I wrote a travel piece recently about São Paulo that started something like this:
“The first thing to do before touching down in São Paulo is forget all those glamorous images you have of Brazil. Forget about long sandy beaches packed with beautiful people in skimpy bikinis, the glorious postcards of Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf mountain, or the sensuous beat of samba and carnival.
That’s Rio de Janeiro. São Paulo is its ugly sister.
But like many an ugly sister forced to take a back seat to the sibling who had it all, São Paulo has carved out a niche for itself through hard work and dedication. This once small coffee town has grown in size and stature to become one of the most interesting, cosmopolitan and dynamic cities in the world.
São Paulo and the surrounding metropolis of 20 million people is Brazil’s industrial and financial capital, with some of the best culture, gastronomy, fashion and nightlife not just in Brazil but in the whole southern hemisphere.”
Unfortunately, the editor thought it was too negative and I had to rewrite it.
I thought about that story this morning when I saw in the papers that São Paulo is to get an official city tour bus, one of those red double decker things that pick people up and drop them off at sites around the city.
My first thought was, “Where are they going to take them?”
And my second was, “They’ll spend half their time in traffic.”
Most of the world’s big cities have these tours and I think this is São Paulo wanting to be like the big boys in London, Paris and New York.
But I can’t for the life of me work out the point of it all. There simply isn’t very much to see in São Paulo. Reports say – typically there is nothing on the official SPTuris site – that the bus will visit the municipal market, Pacaembu football stadium, Avenida Paulista, Ibirapuera park, the Japanese neighborhood of Liberdade, and the city’s opera house, amongst other places (see diagram right). These are not sites to excite a foreign visitor.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Sampa is a fascinating city. But when I wrote that travel piece I struggled to come up with interesting things to do outside museums. The football museum is a must, and there are a dozen other good ones, the highlight for me being the Museu AfroBrasil.
But São Paulo’s appeal is in its night life and its shopping. Go to the high fashion stores on Oscar Freire, walk around Vila Madalena’s funky shops and galleries, and hit the town with Bahian food at Rota do Acaraje or tapas at Clos de Tapas, before drinking and dancing at Alberta #3 or Astronete or Lions.
The city tour bus is a nice idea if you live in Berlin or London, but one that is totally out of place with the reality of São Paulo.
It will, however, provide visitors with the quintissential São Paulo experience. You’ll spend hours stuck in traffic.