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São Paulo City Trip

The endless skyline of "Sampaul"
The endless skyline of "Sampaul"

72 Hours in São Paulo, Brazil

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To locals, it's "Sampaul," but the world knows it as São Paulo, the largest city in the southern hemisphere and home to twenty million people. At any given time of day, about five million cars are competing for space here, creating some of the world's heaviest traffic jams. But the intensity is par for the course in a country as big and expressive as Brazil. Besides, this bustling city is also responsible for the vibrant cultural life that keeps thousands of restaurants wining and dining well into the morning.

The Old São Paulo
The Old São Paulo

When traveling here, the buddy system is advisable — don't try to drive or wander on your own, especially if you're a first timer who doesn't speak Portuguese. Hiring a guide will help, but so will your choice of hotel. It's tempting to stay downtown (Centro), as it's near so many of the main sights, but the chaos, noise and grit can be a bit overwhelming. If that's your bag though, try the Maraba Hotel, a former office building near the Praca da Republica, which has been given an astonishing boutique overhaul. Backpackers on the cheap should check into the São Paulo Hostel Downtown, which offers a relatively clean and safe environment shared with lots of travel compatriots.

The best of São Paulo's hotels lie to the southwest, including the award winning Emiliano Hotel. Its luxury wears a youthful face, including a resident DJ, smart panel controls for lighting and Japanese hot tubs. A more modest, but still quality, option is Leques Brasil Hotel Escola just outside "Japan town." Another low-cost choice is the Hotel ibis São Paulo Paulista, which offers impressive value for money.

SAO PAULO DAY 1: Centro (the old quarter)

A work of forty years for the Cathedral
A work of forty years for the Cathedral

There's not much in the city to remind us that São Paulo is five centuries old. It was founded in 1554 by Portuguese Jesuits who intended to convert the Indians to Christianity and teach their language. Three priests — joined later by six others from a mission — celebrated the first mass on January 25, 1554, for Saint Paul's Day, hence the name of the city.

It makes sense to begin the tour in the old quarter: Centro. After a quick breakfast of corn bread and croissants from Aloha Coffee & Bakery, head into the Prada da Sé, "kilometer zero," of São Paulo. The Patio do Colégio, a Jesuit church and school, marks the site of where the city was founded. Nearby, the neo-gothic Catedral da Sé took 800 tons of Italian marble and 40 years to complete its impressive stained glass, statues and magisterial pillars.

An abundance of edible goods is displayed at the municipal market
An abundance of edible goods is displayed at the municipal market

Afterward, walk a few blocks north (and across several centuries), to watch Brazil's current economic might flash across the monitors of the computerized Brazilian Stock Exchange. Nearby, the Italia Building, now home to the Banco do Brasil, allows guests access to the roof. Once the highest building in South America, the view gazes over an endless ocean of concrete, with no horizon visible.

Covering almost three acres, the Mercado Municipal Paulistano (municipal market) is one of Brazil's foodie havens, with more than 300 neo-classical stalls serving gourmet pasta, poultry, seafood, spices and sweets to thousands of customers daily. Get a lunch of pastel de Bacalao on the first floor. Inherited from the Portuguese, the dried and salted cod is emulsified with potatoes into a delicious pie. The Mortadella sandwich is also a crowd favorite.

Art fans should also visit the Museu do Ipiranga, set inside gardens inspired by Versailles. Inside, the history of Brazil is displayed in art, paintings, sculpture and furniture. For something to take home, stop into Galeria Arte Brasileira, a reliable store for handicrafts, stones, jewels and wood carvings from the native Pau Brasil tree, which gave the country its name.

Late into the evening, join the energetic (and dawn-breaking) nightlife at a number of dance clubs and bars in the bohemian Vila Madalena neighborhood, including Samba, which features many of the city's best musicians and dancers.

Continue to Day 2

MORE SÃO PAULO INFORMATION


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the neo-gothic Catedral da Sé took 800 tons of Italian marble and 40 years to complete

 

 




(Updated: 05/24/13 CT)


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