My final stop of my #NextStopLatinAmerica adventure is the vast, sprawling metropolis of São Paulo. With a population of 12 million in the city proper, and 20 million in the metropolitan area, this overwhelming city is the largest in the entire Southern Hemisphere. It is an enormous concrete jungle of high rise buildings that stretch as far as the eye can see – and for travellers can appear to be a daunting place to try to conquer.
However, nestled amongst the giant tower blocks and jam-packed highways, you will find there is a wealth of culture to discover – from top-notch museums, to gourmet restaurants (there are 12 500 restaurants and 52 kinds of cuisine in the city) to theatres, to an unbeatable night-life. This cultural melting pot is home to a huge number of ethnic groups – most notably the biggest population of Japanese people outside of Japan.
I decided to head straight to central São Paulo to soak up the atmosphere of the city. After navigating the metro, I started my exploration in Praça da República, a tree filled square surrounded by the jumble of tower blocks and old architectural gems that characterise this part of town. Graffiti decorates every other wall, some gigantic works of colourful art, some messy scribbles which create a sense of disrepair.
From here you can walk through the maze of cafes, shops and soaring offices to Praça da Sé, the oldest part of town where the magnificent Catedral sits. This huge gothic/ byzantine structure is impressive both inside and out, and is the largest Catholic church in the city. At the bottom of the cathedral square is the Caixa cultural centre, once a stately bank, and now a museum housing an exhibition by the famous Argentine artist Carybé, who I first encountered in Salvador.
Nearby is the Edifício Martinelli, São Paulo’s first skyscraper. This is a great place to view the city from the terrace on the 26th floor. You can start to fully appreciate the enormity of where you are from this vantage point!
Those wanting to escape the concrete hustle of city streets should head to Parque do Ibirapuera, the largest green space in the centre of São Paulo. Like in most big city parks, runners and cyclists whizz around on the pathways, while locals picnic on the grass. The weather in São Paulo is fairly volatile, with a high amount of rainfall, so when the clouds close in it’s the perfect time to visit one of the museums within the park complex.
The Afro-Brasil museum holds an extensive exhibition of paintings and photography by Afro-Brazilian artists, and artefacts connected with the slavery era. If like me, you are interested in the history of Brazil and the diversity of its people, this is not to be missed. Elaborate costume, sculptures and items of the candomblé religion fill this massive building where you could lose yourself for hours. Whilst North America took about 0.5 million slaves from Africa, Brazil took closer to 5 million, forever linking African culture with this part of the South American continent.
Sundays in São Paulo are the days for exploring markets and strolling the streets of the city. The 2.8km long financial avenue Paulista is closed off and becomes a pedestrianised strip for dog walkers, cyclists and live music performers. An antiques market can be found under the MASP São Paulo Museum of Art, and a craft market next to the gardens.
The Japanese district at Liberdade is another good Sunday spot, with more hand-crafted goods to buy and some amazingly delicious street food stalls – foodies will want to hit up this area!
São Paulo is a known haven for graffiti and street artists, and the best place to see some of the most impressive pieces is Beco do Batman, an area where 3 alleyways meet near Vila Madalena. Every inch of wall is smothered in enormous colourful artworks by well-known street artists from all over Brazil.
And for those looking for a good night out, São Paulo will not disappoint. With 15 000 bars in the city, there is something for everyone, from craft beer bars to all night samba clubs. Start the night by grabbing some local food – rice and feijoada – in a corner bar, where beers come in ice cold litre bottles!
It is time for me to hop on a plane back home to my small corner of England! It has been an incredible 3 months in Latin America, the absolute experience of a life-time, and my only regret is that I can’t stay longer! From the cloud forests of Ecuador, to the snow-capped mountains of Peru, to the beaches of Brazil, this continent has inspired me and entranced me at every turn. To all you would-be travellers out there, put South America straight to the top of your list and get planning!