Destination guide: Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sao Paulo is the most inhabited city in Brazil, with modern architecture that coexists in perfect harmony with the city’s greenery and white sandy beaches. On strolling through its streets, visitors witness a magnitude of culture and nightlife, as well being able to visit exclusive shops and art galleries.

Fly with LAN to Sao Paulo and get to know Guaruja Island, the legacy of the golden age of coffee and the place where the South American Grand Prix is held.

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  • Sao Paulo - Practical Information

    Orientation

    Because it grew at dizzying speeds and without a master plan, São Paulo has no single grid of streets but rather a hodgepodge of grids in more or less concentric circles that radiate out from the historic center. This, together with a dearth of easily identifiable landmarks, means it’s easy to get hopelessly lost.

    There is some good news. First, most places of interest are clustered between the historic center and Av Paulista, an area that can easily be navigated by foot – if you have a good map. Second, a safe, efficient metro also connects most central sites as well as a number of further-flung neighborhoods.

    Sitting atop a low ridge and lined with skyscrapers, Av Paulista is the city’s main drag, dividing its largely working-class Centro from tonier neighborhoods to the south. At its western end, Av Paulista is crossed by the corridor made up of Av Rebouças and Rua da Consolação, which roughly divides the city’s eastern and western halves.

    To the north of Av Paulista lies what is generally called Centro, including Praça da República and around; the traditionally Italian Bela Vista area (also known as Bixiga); Luz, a newly refurbished cultural hub; the traditionally Japanese Liberdade; and the old commercial and historic core around Praça da Sé and its cathedral, including Triângulo and Anhangabaú.

    Extending for about 10 blocks south of Paulista is the leafy neighborhood known as Jardins (the neighborhood’s official name is Jardim Paulista), which has a lion’s share of the city’s tony restaurants and boutiques. Further south is the leafy, low-rise and exclusively residential area known as Jardim Europa and also the slightly less exclusive Jardim America. Southeast of Jardim Europa is sprawling Parque do Ibirapuera, while to the west lie the upscale neighborhoods of Pinheiros and Vila Madalena. South of Jardim Europa lie the upmarket bastions of Vila Olímpia and Itaím Bibi, both of which are increasingly important business centers.

    The city’s international airport is located 30km east of the city center and has good connections by airport bus as well as taxi. The city’s domestic airport is about 8km south of the city center and easily reached by taxi or city bus. Four intercity bus stations are spread around the city, though all are at or very near a stop of the city’s excellent metro.

    Currency

    Brazilian Real

    Budget & Cost

    Brazil, with its booming economy and strong real, is one of Latin America’s most expensive countries. Travelers who have visited the country in years past will notice a substantial increase in the costs of food, lodging and just about everything else (but the beach is still free).

    How much to budget depends on where you stay and how much ground you plan to cover. Some cities, such as Rio, have grown particularly pricey since 2005. Rural and less-visited destinations are often significantly cheaper. Bus travel costs about R$8 (US$4.60) per hour of distance covered. Flights, which sometimes run fare specials, might not cost much more for long hauls. Decent accommodations and particularly rental cars (which cost about R$100 per day) can quickly eat up a budget.

    If you’re frugal, you can travel on about R$100 (US$60) a day – paying around R$40 for accommodations, R$30 for food and drink, plus bus travel, admission to sights and the occasional entertainment activity. If you just stay in hostels and plan to lie on a beach, eating rice, beans and cheap lunch specials every day, you may scrape by on R$75 a day.

    If you stay in reasonably comfortable hotels, eat in nicer restaurants, go out most nights and book the occasional flight or guided excursion, you’ll probably spend upwards of R$250 a day (more if traveling solo). If staying overnight at very comfortable guesthouses in resort areas, eat at the best restaurants and not stint on excursions or nightlife can easily spend upwards of R$500 a day.

    Lastly, during the December-to-February holiday season, lodging costs are higher than at other times of the year. During Carnaval accommodations prices double or triple (and four-night minimum stays are typically required), but a month or so afterwards, the prices drop to low-season rates. Another thing to remember: resort areas near major cities – such as Búzios near Rio and Morro de São Paulo near Salvador – are often packed on summer weekends. There will be fewer crowds – and sometimes lower prices – if you visit during the week.

    Brazil is fair value for solo travelers, as long as you don’t mind staying in hostels. Otherwise, a single room generally costs about 75% of the price of a double room.

    Sample Prices

    1L petrol R$2.70
    1L bottled water R$1.20
    300 mL chope (draft beer) R$3-4
    Glass of açaí (Amazonian berry juice) R$4
    Souvenir T-shirt R$20-60
    Admission to samba club in Rio R$20
    Two-hour flight from Rio to Salvador (one way) R$300-440
    Double room in a comfy pousada near the beach in Bahia R$160
    Eleven-hour bus ride from São Paulo to Florianopolis R$84-112
    Four-day excursion in the Pantanal R$800

    Language

    Portuguese, Spanish, English.

