Situated 760 meters (2500 feet) above sea level, the city of São Paulo, in the state of the same name, occupies an area of approximately 1500 square kilometers (580 square miles), where almost two-thirds of the land is urbanized and the rest rural. These two areas are known as Grande São Paulo (Greater São Paulo) and, with more than 15 million people, it has the largest population of any city in South America.
Pinheiros & Lapa
The old center, the suburbs, and a huge number of districts that make up this megalopolis all help to reveal the history of the city and its population. Initially inhabited by Native Americans and later by Portuguese colonists, the city received a considerable population of African slaves in the 17th Century, as did almost all the south, central and north-eastern regions of the country. Slaves provided the main source of manual labor for the coffee and sugar cane plantations. However, São Paulo's population, grew very slowly until the middle of the 19th Century. At this time, the area we now know as Greater São Paulo was still made up of small scattered settlements, concentrated mainly in the present-day locations of the Pinheiros, Freguesia do Ó and Lapa districts.
As coffee became the biggest commodity in the area in the 1870s, the city prospered. Railways linked São Paulo with neighboring Santos harbor, banks and export companies contributed additional wealth, enticing more and more people towards the development of new districts. From 1870 onwards, the urbanization of the city took place as swamps were transformed into gardens. Brás, one of the oldest districts and the former estate of the Portuguese trader José Brás—along with the Mooca and Lapa districts became new homes for Italian immigrants, who flocked to the city at the end of the 19th Century. The immigrants changed the culture of São Paulo and heavily influenced the paulista spoken accent, which is markedly different from any other in Brazil. At the end of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th, many farms were subdivided, and new districts such as Santa Efigênia, Bom Retiro, Consolação and Campos Elísios, (where the well-to-do lived at that time) came into being.
Thanks to the construction of the first power station in 1890, electrically-driven trams were introduced to the city. In the 20th Century, industrial development created new urban areas towards the east, west and south, following the railway lines and the Tietê, Tamanduateí and Pinheiros river valleys. Japanese immigrants, who arrived at the beginning of this century to work in agriculture, settled in what is today one of the most traditional areas of São Paulo: the
Smaller, older settlements around the city were incorporated into the metropolitan region over the course of time. From 1915 onwards, very elegant districts started to spring up, such as Jardim Europa, Jardim América and Jardim Paulista, which have today become sophisticated commercial zones known collectively as the "Jardins." The Avenida Paulista is the Wall Street of São Paulo, boasting some of the most expensive office space available, as well as epitomizing the contrast of the different eras that so characterize São Paulo. Down one side of the street are historic neighborhoods and buildings, such as the Teatro Municipal, Viaduto do Chá and the Vale do Anhangabaú; and down the other side, one will find residential and modern office constructions with well-planned architecture and engineering, notably the Jardins district itself.
Also on this side are the Jóquei Clube and the Morumbi district, where, besides the big mansions and luxurious residential buildings, you can find the Morumbi Stadium, one of the venues chosen by FIFA for the first World Club football tournament.
Vila Madelena e Bexiga
Another district notable for both its culture and its gastronomy is Vila Madalena, which possesses a high number of bars and restaurants, and an intense nightlife that attracts professionals, university students and artists. Most of São Paulo's districts have acquired a unique personality as, for example, the Bela Vista (also known as Bexiga) neighborhood, where you can find most of the city's theaters, and where you can frequent numerous bars featuring forró music (traditional music from north-eastern Brazil).
São Paulo's dining scene is as vast as the city itself - and guaranteed to please all comers. From budget-friendly lanchonetes (lunch bars) to carnivore-friendly churrascarias (barbecue buffets), excellent sushi and pizza joints to lipsmacking gastronomic temples - your tastebuds will rejoice!
São Paulo is a true megalopolis. It pulsates with the energy of all the people who make it what it is: one of the world's biggest and greatest cities. There are many good reasons to come to São Paulo, from business and study to entertainment, culture and leisure, and that is why it is one of the most frequently visited cities in Brazil today, by Brazilians as well as others from the world over.
The majority of the luxury hotels are located in the most commercially important sector of the city: the Avenida Paulista. One of the most traditional places is the Maksoud Plaza Hotel, distinguished by its architecture and its impressive atrium and panoramic elevators. More recent constructions include the Gran Melia Mofarrej, the Caesar São Paulo Hotel and the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Another, slightly newer hotel in this category is the Renaissance São Paulo, with a central location that offers easy access to most parts of the city. Still rated first class, but with lower prices, are a number of hotels distributed throughout the city. Central São Paulo offers at least one of these: the São Paulo Othon Hotel. In the all-important area of Avenida Paulista one finds the Hotel Inter-Continental São Paulo, used mostly by business executives.
