Staying safe in São Paulo

Trip Start May 28, 2006
Trip End May 17, 2007

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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

It's not often that we pick a place to stay based on a recommendation of how safe the area is, but in São Paulo we made an exception. We were only going to be in the city for a little over 24 hours, it wasn't really somewhere we'd planned to visit; so we chose a few things we wanted to see and decided to stay in the Paradiso area of the city. We took the metro from the bus station. It was interesting watching our fellow travellers - there was a very down-at-heel looking family and a woman in pristine clothes and sunglasses who'd had so much plastic surgery she could barely move her face.

We arrived at the hotel we'd chosen and luckily they had a room free. For once we weren't particularly interested in culture or atmosphere so we picked a cheap Formule 1 business hotel right next door to the subway. We checked in and discovered they had a fast, cheap wireless internet connection and cable TV with BBC world! Really, the smallest things keep us happy sometimes!

We dragged ourselves away from our technological nirvana to go in search of some Japanese food. Yes, you read right, we're in Brazil, but we fancied sushi and as this country is home to the largest Japanese community outside Japan (200,000 Japanese had moved here by 1908) our guidebook seemed to suggest we'd be able to satisfy our craving. We headed to Liberdade, although there were quite a few pan-Asian restaurants many were closed in the evenings and it took us a while to find somewhere. When we did, we weren't disappointed - we had an enormous platter of sushi and sashimi between us. It was really impressive, but as we'd read so many mugging warnings we'd gone out without our camera so you'll just have to imagine what it looked like!

The following morning we stayed at the hotel doing chores/watching TV until we needed to check out at noon and then went to see a bit more of what São Paulo had to offer. Our first stop was the Mercardo Municipal - this is a fruit, veg and produce market, the building was finished in 1933 and it's a bit like Borough Market in London in an Art Deco setting. The stalls are beautifully arranged with lots of mouth watering products - meats, cheeses, olives, stacks of vegetables and loads of fruits - many totally unrecognisable (believe me, I know my way round a greengrocer's but some of the indigenous treats haven't even made it to Waitrose yet!). After looking around our mouths were watering so we headed to the mezzanine for lunch - very good middle eastern salads with flat bread and falafels.

After the market we took a taxi to the Immigration Museum. This journey rates a special mention as the driver, who didn't speak a word of English, asked us where we were from and then rummaged around in the glove compartment for a minute. He dug out a CD which he put on especially for us - it was an English advertorial all about São Paulo and what there was to see and do. It was really sweet of him.

The museum turned out to be a quite a dodgy area of the city (right next to a men's homeless hostel), but was definitely worth the effort to get there. It´s housed in an old building used for processing immigrants - the last ones left here in the late 1970s. We hadn't realised how many people came from Europe, North America and, to lesser extent, Asia, but between 1886 and 1915, two point nine million people arrived in São Paulo searching for work. Pretty phenomenal, when you remember this was before the days of mass air travel.

The various exhibits explained (unfortunately only in Portuguese) the different waves of immigration, which started with large numbers of Italians in the mid 1800s, who were followed by Spanish and Portuguese, before East Europeans and Japanese followed. More recently the newcomers are from neighbouring Bolivia. The main source of work for most were the massive coffee plantations or fazendas which took off in the 19th century. Brazil was by far the world's largest exporter of the stuff until the market collapsed after the Wall Street crash in 1929.

After reading all about it, we had a quick coffee, before jumping in a cab back into the centre. We'd only wanted to go to the nearest metro, but things got a little confused so we ended up getting out a Praça de Sé to take a look at the cathedral. It's quite strange to look at this Neo-Gothic construction - it was only finished in the 1950s - and realise it's only ten years older than the ultra modernist one we saw in Rio.

Brazil has really struck us as a culture of contrasts and São Paulo couldn't really be more different from Rio. This city is the largest in Brazil and with over 20 million inhabitants it's apparently still only the second largest in the world. It's often described as the economic powerhouse of the country, but the rest of Brazil doesn't seem too impressed with this. Apparently the joke goes that Paulistanos are constantly unimpressed by the work ethic of their brothers' elsewhere in the country, but everyone else believes the people here are so uptight they can't enjoy anything, especially sex. Whether that's true or not is difficult to say as weren't in town long enough!

After the brief stop at the cathedral we went to take a look at Avenida Paulista. This was originally where the rich coffee barons built their mansions, but very few of them remain, nowadays the road is littered with modern high rise office blocks. It wasn't quite the grand avenue we were expecting but it did give us some idea of how huge the city is - it's 3 times the size of Paris and covers more than 1,500sq km. We stopped at a pavement cafe for a snack and then made plans to get to the airport for our flight to the Iguazu Falls.
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jolsoninindiana on

Thanks for taking the time
Really appreciate your sharing your experience in Sao Paulo. We are planning a trip there in May, and I'm trying to find out all I can, but firsthand travel accounts are the best. I am concerned about all the violence I've read about. Did you see or encounter any violence while in Brazil? Would appreciate your comments on this subject. Thank you.

sianandjim on

Brazil violence
We were quite lucky in that we never encountered any violence firsthand in Brazil, although we did get our (very cheap) digital watches stolen during Carnival in Salvador. It was entirely our fault as we'd be warned not to take anything out with us and of course we'd forgotten to take them off - no violence was used they were just prised off our wrists in a scrum.

We were generally sensible about where we went and what we took with us - we never went out loaded with jewellery, cash or credit cards, even during the day.

We did hear about one young couple who were robbed in Ipanema on their way back from the beach. Three young kids with knives took their books, suncream and the tiny amount of money they had on them. They were obviously shaken up, but had complied quickly and the kids just ran off.

I think the key is to look like you know what you're doing, don't take any risks and if you do find yourself in danger just hand over your valuables as quickly as possible.

Brazil is an amazing country and we had a wonderful time there - it would be such a pity if the fear of violence spoiled your trip - so be sensible and you should be just fine!

Hope that helps, Sian

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