A sprawling concrete jungle of gridlocked traffic, São Paulo may not boast the obvious allures of sexy sis Rio, but scratch beneath her drab veneer and you'll find an unsung wonder humming with cutting-edge cuisine, non-stop nightlife, diverse cultural influence, and street art like nowhere else. Vamos lá!
At Sampa’s heart sits Centro, an at times dangerous and sadly crumbling echo of its colonial past. Perched in the hilly west are artsy Pinheiros and Vila Madalena. To the southwest, fanning out below iconic finance strip Avenida Paulista, is top-drawer shopping and dining desti Jardins, with lush Ibirapuera Park further south still.
Need to Know
- Weather: Winter (Jun-Aug) is nippy but dry; summer (Jan-Mar) is pleasantly warm, but beware apocalyptic downpours
- Transport: Taxis are well-priced, many accept cards and have GPS; the metro is clean and efficient, but avoid chokka rush hour like you would a date with Dilma
- Cash Up: Don’t expect the dirt cheap LatAm of yore – Sampa is an affluent city, with eye-watering prices to match
- Etiquette: Ladies, don’t put your handbag on the floor; Havaianas are a big no-no – you’re not in Rio anymore, Dorothy; one peck on the cheek will suffice; avoid putting paper in the loo (or risk clogging shame)
- Bars: Many bars/clubs provide each guest with a card to tally up drinks + cover charge – pay when you leave
- Coffee: ‘Puro’ is an expresso; ‘carioca’ is a smidge less potent; ‘pingado’ is the closest you’ll get to a latte
Talking Points, 2016 Edition
- Carnaval (5-7 Feb): The city empties, travel prices skyrocket and jams ensue. If you must stay in SP, they have a Sambódromo (purpose-built parade strip with ticketed seating) similar to that of Rio. Otherwise, away to nearby cobbled colonial cutie Paraty for its old-school brass-band street procession. Plan ahead
- Art Smart: Creatives from across the country convene for LatAm’s answer to Basel, SP-Arte (6-10 Apr); while the smaller snap-focused SP-Arte/Foto follows in August
- Gay Pride (29 May): High-rise, hi-so finance strip Avenida Paulista swaps briefcases n’ grey suits for throngs n’ thongs
- Culture Crawl: Not for Winnie wallflowers, grit-cool Virada Cultural (summer) is the city’s biggest culture crawl with theatre, music acts, art and more. With most of it happening in the streets (and at night), you’d be well-advised to leave the Celine Trapeze at home