1 Day in Sao Paulo – Sightseeing & First Impressions

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Sao Paulo was our first stop on our budget trip in Brazil. Read our basic itinerary to learn what can you do for one day in Sao Paulo!

Finally, at the end of June! We were ready to leave work behind for a month. After a long, 12-hour layover in Copenhagen, we got on our plane to Brazil from Amsterdam. You probably know these long, transatlantic or transcontinental flights, they are boring. During the night you can’t really look outside, other times the sun is blinding so others ask you to close the blinds, or most likely you don’t even have windows. And you cannot really sleep. If you are unlucky, a baby will be crying next to you all the time (it happened to me on the way back to Europe from SE-Asia…). The only entertainment besides magazines and books (if you take any) is the built-in movie/music player/gaming station. If it works. On our way to Brazil, our ‘computer’ didn’t work and they couldn’t fix it. First, I was a bit frustrated as we already agreed with Karol on a gaming marathon, but in the end this way at least we could try to sleep a bit more.

The first impressions of Brazil

After the long flight, we arrived at São Paulo. A new continent! São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil and it has more inhabitants (11 million) than the whole of Hungary. So definitely big! We already could see this from the bus from the airport to the city. Many lane roads (4 by 4 and similar) with traffic jams.

Big roads everywhere
Big roads everywhere

We arrived in the evening. It was raining and the temperature (15°C) was similar to Finland. Getting across the immigration and customs went fast. Then we went to find the bus to the city. It was not so obvious where to go (or how to buy a ticket), but the bus drivers who were on break were helpful. We also needed to exchange a bit of cash, but we only needed enough for a few bus/metro tickets. We were planning to exchange the rest of our money in the city where the rates are better.

The bus was crowded. It was after 6 o’clock work and raining, so you can imagine the ‘climate’ on the bus full of wet people. We had to get to the metro. Outside darkness and rain, but it was hard to miss as the flow of the people went to the metro/train station and the bus also got empty at that stop.

Probably because it was evening, queues of 50+ people were standing to different machines. That time we did not know, that we will see it more often. There were people walking next to the queues and offering people tickets, but we were not yet sure about prices, so we wanted to wait, but then we realized that there are ticket counters where you can buy only single tickets. These had a shorter queue and we got our tickets from there within 10 minutes.

Resting trains
Resting trains

Arrival at the hostel

The rain luckily stopped by the time we got off from the metro, but we realized it is not the best area of the city… Probably that is why the hostel was super cheap! The street we had to pass was pretty dark, the street lights didn’t really work. We checked the directions on the phone and then packed it. We didn’t want to risk that somebody would steal and run away with into the dark, so we had also printed out map which we used later. But people were actually helpful. Some older lady tried to talk to us when she saw we are tourists trying to find something on the map. As we speak neither Portuguese nor Spanish (yet), we couldn’t really talk. After a while, we arrived at the hostel.

The receptionist didn’t speak any English, so we checked in without communicating at all. The hostel and the room looked like, well, that it is possible to rent for shorter than one night stays. Anyway, we wanted to sleep in a bed after the previous nights at Helsinki airport and on the plane, and before the next night at the airport, so it was okay.

Check accommodation prices at São Paulo.

Exploring São Paulo in 1 Day

As our time in Brazil was limited and it was winter (Southern Hemisphere!), we decided that we will spend most of our time in the Amazon region. In São Paulo we did not have a too long time. Exchanging money was our only important target for the day, but we still wanted to look around the city.


Municipal Market – Mercadão Municipal

We went to the Municipal Market first while observing money exchange options. The market looked nice, inside well-situated people were shopping on huge meat and fruit stalls, the building was pretty, colonial style if you looked the columns and structures. Outside we have seen 20+ men sleeping on cardboard and covering themselves with old blankets (all of them had the same blankets) or jackets. Workers, who pack the fruits? Or homeless people who get blankets as aids and camp around the market waiting for a little work or food leftovers? We didn’t get an answer to this question.


Marketplace from inside
Marketplace from inside
A bit further away of the market, but the same blanket as other homeless people had
A bit further away from the market, but the same blanket as other homeless people had

Even though it was a very short stay in the city, it was enough for the first impressions. It felt different from Asia, but on the other hand, the same. We have seen poor and homeless people on both continents. It is always striking to see very rich and very poor people living (being) next to each other, whether at home or somewhere on the road.


Catedral da Sé

The first version of the church was built in the 16th century, and one of the largest Neo-Gothic temples in the world. You can visit the crypt below the altar (only on guided tour), and see the place where the indigenous leader Tibiriçá is buried.

The Cathedral is considered the center of the city of São Paulo.

Favelas & fancy parks


We have seen the first slums (favelas), the ‘districts’ where poor people live. A lot of people moved to the big cities in the 20th century in the hope for better life and work, but the cities were unable to provide enough work and accommodation possibilities and the people only found places in these areas. They are like separate organs in the city, they have their own rules and organization, even schools or hospitals (so we have read). But other non-legal activities such as drug-trafficking or weapon trades may take place there, and because of that, there are still frequent encounters with police or military. We tried to avoid these places for now.

Next to Ibirapuera Park
Next to Ibirapuera Park

Parque do Ibirapuera – Park Ibirapuera 

Many beggars and homeless were living in the parks in general, but Park Ibirapuera was different. The park is located outside of the center, and homeless people were not allowed into this fenced green area.

One of the most tranquil parks in Sao Paulo that is kept in really nice shape. It was full of blossoming trees, fancy fountains, some duck-like birds (sorry, I am very bad with animals), skateboarding areas, running paths and playgrounds. Even though it was winter, the weather was pretty warm during the day, and we could spend there few hours eating the food we bought in the city and rest.

Nearby Museums: OCA museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Afro-Brazilian Museum

Blossoming tree in the park
Blossoming tree in the park
Ibirapuera Park
Ibirapuera Park

Money Exchange in Sao Paulo

We got a suggestion about where to exchange our money at the tourist information in the Municipal Market and the place looked very good (as an office and rates as well). They exchanged on a way better rate than any other place we have seen. I was a bit suspicious, though, I counted the money like 3 times and checked if the notes look good and same. I made Karol do the same. Usually, I am not that much worried, but we decided to exchange almost all our money here and not to bother with it later, and I did not want to be cheated. I can tell now that we didn’t have any problems with the notes later either. We made a good deal.

Next stop

After one day of sightseeing, in the evening we went back to the airport, where we spent the night before our early morning flight to Manaus, where we will spend several days in the rainforest and then take a ferry to Tabatinga, Colombia.

Exploring São Paulo, Brazil

1 day in Sao Paulo Brazil | Sightseeing in Sao Paulo | Guide to São Paulo | Itinerary for 1 day in São Paulo | #saopaulo #brazil #sightseeing

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