Most often perceived as a let’s-get-down- to-business metropolis, Sao Paulo has long been a fly-by city for leisure travelers, or a connection hub when heading to such close-by attractions as Iguazu Falls, Pantanal, Belo Horizonte and the glittering Gold Cities. This traveler, too, had been guilty of such destination neglect, until just recently when I visited as a guest of Embratur (the Brazilian Tourist Board) and LATAM Airlines Group, inaugurating its nonstop service between Boston and Sao Paulo.
Sao Paulo—“Sampa” to locals—is a must-stop for clients who savor fine hotels, a lively arts scene, beautiful parklands, gourmet dining, smart shopping, and a dusk-to-dawn club scene. Consider some attractions this visitor loved best:
• Park-Perfect: Sao Paulo’s 400-acre Parque Ibirapuera is the emerald heart of the city, with museums, a planetarium, botanical gardens, cafes, performance spaces, walking and biking paths, and a lake. My favorite is the brilliant Afro-Brasil Museum, whose collection of paintings, costumes, and indigenous and religious artifacts presents an immersion in how African and indigenous people influenced Brazilian culture.
• Arts Aficionados will delight in the city’s lively arts scene and particularly in the Art Museum of Sao Paulo (a.k.a. MASP). It features top Brazilian artists keeping company with master painters such as Rembrandt and Picasso. A modern art standout is the Pinacoteca do Estado, a museum harboring more than 3,000 works of art in a collection starring Brazilian paintings from the 19th century to the present.
• Municipal Market, a covered Belle Epoque confection of domes and stained glass, features well-organized and welcoming stalls manned by vendors selling fruits with unpronounceable names, endless choices of cheeses and sausages, spices and herbs to cure every ailment, and bird cages complete with live birds.
• Savvy shopping is a hallmark attraction, either bargain hunting in Sunday flea markets or browsing high-end boutiques focused on Brazilian designers along chic Rue Oscar Freire. Our neighborhood crawl included Espaco Havaianas, flagship store of Brazil’s famous flip-flops; Boutique Daslu, where everything “in” is in; and Galeria Melissa, a temple to bold (and comfortable) plastic footwear.
• Dining Around is a leading reason to love Sao Paulo. Ethnic neighborhoods provide the setting for exceptional restaurants and the city’s active nightlife, i.e. Bela Vista and Bixiga (Italian), Vinte and Cinco de Marco (Arabic), and Liberdade (Japanese). Our group had some memorable meals at Restaurant Tuju (two Michelin stars), and Mani with its Brazilian-dishes tasting menu.
• Home Away from Home on this trip was the Renaissance Sao Paulo Hotel, well-located in the Jardins District. Guestroom features range from comfy bedding to high-speed WiFi, and with Club Rooms and Suites come grand city views and access to the Club Lounge. The Renaissance is creatively on the hospitality bandwagon of encouraging guests to discover local experiences. Many are offered right in the hotel, with Brazilian dishes on the menu in the Terraco Jardins Restaurant, the Lobby Bar serving up live-band samba music along with traditional caipirinha cocktails and Brazilian craft beers. Local essential oils and plant extracts are part of treatments offered in the hotel’s haven of well-being, The Spa at Renaissance, whose 3-hour Journeys include hot tub, massage, facial and special rituals. A true Renaissance specialty is its core of “Navigator Experts” who walked me through their specially curated Sao Paulo in 72 Hours itinerary. I had just enough time to enjoy one suggestion: join the Vila Madalena street art tour and walk Batman’s Alley of mind-blowing graffiti.
LATAM is on a roll as it continues to strengthen its international destinations network. In 2017, 13 international routes were inaugurated; for 2018, the announced new routes count rose to 17. The carrier is focusing on expanding nonstop flights between the U.S. and Brazil. In April, the airline inaugurated daily nonstop service between Miami and Salvador da Bahia, and in July, debuted the only nonstop between Boston and Sao Paulo, operating four times weekly. Boston is now the sixth U.S. city on the LATAM network, joining New York, Orlando, Miami, and LA, plus seasonal flights from Las Vegas. Additionally, from its South American hubs, the carrier fans out to offer countrywide local flights in six domestic markets: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.