São Paulo city has a population of around 13 million people and it could well be over 20 million people depending on what you define as the city limits. São Paulo is also the name of the state too.
The city enjoys a temperate climate with summer months being between November to February and winter in June, July when there might be some early morning frost, but no snow or freezing weather. The wettest month is January.
The city’s centre looks like a forest of skyscrapers, but even though the city is massive in population numbers, it all seems to work and there is an overall feeling of São Paulo being a busy city where there is a lot of industry, commercial, government, banking and insurance business happening.
As confirmation of this, the São Paulo Stock Exchange (Bovespa) located in Sao Paulo is the third biggest Stock Exchange in the world and the biggest in South America.
Brazil is a diverse multi-cultural society, the result of waves of immigration and integration, made up of the descendants of the many different tribal indigenous people; the Portuguese, Africans of different ancestry, Asians – particularly Japanese as well as immigrants from Europe and the Middle East. It is very much a multi-cultural society and this is one of its many attractions.
Brazil’s first big industries were sugarcane and tobacco using African slave labour, mostly from West Africa, the slaves transported on slave ships to work on the sugar plantations. The first slaves were transported to Brazil in 1532 with slavery only officially abolished in 1888. That is over 350 years, so several lifetimes, so it is little wonder that African traditions and culture is a big part of Brazilian culture too
There were also generations of Africans who gained their freedom during this timeframe and also many children born either into slavery in Brazil or to those parents who had obtained their freedom.
The date May 13th, 1888 is significant as the day and year that Slavery was abolished in Brazil.
In the mid 1800’s, Brazil started growing and exporting Coffee, grown in the south of the country and this led to another wave of immigrants arriving in Brazil, these people coming from Italy, Spain and other European countries as well as from Japan and the Middle East. São Paulo is said to have over a million people of Japanese origin, the first Japanese arriving here in 1908. There are also a large number of Italians too, as well as many other people of different nationalities. Many Japanese live in the area called Liberdade while the big Italian area is Biliga. There is also a well- known street called Rua 25 de Março, just of the Praça da Sé where Lebanese traders operate, but all over the city there are districts (Barrios) with different cultural mixes.
Just as in the USA, immigrants would arrive from Europe to seek their fortune and head westwards into the country as explorers or settlers.
In Brazil these early Portuguese explorers in the 17th century were called ‘Bandeiras’ and in the Parque do Ibirapuera there is a magnificent large sculpture of a horse and Bandeiras, sculpted by Victor Brecheret.
The Bandeiras are a controversial part of Brazilian history as on one hand they established roads and settlements inland claiming the lands for the Portuguese against any Spanish claims while just taking the land and what they found there from the Indios people as well as enslaving large numbers of Indios to work for them too.
The Parque do Ibirapuera on Avenida Pedro Alveras Cabral also has gardens, lakes, trails, stages for performances and buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer too. The Afro-Brasil Museum is here too as well as the Folk Art Museum (Folclore) and Aeronautical Museum.
Here in São Paulo and the south of Brazil there are more people of European origin than in the north of Brazil and at the end of World War One and Two more Europeans arrived to establish a new life in Brazil. Many settled and built their businesses and lives in and around São Paulo and inland from it.
As a city, São Paulo dates back to 1554, but while high rise developments dominate the city’s skyline, there are traces of the city’s early architecture scattered throughout the centre of the city. There are also now attempts to halt the destruction of some of the historic buildings that have fallen into dis-repair.
Like every big city, São Paulo has many faces and this is reflected in the many different suburban areas and cultural differences within the city. There are rich areas, poor areas and ones in between, as well as high end luxury shopping malls and hotels, but also many markets and smaller shops and street vendors too. Almost wherever you go, there will be corner coffee shops and Padarias (Bakeries) and many places selling fruits and juices. Brazilians like their coffee sweet, and almost always sugar will be added to your coffee as normal practice.
There are areas where the rich live and others where there are the poor, as well as a large middle class of people and while Brazilians may say that the São Paulo mind set is all about business, there is still a vibrant heart too and this is reflected in the many stylish restaurants, bars, clubs and fashion shops – from luxury shopping malls to more localised market stalls.
I like to think that cities exude their own ‘persona’ and personally I really like São Paulo and very much enjoyed my time there.
If you were to ask a Brazilian what they like most in life – they would most likely say football, music and dance as well as food. Walking along you might see someone playing a guitar or drumming and almost spontaneously people will gather around and start to dance. Brazilians love to party and in São Paulo the nightlife is all about having fun after a day of work.
