Because of its reputation as a concrete metropolis, visitors are surprised by Sao Paulo’s lovely natural areas. The Botanical Garden is small and delightful, with some 340 species of Brazilian flora and green houses with orchids and rainforest species. The city is also home to Latin America’s largest urban park, the 400-acre Ibirapuera Park, an oasis of green where in addition to gardens and lakes there are museums, a planetarium and the Japanese Pavilion. And beyond the greenery, many of Sao Paulo’s main attractions are reminiscent of Europe: the iconic churches are the Monastery of Sao Bento, whose basilica dates back to 1598, and the 20th century Metropolitan Cathedral, a building with Gothic and Byzantine elements, accommodates 8,000 worshipers. Meanwhile the Municipal Theater was inspired by the Paris Opera, and Sala Sao Paulo has been turned into a strikingly contemporary symphonic hall. The city is Brazil’s finest destination for art lovers who may find that museum buildings are often as noteworthy as the exhibitions. Top of the line is the Art Museum of Sao Paulo (a.k.a. MASP), where top Brazilian artists keep company with such painters as Rembrandt and Picasso; another standout is Pinacoteca do Estado with more than 3,000 works of art in a collection featuring Brazilian painting from the 18th and 19th centuries, and adds sculptures by Rodin and Niki de Saint-Phalle. Sao Paulo is also a world-class city when it comes to shopping, from bargain hunting in Sunday’s Liberdade flea market to high-end boutiques focused on Brazilian designers along ritzy Rua Oscar Freire. On weekends, Paulistas head for the beaches—such as Sao Sebastiao, Toque Toque Grande and Maresias.
Sao Paulo is the closest international gateway to Foz do Iguacu, where Parana River waters feed 275 cataracts in the 1.5-mile wide precipice that forms a breathtaking natural border between Brazil and Argentina. The most famous hotel here, and the one with the best falls views and access, is Hotel das Cataratas, now an Orient-Express property; it’s the only hotel located inside Iguacu National Park.