is from about October to March, but this fluctuates. The winter is colder than I expected, dipping to 12-15 degrees at night. Worse still, is that it often rains in the winter; a cold, wet drizzle that leaves you damp and cold right to the bone! When travelling to Sao Paulo during the winter-time, be prepared with boots(or waterproof shoes), a light jacket, an umbrella and even a hat! Or just go to Rio…
Public transportation is relatively good for a giant, South American – especially as a tourist. Thankfully, GoogleMaps works well for bus and metro directions; if you are even slightly tech savvy you will probably arrive alive – though maybe not on time. If you are a group, an Uber may even be a better option as public transportation can cost up to 7R$ per person, per ride. Yikes!
Sao Paulo is a food hub, with some of the most excellent restaurants in the world! Almost anything your heart desires can be found in Sao Paulo, but “while in Rome”, it is recommended that you indulge in a delicious feijoada, a traditional slave food that is now eaten by everyone and anyone on Wednesdays or Saturdays. Feijoada, a delicious mix of black beans and various cuts of pork and dried beef, is served with rice, kale, and farofa – a tasty flour made from yucca. Feijoada is truly a delight and a must-try.
Notably, Sao Paulo and a neighbouring city Mogi das Cruzes, have the largest diaspora of Japanese people in the world. Consequently, the Japanese food available in the city is incredible. The Japanese neighbourhood, Liberdade, is home to many sushi and ramen houses, such as Aska, which serves a massive bowl of ramen for a mere R$18, but some notable restaurants lay ouside these borders. My favourite, Tanuki, can be found in Vila Madalena and costs about R$ 100 per person.
Eating lunch is very important in Brazilian culture, so if fine dining isn’t your thing every lanchonete you pass will be serving an inexpensive “PF”, which consists of rice, beans, salad, and a piece of meat of your choice! Going hungry in Sao Paulo isn’t an option…
Art and Culture
A great number of excellent museums and art galleries are situated in Sao Paulo, such as the Pinacoteca, home to one of the largest collections of Brazilian Art in the world, the MASP, and the Sao Paulo Museum of Modern Art. But if you are an art and culture lover here are some tips that mustn’t be missed!
MIS, the Sao Paulo Museum of Image and Sound, is a small museum located in one of the poshest neighbourhoods of Sao Paulo, Jardim Europa. The museum often creates 3-D and interactive exhibits on photographers, TV shows etc. Their current exhibits include an “ode” to Tim Burton.
Instituto Tomie Ohtake, an homage to the artist, is another must-see. The institute often brings high-profile exhibitions to the city, including the works of Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dalí, and Joao Miró. Remember that Sao Paulo is a city of millions and visiting museums and galleries is best done inside of office hours – if not you may never get past the line.
Perhaps even more rich than all of these museums combined is the wealth of street art in the city. From the humble roots of pixaçao to full wall murals, Sao Paulo has it all, and a rich history to go with it. Until recently, it was left to tourists and locals alike to decipher this richness, but now a tour has been started by a street artist himself to bring tourists to street art and vice versa. Streets of Sao Paulo was started by Thiago Ritual and has only grown since its inception in 2015.
Finally, if you happen to be in Sao Paulo during the Sao Paulo International Film Festival or Mostra, which is usually sometime in October or November, you shouldn’t miss it! 2016 will be the festival’s 40th year, showing approximately 300 films from around the world! For those who love cinema, it is an incredible time to see great films at low prices, and may give you exclusive access to progressive film from Brazil itself!
Sport, most specifically football/soccer, is extremely important to Brazilians, and this is true even in Sao Paulo. Despite their embarrassing defeat in the 2014 World Cup, Brazilians love football in a way that can only be equated to English Hooligans. The city of Sao Paulo is home to three major teams: Sao Paulo (SPFC), Corinthians (who didn’t have a home arena until the World Cup), and Palmeiras. Unlike hockey or basketball in North America, prices for football games are very accessible even if the stadiums aren’t! As a tourist, you probably won’t have “team loyalty” so look for tickets at the most central stadiums: Pacaembu (a municipal stadium) or Allianz Parque (Palmeiras).
In the end, the best tip I can give you is: find a friend. Like most big cities, the best parts of Sao Paulo are revealed when you are with someone who truly knows the best parts of the city!