About Traveling Misconceptions: My Experience of Sao Paulo

20161226_164553

I have to be honest with you: even if I am an avid traveller, even if I have visited over 35 countries in the past 10 years, even if I have an open mind and not many things scare me, I got a lump in my throat when the only option to fly to South America had a 12 hours layover in Sao Paulo. Sure, I have been to Sao Paulo before but just for 4 hours and just to change flights.

I tried to do as much research as I could because I didn’t want to stay inside the airport for 12 hours in the middle of the day. I went online and tried to find forums and Facebook groups where other travellers would talk about their experiences in the city. And that scared me even more. I asked a friend who lived in Sao Paulo for a while and she told me to hire a driver for the day, lock the doors and see the main attractions from the safety of the vehicle. There were so many opinions about how unsafe and how dangerous Sao Paulo is that by the time I finished my research I was sure I would get robbed at gunpoint the moment I steped out of the airport.

 

How did I prepare for the trip?

A few weeks before my flight I posted a trip plan on Couchsurfing and I’ve ordered anti-theft underwear from Amazon. Yes, as funny as that might sound, they are actually a thing. I even considered buying a cheap phone, just in case, when the robber would demand I hand over my mobile and my wallet.

20161226_132556

I have had quite a few replies on my trip request from Couchsurfing but none of them looked like it would concretise. However, I did meet another traveller who was visiting Sao Paulo the same day so we exchanged numbers. We exchanged a few messages and he seemed like a nice person. We chatted mostly about our flights to Sao Paulo, as we were both in transit. He was coming all the way from India while I was bored waiting for my flight in Heathrow. Note to self, don’t book again a flight on Christmas Day as there is no public transport, not even to the airport. I guess I thought that it might be better to be robbed in two, for moral support. I know, I keep going on with this but I was convinced that this will happen to me, I had the same feeling as when I said the airline will lose my bag on my way to Cuba. And it did.

20161226_164106

Even at the airport, as I arrived 7 hours before my flight, I had a chat with the checking in agent to see if I can change my itinerary. Unfortunately, there was only one flight to Lima from Sao Paulo, and that was the one I was taking anyway.

 

Prepare your trip to Brazil with the Lonely Planet guidebooks:

 

How did Sao Paulo welcome me?

I landed in Sao Paulo at 6am. The immigration process was fast and easy, I think our plane was the first one landing that day as there weren’t many people waiting in the queue. What took ages though was me running around the 3 terminals, trying to find an ATM that wouldn’t charge a fortune in fees.

Then I tried buying a bus ticket into town, but the lady didn’t really speak any English so I had to improvise. In the end I managed to buy a return ticket. Valid for the day before. As I’ve easily made friends with one of the stewards in the bus station, he didn’t check my ticket so I’ve only realised I had an invalid ticket on my way back to the airport. But we’ll get to that story in a bit.

20161226_075452
Not too bad for an airport bus

I was meeting Ankur at his hotel so I figured out that I need to get off the bus and then take the underground for a few stations. Rome2Rio app was so useful in helping me getting around this massive city. Cause yes, Sao Paulo is giant, with 12 million people living here! That’s more than half of the entire population of my home country!

As soon as I got off the airport bus I panicked. I looked for the underground sign and rushed towards it, passing through the middle of a beautiful square surrounded by trees. As I was climbing down the stairs to the metro, I looked up for a second and I caught a glimpse of the local life: a newspaper seller was arranging his pile, a man was sweeping the street in front of his building, another woman was checking out the dresses from a street vendor; everyone was minding their own business.



The tube was quite busy. I have expected it though. Through the crowd, I noticed a young boy, no older than 10 probably, making space and leading his blind father (I assumed) towards an empty seat. They were talking and laughing together, with the child acting like a proper carer. They got off at the same stop as me and I’ve noticed how careful and protective the child was with his father.

With the help of Google Maps I’ve made my way down the hill, on a winding street, towards Ankur’s hotel.  It was really hot and I couldn’t wait to take my backpack off. There weren’t many people on the street. When I arrived at the hotel I passed by reception and headed towards Ankur’s room where he welcomed me with a smile and let me use his shower. After flying for 12.5 hours I so needed it. He also let me leave my heavy backpack in his room while we went out.

 

So what actually did happen in Sao Paulo?  

As my time in Sao Paulo was limited we decided to head out straight away and explore the city. Ankur needed a SIM card so we went inside the first mall in our way, after the free hotel shuttle dropped us off at the corner of Avenida Paulista, the city’s main avenue. With skyscrapers on both sides of the road, Avenida Paulista is the financial centre of the city and home to South America’s most complete fine-art museum, the MASP. Being quite the metropolis, there are plenty of things to do in Sao Paulo.