    Timezone

    UTC/GMT -3

    Weights & Measures

    Metric

    Visas

    Tourist visas are issued by Brazilian diplomatic offices. They are valid from the date you arrive in Brazil for a 90-day stay. They are renewable in Brazil for an additional 90 days. In most embassies and consulates, visas can be processed within 24 hours.

    • In many Brazilian embassies and consulates it takes only a couple of hours to issue a visa if you go in person (it’s instant in some places), but the processing can take a couple of weeks or more if you do it by mail. You will normally need to present a passport valid for at least six months beyond your intended arrival date, a passport photograph, and a round-trip or onward ticket (or a photocopy of it) or a statement from a travel agent that you have it. If you don’t have the ticketing requirements, having proof of means of support – such as credit cards or bank statements – may be acceptable.
    • If you decide to return to Brazil, your visa is valid for five years.
    • The fee for visas is also reciprocal. For most nationalities, a visa costs between US$20 and US$60, though for US citizens it’s US$130 (which is what the US charges Brazilians for visas).
    • Applicants under 18 years of age who are traveling alone must also submit a notarized letter of authorization from a parent or legal guardian.
    • Business travelers may need a business visa. It’s also valid for 90 days and has the same requirements as a tourist visa. You’ll also need a letter on your company letterhead addressed to the Brazilian embassy or consulate, stating your business in Brazil, your arrival and departure dates and your contacts. The letter from your employer must also assume full financial and moral (!) responsibility for you during your stay.
    • Depending on where you are coming from when you arrive in Brazil, you may need a yellow-fever vaccination certificate. On your arrival in Brazil, immigration officials sometimes ask to see your onward or return ticket and/or proof of means of support such as credit cards or traveler’s checks.
    • Visa regulations change from time to time, and you should always get the latest information from your local Brazilian embassy or consulate.

    Customs

    Travelers entering Brazil can bring in 2L of alcohol, 400 cigarettes, one personal computer, video and still camera. Newly purchased goods worth up to US$500 are permitted duty-free. Meat and cheese products are not allowed.

    Telephone

    Domestic Calls

    You can make domestic calls – intercity or local – from normal card pay phones on the street and in telephone offices. The phone cards you need are sold in denominations of 20, 50 and 90 units (costing between R$5 and R$20) by vendors, newsstands and anywhere you see advertising cartões telefônicos.

    For calls within the city you’re in, just slide the card into the phone, then check the readout to see if it’s given you proper credit, and dial the eight-digit number. Local fixed-line phone calls cost only a few units. For directory information, call [tel] 102.
    For calls to other cities, you need to precede the number with 0, then the code of your selected carrier, then the two or three digits representing the city area code. City codes are therefore usually given in the format 0xx digit digit, with the ‘xx’ representing the carrier code. A long-distance call usually eats up between five and 10 phonecard units per minute.

    You need to include the city code (0xx digit digit) when calling to another city even if that city has the same city code as the one you’re calling from.

    To make a chamada a cobrar (intercity collect) call, stick a 9 in front of the 0xx. To make a local collect call, dial [tel] 9090 and then the number. A recorded message in Portuguese will ask you to say your name and the name of the state where you’re calling from, after the beep.

    International Calls

    To phone Brazil from abroad, dial your international access code, then 55 (Brazil’s country code), then the city code (omitting the initial 0xx), then the number.

    The least-expensive way of calling abroad from Brazil is via Skype (www.skype.com), which you can access from most internet cafés.

    The cost of international calls from a traditional line in Brazil is pricey. Expect to pay a minimum of R$2 a minute and up to R$5 a minute to call internationally. Prices are about 20% lower during off-peak hours, which is typically from 8pm to 6am daily and all day Sunday.

    To make an international call at your own expense, ordinary card pay phones – nicknamed orelhões (big ears; you’ll soon understand why when you see one) – are of little use unless you have an international calling card.

    If you don’t have an international calling card, you can buy Embratel phonecards from newsstands and pharmacies (sold in denominations of R$20 to R$50). These have a bar on the back that you scratch off to reveal a code to enter along with the number you are calling. (Instructions are printed on the cards in English and Portuguese.) You can make calls from any phone. Rates are generally about R$2 to $4 a minute. Not all pay phones will work.

