One Week (+ Coronavirus Quarantine) in Sao Paulo, Brasil

Note: I was writing the post below in real time, during my first week of traveling in Sao Paulo. So, although I am posting a year later, the experience and recommendations were very fresh in my mind. (And I so much hope none of these places had to permanently close due to Covid.) I did add a few extra details related to my quarantine experience, since that was responsible for another 5.5 months I lived in Brasil, but seeing as how that experience was mostly limited to living in an apartment, finding out how and where to shop online without a Brasilian credit card, and ordering in food, I haven’t added too much here. For anyone curious about what living abroad during a pandemic was like for me, you can check out my pandemic post.

One Glorious Week Freely Exploring Sao Paulo

After spending five weeks in Rio I was excited to explore more of Brasil. After all, there’s SO MUCH natural beauty: the Amazon rainforest; around 7,500km (nearly 4,700miles) of beaches/coastline; numerous waterfalls and wetlands, etc. And because I felt confident enough in my Portuguese-speaking abilities that I no longer feared travel to, and within, places where people only speak Portuguese, the country was wide open to me. As excited as I was to explore more of the natural beauty in this country, I just felt that I couldn’t leave Brasil without spending at least a little bit of time in Sao Paulo. Plus, it was only a 6-hour bus ride from Rio (I opted for bus over a flight because they have “first class” bus service that is affordable- I paid around $25, tons of space, and I could avoid the extra bag fees for checking a bag on a domestic flight), and because most international flights stop in Sao Paulo, it also made for an easy destination to use as my departure point from the country. I heard mixed reviews of the city before arriving (it’s just another big city; it’s the business capital of the country; it’s full of amazing restaurants and bars; one week is enough), so wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It took less than one full day in the city for me to fall in love!

Sao Paulo is truly a cultural melting pot. It’s home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. Like Mexico City, Sao Paulo also closes down a significant portion of its main avenue on Sundays, transforming the avenue into a massive pedestrian walkway/street fair (though while in Mexico City people can mostly be found running and riding bikes, in Sao Paulo it’s more of a walking and gathering space).

There’s a coffee plantation inside the city! And oh my Lord does SP have incredible bars and restaurants! There’s an energy in Sao Paulo that is missing from Rio (probably having to do with any beach city being much more chill), and at the same time, I felt much safer in Sao Paulo than I did in Rio. Granted, this largely had to do with sticking to safe neighborhoods and still being aware of my surroundings, but I felt as comfortable in Sao Paulo as I did in Mexico City- there are beautiful neighborhoods I could explore freely and not worry about taking my cell phone out of my purse to use as I was walking down the street. I also felt completely safe walking around by myself (again: within certain neighborhoods, not unlike Mexico City). I ran around and explored as much as possible in my first week in Sao Paulo, but knew that I just had to return for more time, because one week wasn’t enough to even scratch the surface of all this amazing city has to offer! Little did I know that I would be returning to “live” in Sao Paulo for months, thanks to Coronavirus (however, sadly, quarantine meant being in this marvelous city without the ability to explore all of the places that I added to my list during the first week). It is such a walkable city, with so much beauty to explore. Here are a few shots just from days strolling around the city (nothing particularly special, but they don’t fit well into any of the sections below, so, here ya go!) 

But before I get to my Coronavirus experience (and some “lessons” that would probably be helpful for any traveler in Sao Paulo in the future), first some recommendations based on my one “normal” week in the city. Anyone who has read at least a few of my posts knows that I love Airbnb Experiences, and Sao Paulo offers tons to choose from! I opted for a photography experience, since I hadn’t done one of those since my first trip to Rio six months prior. There are so many it was hard to choose, but I ultimately went with one of the cheapest options (because it also had a crazy number of 5-star ratings)… and WOW! Hands down the best value of any experience I’ve done anywhere in the world. If you come to Sao Paulo and don’t sign up for this experience you’re absolutely crazy! (And seriously, it is sooooo underpriced for what you get I strongly recommend bringing cash to tip because I paid $15 for hours of exploring awesome neighborhoods, learning the history of these places, and then something like 80 professionally edited photos… even paying double that amount is still far too cheap, so please tip generously. No, the photographer/host will not ask or even hint at this, I am pleading with you because he deserves it!) The experience started off in the famous Beco do Batman, Vila Madalena, which is perhaps the most artistic part of a city overflowing with incredible street art, and then continuing on Avenida Paulista, including a visit to Parque Trianon, and finally getting great (and free!) skyline views at the Sesc Paulista. Here are just a few (seriously, this is only about 10%) of the incredible photos I have from my adventure that day…

