How to Travel (Safely + Solo) to Wonderful São Paulo

by Milagros Rojas

São Paulo is the largest city in South America and it is the perfect example of a cosmopolitan city that manages to be beautiful and modern without losing its authenticity. You can see nature everywhere and that warm spirit is also shared by its inhabitants, the “paulistas”. 

I was lucky enough to visit São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro recently, traveling from my home city of Buenos Aires. Based on my experiences, here are my recommendations and insights for other solo women traveling to São Paulo.

São Paulo: A Green Cosmopolitan City

When I first got to São Paulo, one of the first things that struck me is how very green everything is. For a city with such a dense population (12.8 million), incredibly, green trees could be seen everywhere, from highways to breathtaking parks.

Green space amidst skyscrapers in Sao Paulo
Sao Paulo Trees | Photo courtesy of Mila Rojas

A great place to stay in São Paulo is Brooklin. It’s a bit further away from the city’s downtown, but you can still do many things when you are not visiting iconic places such as the Mercado Central. Brooklin — yes, with an “i” — is a more expensive area, but you can find fabulous Airbnbs for great prices!

Brooklin felt very safe and you can tell you are in a higher-end area of the city. The downtown area might not be the best place for you to stay if you want to ensure you will feel as safe as possible.

Rooftop pool in Sao Paulo
Airbnb Rooftop | Photo courtesy of Mila Rojas

Safety Concerns for Solo Women Travelers

Now, Brazil has a bad reputation in terms of safety, especially for tourists and especially for women. Due to the dramatic economic inequality in the country, I can understand the concern. 

However, I did not feel unsafe at any point during my travels. In fact, I would go on my daily morning walks — which are an essential part of my day — and I never felt threatened or in danger. That said, I always left with just a fanny pack carrying my ID, phone, some money, and my AirPods. 

In other destinations I’ve been, wearing my AirPods would’ve been out of the question, but São Paulo felt safe enough that I could do this. Something to keep in mind is that the common type of criminals in Brazil are “carteristas”, which usually take stuff out of your bag without you realizing it. Or sometimes, they’ll run by you and take a piece of jewelry you might be wearing and run away. I didn’t encounter either of these situations but was warned to be alert to the possibility.

Liberdade: Asia in São Paulo

One of the places I was the most curious to visit in São Paulo was Liberdade. This is an entire neighborhood that is known for the huge Asian community living in it. While the majority of residents are Japanese or of Japanese descent, there are also Korean and Chinese residents. 

A fun fact: São Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan!

Liberdade Street in Sao Paulo
Liberdade Street | Photo courtesy of Mila Rojas

To get to Liberdade, you can use either public transportation (bus or subway) or get an Uber. I mostly used Ubers to go around São Paulo as they are extremely cheap in Brazil! To give you an idea, a one-hour ride from Guarulhos airport to Brooklin was only $16! However, the public transportation system in São Paulo is the largest in South America and it works very well, too.

Something to keep in mind when walking around Brazil or using the public transportation system is having your purse in front of you. As I said, I never felt unsafe, but this is the best way to avoid pickpockets, which are a known issue in the country as I mentioned before.

Mural of a Japanese woman in Liberdade in Sao Paulo
Liberdade Japanese Mural | Photo courtesy of Mila Rojas

You can see parts of Japanese culture everywhere in Liberdade, from the Japanese markets, to banks that look more like a Japanese building than a traditional bank. If you want to try something different and get a taste of Japanese dishes and desserts, this is the right place to do so.

Bank in Liberdade in Sao Paulo that has a Japanese aesthetic
Liberdade Bank | Photo courtesy of Mila Rojas

Also, iconic elements such as Hello Kitty are not forgotten, with a coffee shop that is greatly inspired by the beloved character.

Hello Kitty in Sao Paulo
Liberdade Hello Kitty | Photo courtesy of Mila Rojas

Of course, the food was amazing! However, I made the mistake of ordering too much and ended up bringing a lot of food home. The large portion sizes turned out to be common everywhere I went in Brazil, so I found that one dish (no appetizer) was often more than enough for me. This only varied at really high-end restaurants where usually the portions were a bit smaller.

