Sao Paulo, Brazil
A Local's Guide Latin America

São Paulo: A Local’s Guide to South America’s Only Mega City

Sao Paulo, Brazil – A city that is more likely to be visited as a stop over in between flights rather than serve as the go-to destination and whose hotels are more likely to be filled with men and women on business trips rather than tourists. Sao Paulo is rarely the highlight on a Brazilian itinerary, if it even makes the cut at all.

This metropolis is continually over shadowed by the seductive beaches of Rio, the vibrant Afro-Brazilian culture of the Northeast and the dense jungles of the Amazon. But as the economic heartbeat of the country and the largest city in the Western Hemisphere (not just in Latin America), when it comes to Sao Paulo… are we as travelers missing something?

According to one former resident and Sao Paulo aficionado, the answer is yes.

Meet Ernest White II

Ernest White II - Producer and Host of the Travel Tv Show, Fly Brother
Ernest White II – Producer and Host of the Travel TV Show, Fly Brother, coming to your local PBS station in the summer 2019

Ernest White II, aka the Fly Brother, is the host of the travel-and-culture focused Fly Brother Radio Show, publisher of the multicultural travel portal and the producer and host of the global travel docs-series “Fly Brother”, which will be coming to your local PBS station this summer (with the first episode being about Sao Paulo).

Ernest is an overall travel guru who has circled the globe 5 times and out of all of his travels, claims Sao Paulo as his favorite city. A native Floridian, White’s love affair with this metropolis began back in 2010 when he moved to Brasilia, the country’s capital, to take a job as an English teacher. During this time he jetted off to Sao Paulo for short weekend trips every chance he got. After just 8 months in Brazil, White got the opportunity to call Sao Paulo home after accepting a position as assistant editor at Time Out Sao Paulo, where he was responsible for exploring every corner of the city to report on all of the exciting things that Sao Paulo has to offer. White currently lives in Miami, Florida.

São Paulo - Helicopter
São Paulo is the helicopter capital of the world, with more than 700 flights per day. The rich opt for air travel to avoid the city’s infamous traffic jams. Photo courtesy of photographer, Carlos Alkmin

LMT: You claim Sao Paulo is your favorite city in the world. Why?

EWII: The city is exhilarating and dynamic – the best example of organized chaos. It’s very urban like New York (in fact, SP is the only mega city in South America) yet is still tropical because it’s Brazil. In fact, it reminds of New York in the 1970’s. It’s a place of different levels of struggle. The rich struggle for safety, the poor struggle for survival and meeting basic needs and the middle class struggles with their aspirations. And just like NYC, the city can be crushing. But all of this fosters great creativity (much like the Greenwich village of the 70’s). It inspires people to truly live in the moment.

Sao Paulo is a great city that’s getting better and better as it’s recently been “rediscovered”. Since the Brazilian economic crisis that began in 2014, people can no longer afford to pop off to Rio or other parts of the country on the weekends or for vacation so Paulistanos are finally reinvesting in their own city.

Sao Paulo is also one giant melting pot with so much culture (for example, it has the biggest Japanese population outside of Japan and the largest Lebanese population outside of Lebanon). It’s home to amazing restaurants, museums, nightlife and culture. There’s no other city like it. To me, you can’t truly understand Brazil without having visited Sao Paulo.

São Paulo Skyline
São Paulo Skyline. Photo courtesy of photographer, Carlos Alkmin

LMT: For Travelers visiting Sao Paulo, what are the top experiences they should have?


Mercado Municipal

This is a large public market that was built back in 1933 and is still in operation today where you can find all sorts of fruits, vegetables, spices, meats etc. The market became popular with tourists after Anthony Bourdain filmed an episode there where he tried the classic Paulistano Mortadela Sandwich

The famous mortadella sandwich from Sao Paulo's Mercado Municipal
The Municipal Market in Sao Paulo was made popular among tourists after Anthony Bourdain filmed an episode here, where he indulged in the classic Paulistano mortadella sandwich

Vai Vai Samba School

Samba schools can be found all over Brazil, especially in the big cities, and Sao Paulo is no exception. They are essentially dance schools that have a strong sense of community as they typically represent a specific neighborhood. In Sao Paulo Vai Vai Samba School is my favorite, especially in the few months leading up to Carnaval (which usually takes place in February or March). During this time you can watch the school practice the routine that they’ll perform in the famous Carnaval parades. The energy during these rehearsals is infectious.

Rio de Janeiro doesn’t have a monopoly on Carnival! Dancers from “Rosas de Ouro” samba school (rivals of Vai Via) are dressed in festive costumes during the 2012 Carnival parade in Sao Paulo. Photo courtesy of photographer Carlos Alkmin

Ibiapuera Park

“The Central Park of South America”. This giant public park is a green oasis in the middle of this giant metropolis. It’s also a cultural center filled with some of the city’s best museums including the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art and my favorite – the Afro-Brazil Museum which highlights the work of black painters, writers and politicians in Brazil.