I mentioned the above activity first because I would say it is the one absolutely can’t miss when visiting Sao Paulo as a tourist. In fact, before I go any further, here is the information for the photo shoot: the link to book directly through Airbnb, and/or contact him (or just check out more of his work) through his Instagram

Ok, now that details for that must are provided, let’s backtrack to how I actually kicked off my week in Sao Paulo. I started my visit with a free walking tour (“FWT”) of the downtown area. This group offers FREE* walking tours in several areas of the city, but I would recommend the Old Downtown Tour because this is one part of the city you really shouldn’t be exploring by yourself (and definitely where you don’t want to go walking through at night), but downtown tons of history and architecture that you shouldn’t miss out on when in Sao Paulo. The FWT was in English and was excellent! These are all of the areas we explored during the walking tour, plus a bit of information on stops I made after the tour (that were a close walk, and highly recommended to me by friends in Rio and Sao Paulo):

1. Edificio Italia (Italy Building). Next to Praça Republica. 2nd tallest building in SP. It has a bar with view = 30reais for entry from 3-7pm (includes drink); other times of day 35reais entry w/o drink.
2. Edificio Copan, designed by the famous architect Oscar Niemeyer, with over 1,000 apartments, and is even listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest structure built in Brazil and as the largest floor area of any residential structure in the world (it’s under renovation and has an ugly netting covering the entire exterior, so I didn’t bother to take a photo).
3. Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação. The original church was constructed at this site in the 1700s. It was later demolished and the current building was constructed in 1909. Its associated cemetery (Consolação), in the neighborhood of Pinheiros, is the resting place of some of the richest families in SP; it has a mausoleum that’s 20m tall!
4. Bar/Restaurant Ramona (São Luis and Consolação). This wasn’t an official stop but as we walked past, the tour guide said that Ramona has the best Bloody Marys and Caipirinhas in the city (with FWT map/coupon you get 1 free caipirinha). Also has a hidden basement bar, password to enter: Estonia bar.
5. Opposite side of street/same intersection as Ramona: public library, 2nd largest in Brasil (largest is in Rio). Has over 3 million books.
6. Teatro Municipal. City’s Opera house, modeled after Parisian Theater. First production in early 1900s. Can find tickets for certain performances for as low as 5-10reais. Free guided tours. Underground bar highly recommended (Dos Arcos)
7. Praca Ramos de Azevedo. Square/Park across street from theater developed ~1911. Statues within the park were a gift from Italy. The park was in ruins until 2016/2017, when local Italian community restored. Small, historical (architecturally interesting) building across from Square, sandwiched between large complexes, was the tallest building in SP when built in ~1924 (at 12 stories tall).
8. Cross the Viaduto do Cha (Tea Bridge) and get to the Edificio Matarazzo (now, City Hall). Easy to identify by green roof (with large trees!!). Public building so you can visit interior and rooftop garden. Mon-Sat at 2:30 & 4:30, need to sign up an hour in advance and have photo ID with you.
9. Praca do Patriarca. Plaza across street from City Hall with large art fixture over tunnel entrance. Church in plaza from 1592! Has survived 2 fires.
10. We continued down a pedestrian-only street with shopping and arrived at the University’s faculty of law building (formerly this location was a convent), and oldest Franciscan churches in the city. This site was formerly the boarder of the city of SP.
11. Continued to Praça Sé where you find the Metropolitan Cathedral (abbreviated name = Sé). In front is a small statue(ish) that is ground 0 for the city, you can almost miss it. The street to walk here and the square are sketchy, though fine during day and especially if you’re with a group. But I wouldn’t recommend it in the evening and beware of your belongings. (And the crowded area to the left of the church is an illegal market, avoid.) Neogothic architecture/design. Massive organ (12,000 pipes) but not functional. Crypt with guided tours (8.50reais). Mosaic in photo: São Paulo (literally, Saint Paul, the city’s namesake).
12. From back of church (exit out the side/rear door), cross the street, and you will find Santa Teresa Padaria & Confeitaria (Bakery). Very tasty, incredibly reasonable prices, definitely recommend!!!
13. Walked through financial district down to Martinelli Building. Free rooftop views but must pre-sign up or wait in line. Also need some type of government photo ID.
14. Finished at São Bento. Benedctines have been in area since mid-1500s. Can buy craft beer made at church.
After Walking Tour: it was a short (1km) walk for Luz Station and Pinacoteca Museum. Open Wednesday to Monday. I went on Monday and it was free entry; typically free entry only on Saturday, but at the moment half the museum is closed (they are changing exhibitions) so entry to what is open is free. My favorite part was the building itself and for free entry, totally worth it. Also, it has a cute cafe with reasonable prices, which is particularly nice to sit down, relax, have a drink after hours of walking and touring downtown. But note: the walk around this area is a bit sketchy, so definitely make sure you come & go during daytime. I had no issues, but would not have wanted to be wandering around after dark.

