Sao Paulo, Brazil

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This article originally appeared in Delta Air Lines’ 2012 Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America Travel Guide. It has been extracted from its original format. To read the full travel guide, visit the digital edition.

Sao Paulo, often called Brazil’s “Big Apple,” is indeed South America’s largest metropolis, as well as the country’s corporate and industrial core. And because business is Sao Paulo’s business, it enjoys the fringe benefits of hosting most of Brazil’s finest restaurants—D.O.M., for one, Familia Mancini for another. There’s also nonstop nightlife—Skye bar atop Unique Hotel—and classy hotels—from the Sofitel to the Fasano. When Sao Paulo is not about business, it’s about culture, with museum-hopping high on everyone’s list. Top of the line is the Art Museum of Sao Paulo (a.k.a. MASP), where Brazilian arts keep company with painters from Rembrandt to Picasso. Another standout is Pinacoteca do Estado with more than 3,000 works of art featuring Brazilian painters from the 19th and 20th centuries, plus sculptures by Rodin and Niki de Saint-Phalle. And in the evenings, you’ll find serious performances of opera and classical music, theater and ballet at the Teatro Municipal.

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 showcasing Brazilian designers. However, the city’s grandest public market is the Mercadao, an architectural triumph of skylights and stained glass windows, packed with stalls of fresh fish, ripe cheese and exotic fruits. And despite its reputation as a concrete metropolis, visitors are surprised to find lovely green spaces, such as the Botanical Gardens, with 340 species of Brazilian flora and green houses abloom with orchids and rainforest species. But the granddaddy of all is the 400-acre Ibirapuera Park, a verdant oasis where—in addition to gardens and lakes—there are museums, a planetarium and the Japanese Pavilion.

Facts

  • Best time to go:
    Summer in Brazil, December through March, is hot; winter months, June through September, are mild to cool and cooler, depending on latitude and altitude; in Amazonia, the dry season lasts June to December
  • Fun fact:
    Sure the samba (said to derive from the African slave dance called umbigada) was born in Brazil, but so were other undulating dance rhythms: lambada, ferro and bossa nova
  • Getting there:
    Delta flies from Atlanta to Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro; and from Atlanta, Detroit and New York (JFK) to Sao Paulo
  • Entry documents:
    Valid passport, valid for six months beyond Brazil visit, and a tourist reciprocity visa, obtained in the U.S.; visa cost is $140, valid for 10 years; for Canadians, cost is $72
  • Currency:
    Brazilian real
  • Must-try local food: 
    Feijoada, the national dish and traditionally served on Saturday, is a black bean stew, simmered for hours with meats such as sausage, beef and pork, served with rice, farofa (manioc flour) orange slices, and stir-fried cabbage
  • Best buys:
    Brazilian gem stones, leather goods, wood carvings, sports clothes and shoes
    Information please: Brazilian Ministry of Tourism—brasiltour.com