Two Brazilian heavyweights go head to head in our latest travel info post! We invite Latin travel experts, Daytours4u, to compare and contrast the Samba city of Rio with multi-faceted megatropolis Sao Paulo…
Let’s face it, if you had to name two Brazilian cities, the first two would be Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. One is the main touristic hub, not just of Brazil, but also of South America. The other is the economic centre of Brazil, and a magnet for business travellers.
When comparing two of Brazil’s most famous and most visited cities, there is a popular cliché that São Paulo is Brazil’s New York and Rio de Janeiro is Los Angeles. There is a degree of truth to this, especially in terms of the rivalry between the Cariocas (people from the city of Rio de Janeiro) and Paulistas (residents of São Paulo).
The stereotype goes that Cariocas are friendly, easy-going, lazy and always late (probably because they’re on the beach), while Paulistas are colder, fast-paced, workaholics and perpetually stressed. A quick look at the size and location of each city certainly explains the stereotype.
But a closer inspection reveals that it is not so straightforward. Rio is also an important business centre, while São Paulo definitely knows how to let its hair down. One thing that is for sure is that they both offer a lot for travellers visiting Brazil.
Let’s see how they compare on a number of aspects so that you can judge more fairly:
When it comes to natural beauty, Rio de Janeiro is the winner, hands down. The iconic morros (granite hills), framing the long stretches of white sandy beaches, and the world’s largest urban forest, make it a truly unique city. The Cariocas (and tourists) really make the most of the outdoors, spending lots of time on the beach, enjoying all kinds of water activities, jogging and cycle paths and hiking up the mountains.
Some of Rio’s top attractions are the natural landmarks themselves, such as Corcovado Mountain, the base for the famous Christ the Redeemer statue, Sugarloaf Mountain, the Tijuca Rainforest, and the famous beaches, from Copacabana, to Ipanema, Leblon and beyond.
São Paulo, on the other hand, is a sprawling concrete jungle. It’s the largest city in South America, with 11 million inhabitants (far more if you include the metropolitan area). And it shows — with buildings as far as the eye can see.
The city has interesting architecture, with a mix of influences from European style to modern skyscrapers. A tour through downtown is a must to see some of the city’s notable architectural landmarks. Walk down Avenida Paulista, the main business centre of the city, lined with many restaurants and places of interest. To get a sense of the city, head up Edifício Itália, the second tallest building in São Paulo. From the observation deck, you’ll truly get a sense of the size of this cosmopolitan city.
When it comes to the culture, Rio de Janeiro is famous worldwide for Carnival, samba schools, bossa nova and Tom Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema.” Of course the cultural scene has a lot more to offer than just that. There are countless museums, including the Museu de Arte Contemporanea Niteroi (The Contemporary Museum of Art in Niteroi), designed by Oscar Niemeyer. The historical centre of downtown Rio also holds enough fascinating history and culture to tempt tourists away from the beach for a while.
What São Paulo lacks in natural beauty, it makes up for in its cultural offerings. There are 110 world class museums to keep you busy. The Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) has a vast and impressive collection of European art, and is housed in a building that is a piece of contemporary art itself, designed by Lina Bo Bardi. The Pinacoteca Museum is also worth a visit, with its large collection of Brazilian art. If that’s not your scene, try the informative Museu de Futebol (Soccer Museum) for some insight into Brazilian football fever, or hit the streets, especially around the Vila Madalena neighbourhood, where you’ll find some incredible street art.
São Paulo is also a piece of heaven for people who like to shop. Oscar Freire Street is the main strip where you’ll find international and local designers (São Paulo’s Rodeo Drive). Don’t skip the shoe stores — this city is famous for its fantastic shoe designs. Discount hunters should hit Rua 25 de Março – a street in the central zone famous for cheap clothes, jewellery, decor and more. The city is also home to many markets, from antique fairs, to neighbourhood feiras, and mouth-watering food markets, like Mercado Municipal.
Oh and there’s the São Paulo nightlife. In a city this big, there is truly a scene for everybody. São Paulo has diverse and exciting nightlife, and is home to one of the most acclaimed nightclubs in the world, the infamous, D-Edge. The city also hosts Brazil’s biggest music events, including Tomorrowland, Lollapalooza and Sonar. But remember there is a big difference in dress code between here and Rio: Paulistas dress up a lot more than the Cariocas, so come prepared.
One of the things that makes São Paulo so interesting and culturally rich is its large immigrant populations, from Italian to Japanese to Thai. This has had a big impact on the gastronomic scene. The heavy Italian influence in Sampa means great pizza, and the large Japanese population (the biggest Japanese diaspora in a city anywhere in the world) equals phenomenal sushi. There is a large range of international cuisine, and prices. While you can still eat for cheap, or head to a trendy food truck, there is also the option of high-end (and high-priced) gourmet spots. A mark of the level of the cuisine you can expect: D.O.M., a restaurant in the city serving contemporary Brazilian / Amazonian food, was ranked the third best restaurant in Latin America in 2014. The proof is in the pudding.
The food scene in Rio is more laidback. You can happily grab some fried bar snacks and a caipirinha to enjoy on the beach, or head straight from the beach to a rodizio (all-you-can-eat). The tropical influence is also evident in the much bigger choice of fruit juice stands (on every corner in Rio), and the abundance of açaí. Cariocas also have a habit of putting mustard and ketchup on their pizza — a sin that a Paulista would never commit.
It is clear that the two cities offer a different vibe and pace. In Rio you can join the locals in their relaxed attitude to everything, donning their havaiana flip-flops from the beach to the supermarket to the mall. It’s the place to soak up sun, samba and cocktails. Nothing happens in a rush, making it the perfect holiday spot.
In São Paulo, the city runs at a different, more frenetic pace, much like any big city. It’s a more chic vibe, from the dress code to the establishments. Expect to run around a lot more, exploring the stores, vibrant nightlife and countless cultural options.
Which one should you visit? That’s a tough question. If you want to visit some of the most famous tourist attractions in the world and some of the best beaches, then head to Rio. If you want to eat, shop and party, São Paulo is for you. But if you want to truly get a more complete picture of Brazil, include both in your itinerary.
By: Nicole Eberhard, Content Editor for Daytours4u