Now to provide a list of what is always one of my favorite parts of any city I visit: gastronomy!

Restaurants & Bars

This city is loaded with AMAZING places. I couldn’t possibly get to everywhere I wanted to go in a week, but did my best to cover some of the most recommended places. Something I really loved: many of the VERY high end restaurants offer SUPER AFFORDABLE 3-course lunches! It reminded me of restaurant week in DC and LA, where people scramble to make reservations at top restaurants, gladly exchanging the full menu for a more limited one with smaller portions, to sample the food without paying a fortune. Only here it’s part of the daily menu so no scramble (and in my experience, no reservation) required! This is a great way to sample numerous restaurants here without going all out for every meal. The YouTube video linked here shows photos from some of my favorite spots below.

Bar dos Arcos. Located underground, beneath the Teatro Municipal. AMAZING!! From the design to the ball pit (yes, you can play in it) to, most importantly, an incredible cocktail menu (one of the few places in the world I didn’t even bother looking at the wine menu) and DELISH food. With numerous vegetarian options. I had the “bolinos arroz” (rice and cheese balls- the Brazilian versión of arancini but bigger and less fried!!, served with an amazing sundried tomato jam) and the croque monseiur, which was vegetarian and one of the tastiest sandwiches I’ve EVER had in my life. Both were appetizers but enough to fill me up!
Santo Grão. (Jardins, on Oscar de Freire) Hugely popular, always crowded, and totally worth it. I had one of my favorite caipirinhas since arriving to Brazil (traditional lime but with fresh ginger and maybe another herb or ingredient I’m forgetting, super fresh, not too sweet, and not overly strong), and they have plenty of veg options on the menu. I also loved how much outdoor seating they had. A lovely place to stop into for a midday break.
Astronauts Cafe. This all vegan cafe has a super fun design, tons of seating, and they use high quality cashew milk (and clearly very good coffee beans), which results in one of the best lattes I’ve had in a very long time. Lots of food and snacks to choose from too! I probably wouldn’t travel across the city just for this but if you are nearby it’s definitely worth stopping by.
The Spot. Hip, super popular with good looking and affluent locals and tourists alike, this place has absolutely wonderful food at prices that are reasonable (especially for the quality). My mushroom (mix of portabello and shiitake) spaghetti was SUPER tasty (way exceeded my expectations), and a large enough portion that I had leftovers, for about 70reais ($15).
Mani (Mani Manioca). (Jardins) If you come here for dinner and do one of the multi course or tasting meals, it will cost you a minimum of 210reais ($45). But you can take advantage of the 3-course lunch meal that costs only 70reais (just under $15)! And they have plant based options for all courses, though I am guessing it’s the seafood or meat that shines. I absolutely enjoyed my food and thought it was well worth the price, but none of the dishes blew me away. Given Olivier’s absolutely rave reviews of the multi course tasting menu, this may be a place worth going all out for. What I really loved was the wonderful service and showing up at 2:15 (lunch finishes at 3) with no reservation wasn’t a problem at all, and I only had to wait a couple of minutes for a table. They have an impressive wine list but glasses will cost you a minimum of 45reais ($10), so if budget is an issue, maybe skip. On the other hand, you’re getting such a great deal for the lunch menu that it may be exactly when you want to opt for a nice glass or bottle!
Seen Restaurant & Bar. (Near Avenida Paulista) Worth it for the view alone. I went on a Wednesday night, without a reservation, and only had to wait 5-10 minutes for a table. If you know you really want to go here, it’s probably worth making a reservation. If you show up without, like me, probably best to arrive after the sunset crowd but before 9 PM (Brazilians tend to go out late, like many Latin Americans), and I imagine that Thursday through the weekend is even more crowded. The interior is really well-designed and there is a very large bar with plenty of seating, which makes waiting even easier (and yes, you can eat dinner there too). They offer an impressive drink menu, but very heavy on gin-based drinks, which isn’t my jam. So I opted for a glass of wine. And WOW do they pour heavy so that 36reais glass is truthfully more like two, 18reais glasses!! The food was good and there were several vegetarian options for me to choose from, though I must admit it was hard to pass on what looked like