Health, safety, and sight-seeing in Sao Paulo
May 31, 2008 6:06 AM   Subscribe

What should I know before my trip to Sao Paulo?

I'm taking trip to Sao Paulo next week, and I had a few questions as someone who has never been out of the United States before.

1. Is it safe to drink the water in the city? I know that everyone says "don't drink the water" in Mexico and in small villages, but the third biggest city in the world should have decent water filtration, right?

2. In my research I keep coming across people talking about the high crime rate in Sao Paulo. Am I really that likely to be robbed while I'm there? Are there particular parts of the city I should avoid?

3. I've been looking around the internet for stuff to do and see while I'm in the city. Any recommendations? I'll be there for the better part of a week, and I only know a handful of phrases in Portuguese.

4. Any other advice about going to Sao Paulo?
posted by JDHarper to Travel & Transportation around Sao Paulo, Brazil (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1: It's not so much about the size of the city as the decision as to how much to treat the water and the cost involved. This is a government/agency policy decision and more related to financial resources than size of population. Sao Paola may well have drinkable water (I'm going there in October and am certainly erring on the side of caution), but you need to completely rely on that as the chances of it not being ok (from poor pipe maintenance, for example) are relatively high* with such a massive city. It takes huge resources to maintain a network of clean water, and I'm not sure Brazil is necessarily able to guarantee that much funding. As such, I'd always steer away from the tap water when on holiday - anywhere, usually - as I'd rather not spend the whole time on the can emptying myself inside out.

But then, I usually don't trust the water in US hotels either (except the $100+ a night ones in cities). I know the chances of it being fine are extremely high, but for the sake of a bottle of water, I'd rather guarantee seeing more than the smallest room while I am there.

*with drinking water, 'relatively high' to me is 'more than a 10% chance I'll get the shits'. I've suffered from this before, see.
posted by Brockles at 6:31 AM on May 31, 2008

go down to the dollar store. buy a few cheap velcro wallets. stuff a few bucks in them and keep them on you while walking around. not to say that you will be robbed, but if you do, they will take it and run.

not to say that it will happen, but it beats giving away your real wallet with your real documents.
posted by phredgreen at 8:17 AM on May 31, 2008

Best answer: I have friends living in São Paulo and have visited a few times. Normally using São Paulo as a starting point for longer trips around Brasil.

1. The water in most São Paulo hotels has been said to be drinkable (I've had no problems with it; drinking it, using it to brush teeth etc.) but, personally, i'd really err on the side of caution and drink only bottled water. I found bottled water to be cheap and widely available in shops in and around São Paulo. (as it is across most of Brasil.)

2. Crime is an everyday reality in São Paulo. As in any city, it's mainly petty and opportunistic crime, pickpocketing, stealing left valuables etc. Violent crime is also high but it is unlikely you'll see or experience any of it. Again, just err on the side of caution, don't carry valuables with you, keep your wits about you, get back on the train if an area looks dodgy and unwelcoming. Most of the areas you'd be most likely to experience problems (if any) are areas that you probably wouldn't visit anyway; residential areas outside of the main city and Favelas. (sorry if that offends anyone, and i know there are many fine people who live in Favelas, but from personal experience I've found them not somewhere to stick around in for too long a time.) Stick to the tourist areas and centre of the city and (it's a shame to say it) not straying too far from your hotel after dark and you'll be safe. A couple of other things: it's worth noting when major football games occur. One time when I was there, the football team Santos was playing an Argentinian team. This attracted a large (100's!) and quite intimidating group of fans walking through the streets banging drums and letting off fireworks. I retreated to my hotel and watched it from my balcony.
It's also worth keeping some spare money concealed in a sock or money belt along with your hotel address written on a piece of paper for a taxi or train. You know, just in case.

3. I haven't really spent much time in the centre of the city as I've always stayed with friends, hotels outside the centre and just hung out so don't really have many recommendations of places to visit. It's worth noting that São Paulo is one of the most ethnically diverse part of Brazil and there are many fine restaurants with food from across the world. The district of Liberdade is especially well worth a visit - it's home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan, quite a fascinating place. I've also been told the MASP art gallery on Avenida Paulista is good, though have never been myself so can't vouch for that. Might be worth having a browse through Lonely Planet Thorntree.

4. I've found that English is not commonly spoken so it's worth picking up a bit of Brasilian Portuguese before you. The normal stuff: please, thankyou, numbers, etc.

Have a great trip!
posted by tnai at 8:47 AM on May 31, 2008

I'm taking trip to Sao Paulo next week, and I had a few questions as someone who has never been out of the United States before.

Many US citizens have a strong believe that the US is the "best country in the world". Keep such quotations for you. In general US citizens are not well liked in South America, keep this in mind! (Being a gringo is a reason to get robbed. Being a US citizen is two).

Don't wear a watch, jewelery, electronics (iPod, Laptop), don't wear any fancy cloth, try to resemble the locals as much as possible in your outfit. If you don't talk in public you may not get spotted as a foreigner, which is a big asset. If you get robbed, don't fight back or you risk loosing your life over 50 bucks or whatever you carry. Don't help someone who gets robbed! (others, that seem not to be involved at first in a knife or whatever robbery, do carry guns...)

