Depending on whom you listen to, or where you are reading, Sao Paulo is either the 3rd biggest city on the world, or the 5th based on population. No matter which it is the mere fact that it is right up there near the top was a huge surprise to me. And perhaps it is to you as well. For unlike the others in the top like New York and Tokyo it does not seem to get the sort of publicity that those cities do. This, as I will discuss later, may be due to the fact that Sao Paulo is not really on the global tourists circuit.
I have never thought of Sao Paulo as one of the “mega-cities”, but found that with at least 11 million people in its metropolitan area it is the biggest city in the Southern Hemisphere.
It is, of course, well known for the terrible traffic jams and now knowing that it is one of the biggest cities in the world helps to explain that to me a bit more! The traffic can be quite terrible. It can mean that a simple 8 block journey can take up to an hour and a half as it did for us on this trip one evening in bus going to dinner.
On my first short trip to Sao Paulo last year, I was remarkably under whelmed by the city and found the traffic issue annoying and irritating and I saw the city as just being a collection of mediocre tall buildings that all seemed to be beige! I assumed it was the duller and less good looking sister to the exotic and vibrant Rio a relatively short hop away by air.
However, in the interim, I had been talking to colleagues from the city who had such a passion that I decided on my next visit I really needed to make more of an effort to see the city that they were all so excited about with new eyes.
Sao Paulo seems to be very much a night time city and is proud of its exciting and varied evening fare. There are at least 12000 restaurants offering over 52 different types of cuisine from all over the world. Part of the reason for this huge diversity is because the size and scale of the city but actually more fundamentally the difference reflects the make-up and history of this buzzing city.
The various waves of development that created Sao Paulo meant that it saw influxes of many different cultures from all corners of the globe. While Brazil’s main language is Portuguese reflecting the most dominant country in developing Brazil, there are actually more people of Italian descent (5 million) than of Portuguese descent (3 million). The city also unexpectedly has the largest number of Japanese outside of Japan, some 1 million people!
The diversity of population really harks back to the late 19th Century when piles upon piles of immigrants arrived from Italy and Japan largely to work on the huge coffee plantations. Once the coffee industry more or less plummeted in the early 20th century people switched to commerce. Today as a result, Sao Paulo is one of the most important financial centres in Latin America and the world. Another fact showing the diversity is that it is the home for more German companies outside of Germany than any other city in the world!
It has also become an important part of the world circuit for not only the Formula 1 Grand Prix but now also the Sao Paulo fashion Week is among the most important in the world for emerging fashions.
The latter fact is not a surprise to me as without a doubt Brazil is really a place to see beautiful and stylish people. I am not sure if the glorious weather all year round is the cause so people are always wearing skimpy summer clothes and so make sure they are well toned and trim as their bodies are always on display, or if it partly genetic. You do see very attractive, toned and the beautiful set all around you in Sao Paulo. Designer fashion labels are, though, is surprisingly expensive and I found that clothes were incredibly costly ��" I guess due to import duties and exchange rates as well possibly. This is defiantly not a city to stock up on hot new fashions as a traveller!
This is also a city of extremes. Sao Paulo is so affluent that it contains so many heliports and use of helicopters that is ranked among the top 3 cities in the world for this, but it also has a great deal of poverty and a seedier side to it. For example, when you enter the country, and also when you check in to your hotel, there are posters and leaflets about the problems of child sex tourism which the state is trying to tackle.
You also notice as you drive around the residential areas that all apartment blocks and homes have high fences, electric gates and windows are covered with bars. Personal security is an issue in the city. Many of the residential streets also have small security booths where privately hired security guards can sit in and keep watch on the streets