really fresh sushi (they also have a sushi bar you can sit at instead of regular tables). Note: the vegetarian sushi had some yummy looking vegan options! While the appetizer and entrees I ordered were good, the star was the dessert, which is usually an afterthought at restaurants (and why I skip). I had a banana-cakey thing that was basically the best, moistest (I may have made that word up), most delicious banana bread of my life (and a huge piece! Definitely for sharing!!) served with a scoop of peanut (or some nut) butter ice cream. Also, great service and they do have menus in English. Only thing to note: music is definitely high energy and loud, more like what you’d typically get in a club or bar and not restaurant, so makes it a bit tough for conversations. But, again, THAT VIEW! I would definitely go back, and definitely recommend it.
Mapu Restaurante. This authentically Taiwanese restaurant serves us the most incredible “bao” sandwiches I’ve had in longer than I can remember. And they have TWO veg versions! I wasn’t as impressed with the noodles, but I became a repeat customer for the bao buns (and incredibly sweet owners and employees).
Bar Obelisco. While there are loads of fancy, tall buildings with rooftop city views (usually at a cost of a drink), this is one of the few that offers a spectacular view of city and Ibirapuera Park and is free! (However, if you want to be able to have a drink, you do need to make reservations in advance and there will be a cover charge that does go towards the cost of any food/drinks you purchase. The best cocktail I had in all of Brazil, and, easily, one of the top in my life, is served here.)
Tartuferia. I ordered in from here several times during quarantine and SO GOOD! Truffles are the specialty (tartuferia is Italian for truffles) so the pastas are of course delish, but don’t pass on the dadinho de tapioca, a traditional Brasilian dish (it’s on the appetizer section of the menu). Hands down the best dadinho I had in all of Brasil! Mouth wateringly good. Website linked because I can confirm this restaurant is still open as of this post (March 1, 2021), yay!
Parque Ibirapuera is the largest municipal park in South America. This stunning, 300(ish) acre park is a fantastic place to go for a run or walk, and offers some great views of the city too. 
The main, high-end shopping street is Rua Oscar de Freire, located in Jardins (which also happens to be my favorite neighborhood in Sao Paulo). Locals describe it as the Rodeo Drive of Sao Paulo. And while there certainly are high end boutiques and designer retail shops, there are plenty of local and affordable shops too, as well as loads of restaurants and cafes. My absolute favorite shop in this area is BEMGLO. All of the merchandise in this store is made in Brasil, is cruelty free, is unique, and for the quality- reasonable prices.
When I realized I would be staying in Sao Paulo much longer than originally anticipated, I knew I had to get at least some winter clothes (since I had sent everything for cold weather back to the US with my parents after their Christmas visit to CDMX). This led me to finding perhaps the best (however, not cheap!) quality used clothing store I’ve seen anywhere in the worldBrecho Agora e Meu, located in Higenopolis, has an incredible selection (tons to choose from!!), is as well organized as any botique clothing store I’ve ever been in, and I received great service. Highly recommend if you’re in the mood for shopping but want to save a bit of money compared to buying new, quality clothes (or, if you, like me, are concerned about your environmental impact related to the fashion industry).
Driving in Sao Paulo
I drove a few times in SP and had no issues adjusting to traffic and drivers. But the biggest warning I will give: if you are going to drive and are going to rely on Google or Waze or another navigation, probably best to talk to a friend (or Airbnb host or concierge at your hotel) first just to find out what neighborhoods (either near you, or en route to your destination) to avoid. I mention this because Google routed me one evening to an ATM located in the middle of one of the largest favelas in all of Brasil, I had no idea I was entering a favela until I drove in (and because favelas are neighborhoods created by the community without any real sort of urban planning or government assistance, roads are typically incredibly narrow and some places- such as this favela- once you drive in you have to basically drive through the favela to exit because there’s no place to turn around and exit). Thankfully, I found my way out without any issues, but I would not recommend putting yourself in this situation (especially if you don’t speak Portuguese and can’t communicate with people).