2. In my research I keep coming across people talking about the high crime rate in Sao Paulo.

Sao Paulo has a high crime rate but this is not a reason why you should not be able to enjoy Brazil. Keep a low profile, carry nothing valuable, use common sense. Make sure if a district is safe before you go there. Take a cap at night. Just try to fit it. Never show insecurity or that you are lost.

Are there particular parts of the city I should avoid?

Many. Ask your friends.

Any recommendations? I'll be there for the better part of a week, and I only know a handful of phrases in Portuguese.

Very few people will speak English. The more Portuguese you know, the better. The nightlife of SP is supposed to resemble the one of NYC. I never really got warm with SP and prefer Rio. (If crime is your concern then Rio might not be the best idea.)

4. Any other advice about going to Sao Paulo?

Learn as much Portuguese as possible. Keep a low profile. Try to see other cities. As already mentioned, SP is by far not my favorite Brazilian city.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 2:28 PM on May 31, 2008

1. The water in Sao Paulo is potable, for the most part. I would definitely suggest drinking bottled water as tap water tastes like treated city water. Many of the hotels have their own water cisterns that are not connected to the city system and are filled by water trucks. I wouldn't think twice about brushing my teeth, showering, etc in the tap water.

2. As noted above, blend in and don't look flashy. Sao Paulo is a diverse city, so your skin color/race will not immediately brand you a foreigner by the locals. I agree with tnai about avoiding favelas. Most of the crime that you might run into is pickpocketing and mugging (assuming you won't be driving a car to get jacked!). I suggest avoiding Centro after dark (neighborhoods like Republica, Boca do Lixo, etc) as they can get pretty seedy. If there are any football games going on during your stay, you may want to avoid wearing team colors on game day. Like tnai said, there can be hoards of fans in the streets that are scary without wearing the opposition's colors.

3. Liberdade has a great Sunday market in the plaza, as does Republica. Both locations are easily accessible by the Metro. While Liberdade's market is Japanese-themed, Republica always has artisianal items from all over Brazil which makes it my number one choice for gift shopping. Drink chope, which is unpasturised draft beer. Of all the churrascarias (barbecue restaurants) IMO the best is Sujinho on Consolacao. There are two, on opposite sides of the same intersection.

4. Sao Paulo is like Brazil's New York City while Rio is their Miami. That said, Rio is a quick plane ride if you feel you must. Not everyone speaks English, so pick up some courtesy phrases (Thank you, Please, Where is the Bathroom?, etc).

Any questions, please ask, I used to live in Sao Paulo.
posted by dreaming in stereo at 2:46 PM on May 31, 2008

Rio is their Miami.

What an insulting comparison for Rio...
posted by yoyo_nyc at 3:19 PM on May 31, 2008

Best answer: I'm late to the party, but I went to São Paulo last year to do academic research and have some advice.

1) Water in the hotels should be fine for brushing teeth and whatnot. You probably won't be offered anything but bottled to drink anyway.

2. Don't wear nice jewelry (if you wear jewelry) out, don't walk around in areas you don't know late at night alone. You won't necessarily stick out as a foreigner there by looks alone since Brazil is very diverse, and São Paulo especially so (and paulistanos in the richer areas are very fashionable by American standards).

3) We rode the subways exclusively until the last day when we realized that cabs are really cheap there by US city standards. Taking cabs expands the area that you're able to see.
Check out Parque Ibirapuera for sure. It's amazing. Parque Trianon is also really pretty. The areas of Liberdade, Sé, and Republica are really cool, too. Walking down the Avenida Paulista is really interesting, too. Check out MASP (there is a metro stop for it) to see some great art, too.

4) I read Portuguese almost fluently (because I speak Spanish), but do not speak or understand oral Portuguese very well at all. I found that SP is not a very friendly city to tourists, honestly. They are a business capital and not a big tourist magnet like Rio. Few people in things like restaurants and stores will speak English, and I got looked at like I was a moron many times trying to speak broken Portuguese when ordering. This was so bad that eating out was really stressful. More expensive places are a little more friendly because they do cater to foreign business visitors regularly.

I would encourage you to try to find someone on a site like (any American regardless of race is a "gringo" in Brazil) or Couch Surfing that speaks both English and Portuguese and would offer to show you around. I really wish we would have done this when my partner and I went.
posted by fructose at 11:08 AM on June 2, 2008

I live in SP. e-mail in profile. feel free to write. BEST advice would be to hook up with some local friends. Makes all the difference in the world in SP and solves all problems.
posted by ig at 3:24 PM on June 4, 2008

Response by poster: Just got back from the trip earlier today. Had a great time; thanks for all your suggestions.

In case anyone finds this doing research for their own trip: Learn as much Portuguese as you possibly can. I did five of the Pimsleur's Brazilian Portuguese lessons before I left, and two more in the hotel room, and also listened to a couple Portuguese podcast lessons that taught how to say the different numbers. This was just barely enough to get by. I wish I had started earlier, because that would have made the whole experience more enjoyable, and I would have annoyed several fewer shopkeepers.

(And be warned: Don't just grab a Portuguese/English dictionary and think you'll be able to work with it. The Portuguese alphabet has a lot of quirks that English doesn't, i.e. "de" and "di" are pronounced "Gee." Bom Gia is pronounced "Bohn-Gee-Ah", not "Bom-dee-ah.")

Lots of good advice from everyone. Thanks for helping me have a good trip!
posted by JDHarper at 1:20 PM on June 8, 2008

« Older Better Ebay selling   |   Japan Filter Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.