Archives, Pro Tips and Guides, South America

A Weekend Guide to Sao Paulo

Way back when in my first few months of Brazil, I had the awesome opportunity to go to the mega city of Sao Paulo for a weekend with my program after my intensive classes were complete. Technically it was “for free” but we all know it was indirectly paid for by my insane tuition fees. Oh well, we are breathing, we are understanding it was an investment, and we are okay with how much student debt we now have to deal with…

In all honesty, I really loved Sao Paulo, and thought it a trip well worth taking, just because the reputation of the city is so distinct and the mentality of the Brazilians so much different than those in Rio. People in SP are serious and professional and act as the work horses of the Brazilian economy. Stereotypically, they are great organizers, more punctual, and good at dealing with the cold (because it dips down to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit there, people are freezing you know). Thankfully, we went in August when the weather was good and the flights were cheap!

We flew out of Rio from Santos Dumont airport which is used for all domestic flights and I was surprised (but not surprised) at how easy it was to get through security. At first, my friend Ian and I got to the airport early to wait for the others and I was pleased to open up our friendship more and have an honest conversation about our views on dating and marriage. I find it so refreshing when men are honest about their views on that topic and aren’t afraid to let women know what they think. For me at least, I have had so much experience talking about relationships with other women that I, for a while, had no honest idea how men approached the topic. That is until I actually allowed myself to become legitimate friends with men… but that’s a whole different heart conversation.

Anyways, I was in a good mood when everyone else arrived and I felt ready to leave the city as a celebration for us completing four solid weeks of class. The flight was slightly delayed, but that just allowed me a coffee break (always allow yourself a coffee break). I found a quality espresso stand with another good friend Matt and ended up laughing to tears as I watched him carry two overly-full cups of coffee six gates back to where we were sitting without trying to spill. It was a marathon but we made it! The flight was smooth and my first impression of Gol Airlines was positive. Pro Tip; use Gol for inter-Brazilian travel, because they are cheaper and Latam is better suited for greater South American travel.

We wait for our ride outside the airport in the cold rain and get a private van into the Madalena neighborhood. After checking in to our hostel, named O de Casa Hostel Bar, I’m impressed by the space. It’s mainly open air  (for a hostel that’s not a bad thing) and has a nice communal bar space and TV room. After we change and get dinner across the street, some of us eventually decide to just head back to the hostel and drink to celebrate the two unknown birthdays that were happening that night in the lobby. The surrounding area is super nice and has great vibes, but honestly we knew the fun was happening right at our hostel so we didn’t feel bad about returning.

I had red wine and burgundy lips in the chilly autumn-ish weather and suddenly, I didn’t feel like I was in Brazil anymore. The vibes of the city were incredibly more metropolitan than Rio and I got the feeling that I could have been in New York. All the people were dressed nicely, all the food was amazing, and the feel of the night was incredibly more sophisticated than any party I had been to in Rio. I had a great time mingling with Brazilians and travelers alike, practicing my Portuguese a bit and receiving high praise from the natives. I met a very tall man from Oregon and, after some shameless flirting, ended the night by getting his number.

The next morning was early, but breakfast was awesome at the hostel (but not free), so I was ready to start the day with the walking tour. We rode the metro (which is infinitely more complicated than Rio) and walked around centro. We saw some cool buildings, learned some cool facts, and saw a cool mass for Fatima in a beautiful cathedral. My favorite parts of the tour were the French bakery we stopped at and the street art. Brazil has this amazing law that protects self expression so street art is legal and encouraged! Almost everywhere you turned there were murals lining walkways and sides of buildings. There was a place called Dutchman’s Alley that was completely painted from top to bottom for about two blocks and it was incredible. The colors, methods, expressions, and styles were all different and I loved them all. Little art galleries and shops were tucked away between the giant paintings to help support the artists and I bought an incredible print and a sterling ring. We also stopped by Little Japan for the most amazing Japanese lunch I’ve ever had! It was buffet-style and super authentic because Sao Paulo actually has a large portion of their population descended from Japanese immigrants. We breezed through the area pretty quickly because we were running a bit late, but there is tons of shopping and food in this area. Absolutely recommend going!

After a nap, we headed over to the SP Study Center to meet the other CIEE kids that were studying with our program. We had a (very) long orientation about Brazilian communication styles and afterwards mingled with sandwiches and snacks. Some of them wanted to go out with us that night so we went back to the hostel, bought a strong, cheap, wine-like beverage that was known in the region and drank while meeting other people. At one point we were on the roof standing in the rain chatting with one of the Scottish employees about travel plans. It reminded me of my time in Munich in 2014, which made me all nostalgic. It was such a sweet trip because it was my first time in a Hostel abroad and I remember finally feeling like I was meeting people who were similar to me and who were also passionate about travel.

Going out that night was a bit complicated because of a miscommunication between one of my friends and his contact in Sao Paulo. We ended up first in an outrageously long line for a club back near the business district, then at bar across the street, then at McDonalds, and finally at a club called 1007. It was just me and my guys that night and we had a blast! The club had more of a techno vibe and was honestly a little empty (which we expected since there was no line to get in) but it worked well for us since we had more room to dance. Having gone with Matt and Zeke is what made the experience memorable, not the fact that we chose that particular club. We rolled back in at about 3 am and slept in on Sunday.

Wanting to be productive our last day, we went to Avenida Paulista which is like Main Street and walked around to see street vendors, company promoters, and performers all taking over the avenue. It was a picture-perfect time because the weather finally cleared and the sun was warm, the people were good, and the music was fine. We saw some antique vendors, and I bought vintage photos for a dollar. If you are in Sao Paulo on a Sunday, this is a must-see! After that, it was almost time to go so while my group decided on lunch options, we stop for cappuccinos. We want to quickly eat at a restaurant not far from our hostel, but get held up when we waited 40 minutes for our orders, and another 10 minutes for them to wrap it up because we were late. We run back to our hostel to catch the ride back to the airport while shoving food in our faced using no utensils in a moving vehicle. This is typical Brazil.

We arrive safely back in Rio on time and after walking out of the airport it felt like returning to home base. That was the first point in my trip where I remember Rio feeling comfortable, like I knew it. I was very impressed with Sao Paulo and absolutely want to return, but I was happier that I had that feeling of coming home.

If you find yourself in Sao Paulo, some things to keep in mind:

-Allow more money for transportation, the city is much bigger!

-The food culture is AMAZING there, but it’s also significantly more expensive than Rio. Also, free house water doesn’t exist there so all water must be paid for.

-If you like art, this city is a must-visit in South America! The street art is free and breath-taking, and there are also multiple highly-rated art museums sprinkled throughout downtown.

-Don’t miss the Japanese food!

-Because SP is more inland than Rio, the weather is more intense, meaning it gets colder in winter and hotter in summer. Pack accordingly.

-I stayed at the O de Casa Hostel Bar hostel in the Villa Madalena neighborhood, highly recommend for the social traveler!

-The nightlife is great, but just like Rio, you shouldn’t dress too fancy. Look nice, but keep the 8 inch heels at home.

-Avenida Paulista on a Sunday is actually quite dreamy and was one of my top things we did over the weekend.

-Remember, the city is huge so there is always something for everyone!

Next to Read: Ultimate Guide of Rio de Janeiro




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