In the centre of the city (Centro) the oldest part of the city there is the large square called the Praça da Sé (Cathedral Square) and here you will find the main city Cathedral, the Catedral da Sé with its spires and dome roof line. The Cathedral was built between 1913 and 1967 and has a 10,000 pipe organ as well as magnificent stained glass work.
The square is lined with palm trees and has a cascading fountain on one side and here on the square and surrounding pedestrian only streets there are a number of colonial buildings, some dating back to the 17th century. The Sé Metro station is located on the square too.
Most of the main sights in the city are spread out but using the Metro system will get you close to most though it may be easier to take a tour organised from one of the Visitor Centres, bearing in mind that many of the tours will be in Portuguese.
While the most dominant feature of São Paulo is undoubtedly the massive amount of high rise buildings, there are some great squares and parks, the most opulent park being the Parque da Independància which has formal hedges, fountains and lakes in front of a classic building that holds the Museu do Ipiranga built in 1895. This museum is part of the University and it may or may not be open, but the park is worth seeing in its own right.
The most popular place for tourists to the city to stay is along Avenida Paulista – a long street with a subway running along it too.
Here on Avenida Paulista there is the MASP museum, located in a striking rectangular building with an open ground floor where markets are held on Sundays. The MAST stands for the Museu Arte São Paulo and is well worth seeing inside, where there is a collection of artist work – works by the world’s best artists – Van Gogh, Matisse, Renoir, Picasso and others. Next to the Museum is the Parque Trianon a small green space in amongst the high rise buildings.
There are many private galleries too and São Paulo has a love of fashion and style that you will pick up on when you go shopping in one of the many malls or even just people watch.
The municipal theatre (Teatro Municipal) also reflects this style. This classic building, built in 1911, is modelled on the Opera House in Paris and has an imposing façade with large statues on the top pediment overlooking the Praça de Azevedo square.
Some of the big name multi storey Shopping Malls are the JK Iguatemi at Avenida Juscelino Kubitschek 2041; Pátio Highienόpolis at Avenida Higienόpolis 618, but there are many others too, most with picture theatres and food courts as well as a wide variety of both big and smaller shops.
For Brazilian music lovers look for Galena do Rock – located at Rua 24 de Maio 62, and for an upmarket experience with the big international and Brazilian designer names, head to Jardins Rua Oscar Freire. They refer to this street as the “Rodeo Drive of São Paulo.
The best way to find live music and events happening is to look for the Time Out Magazine that is produced for São Paulo. This is the same magazine that is published in London to let you know what is happening and where.
São Paulo has many markets happening too, just some being the Sunday market below the MASP Gallery Museum listed above and the Saturday and Sunday markets in the Praça da Repύblica. One that you might also want to visit is the Mercado Municipal market (Mercadão) which is in located at Rua da Cantareina 306 in Centro in a historic grand 1933 ‘Belle Époque’ building with stained glass murals. It is a fascinating place with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and all sorts of market type merchandise as well as Brazilian special foods too like Pasteis. As with all your time in Brazil you need to be conscious of pickpockets and theft.
Providing food such a huge city as São Paulo also is big business and while there are many supermarkets throughout the city, there is also a massive produce market called CEASA, where they sell fruit, vegetables, flowers and plants. This marketplace covers some 7.5 million square feet of space and it operates on Wednesdays, Saturday and Sunday. It is a taxi ride away from the city, so you need to be keen to see it, but it can be a good place to see all the haggling and sales taking place.
São Paulo is 80 kilometres from the large port city of Santos on the coast, and while São Paulo enjoys a temperate climate, Santos is pretty much hot year round. It is quite a big city with a long stretch of high rise buildings running along its coastline, but there are some good beaches here too including a long stretch of gardens running next to the main beachfront.
Separating São Paulo from the coast is the 1000 kilometre long mountain range called Serra do Mar, that runs down the coastline of this part of Brazil. It is mostly covered in rainforest with roads crossing over or through the rainforest from the inland to the coast. Brazil has over 7400 kilometres of Atlantic coastline and officially has just over 2000 beaches along its mainland coast and small islands off its shores.
My favourite beach is Ubatuba which is around 224 kilometres north east from São Paulo, just one of the many popular beach resort towns and villages that can be found in southern Brazil. There are many places to stay, good restaurants and a really great surf and beach feel in what is now a city of around 70,000 people.
As you would expect the bigger the town or city the more facilities there are, whereas the smaller places may not have the facilities, but they can often be more fun too, especially if you don’t speak Portuguese and have to make by with sign language and a scattering of words.
I hope you have a great time in São Paulo.