With all the madness that surrounds Carnival in Rio and the attention that long-secret Brazilian coastal getaways are beginning to receive on our ever-shrinking planet, it's no wonder that the many who fly into Brazil via Sao Paulo fail to realize that it can be quite an adventure to stay there. One of the fastest growing cities in the world, Sao Paulo is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere with 11 million people, as well as one of the most globally important financial centers. Not only this, but the culture of the Paulistanos is one of incredible diversity, with significant portions of the population consisting of Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, African, and Arab descent. You'll see this in their religious institutions, their museums, and the boundless selection of cuisines as you explore the many nooks, crannies, and well-beaten paths of the city.
Any local will tell you that if you want to be wowed by the spectacle of Sao Paulo, then you should start at Paulista Avenue, the massive thoroughfare lined with skyscrapers that cuts through the heart of the city. A sense of the city's rapid growth can be had from lemmings-like swarm of people during the weekday lunch hour and the deluge of massive financial buildings that have filled this once residential neighborhood until only the Casa das Rosas remains as a reminder of previous eras. One of the country's great museums, the MASP, also calls the avenue home. Avenida Paulista also provides quick access via a strong subway infrastructure to some of the most prominent neighborhoods in the city, including the historic Republica, Luz and Se districts, where the number of preserved buildings and squares dating as far back as the 19th century will quench cravings for classic culture; the districts of Itaim Bibi and Pinheiros to the west, where anyone with nightlife on the brain will encounter an arguably better selection than even Rio and those want an itinerary full of museums can start with the seven at the Cidade Universitária (Sao Paulo University); and south-central Sao Paulo, which includes the city's most prominent leisure/culture area, the Parque do Ibirapuera.
In such a sprawling city of neighborhood after neighborhood, it can be easy to forget how much there is to experience beyond the urban limits. Sun-splashed beaches and adventure activities are the selling points of destinations like Ubatuba and Ilhabela, while plenty of charming mountain communities (Campos do Jordão, Paranapiacaba) and Atlantic rainforest that includes the massive nearby Parque Estadual da Cantareira and the more distant cave systems of Alta Ribeira are ripe for exploration. For more on the adventures that await at Sao Paulo's doorstep, peruse our adventure page.
All of this being said, we must reiterate that Sao Paulo is an outrageously big city. There is a great divide between the well-off and the impoverished, something you'll invariably see if you do some exploring (as a general rule, the further from the city center you go the lower the standard of living, especially in neighborhoods like Vila Nilo, Heliopolis, and other favelas that have high rates of crime and abject poverty). With this in mind, we suggest only going to areas that you are familiar with or have heard about from credible sources (hey, that's us!), and err on the side of caution whenever possible. Should this deter you? No. The majority of Sao Paulo is safe for your every-day traveler and is undoubtedly more than just an explosion of concrete and glass meant only as a landing point for business travelers or World Cup aficionados.