First Timer's Guide To São Paulo, Brazil

LAST UPDATED: March 07, 2016

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Quick Facts

◉ São Paulo is the biggest city in Brazil (in terms of population) and is the 3rd largest city in the world

◉ Official currency is the Brazilian Real (R$), ~US$1 = R$3.90

◉ Predominant language is Portuguese

◉ São Paulo has the most number of people of Japanese descent than in any other city outside of Japan

How To Get Here

I flew into São Paulo from the US and there are many airlines that fly into Brazil's capital city. In the past 12 months, I've been seeing some fantastic deals for non-stop flights to São Paulo from many US hubs. I hopped on one myself with Delta Airlines and flew nonstop from JFK to São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport (IATA Code: GRU) and back to JFK via Detroit Metro Airport (IATA Code: DTW).


The cost of the return ticket ended up being US$512.34 after a US$50 rebate from signing up with the American Express Gold Delta Skymiles Card.

As for visas, I was very fortunate that citizens of the Philippines, such as myself, benefits from visa free entry into Brazil. To check if you need an entry or transit visa for any country, refer to my guide.

RELATED: How To Find Out Visa & Other Pre-Arrival Requirements in 2 Minutes

Ground Transportation


The main international airport, São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport is about 25 km (30 minutes without traffic) from the city center. Based on the recommendation from a local who now lives in the US, I decided to take a taxi to get to my hostel in Vila Madalena. As soon as you exit the main terminal, there is a curbside booth for taxis. Pricing seems to be region based meaning you will pay a flat rate depending on where you want to go.

Cost from GRU to my accommodation (Ô de Casa Hostel São Paulo), approx. 30 km was R$161.04 (US$41.31).

Alternatively you can take a combination of the metro rail and bus to get to the heart of São Paulo. Lastly, check with your accommodation if they offer any kind of airport transfer. After I arrived at my hostel, I found out that they did indeed provide airport pickup for R$120 (US$30.79) and drop off for R$90 (US$23.09) - which I used on my return flight out of GRU.



Without doubt, the easiest way to get around São Paulo is the local Metrô.

A single, one way ticket will cost you R$3.80 (US$0.98).

PRO-TIP: If you are planning to buy the tickets at the station, they are cash only. I also strongly recommend you buy 3 - 4 of them at a time if you know you will have future trips in mind to save time and hassle. The tickets are not time locked in any way as far as I can tell.


Ô de Casa Hostel São Paulo

I chose this hostel because I wanted to stay in the nightlife rich district of Vila Madelena. It also came highly rated on Hostelworld with a bar on premises to make interacting with fellow hostel guests a lot easier. The people I met were fantastic, with some I keep stay in touch with to this very day. The beer was cheap which made staying in a no-brainer as 2 out of the 5 days I was there completely washed out due of rain. Unfortunately, the facilities were a bit lacking with the rapidly dilapidated rooms and bathrooms. Later on, I did find out that they had newer private rooms across the street from the main building starting at R$55/night (US$14.11). At the end of the day, it was livable and could have been much worse.

 Bunk bed in 4-bed sharing room

Bunk bed in 4-bed sharing room

My nightly rate for the 4-bed shared room was R$60/night (US$15.40)

PRO-TIP: If you are looking for other hostels in the area, I highly recommend beginning your search on Hostel World for shared dorms and Agoda for great deals on hotels in the area.

Food & Drink



Brazil's national cocktail should make it to the top of your food & drink list. It is made out of cachaça (sugarcane hard liquor). The standard concoction is lime smashed into the cachaça with a little sugar poured over ice, and does come in a variety of other fruit medleys and flavors. Enjoy!



5 parts meat and 1 part bread, this is more of a 1/2 pound meat pile with a slight bread garnish. Head to the Municipal Market to grab some of the best in town with the numerous vendors in the building.



Açaí pulp comes from the Açaí palm tree and is commonly served with fruits for a deliciously light snack. Again, the Municipal Market has some great offerings of this with all the fresh fruit being sold nearby.



For some strange reason, Saturday seems to be the day to get your hands on Feijoada according to locals. I waited till the weekend rolled around and went in search of this delicious food item. It is a meat (normally beef and pork) stew that is served with a plethora of sides.

RESTAURANT PICK: Santa Clara Restaurante (Google Map)
Close to the Fradique Coutinho stop (Yellow Line) - buffet style, pay by the weight (Approx R$30/kg, US$7.70/kg).

