Sao Paulo Travel Guide

August 28, 2011 · Posted in South America, Travel 

With around 20 million paulistianos (residents of São Paulo), there’s no denying that São Paulo is gargantuan. While it often competes with Rio de Janeiro as a vacation hot-spot, the city offers a lot that Rio cannot. While Rio has gained attention for its natural beauty, São Paulo’s appeal, as the economic and cultural hub and Brazil lies in its people and vibrant culture.

The third largest city in the world had a humble start. Jesuit priests founded a mission strategically close the River Tietê, in 1554. The mission developed into a small trading post and then in the 17th and early 18th century, into a starting point for Bandeirante expeditions. In 1711, the small market town was incorporated as the city of São Paulo. It was until 1723, that the future prosperity began with the arrival of the first coffee plants in Brazil. The climate and soil turned out to be perfect for coffee production, and when the railway arrived in 1867, large-scale cultivation exploded. São Paulo became one of the largest coffee exporters in the world. Slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, and coffee growers turned to immigrants for labor. Italians and Japanese, and later eastern Europeans, Spanish, Portuguese, and Germans journeyed to São Paulo, which remains the most culturally diverse city in Brazil to this day.

More recently, the São Paulo population surpassed that of Rio in the mid-1950s. Foreign investments by large car companies such as Ford, GM, and Volkswagen transformed the city into South America’s largest car manufacture. All of this growth with little foresight is the cause of endless traffic jams that clog São Paulo streets today. This busy city often scares away prospective travelers, which is a shame.

Smart travelers get to know the local Paulistas who run Brazilian business, politics, and urban pursuits. The benefits of such a large city are innumerable – top restaurants, shopping, art, and nightlife. The numbers are overwhelming: 110 first-rate museums and cultural centers, 402 theatres and cinemas, 12,500 world-class restaurants, and over 15,000 bars and nightclubs. As the city that works hard and plays harder, São Paulo’s restaurants and bars are among the best in the world. The large availability of options may seem daunting to travelers, however, São Paulo is divided into manageable districts. Between Jardin Paulista, Vila Madalena, and Liberdade every traveler is bound to find a great vacation in São Paulo.

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