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São Paulo is the capital of the Southeastern state of São Paulo, and also a beehive of activity that offers a jovial nightlife and an intense cultural experience. São Paulo is one of the richest cities in the southern hemisphere, though inequality between the classes typically observed in Brazil is blatant.
It is in fact a great city to explore, with its own idiosyncrasies, the exquisite way of living of its inhabitants, not to mention the world-class restaurants and diverse regional and international cuisine available to all tastes.
Just south of the city, lies the Parque Estadual Serra do Mar (part of the Atlantic Forest South-East Reserves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), a mountain range covered by exhuberant rainforest that faces the coast and provides various ecotourism options.
Although traditionally a working and not a tourist city, its inhabitants, if more educated, probably speak better English than anywhere else in Brazil. English is generally spoken at main hotels and tourist-related businesses, although a menu in English is a rare find.
A good tip is keep your destinations and addresses on paper, in case you cannot find anyone who speaks, you can show them the note.
Check the official Brazil tourism website for general information regarding visas and customs, and the Cidade de São Paulo homepage for updated events and art exhibitions around town.
São Paulo has three major airports: Guarulhos International (GRU) and Viracopos (VCP, also known by city code CPQ) for international and some domestic arrivals, and Congonhas (CGH) for most medium and short haul domestic flights.
Guarulhos International Airport (GRU)
If flying into São Paulo from abroad, you'll mostly likely land at Guarulhos International Airport, also known as Cumbica. Located 40 km from the city centre, the airport has two terminals that are served by Brazilian airlines and many others.
Congonhas Airport (CGH)
The Congonhas Airport is in a very central region, 15 km from downtown. This airport handles most of the flights to southern and southeastern Brazil, inluding the São Paulo - Rio (Santos Dumont) hop, nicknamed Ponte Aérea.
The cheapest way for tourists to get around is to use the subway/metro, trains and trolleybuses as much as possible, and then take a taxi for shorter distances. Even these means of transport can be uncomfortably crowded during peaks, and only a very limited carry-on is recommended.
The rail network, composed of metro and surface trains, is the method of transportation a tourist is likely to use the most while visiting São Paulo. The metro is modern, safe, clean and efficient; the quality of surface trains varies, but those in more touristic areas area as good as the metro.
Buses are the most popular way to get around the city. Even though drivers really step on it through the bumpy streets of São Paulo, buses are not the fastest way to get around. In addition, they can get really crowded. However, unlike the metro/train, they do reach every neighbourhood.
Taxi ranks in São Paulo are white, with a distinctive luminous green "TAXI" sign on the roof top. Check out for the white color of the taxi rank, the official license sticker with the driver's name and photo on the passenger side of the control panel, and the red license plate.
Biking can be the best way to see the city, especially during rush hour. Most of the city is flat or moderately steep, with only the extreme north part of the city being extremely hilly. Most drivers respect cyclists, but many drivers (including bus drivers) don't. However, many bike paths/lanes existing, including an excellent one on Avenida Paulista.
Some of the best areas to explore by bike are Parque Villa-Lobos, Parque do Ibirapuera and Avenida Paulista. The latter is especially pleasant on Sundays when it's closed to cars for the Ciclovia.
Although required by the national transit law, pedestrians are definitely not the priority in Sao Paulo, where cars dominate the streets and roads. Take care whenever crossing the streets, watching out for cars that may come unexpectedly, even if the pedestrian lights are green.
What to see
Avenida Paulista is one of São Paulo's most popular postcards, as it is the pride of Paulistanos. It is one of the largest business centers, and probably the largest cultural region in the city. Its architectural contrast reflects the fact that the avenue is located between the "old" and "new" parts of the city.
The avenue and its surroundings, such as Rua Augusta, Alameda Santos and Rua Oscar Freire, contain numerous shop galleries, art galleries, theatres, movie theaters, pubs, hotel, coffe shops, bookstores, and gourmet restaurants. Gay nightlife is intense on Consolacao and Haddock Lobo Streets.
São Paulo's Historic Center met a period of degradation, but it is gradually recovering with recent projects and investments. Even though it still has some problems, it is an area to not be missed due to its historical and cultural value for the city.
The Pinheiros river crosses the West of São Paulo in North-South direction, and although heavily polluted, the river and its shores are among the most beautiful and interesting areas of the city.
What to Do
The two most important concert and opera houses of the city are Theatro Municipal and Sala São Paulo. São Paulo has a great number of theaters, most of which feature plays in Portuguese. The British Cultural Centre, Goethe Institute, Instituto Cervantes and Alliance Française occasionally have plays in English, German, Spanish and French, respectively; check individual District listings.
Fun for the family
Both adults and kids are ensured to have fun by seeing the animals in the São Paulo Zoo, Zoo Safari and in the São Paulo Aquarium. São Paulo also has educative spaces aimed both at adults and children, including Catavento Cultural and Espaço Ciência. Finally, Mundo da Xuxa is a theme park only for the small ones.