I spent three days in São Paulo. I tried really hard to like it. That never happened. I found it to be a huge, expensive, dirty, ugly city with unbearable traffic. On the bright side, it has a great metro and probably the best food in Brazil.
Guarulhos International Airport
My first bad impression of São Paulo came from Guarulhos International Airport. It’s one of the most horrible airports I have ever been to. It’s noisy, chaotic, unfriendly, and just plain outdated for such a large city. It does have a lot of decent food choices and shopping, which makes up for things.
The airport is so far from the city center, it’s also difficult to get to within a reasonable amount of time. If staying in the city center, it could take up to two hours in traffic and cost over BRA$100 for a taxi ride. It was recommended by a few Paulistas to take the metro to the stop nearest the airport and take a taxi from there, but it wouldn’t save much time.
There is another airport, Congonhas, which is used more for domestic flights, but I didn’t have to travel through it.
Rodoviário Tietê, the bus terminal, is a little more bearable. It’s also huge (the 2nd largest bus terminal in the world behind New York City), noisy, chaotic, and unfriendly, but it is connected to the metro and a taxi into the city center is only about BRA$35. It also has a good choice of shops and food.
Sadly, my favorite thing about São Paulo is its metro system. The Metrô has several different lines and stations that link up most of the city. It doesn’t reach everything, but it gets you close. I found it to be clean, efficient, and the cars were large and spacious. Individual rides can be bought from an attendant. You put the ticket into the machine and go – the machine eats the ticket. Transfers were extremely easy – sometimes just an escalator up and I was right on the next platform. The only downside was that in rush hour we were packed in like sardines, which was expected.
I stayed at three different hotels during trips to São Paulo. Two of them were for overnight layovers, and one for a three night stay. For the longer stay, I stayed with my friend Mike at Hostel Paulista. The location was the only good thing about it, just steps from Avenida Paulista.
We upgraded to a private double room with shared bathroom a few weeks before arrival. We requested two single beds and ended up with a double. Two big guys sharing a bed was a bit uncomfortable, and the room was also in bad condition. The door to the balcony had a huge hole at the bottom and no lock, the room could have used a paint job, and both of us got locked in the bathroom more than once. The sink was outside on the balcony and had no mirror. That made shaving a bit difficult.
The staff were generally good, but we tried the laundry service on the first day. We were promised it would be done the next morning. When we were checking out on the third day, only half of the clothes had been washed. When we returned at 5pm to get our bags and go to the airport, the clothes were still drying. Lesson: for the price we paid, we could have stayed at a hotel in a less desirable area of town, but for much better quality.
República Park Hotel
The first overnight I stayed at República Park Hotel. The room was tiny and the bed was a bit hard, but the staff was excellent. They even arranged a taxi to the airport in the morning for BRA$80 through a friend of the doorman. The location is great for a longer stay if you plan on exploring the historic center of São Paulo. It’s located right on Praça da República, just a short walk from a lot of the sites, with lots of restaurants around. The only problem is that at night, the area transforms into Gotham City – heroin addicts, prostitutes, homeless, the smell of urine, and small gangs of Brazilian boys take over the streets. There’s no Batman to save you here.
The second overnight I stayed at Slaviero FastSleep. It’s a small hotel with shared bathrooms located inside Guarulhos airport. I arrived at 8:30pm and had a flight out the next morning at 11am, so it made no sense to spend the time and money to go into São Paulo. The rooms are basically closets with bunk beds and almost no room to put your bags. The bathrooms are accessed by your room key card and are cleaned after every use. Towels and soap are provided.
The staff seemed very uncaring and cold. They even gave my room away the day I was flying to São Paulo for no good reason. If I hadn’t been able to check my email during my connection to find out about the cancellation and write them back, I would have lost my room completely. When I arrived, they seemed annoyed and arrogantly told me I was very lucky that they decided to keep the room for me. This made no sense because I had made the reservation two months in advance!
In the end, I ended up paying BRA$300 – more than price I booked for because they added on 17% in taxes when I paid the bill. It was worth the price. If I had taken a taxi into the city, I would have paid over BRA$200 both ways, plus had to sit in traffic for who knows how long, and pay a premium price for a bed during World Cup which would have been over BRA$100 even for a hostel bed in a dump. It worked out for the better.
Food in São Paulo was good. Our first night, we ate at a Tex-Mex restaurant near our hostel, Si Señor. I wasn’t expecting much – usually Mexican restaurants are nowhere near as good as in Mexico or the US. Both of us were pleasantly surprised by the quality and authenticity of the food.
On our second night, we had sushi at Flying Sushi. There are a few locations, and we ate at the one a few blocks from Avenida Paulista. It wasn’t the best sushi we’ve had, but it was good. The price was also reasonable.
One lunch, we ate at Casas Campeão, a Chinese restaurant in Liberdade, the Japanese area of São Paulo. The restaurant, located at Rua da Gloria 118, was a great surprise. It didn’t look promising at first glance but the food was excellent. The service was friendly even though there was a language barrier and the entire menu was written in Chinese with almost no pictures. We ended up getting an order of fried calamari and noodles with beef and vegetables. It was by far the best meal we had in São Paulo.
Safety in São Paulo is an issue. I was very careful with my belongings, especially my camera, in the old part of town. Even with an increased police presence, there were still a lot of shady characters hanging out in parks and plazas eyeing us as we walked by. There didn’t seem to be too many tourists, either, which made things a bit awkward at times.