A 12 hour transit of Sao Paulo, Brazil

I thought I had planned well for my 12 hour visit to Sao Paulo, Brazil. I asked a good friend for tips on things to see, mapped out the bus timetable and generally was ready to take in the city as best I could in the short time I was there. I even thought that I had a few words of Portuguese under my belt to help figure things out. Needless to say, the plans fell apart nearly from the get-go. Fortunately the end result was still a ton of fun.

The first stop was supposed to be the cafe in the arrivals area of the airport for Chopp (the local, unpasteurized beer; pronounced shop-ee) and some snacks for breakfast. Apparently their taps were broken so no fresh jetlag fighting beer for me, though I did end up with some Pao do Quiejo (cheesey bread) and a beer anyways.


Then the bus service wasn’t actually going where I wanted to go. Due to language barriers I had a bit of trouble understanding why, though it was quickly revealed when I did finally make it downtown on another bus an hour later to a nearby Metro station. It turns out that Sao Paulo was in the midst of the Virada Festival, a weekend-long celebration of music and culture and the plaza I was headed had been closed down to all vehicles and filled with stages for the various performances.

Actually, much of downtown was filled with stages. There were dozens scattered around with everything from a Beatles cover band playing every album, in order, to a rave at the Se Cathedral Park. There were street performers and roving drum corps and many, many other forms of entertainment. Including Mexican wrestling.

All of the street performers were entertaining. Having the city streets blocked off and filled with hundreds of thousands of Paulistas and other folks in for the festivities made it that much more enjoyable.

After taking in a couple performances I headed over to the Mercado Municipal for lunch and more beer. The market is gem in center of town and well worth the visit. Even if you aren’t hungry when you go in you will be by the time you walk amongst its stalls and navigate its merchants, offering everything from fresh produce to dried salt cod to meats and cheeses. All of it looked delicious and the bits I tried absolutely were.

The next stop on my whirlwind itinerary was the Se Cathedral. You can read more about it here but suffice it to say that, like most cathedrals, it was pretty impressive. So was the party going on in the park outside; the contact high I got walking through the crowd was particularly refreshing.

I also wanted to visit MASP, the art museum, but by this point I was running out of energy in a hurry and also having trouble navigating the Metro system to figure out how to get from where I was to where I wanted to be with minimal transfers. Alas, I conceded defeat and chose to head back to the airport an hour earlier than I’d originally planned. That said, the Metro station at the Cathedral was a work of art unto itself. Truly beautiful inside, especially with the passengers streaming to and fro.

I didn’t get to see everything I’d originally planned, but I also managed to discover several bits that I never could have imagined I’d experience thanks to the festival and just wandering around town a bit. Sure, I like to plan and know what I’m getting myself into but, once again, having a bit of flexibility and rolling with the punches proved to be the best approach to experiencing the city.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. You actually managed to do quite a lot, considering that traffic can be quite brutal. I hope you have had a “mortadela sandwich” at the Mercado, a reason to go on itself and perhaps a “bolinho de bacalhau” made with dried salt cod. They both would’ve been great with your jetlag fighting beer!
    If you ever decide to go back, for 12h or longer, drop me a note and I’d be more than happy to give you some tips.

    1. I didn’t get the mortadela; I had the pernil instead. Despite the recommendation of another local friend that I try it I just couldn’t do it. It isn’t my favorite Italian meat by a long stretch and the pernil looked too delicious to pass up. Alas, I have only one stomach to give to my travels.

      And I’ll definitely add that park to my itinerary for next time, Carlos. Hopefully for more then 12 hours. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. I am headed that direction and faced with the impending gruesome transit…….what suggestions do you have based on your experience?

  3. The transit wasn’t so bad, Janny. Part of that is because I purposefully planned the trip that way and part because the city is actually pretty easy and fun.

    My suggestion is to get the bus into town and wander around the downtown area, amongst the many squares and the Se cathedral and Mercado Municipal. That can take a few hours if you want it to without too much trouble. MASP is supposed to be an awesome museum but I didn’t have time to get it in.

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