Truth is, there are a TON of safe (ok, please keep in mind you’re still in Brasil so be smart when you’re out and about anywhere) and walkable neighborhoods with their own vibes for tourists to explore. Despite living in Brasil for 7 months, with 5.5 of that in Sao Paulo, thanks to Covid, the city had a totally different energy and feel (apart from the first week I was there). So all I can do is make recommendations based on places I got to know, as well as other recommendations friends (who had or still do, live(d) in Sao Paulo) gave me.

Jardins. This is where I started out and it is still my favorite in terms of safety, walkability, and having everything at your fingertips. This is definitely one of the more high-end and expensive parts of the city.

Vila Mariana. Although this neighborhood doesn’t often get included in top spots recommended for tourists, I 100% recommend this area. Super convenient to a metro and grocery stores, and TONS of cute cafes and restaurants nearby, and plenty safe but not as fancy (ok, or nice) as Jardins. But then again, no area is as nice as Jardins. Vila Mariana is where the Astronaut Cafe and delish Taiwanese restaurant I recommend, above, are located. I only spent a few days here (Airbnb), but if I could have found something better priced for my long term stay, I definitely would have stayed longer.

Vila Madalena. One of the better known neighborhoods and where an abundance of bars are concentrated. Definitely the area to stay in if you’re looking for nightlife (of the more casual, not high-end bar/restaurant type) and/or if you are a sound sleeper. I spent a month in an Airbnb here, but it was during Covid/quarantine, so everything was closed and noise from bars wasn’t an issue. What was an issue: noise from construction. There were more buildings being developed in this part of the city than any others I saw. (Seriously, there were 7 or so large-scale apartment complexes being constructed within a few block radius of my apartment building.) This meant incredibly loud construction noise beginning at 7-8am, 6 days a week. Due to the total lack of double-paned glass in almost all buildings across Brasil, that means you will hear the construction noise starting early. Also, if you’re going to stay in this area and like to walk, be advised STEEP HILLS. Super steep. Sometimes the walk to the grocery store felt a bit like going for a hike in the mountains, haha. Also, if you’re sensitive to heat or cold, try and find a place with direct sun exposure (facing south or west is always best) or one of the few apartments with A/C and heat. I mention that because my apartment in Vila Madalena, which was in a quite nice and new(er) apartment building, did not have any direct sun exposure, so I was cold ALL THE TIME. I usually wore at least 2 layers of clothing, including a winter hoodie I bought there, inside my apartment. By contrast, when I moved to a different neighborhood afterwards, with direct sun exposure (and an outdoor terrace), I spent almost every day in tank tops or hanging out on my terrace in a bikini. I suppose my final verdict on this neighborhood would be: probably great for younger tourists or those on a budget, but for others, maybe just come visit- but don’t spend the night- here. (This is where most of my amazing photos were taken, the art in Beco do Batman is constantly changing and a must see!)