But first things first. We were both very hungry and as it was lunchtime by now, we stepped on an adjacent street searching for a restaurant. Without internet, we ended up at Adoun, where we each had a wrap as part of a meal deal. Nothing special, nothing Brazilian, but the staff was nice and the food was good.

20161226_123748

After lunch, Ankur suggested to go to the Liberdade neighbourhood, which was recommended as a must-see. We walked there, passing through some interesting places, with buildings covered in fascinating street art and poorly looking houses rising behind them. Because we were in Brazil we had to have a local coffee so we stopped mid-way, at a tiny local establishment. There were only three tables inside, each of them covered with coffee beans. The lady at the counter didn’t speak English but she was so nice to us, happy to welcome two tourists in her little coffee shop.

20161226_125221

We knew we reached Liberdade when we stepped through the tall red torii arch, its entrance. Liberdade is also called the Japantown because it is the home of the largest Japanese community in the world outside Japan. In the past, this area was called Campo da Forca (Field of the Gallows) and until the late 19th century this was the place where slaves and convicts would be executed. In the early 20th century, the Japanese immigrants started to move in due to the cheap apartments and the proximity to the city centre and implicit to their work places.

20161226_132532(0)

Today the neighbourhood is peaceful, with red lamps every few meters and plenty of places to eat. We stopped at one of them to have a refreshing beer, as the temperature was easily stepping over 30 degrees. Again, we were the only tourists and we had to point at what we wanted, but even so, we were still treated the same as any other local customer.

20161226_135753
Does anybody look decent after a 12.5 hours flight? 🙂

I was actually loving my time in Sao Paulo! Unfortunately though, I had to catch an evening flight so we called an Uber to take us back to the hotel. The price of the journey was the equivalent of around 5 dollars and we wondered how do the drivers make money with fares so low… I got my backpack, said goodbye to Ankur and he called another Uber for me to take me back to the bus station, as it was already too late to take the underground. The driver was very nice again, he tried to communicate with me using Google Translate and was excited to have a tourist in his car. At the end of the journey, as neither of us knew where the airport bus station was, he even went inside a nearby hotel to ask for me, to make sure I am in the right spot.

Remember how I told you that I managed to buy a bus ticket for the 25th of December instead of the 26th? This was the moment I found out, when I handed it to the bus driver. He kept pointing at the date, I kept smiling and shruging my shoulders as a sign that I have no idea what the problem was. Searching hard through my memory I managed to say a “manha”, “retorna bilhete” in Portuguese and managed to make myself understood that I bought the return ticket that morning from the airport. We all laughed and he invited me to take a sit inside the bus, offering me a bottle of water as well.

Now, what was the point of this story? What happened in Sao Paulo? Nothing! I left home being afraid of this city, fearing everything I have read online. I arrived here only to discover a beautiful metropolis with very friendly and helpful people. Sure, things can happen and you should be prepared for any situation that may arise, but you shouldn’t let your fears ruin your trip or else you won’t be able to enjoy it. I would love to return to Sao Paulo and spend more time discovering the city, going to Ibirapuera Park, visiting the museums, trying out the local food and experiencing the night life. I’ve heard is really good!

 

 

Disclaimer: Some of the links one this website are “affiliate links.” This means that if you click on the link and do a purchase, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost for you. This helps me keep my website running and continue to share my traveling knowledge with you. I thank you for booking your flights or hotels using the links on my website. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Traveler. Dreamer. Cat lover. Wondering around the world with my backpack and my camera. Contributing to make the world a better place.

53 Comments

  1. It is nice to read all your experiences in this city.I’ve heard of Chinatown in most of the countries.But this is the first time to hear about Japantown where more Japanese community lives.I cant imagine a long flight,my experiences are usually for 3-4 hour flights.But that also something I really don’t like… 🙂

  2. That all sounds like a great day, and vastly better than staying at the airport. Glad you were safe, made a new friend, and got to see some of the city. I love your observations on the people you saw along the way; to me, that’s what makes travel so fascinating.

  3. Brilliant to read you had a really safe trip! Sao Paulo looks like such a beautiful colourful city! I would love to visit Brazil one day. How nice that you got to make a travel companion too! 🙂

  4. Like you, I have also heard stories of how unsafe Sao Paulo can be, especially for women, and I suppose in a city that big you will always have a degree of crime. However it was great that you took precautions and left feeling that you wanted to see more and perhaps you will return one day to do it more justice. Enjoyed the way you write and I found what you said about your experience there very interesting and also liked your photos.