New developments are also going up in the south zone near Nações Unidas Avenue. Here you can find the Transamerica Hotel, regularly attended by the Formula One crowd when the Brazilian Grand Prix is on, due to its proximity to the city's municipal racetrack. And, don't forget São Paulo's top luxury hotel, the São Paulo Hilton, located in the city centre near the Praça da República. Also very popular are the Hotel Jandaia and the Hotel Normandie, also located in the the south zone.
Needless to say, there is a wide choice of middle and lower category establishments throughout the city, and you can find a hotel to suit your needs in almost every district. Note, for example, the elegantly decorated Nikkey Palace in Liberdade, the Japanese quarter.
Outside of the City
São Paulo has much to offer for those who wish to stay for a longer period, as well, with options such as "apart-hotels" and other types of residential accommodation. Whatever the reason that brings you, São Paulo offers plenty to choose from in the way of comfortable accommodation, ranging from luxury first-class hotels, renowned for their exclusive service, to less sophisticated establishments found all over the city. The quality and conditions of hotel service are given a star rating by the Brazilian Tourist Board (Embratur), ranging from five stars for a top luxury hotel, to one star for the simplest board and lodgings.
From São Paulo's airports there are flights to everywhere in Brazil and to many of the world's major cities. São Paulo is the Brazilian hub for many international airlines, and thus the first stop for many travelers. The international airport is Aeroporto Guarulhos (tel: 6445 2945), 30km (18.5mi) east of the centre. Most domestic flights go from Aeroporto Congonhas (tel: 5090 9000), 14km (8.5mi) south of the center. Most of the major airlines have offices on Av São Luís, near Praça da República.
São Paulo has four different bus stations, all accessible by metrô. If you need to check which terminal services your domestic destination, consult www.socicam.com.br (in Portuguese) or, in São Paulo, call tel: 3235 0322.
The Terminal Tietê bus station (tel: 3235 0322) is connected with the metrô. It's an enormous building but there is an information desk in the middle of the main concourse. Buses leave for destinations throughout Brazil, and for international destinations including Asunción in Paraguay (20hr), Buenos Aires in Argentina (36hr), Montevideo in Uruguay (30hr) and Santiago in Chile (56hr).
Buses for many domestic destinations leave from here; others leave from the Terminal Intermunicipal do Jabaquara at the end of the southern metrô line (metrô Jabaquara); the Bresser Terminal in the east zone district of Brás; and the Barra Funda Terminal in the west zone, near the Latin America Memorial. All stations have, or are close to, metrô stops.
A combination of subway and walking is the easiest way to see the city. São Paulo's efficient metrô (www.metro.sp.gov.br/ingles) is one of the best in the world. It's cheap, and its clean, modern stations - often decorated with murals by local artists - are almost attractions in their own right. Stay away from Kombis, vans that charge through the city streets at high speed - they're illegal, dangerous and not worth the hassle.
Taxis are usually metered - make sure it goes on or you could get a nasty surprise at the other end. Radio Taxis will pick you up from anywhere in the city. Associação São Paulo de Taxi and Use Taxi are two other reliable services that will make arrangements to chauffeur people around town and to nearby attractions in São Paulo state.
Buses are slow, crowded during rush hours and not too safe. Tourist information booths are excellent sources of information about buses. Bus transfer points are at Praça da República and bustling Terminal Bandeiras.
There are taxis to the city center at the front of the terminal at Aeroporto de Congonhas. To catch a bus to the center, walk out of the terminal and to your right, where you'll see a busy street with a pedestrian overpass. Head to the overpass but don't cross; you should see a crowd of people waiting for the buses along the street. The trip takes about an hour and the last bus leaves at around 01:00.
From Aeroporto São Paulo/Guarulhos, there are 'Airport Service' buses to Praça da República, the Terminal Tietê bus station and Congonhas airport every 30 to 40 minutes. All leave from the stop just in front of the arrivals terminal. Another bus service from São Paulo's international airport does a circuit of 11 four- and five-star hotels in the center and the Jardim Paulista area.
To get to Guarulhos airport, you can catch 'Airport Services' buses from Praça da República, the Terminal Tietê bus station and Aeroporto de Congonhas.