Contrary to the title of this post, I actually have very little positive to say about Sao Paulo in regards to its position as a destination for travelling folk like me. That’s not to say it’s an unpleasant place to go – far from, it’s actually a very nice city and a far cry from my expectations of it being a big noisy and dirty place. Well, it’s the first two perhaps, but it is modern and neat and clean (mostly) where Rio was often run down and worn. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if I found Sao Paulo to be the most “western” of all the cities I visit during my time in South America. There are two areas of concern to any visitor to the city – the area around Avenida Paulista, a modern highway of multinational corporations and expensive high rise apartment blocks just south of the main city, and Centro, the area that the city evolved out from. This latter area is a nucleus including the main shopping areas, the financial sector and the areas from which the region is governed. Centro is given a bad rap, mostly due to its past as a grimy and dangerous place. Much like Rio however, it has been saturated with police so that people can wander freely without too much fear of crime. During the day that is; at night, the whole area is best avoided unless you know exactly where you are going, which of course I did not. Avenida Paulista supports an area that felt (to me at least) quite like Ipanema. Lots of wealth, and security to keep that wealth safe.
It’s so very different to Rio. In Sao Paulo, I get the impression that things get done. In Rio, you kick back until you feel the need to get it done. Preferably after a couple of beers and a siesta. And a spell on the beach. Sadly, this has the effect of making the city feel a lot like an “everyman” city, with not a huge amount to define it for an outsider. Rio has its beaches, its scenery and Samba. Sao Paulo has tall buildings. Unfortunately, a great deal of the building boom in Sao Paulo seems to have taken place between 1960 and 1980, so the majority of the skyscrapers in town (in Centro at least) are foul concrete monstrosities. I took a walking tour that did a lot of the centre and found little to remember other than the street art which, like in Rio, is fantastic.
So why do I say it’s worth a visit? Well, apart from anything else, if you are passing through to go to the Iguacu falls, then you will likely come here, and the same if you need to go to Florianopolis. Sao Paulo is the modern face of Brazil, and if you have any interest in how it maintains its position as the sixth largest economy in the world then a visit to Sao Paulo will let you understand. Sure, the wealth is contained in the Iron Ore in the ground, but the city is how it manifests that wealth. Lots of cafes, restaurants, pubs, clubs and bars.
There are some art galleries and stuff too. I guess I haven’t been very convincing after all. Don’t despair if you do have to stay a night or two. Don’t spend any more than that though!