    Another option is to find an internet or phone café, where you pay in cash after you finish talking (don’t forget to establish the cost per minute before you call). Normally you’ll be directed to a booth and will dial the call yourself. Country codes include the following:

    Argentina [tel] 54
    Australia [tel] 61
    Bolivia [tel] 591
    France [tel] 33
    Germany [tel] 49
    New Zealand [tel] 64
    Paraguay [tel] 595
    Peru [tel] 51
    UK [tel] 44
    USA & Canada [tel] 1
    Venezuela [tel] 58

    You can also make calls from your hotel or a private phone, but in hotels it’s essential to attempt to establish beforehand what it will cost you. Hotels often charge astronomical rates.

    For a cobrar (international collect) calls, dial [tel] 0800-703 2111 from any phone. Or try dialing the local operator ([tel] 103 31 or 103 21) and asking to be transferred to a telefonista internacional (international operator). Since many operators do not speak English, you may need to enlist a Brazilian's help or learn some key phrases in advance.

    Be careful with services advertised by stickers on some phones announcing free calls to multilingual operators who can get you collect calls to the US or international credit-card calls. Make sure you establish the costs of any call before making it.

    Cell (Mobile) Phones

    Cell phones are ubiquitous throughout Brazil (103 million at last count). Known as a celular (often shortened to cel), a mobile phone has eight-digit numbers starting with a 9 or 8, and calls to them run through your phonecard units much faster than calls to regular numbers. Cell phones have city codes just like normal phone numbers (0xx digit digit), and if you’re calling from another city you have to use them.

    If you plan to use your own cell phone in Brazil, you have several options. To stay with your own carrier, and use roaming international minutes, you must have a 2G compatible device to 900 MHz/1800 MHz or a 3G compatible device to 2100 MHz frequencies that are used by the Brazilian network. Or, if you have an unlocked phone, you can purchase a prepaid SIM card in Brazil, and refill with extra minutes as needed. Cartões pre-pago (prepaid cards) to refill minutes are sold at newspaper kiosks throughout Brazil. Charges are high, typically running R$1.50 per minute for calls within Brazil. Brazil’s major mobile carriers, offering the widest coverage, are Vivo, TIM and Claro. TIM generally has the best, most hassle-free service.

    In several cities, you can rent a cell phone for around R$10 a day plus call charges, from agencies such as Rio-based ConnectCom ([tel] 0xx21-2215 0002; www.connectcomrj.com.br).

    Brazilian City Codes & Carriers

    Brazil has several rival long-distance telephone carriers. When making a long-distance call (either between cities or internationally), you have to select a carrier and include its two-digit código de prestadora (code) in the number you dial. Brazilian city codes are commonly quoted with an xx representing the carrier code, eg 0xx21 for Rio de Janeiro or 0xx71 for Salvador.

    This construction may look complicated, but in practice it’s straightforward. For one thing, you can use the main carriers, Embratel (21) or Intelig (23) or Oi Telemar (31) for any call; for another, other major carriers usually have their names and codes widely displayed in their localities, particularly on public phones.

    For example, to call from Rio de Janeiro to Fortaleza (city code 0xx85), in the state of Ceará, you dial 0 followed by 21 or 23 or 31 or 85 (the codes of the four carriers that cover both Rio and Ceará), followed by 85 for Fortaleza, followed by the number.

     

    For an international call, dial 00 followed by either 21, 23 or 31 (the international carriers), followed by the country code, city code and number.

    The following are Brazil’s main carriers, which can be used calling to make intercity or international calls:

    • Embratel 21
    • Intelig 23
    • Oi Telemar 31

    Useful Telephone Phrases

    I would like to make an international call to… Quero fazer uma ligação internacional para…
    I would like to reverse the charges. Quero fazê-la a cobrar.
    I am calling from a public (private) telephone in Rio de Janeiro. Estou falando dum telefone público (particular) no Rio de Janeiro.
    My name is… Meu nôme é…
    The area code is… O código é…
    The number is… O número é…

    Business Hour

    • Most shops and government services (including post offices) are open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 1pm Saturday.
    • Shopping malls usually stay open till 10pm Monday to Saturday, and some even open on Sunday (usually late, from 3pm to 9pm). Because many Brazilians have little free time during the week, Saturday morning is often spent shopping.
    • Restaurants usually open from noon till 2:30pm and from 6pm till 10pm; aside from juice stands and cafés. Few restaurants open for breakfast, but those that do generally serve it between 8am and 10:30am. Bars typically open 7pm to 2am – until 4am on weekends.
    • Banks, always in their own little world, are generally open from 9am or 10am to 2pm or 3pm Monday to Friday.

    Electricity overview

    European plug with two circular metal pins

    Electricity overview (european)

    American-style plug with two parallel flat blades above a circular grounding pin

    Electricity overview ( Two parallel)

    Japanese-style plug with two parallel flat blades

    Electricity overview ( Japanese)