Visit the Lovely Ibirapuera Park

A place that definitely stole my heart in São Paulo was Ibirapuera park. I’m a huge fan of parks, and Ibirapuera Park is huge!

It has beautiful lakes where you can find swans and ducks swimming around. Beware of the bicycles as it’s one of the favorite places where Paulistas — as people from São Paulo are called — often go for a ride.

Ibirapuera Park Lake | Photo courtesy of Mila Rojas

Now, I’m not a great cyclist, but there were super cheap bike rentals for only $1.50 near Gate 4 (which is also the main entrance to the park). If you want to get a bit of a workout done or simply explore the entire park without getting too tired, this is a great option.

After almost falling a couple of times, I got the hang of it and I had a great time biking around this impressive park. It happened to be a holiday when I visited, so it was especially full. However, I enjoyed my time cycling very much. If you want to have an even better experience I would recommend going during a weekday and making sure it is not a holiday in Brazil!

Mila Rojas on a bicycle in Ibirapuera Park in Sao Paulo
The author cycling in Ibirapuera Park | Photo courtesy of Mila Rojas

I promise I only took the mask off for the photos! I was wearing it at all times.

Enjoy the Rooftops – A Must in São Paulo

São Paulo is known for its high buildings and there are many restaurants and hotels with impressive rooftops that allow you to see the entire city.

I went to Adega Santiago, an amazing place with Spanish food that is simply delicious! It’s located on the rooftop of Cidade Jardim, which is one of the more high-end shopping malls in São Paulo. 

However, you can find many other rooftops in the city. Choose the one you prefer as long as you get to one of them! 

The view is entirely worth it! If you want to spend a bit less, you can go for a drink instead of a fool meal as rooftop restaurants tend to be more expensive.

São Paulo Rooftop | Photo courtesy of Mila Rojas

Mercado Municipal and Centro

Two visits you can do on the same day are to the Mercado Municipal and the city center. I loved going to the Mercado Municipal as it reminded me of markets we used to have in Venezuela, where I grew up. I would go on Sundays with my grandma to get the freshest meats, cheese, and fish. This same experience can be replicated here but multiplied by ten.

The Mercado Municipal in São Paulo is huge! They will sell you everything from delicious tropical fruits to nuts and almonds. There are also restaurants inside the market, where they sell the famous bologna sandwich.

Me at the Mercado | Photo courtesy of Mila Rojas

You’ll also see the Brazilian version of an empanada: the pastel. You can find them everywhere in the country with a multitude of fillings. Here, I ordered a pepperoni pastel, which came with cheese — as most of them do — and it was delicious! If you go to Rio or any beach city, get a shrimp pastel. They are simply amazing!

Pasteil Market | Photo courtesy of Mila Rojas

Most places in the market will also give you a free appetizer after you order. I received a complimentary sample of the salami made by the owners of the restaurant, called Di Callani. 

Something you’ll see everywhere in Brazil are these coolers to make sure your beer does not get warm. They are amazing because many brands in Brazil offer 600ml bottles and this way, it doesn’t lose that refreshing coolness. Plus, it’s more appropriate for the Brazilian heat.

As a helpful tip, at the market, keep in mind that tourist traps are everywhere. So make sure you ask for prices before you start ordering stuff! I fell for the trap at a fruit stand where my lack of Portuguese did not do me any favors. Also, bartering is ok and more than encouraged, so try to get the best possible price while you are here.

Mercado Fruits | Photo courtesy of Mila Rojas

After visiting the Mercado, you can go to another area of the city center, called Sete de Abril. There is a multitude of stores and street markets which sell everything under the sun. You can find entire galleries of camera stores, clothing stores, and more. 

You can also find beautiful buildings, such as the Municipal Theater, which has very classic architecture, especially compared with the high buildings that comprise most of São Paulo.

My Thoughts on Visiting São Paulo

I continued my visit to Brazil from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. While the country has a bad reputation, I did not have any safety concerns. In fact, I said to some of my friends later, if I spoke Portuguese and immigration matters were as easy as in Argentina, I could consider spending half a year in São Paulo. That’s how much I loved the city!

Obrigada, São Paulo!

Feature image by Luciano Teixeira from Pixabay

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