    1. I know São Paulo to 20 years never a problem, not to mention that the biggest cities in the world and some of the safest in Latin America,

  5. I think you made the most of your time there. I’ve never tried couchsurfing, but doesn’t seem like a bad thing to do. Yes, I’ve heard of anti-theft underwear 🙂 Looking forward to more travel stories from you. Cheers!!

  6. I think you summed up the iconic cafe in San Paulo. Some place where you can order a cup of local coffee from somebody who doesn’t speak English. That seems like the experience that sums up San Paulo more than a shopping trip for anti theft underwear.

  7. I think most solo travellers have the same apprehension when travelling to a place that gets a lot of bad media. Still, you did the right thing by doing your research first, and connecting on couchsurfing. I use it too, and it’s a great way to connect with other like-minded people. Glad you had a good experience!

  8. I’m so pleased you enjoyed Sao Paolo and made the most out of your short time there! I’ve often had preconceptions about a place, only to have them completely changed once I’ve visited. I love how you painted a picture of local life for us, thank you!

  9. Love your photos, they really capture the place! I’d love to go to here, but I had also heard stories about it being unsafe. It’s great to read a personal account that covers that aspect!

  10. I have heard so much about the culture and nightlife of Sao Paulo. This post only enhances my knowledge about the place. Anti-theft underwear sounds interesting. I wonder how it works. Haha. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Well, they have a pocket in which you put your money and credit cards. They are quite big so I wore them over my actual undies and managed to get my phone in there as well 😀

  11. I haven’t been to Sao Paolo but Rio and some other areas in South and Bonito. I loved Brasil. Just language gets hard if you are outside the big cities as hardly anyone speaks English but I loved the trip.

  12. What a wonderful trip you had. And I was really impressed the way you were prepared for this trip, and for any mishap including getting robbed. But I am glad overall you had a nice experience in Sao Paolo. The bus ticket part is interesting. How did they even issue an expired ticket!!

  13. So great that you had this experience. Solo females always get told the horror stories, and constantly warned about the dangers – and you have to take a lot of that with a grain of salt. But, at the same time, things do happen, and there are some places that are dangerous. Figuring out which situation is which is the tough part! I’m so glad you were able to team up with another traveler, and you had such a great experience!

  14. It’s great that you had such a good day there, I bet you wish you’d had longer now. I do sometimes think the internet has a habit of scaremongering and over exaggerating. It’s a shame as so many people will have been put off going to San Paolo after the things they’ve read.

  15. I am so glad that you had a positive experience in Sao Paulo but I can completely understand why you had those original misconceptions, the news doesn’t always make it sound like the nicest or safest place. However it sounds fab and if you do visit again, I hope you have plenty more time to explore.

  16. I love that despite what everyone said, you went anyway. People have had bad experiences in almost every part of the world. While Sao Paulo has a bad stereotype, I’m glad that you made the best of it and went anyway! It sounds like it was quite the fun day!

  17. It’s crazy how much our nerves can put us on edge, right? I’m sure I’d be nervous landing in Sao Paulo as well, but I’ve heard from many travelers that they’ve had a good, if cautious, time there. Glad you had a fun trip!

  18. I am glad you did not stop at the general reviews of the city and went ahead to discover Sao Paulo. It definitely seems like a friendly and lovely city from your eyes. I love the street art that you have captured in your pics. And am so glad that you figured the right date for your return journey before you missed it. Cheers to your visit

  19. This post is rather inspiring for me since I always stay at the airport scaring I might stuck somewhere in the city and be late for my next flight. Such a thing happened in Turkey several years ago, so I am always more than careful. But whenever I need to change flights and such a process lasts for some 6 hours (during which I stay at the airport), I regret the time spent inside and not meeting the cities at least a little bit. So, next time, I might do the same as you did. I hope I will have a happy-ending story to tell you about.

  20. Great post. Good to hear it all went well in the end even against your initial fears. Sometimes reading up
    To much on a place can physc you out. Sounds like a interesting city to visit!

  21. Ho kind and accommodating of the Uber driver to try to talk with you using the Google translate. He must be really thrilled to having a tourist inside his cab. I haven’t been to Sao Paolo and dont know even its reputation. While reading the first part of your story, I thought the place would bring danger but then thank goodness nothing so bad happened to you. It is prudent to be vigilant and observant especially in new places.

    1. Sao paulo is bigger cities of the world and safer ones of Latin America, there is a lot of sensationalism and misinformation

  22. Thanks for sharing your experiences in Sao Paulo. I have read a lot of non savory things too about the place that I thought this place would be the last I would visit. However, you have indeed enlightened us about Sao Paulo. Thank you and keep on posting!

