Overview and History
Sao Paulo is the biggest city both in Brazil and the southern hemisphere, even bigger than Rio. It's mega-sprawling like Los Angeles. By some estimates Sao Paulo has 27 million people, surpassed only by Tokyo. If Godzilla would only win for once, Sao Paulo might become THE biggest city. Whoa!
Sao Paulo is the financial center of South America, and in turn its center is the stock exchange downtown on Paulista Avenue. Here's the 1892 viaduct linking the old downtown with what later became the new downtown.
Sao Paulo was founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1554. The economy here began with coffee exports from plantations worked first by slaves and then by European immigrants. The Mansion of Rosas, from 1930, is one of the last big ones built during the wealthy coffee period.
Brazil is part of the "Mercosul" business community,which is the Common Market of the South. This is a trade zone roughly equivalent in purpose to the EU, African Union, Asia-Paficic Economic Cooperation, or the Security and Prosperity Partnership in North America.
It snowed once, in 1918.
The city government of Sao Paulo is located inside the Palace of the Bandeirantes. The Palace is named after the legendary Bandits who fought deep into the middle of South America, to expand the territory of Brazil in the eighteenth century. Here's a look at the interior, too.
With all this commerce and activity flying around, it's natural that Sao Paulo is a huge center for business tourism. The city has the capacity to host hundreds of conventions PER DAY at any of the hotels, conference centers, sports arenas, etc. Here's an auto exhibition in the Anhembi Park Pavillion.
But there is still a lot of history to explore here, even in the middle of the high-tech world around you. Anchieta Museum was originally a school for teaching religious subjects to native Brazillians, built 1554.
The University of Sao Paulo's College of Law was founded in 1827 and is the oldest law school in Brazil. Twelve Brazillian presidents and countless other administrators have attended.
Sao Paulo/Guarulhos International Airport is a small city all by itself. It's got 53,000 employees and the only bigger cargo hub nearby is in Mexico City, man!
Travel to the airport by bus takes about 45 minutes, you can rent a car there or park in the long term parking lots, as usual for any large airport city with 53,000 employees.
Traffic can get gnarly so allow plenty of extra time to get to the airport when it's time to leave. Remember, 53,000 people can make a decent little rush hour all by themselves.
First, some scenery with style: here's the Julio Prestes railway station now converted into a concert hall. The Station of Light or Estacao de Luz connecting with the metro system and also housing the Museum of the Portugese language. The Boiler House, a recovered industrial space now used for cultural events.
There is a metro system here but it is not as comprehensive as in a place like Tokyo. Buses are the main way to get around, along with street taxis and radio-dispatch taxis. The latter are more reliable if you're not fluent in Portugese yet.
People and Culture
Overall, Sao Paulo is the most ethnically diverse city in Brazil, and it has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan (Liberdade neighborhood).
And what do these diverse people do to celebrate? They have Carnaval!
Brazil has the best Carnavale in the world. There's no way in hell we can come anywhere close to describing it, not even with panoramas and thousands of words plane tickets caiparinhas and a jar of tiger sweat. Preparations alone go on for weeks.
It happens for 4 days before Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of Lent, when people must give up the pleasures of the flesh.
There are lots of other major events happening here throughout the course of the year.
The annual Sao Paulo gay parade attracts upwards of 1.5 million people, and it's not just a little afternoon thing. The events surrounding the parade take up an entire month with street fairs, film festivals and crazy parties. This is the world's largest LGBT event! WORLD's LARGEST!
Sao Paulo fashion week attracts designers from all over the globe, and the Festival of Electronic Art invites digital media-makers to assemble en masse and tweak parameters together.
Sports fans pay attention! The Brazillian F1 Grand Prix is on a level with the Tour de France or the Kentucky Derby in world sporting. Drivers don't love the bumpy streets but fans come out in droves to watch, and 99% of them survive.
Things to do & Recommendations
Well, you've got twelve thousand restaurants, seventy museums, two hundred cinemas, and fifty theaters to choose from.
The Municipal Theater has the distinction of being the place where Hamlet was first performed, bringing Shakespeare to Sao Paulo as of 1911.
Shopping? Check out Oscar Friere street for Godiva, Versace, Armani and all of Louis Vuitton's other friends.
After you get thirsty from carrying all those bags, dip into Campos do Jordao for a cold beer. They brew their own.
A few gallery pointers -- State Art Gallery with modern exhibits from the 19th century until now, MASP Museum of Art Sao Paulo, Tomie Ohtake Institute for gooey plastic hyper-modern stuff.
For Nature and wildlife... well I guess the rainforest pretty much wins in this category, but on your way into the jungle you can poke your head into the Sao Paulo Aquarium.
Right within the city there's some nice green space in Ibirapuera Park. Two square kilometers and it's still only the second biggest park in the city! Get ready for this list of what it contains: a planetarium, Astrophysics School, Villa de Osos Bacalao (a building shaped like a horse!!), five convention-center pavillions, Air Force Museum, Agricultural Palace, Gymnasium, running tracks, Obelisk and fourteen million blades of grass.
Cool local favorite pub: "Jazz in the Deep Ones" where you can find live music and no liquor laws.
Lastly, how many times do I have to tell you? Go up to the top of the tallest thing you can find and look around. It'll be worth more than anything you can buy.
Text by Steve Smith.