Parque do Morumbi/Vila Andrade. I spent 5 months (almost all of my Brasilian quarantine) in the most wonderful apartment in Parque do Morumbi. This area is full of high rise apartment buildings, most of which are very nice and modern; it is clearly a high-end neighborhood. It’s also very proximate to Vila Andrade, also super safe, walkable, and high(er) end. Both of these neighborhoods- but especially Parque do Morumbi, are super residential. These areas are far enough away from the principal parts of the city that you can sleep like a baby at night. For me, I couldn’t have imagined a better place to spend my quarantine! My wonderful apartment had a private terrace that faced south/west, so I had direct sunlight from midday until night time. It was glorious! (Especially during a time when all public parks and outdoor spaces were closed.) I will note, Paraisopolis, one of the largest favelas in all of Brasil, is adjacent, however, I never had any issues nor felt unsafe- including at night when I would take my foster dog walking, and we often went right up to the favela entrance. The only real downside about this area, for “normal” travel times, is that it is not connected by metro, so it’s not the most convenient if you will be spending all of your days in the city center. That said, if you want a safe and quiet place to rest your head, or if you’re looking for a long term stay, I thought it was a marvelous place to live, and 100% recommend the Airbnb apartment I stayed at; the owner, Liana, is an amazing host and one of my favorite people I’ve met (even though we only “met” via WhatsApp) while traveling the world, and to this day remains a dear friend.

Consolacao/Bela Vista. As a gap filler for a few days I found a super cheap room to rent in an apartment in this area. While I wasn’t quite as comfortable walking at night as I was in other areas, I still felt sufficiently safe. It’s super accessible to the metro and a large shopping center, so while not the prettiest or most charming of all the places I stayed, I think for anyone on a bit of a budget this area is a great compromise (without putting your safety at risk).

Now for places I spent time in and would recommend, but never lived in…

Higienopolis. Next to Jardins, this is one of the more affluent neighborhoods in the city. Historically the (or, one of the principal) Jewish neighborhoods in the city, this is a lovely residential area that also has a sufficient amount of places to explore- and is metro accessible. 

Perdizes. For a brief period I was dating a man who lived in this neighborhood, so spent a lot of time walking around this area. It’s very hip and has lots of great restaurants and shops, and is very safe, however, it’s not metro accessible, so not the easiest to get around the city (unless you have a car or don’t mind taking Uber everywhere).

Pinheiros. Itaim Bibi. Brooklin. All three of these neighborhoods were recommended to me by friends (on several “short lists” of neighborhoods they recommended as good places to stay when visiting the city), and after lots of time walking around I can agree that all three are lovely and have lots to offer!

Quarantine/Living in Sao Paulo (when you can’t live like “normal”)

Online Shopping. Brasil does have Amazon/Amazon Prime, however, to even create an account to purchase anything online (your US account will NOT work when you are living abroad) you have to have a credit card issued in Brasil. So unless you’re in Brasil on a non-tourist visa (one that gives you the ability to at least open up a bank account and get a debit card), forget about it. Why a US-based company won’t accept US credit cards for purchases in Brasil is beyond me. (By contrast: in Mexico, you can create an Amazon/Prime account and the only thing you can’t purchase with your US credit card is movies. So, you have access to all included Prime movies and TV shows, but to rent or buy you need a Mexican-issued credit card. But everything else, shopping, etc., totally fine.) I digress… back to Brasil. If you do get ahold of a Brasilian residency # (again, see my Rio blog for more- I was lucky enough to have my Airbnb host/now friend, Isabella, give me hers to use) you can open up an account on Mercado Libre, which is basically the Amazon/EBay of Latin America. They also have guarantees on products, fast shipping, etc. This was a lifesaver for me during quarantine when so much was shut down and I didn’t have the option to leave the apartment to go to a store. 

Apart from a small bit of mostly necessity online shopping, my quarantine stay in SP mostly consisted of trying to stay busy by continuing my Portuguese language classes daily (Zoom, of course), and taking care of my foster dog. 


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2 thoughts on “One Week (+ Coronavirus Quarantine) in Sao Paulo, Brasil

  1. What a comprehensive post! Congrats 👏 I’m living in Sao Paulo now and yes financial system has thought me some lessons.

    1. Everyone shares thier CPF their ID when you purchasing most items.

    2.There are more electronic transaction more cards than cash.

    3. It’s relative new financial system

    Awesome post!


    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment!


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