Ibirapuera Park in Sao Paulo, Brazil serves as the "Central Park" of South America
Ibirapuera Park in Sao Paulo, Brazil is the “Central Park” of South America
The Auditorium by Oscar Niemeyer in Ibirapuera Park, Sao Paulo
Ibirapuera Park serves as a cultural center in Sao Paulo and is home to several museums and event spaces – such as the Auditorium with it’s distinctive red canopy entrance by the famous Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer

Avenida Paulista

This popular street, about 2 miles long, is filled with popular shops, hotels, restaurants, bars, museums and cafes. Sunday afternoons are the best for people watching

Avenida Paulista, Sao Paulo, Brazil
The side streets off the famous Avenida Paulista are full of “botecos” or traditional bars. It’s the perfect place to grab a  beer, especially one of Brazil’s artisanal beers

Edificio Italia

This 46-story skyscraper has an observation deck with a restaurant at the top where you can take in incredible views of the unending city skyline.

Edificio Italia building in Sao Paulo, Brazil
The Edificio Italia building in Sao Paulo. Photo courtesy of photographer Carlos Alkmin

LTM: What’s the best neighborhood to stay in?

EWII: Jardins – it’s a beautiful and safe neighborhood with leafy streets. It’s also a cultural hotspot with museums, amazing restaurants and boutique shops. Plus, it’s centrally located so it makes for the perfect home base while exploring this massive city.

Jardins District in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo courtesy of photographer Carlos Alkmin

LTM: What’s the best neighborhood to eat in?

EWII: Bixiga (pronounced be-shee-ga). This is the old Italian neighborhood where italian immigrants settled when they came over in the thousands in the early 1900’s. This neighborhood still has tons of great traditional restaurants, pizzerias and bakeries – many of which are still family owned with the same original recipes.

“Bixiga” – the old Italian district in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo courtesy of photographer Carlos Alkmin

LMT: What’s something local you recommend that travelers wouldn’t easily find out about via a google search?

EWII: Hmmm…. I may want to pass of this question off to my friend Flavia Liz, who’s still living in Sao Paulo. The city is always changing, and so are the cool local spots. Flavia Liz is a personal friend and professional tour guide. She’s the one who showed me around in the Sao Paulo Fly Brother episode. She’s the best tour guide I’ve ever had, truly.

Flavia Liz:
I would recommend the renovated cultural center on Avenida Paulista with insane views! SESC Paulista is a mix of a cultural center and a sports club within a 17 floor building designed by Königsberger Vannucchi Arquitetos Associados, which has a library (specialized in art and technology), a contemporary art gallery, a few contemporary art spaces, a theater, a space for children, coffeeshop, restaurant with very tasty, nutritious and inexpensive food, plus the observatory at the rooftop with a breathtaking view of Paulista Avenue (the financial heart of Brazil). The best part, it’s free!

Meet Flavia Liz Di Paolo

Flavia Liz is a professional tour guide in her hometown of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo taken by photographer Katiuska Salles

“At the forefront of experiential tourism, Flavia Liz Di Paolo is an expert on São Paulo in the luxury segment, and offers unique work as a Personal Guide, catering to clients from all over the world in six languages: German, Italian, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese” – excerpt from the About section of Flavia Liz’s website

To read more about Flavia Liz or to book a tour Click Here

For more of Carlos’ work and/or purchase licenses or prints of his photographs Click Here

You can watch Ernest and Flavia Liz explore Sao Paulo on the first episode of the Fly Brother Travel Show coming to your local PBS station this summer! But for the episode teaser, watch the video below!


Bonus Tips!

Having visited Sao Paulo several times myself, here are a few of my recommend activities:

Wander the Streets of Beco do Batman

Beco do Batman is a trendy neighborhood in Sao Paulo that’s famous for it’s high concentration of graffiti and street art

Beco do Batman, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Pedestrians observe the street art in the trendy neighborhood of Beco do Batman, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Have Lunch in Liberdade

Liberdade is Sao Paulo’s Japantown, where the streets are lined with Japanese lanterns as well as numerous sushi bars and ramen shops

Sushi in the Japanese neighborhood of Liberdade in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Sushi in the Japanese neighborhood of Liberdade in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Browse “Feirinhas”

Every weekend local street markets pop up all across the city selling artwork, antiques, handcrafts and traditional snacks such as pastel, coxing and acaraje

Weekend markets, known as feirinhas, pop up all over Sao Paulo
Weekend markets, known as feirinhas, pop up all over Sao Paulo

Attend a soccer game

Sao Paulo City is home to several soccer teams including Sao Paulo, Palmeiras and Corinthians – making it the perfect place to observe the country’s favorite pastime

Palmeiras game in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Watching a Palmeiras game in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Explore small beach towns in the state of Sao Paulo

Just like New York, Sao Paulo is a state (not just a city) and is home to over 400 miles of tropical Atlantic coastline, all within a few hours drive from the giant metropolis. Many of the beaches are remote and uncrowded with tourists.

Prainha Branca, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Prainha Branca “Little White Beach” is a remote beach getaway in Sao Paulo State


  1. Loved the fusion of viewpoints in this post. Thanks for including contact info for Flavia Liz! Always good to have a starting point in unfamiliar territory.

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