Brazil v. Argentina?
May 13, 2008 8:02 PM   Subscribe

This summer, I'm set to attend a 5-week program in Brazil's Atlantic forest. I'm going to be in Sao Paulo state, but a ways outside the city. I have a week afterward to be a big dumb tourist, and I'm trying to decide whether I should stay in metropolitan Sao Paulo, or fly to Buenos Aires.

I've never been to South America before, but I have an acquaintance in either city, which is nice. Pros:

Sao Paulo:
-Don't have to pay extra airfare/figure out a second flight.
-I like big cities.
-It'd be a little weird to fly in and out of Guarulhos, and not see the place.
-It'll be mid-August (i.e. winter), making Buenos Aires kind of chilly.

Buenos Aires:
-I speak Spanish (and don't speak Portuguese).
-It looks a lot cheaper, in terms of hotels, and everything else.
-I've wanted to head there for quite some time.
-And, finally, I'm a little freaked out by the crime rate in Sao Paulo. I like to wander around a place, and having to take curb-to-curb cabs weirds me out a bit.*

Thoughts? If I skip Sao Paulo, am I missing out? What if I skip Buenos Aires? How's Gol, in terms of safety/reliability? Any additional advice, or recommendations, welcome.

*I'm pretty sure I'm being a huge jerk, or a big sissy. (Feel free to tell me so.) I'm from New York, and I pay attention to my surroundings. Thing is, from what traveling I've done, I know it's a lot easier to "pay attention" when you speak the language and know the neighborhoods well. It also helps if your hippocampus has a tiny subway map in its tiny brain pocket.
posted by evidenceofabsence to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total)
Go further north - Rio, or even Salvador if you can.
Sao Paulo was damp and smoggy when I went in winter. But Buenos Aires would be easier to get around (I found Portuguese hard).
posted by anadem at 9:54 PM on May 13, 2008

I haven't been to either, but half my family lives in Brazil and not one of them has ever said anything positive about São Paulo. Their feeling is that it's a sprawling, gridlocked, concrete jungle. Buenos Aires pretty much has to be better.

Have fun!
posted by jewzilla at 9:55 PM on May 13, 2008

I've been to both in the past year. For me, Buenos Aires by a wide margin.

I liked many things about Sao Paulo-great food, amazing beer (i've become a chopp junkie), truly cosmopolitan population, but the physical city itself really is blah, the museums are kind of mediocre. To me the traffic is unbelievably atrocious (and I live in Mexico City), most people live in secure towers, and the crime is no joke. The brazilians I know shake it off as the "poverty tax", but man, I don't know if I could live with that for more than a few days.

Buenos Aires, well, I didn't really want to leave but I had to. I'll be back soon though.
posted by lovejones at 11:32 PM on May 13, 2008

Taking into consideration that I've never been to Buenos Aires and I speak almost-native level Portuguese, I still think it would be a shame to miss out on São Paulo just because of the vastly exagerrated Western media portrayal of the place. Of course there is lots of crime in São Paulo - far more than any American or European city, that's for certain, but for the most part its relegated to the suburbs and favelas. I lived in Sampa for a while, walked most places and used the metro, never had any problems - and I'm a pasty, white Brit. My girlfriend's sister lives there and has also never had a problem. I have many, many friends who have lived their whole lives there and also never had a problem. I also know people who've been robbed at gunpoint; statistically, the chances this will happen to you are minute. Just be clean, dress smartly but inconspiciously, like most paulistas and you'll be fine.

Whilst there, check out the Brahma Bar on Avenida São João, 677 for excellent chopp and have a bauru (the most amazing sandwich I've ever eaten) at the famous Restaurante Ponto Chic, Rua Duque de Caxias, 1328 and then check out the Japanese quarter in Liberdade.

Have fun!
posted by Zé Pequeno at 12:29 AM on May 14, 2008

BA has so much more going for it than SP, so I agree with lovejones above. Having been to both, although not in winter, and speaking Spanish, I would go to BA.
posted by Wilder at 1:48 AM on May 14, 2008

How's Gol, in terms of safety/reliability?
I've used them and have had no problems in terms of safety or reliability. Are you buying a ticket from the US though, with a US credit card? Last time I bought a ticket, their website was not set up for foreign credit cards except Amex. TAM I have also had no problems with ever. Varig... I don't know what they're up to since the financial issues last year.

I'm a little freaked out by the crime rate in Sao Paulo
For fun and comfort, hook up with some locals somehow. Try couchsurfing, or metafilter, or friends of real-life friends. The above comments that the worst of the crime is in the suburbs and favelas is true, but it can happen anywhere. Worse, it's pretty easy to turn a corner and find yourself somewhere you didn't want to be, since the favelas butt up into and grow into the nice neighborhoods.

I speak Spanish (and don't speak Portuguese)
Don't let this be a huge factor for you. Argentine Spanish is odd to US-trained ears, and most of the Brazilians think they speak Spanish (I kid! But they do all do well with Portunhol).

That said, I don't think you're missing much if you don't stay in São Paulo. Depends what you're into. There's some nice museums, great nightlife, cheap beer, and good shopping. The people are much friendlier/warmer than in BA, average. Much much. IF you're going to get on a plane, I would go to Rio instead of Buenos Aires.
posted by whatzit at 5:18 AM on May 14, 2008

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