  23. Sounds like a lovely 12hr layover! Good thing you didn’t let those reviews ruin your time in Sao Paolo. I’ve always wanted go to Brazil since [I think] it’s one of the few countries a Filipino citizen can visit without a visa. And base on your experience, it’s safe and friendly place which is perfect. But I guess it wouldn’t hurt to take pre-cautions perhaps roam around with a new friend. 😉

  24. What a great read! As a massive Ayrton Senna fan, I’ve always wanted to visit Sao Paulo but was a bit worried about the security aspect. Your post has put it right back on my travel wishlist again!

    1. I know São Paulo to 20 years never a problem, not to mention that the biggest cities in the world and some of the safest in Latin America, bernie ecclestone owner F1 has a farm near Sao paulo where he visits almost every month with his Brazilian partner, he even ironized English media for making sensationalist predictions that are never met on Brazil where he has visited since 1954.

  25. Based from your photos, Sao Paulo is beautiful. Misconceptions are around the place. It’s just up to us if we will let ourselves be absorbed by it. Yes, we need to be careful at all times but let’s also xplore the bright side of a place.

  26. Woah! This is quite informative post that you have! If I were in your place, I might panic a bit having 12 hrs layover. I mean, Brazil was said to be a country that has a lot of fun and football. It’s also nice that you did not let those reviews affect your decisions. That’s a shock that there were no transpo around too!

  27. Ah, good read. We sometimes fear of the unknown things to us and those we haven’t experienced yet but have heard so much. Glad nothing bad happened to you, even though you’ve only had a few hours to set foot in this city, it’s indeed an incredible experience. Heard some unfriendly things about Sao Paolo and as much as I’d like to believe ’em, I’d also love to see it myself!

  28. Thanks for sharing your experience! Personally, I didn’t know there was such a stigma about traveling to/in San Paulo but it’s good to know from a first hand experience that it’s safe. So interesting to learn about the large Japanese population in the city!

  29. This information is so good to know! I am travelling to South America, Brazil included during November and I wasn’t sure whether to come here, I think it will be a yes now!

  30. I LOVE your story because this has been me so many times. I’ve traveled to 50 countries, and with the exception of only one country, every place I’ve traveled to ended up being much safer than I had imagined before I went. Looking back now, I realize how silly I was to even think those things. I’m not going to lie though, I have the misconceptions you had about Sao Paolo, so it makes me really happy to read about such a positive experience there!

  31. I enjoyed reading your story. I’m from the other side of the world that I’m not really aware of Sao Paulo but while reading, it reminds me of my home Manila. There are always travel misconceptions and whether its true or not, never skip a place because of it. You’ll never know the city until you experience it. Good or bad, at least you’ve tried.

  32. I’ve heard about how Sau Paulo is dangerous too, but just like any other country that’s typically regarded as dangerous, it can be quite peaceful too. How I wish you weren’t there for just 12 hours. I would love to travel with you there by reading your travel experience. I feel like there is more to explore and know there. Anyway, cheers to you for being able to explore and make it in time for your next flight.

  33. For me, some media are just exaggerating everything. Although Sao Paolo is depicted as one of the most violent cities in Brazil. I have read an article before warning the visitors to avoid exploring the place alone especially at night as it is very dangerous. Based on what you have shared.. it seems pretty safe (maybe because it’s in the metro). The 12 hours flight is undeniably exhausting though haha. Also I never heard of that anti-theft underwear.. sounds crazy yet interesting way to secure your important belongings like credit cards and more

  34. For me, some media are just exaggerating everything. Although Sao Paolo is depicted as one of the most violent cities in Brazil. I have read an article before warning the visitors to avoid exploring the place alone especially at night as it is very dangerous. Based on what you have shared.. it seems pretty safe (maybe because it’s in the metro). The 12 hours flight is undeniably exhausting though haha. Also I never heard of that anti-theft underwear.. sounds crazy yet interesting way to secure your important belongings like credit cards and more

  35. reading your story made me remember my first time to go to one of our cities here in Metro Manila, Baclaran. You see, it was my first time to go to Baclaran Church with my mom and she was always telling me to stay alert. Why? Because there are robbers and pickpockets everywhere and I might even get kidnapped. But after our trip nothing really happened. I guess it applies to all new places that we go to- As a responsible traveler, you really do have to stay alert and be aware of your surroundings but don’t let all the bad stories and fear get to you. You also have to enjoy as it is why we are on a journey yeah? 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *