In December of 2019, we spent two weeks in Brazil. Here you can find the itineraries for the four days we spent in bustling, sprawling Sao Paolo, the most populous city in the western and southern hemispheres!
Note that our itineraries typically do not include evening plans as we were cautious about venturing out at night in Sao Paolo due to the high crime rates.
Use discretion about being out at night and which neighborhoods you visit. Try not to look too touristy or wealthy. Also be prepared to see the overwhelming poverty in the cities. The homeless sleep in cardboard boxes right on the sidewalks…everywhere.
Uber works very well and is affordable. We had no problems and it was very convenient for getting around such a large city. The app makes getting a ride very safe and is helpful especially if you don’t speak Portuguese. No awkward attempts at explaining where to go!
Most hotels have outlets with 2-prong American fittings, but if you have an appliance that requires a grounded plug (like a laptop), be sure to bring a converter. We use a universal converter and have found it helpful no matter where we travel.
Most South American hotels will not provide coffee makers in your room, but the coffee in Brazil is VERY GOOD.
Many ATMs and stores will try to trick you into paying secret fees by offering to “convert” your money for you. ALWAYS request the local currency (in Brazil, the real). Bradesco Banks, however, charge ZERO withdrawal or conversion fees!
Gear We Couldn’t Have Done Without:
Universal Converter: It’s always smart to travel with a converter that works for any situation.
Skyroam: This awesome device provides internet service via satellite and has worked nearly everywhere we’ve traveled. They have daily and monthly plans, but also ways to pay per use. For our long term travel in South America, we paid $99/mo for unlimited service.
Sarong: Sarongs are amazing. You can use them to lay on a beach, change your clothes, wear as a dress, keep warm on an overnight bus, or dress up a little black dress for dinner.
(For Her) Tankini/Swim Skirt Combo: I LOVE my swimsuit. I bought a tankini and swim skirt on Amazon before we left for our trip and they’ve been amazing assets. The tankini top looks like a regular tank top and the skirt looks like a regular skirt (with a pocket even). So, I can wear the combo around town, for hikes, on the beach, in the pool…anywhere…without any strange looks. It makes changing (or NOT changing) throughout the day easy when you plan to participating in multiple activities.
Sunscreen: The UV Levels are MUCH higher in South America. For example, it was rated “extreme” every day we were there. This means you can get sun burnt in as little as 10 minutes without protection. Also, sunscreen is very expensive in Brazil. You may want to stock up and check a bag to bring plenty with you.
10:40am Arrive in São Paolo
11:30am Uber to Hotel Calstar
2:00pm Grocery Shopping and Early Dinner at Mercado Municipal
5:00pm Drinks at Edificio Italia
We arrived in Sao Paolo on time after a seamless flight and learned our first lesson: don’t use the ATMs at the airport in Brazil. First, they charge a huge fee ($10USD). Second, they confuse you with an offer to convert your currency for you, then secretly add a 15% conversion fee to your withdrawal.
Both Sao Paolo airports have free WiFi for an hour, but we also travel with a Skyroam that uses satellites to provide users with unlimited internet access, so we had no problem ordering an Uber and getting to the pleasant Hotel Calstar despite not speaking any Portuguese. For the record, we used Uber a lot during our visit to Brazil and didn’t have any safety concerns or issues!
Once we settled in, we hit the streets and oh boy…what streets! We actually arrived on Black Friday, which is apparently a HUGE deal in Sao Paolo. The streets were filled with vendors and merchants, all aggressively selling their wares.
We finally reached our first destination, the Mercado Municipal, home to dozens of food vendors and restaurants.
We were pretty intimidated by all the options, but finally selected a restaurant on the top level and were rewarded with a delicious, but fairly expensive (by Sao Paolo standards) meal.
After our meal, we fought our way back through the streets to visit the Edificio Italia, one of the tallest buildings in the city, to get a bird’s eye view of the city we planned to visit the next few days. The visit comes with a drink, a choice of champagne, white wine, or pineapple juice.
10:00am Pinacoteca do Estado (Free on Saturdays)/Parque Jardim de Luz/Luz Station/Lunch
2:00pm São Paolo Catedral/Praca de Se/Marco Zero de São Paolo
3:30pm Explore/Dinner in Liberdade Japantown
On our second day in the city, we slept in a bit as the rooms in our hotel didn’t have windows to let the light in and we were still adjusting to the slight time shift (5 hours ahead of Pacific). Then we enjoyed the full and delicious breakfast buffet at Hotel Calstar. Brazilian coffee!
Next, we walked about a mile north to the Parque Jardim de Luz area. First, we visited the historic Luz Station, which houses the (currently closed) Museum of Portuguese.
Next, we walked through the lovely Parque Jardim de Luz.
The Pinacoteca do Estado is an art museum in the Parque Jardim de Luz and is free on Saturdays. They have a variety of collections from multiple genres and eras. Additionally, we highly recommend their restaurant. We had $9USD filet mignon!
Next, we ventured through the old town to visit a couple of history museums: the Museu Anchieta and the Solar da Marquesa de Santos. Sao Paolo has two large history museums in Parque Independencia, but they were closed at this time for renovations. We made due with the limited but lovely exhibits in these two museums.
Not too far from the museums is the Praca de Se and the São Paolo Catedral, a relatively young Cathedral (completed in 1954) within a beautiful and busy plaza.
Just another quick jaunt south brought us to the Liberdade neighborhood (AKA Japantown). Sao Paolo is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan! The neighborhood is full of Asian restaurants of all kinds (Japanese, Chinese, Thai, etc.). When we visited there was a street fair with food vendors and performances.
8:00am Beach Hiking Tour
9:00pm Return to Hotel
We highly recommend this tour! Mauricio, the guide, catered the experience to our small group, enabling us to spend as much time on the beach and hiking as we wanted. He even took out his machete so we could get into the harder parts of the jungle hike up to a waterfall!
Below are a handful of pictures from a perfect day!
9:30am Explore/Run/Workout on Machines at Parque do Ibirapuera
12:00pm Explore Paulista Avenida/Lunch/Shopping
4:00pm Return to Hotel/Clean Up
We originally planned to visit this area on a Sunday, but ended up there on a Monday, so museums were closed. For an alternative itinerary, see the final tab.
Our day started with a fairly lengthy walk to the Parque do Ibriapuera, something akin to New York’s Central Park. We entered near the Monumento do Bandeiros, a tribute to the early gold miners in the region. We were excited for a place to go for a safe run and finally get to play on one of the MANY public fitness centers available for Paulistanos to use.
After our run, we walked towards Paulista Avenue, something akin to New York’s Fifth Avenue. The wide, long street was one of the first roads developed as the city expanded in the early 20th century. There are many eateries and shops, as well as museums to explore here!
At the northern end of Paulista Avenue is the lovely Parque Trianon, one of Sao Paolo’s many small urban jungle parks that provide respite from the sun and city sounds.
We originally planned this itinerary for Day 3, but changed our schedule around due to weather. It happened that our Day 4 was a Monday, so the museums and walking tour listed below were not available.