Churrasco (Barbecue)


The meat in Brazil is especially good which leads to an explosion of Brazilian BBQ restaurants all over the world. A churrasco meat plate is a fantastic meal for any foodie and is best enjoyed with a group of new friends.

RESTAURANT PICK: Cervejaria Patriarca (Google Map)
Smack in the middle of Vila Madalena, their mixed plate ("Chapa mista do Patriarca") that serves 2 - 4 people is magnificent.



Brazilian comfort food doesn't come any better than Coxinha which is fried shredded chicken in batter. It is often in the shape of a chicken leg, but does come in various shapes and sizes.

Attractions & Nightlife

Beco Do Batman ("Batman Alley")

Google Map / Free

This alley running through Vila Madelena is as bohemian as it gets. While there is graffiti that defaces many buildings in São Paulo, it is put to good use here, showcasing some truly fantastic works of art.

SP Free Walking Tour

Website / Free, Donations Recommended

The best free walking tour in São Paulo is the SP Free Walking Tour! Their three main tours are Paulista Ave, Vila Madalena & Old Downtown. I personally went on the Old Downtown one and loved it with a very knowledgable guide leading the way. After the tour, the guide told everyone in the group that the average donation they receive per person is R$10 (US$2.57), serving as a baseline. Again, your experience with the tour will drive how much you wish to donate. Some choose to give nothing! Since I had a fantastic time on the tour, I doubled the suggested donation rate and gave R$20 (US$.5.14).

SP Walking Tour Sight: Edifício Itália


Google Map

One of the first sights we saw on the Old Downtown Tour with SP Free Walking Tour, this is the 2nd tallest building in São Paulo with a so-so Italian restaurant, Terraço Itália Restaurant, at the top giving dining guests spectacular views of the city skyline.

SP Walking Tour Sight: São Paulo Municipal Theater ("Theatro Municipal de São Paulo")


Google Map

Yet another sight on the Old Downtown Tour with SP Free Walking Tour, the main theater of the city is considered a key city landmark. The theater is alive and well after a recent renovation and hosts productions of all kinds.

SP Walking Tour Sight: São Paulo Cathedral ("Catedral da Sé")


Google Map

The marquee sight on the Old Downtown Tour with SP Free Walking Tour, this neo-gothic style church boasts decadent styling and intricate details in the interior. As you walk in, look up and marvel at the over 20 meter dome ceiling.

Martinelli Building

Google Map / Free

Originally designed by Italian Brazilian entrepreneur Giuseppe Martinelli, this 30-floor skyscraper was one of the first of its kind in the city of Sã0 Paulo. The great news for you is that the rooftop is open to the public for spectacular views of the city.

PRO-TIP: The free rooftop viewing is limited to certain hours in the morning and mid-afternoon. There will be a sign on the door with viewing times for that day.

Municipal Market

Google Map

Arguably the largest public market in the city specializing in the freshest fruits and vegetables in the area. Many vendors will even allow you to sample many of the fruits if you ask nicely. It is here that you can get your hands on some of the best açai and mortadella sandwiches the city has to offer!

Ibirapuera Park


Google Map

A large, expansive urban park in the heart of São Paulo, many locals come here to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. You can see many people running and biking while others bask in the sun and sit on the lawn. Other points of interest at the park are the Pavilion, Planetarium and Museum of Modern Art.

São Paulo Museum of Modern Art ("Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo")


Google Map / R$6 (US$1.54) Admission Fee

Located in Ibirapuera Park, the facility has a sculpture garden just outside the main building and works of art inside totaling over 4,000 pieces.

São Paulo Museum of Art ("Museu de Arte de São Paulo")


Google Map / R$25 (US$6.42) Admission Fee

The Museu de Arte de São Paulo is a private, nonprofit museum with multiple levels of beautiful art and sculptures located on the renowned Paulista Avenue.

PRO-TIP: Admission is free on Tuesdays!

Personal Expenses Breakdown

Here is what I spent on my first visit to São Paulo. I made it a point to take down every single expense during my time there to give all of you a sense of what my expenses were as a single, solo traveler.

Trip Duration: 5 days, 4 nights

R$ US$
Accommodation 253.75 65.16
Food & Drink 487.67 125.23
Ground Transportation 330.85 84.96
Airfare 1,995.15 512.34
Entertainment 69.71 17.90
3,137.13 805.89

Exchange rate as of February 11, 2016


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