Sao Paulo

With its magnificent museums, outstanding restaurants, and theater, dance and music scene, Sao Paulo well deserves its title as Brazil's art, culture and financial capital. But the local people call this exceptional city 'Sampa' for short, because it is also the Samba capital.

One of the world's largest metropolises alongside Tokyo, Seoul, Mexico City and New York, Sao Paulo is the most populous city in the southern hemisphere with a total of 22 million people, 12 million of them in its favelas or slums. But Sao Paulo is also Brazil's richest city and the financial capital of South America. With the best restaurants, bars and nightclubs in all South America, and with its magnificent museums and its theater, dance and music scene, it jealously guards its distinction as Brazil's art, culture and financial capital.

Founded as a small town in the 1700's, Sao Paulo grew rapidly due to the production of coffee, which developed thanks to the high altitude and fertile soil. World-famous Brazilian coffee is exported around the globe through the neighboring port city of Santos 70 kilometers away with Sao Paulo taking the lion's share of the trade. When slavery, which supplied the labor for coffee production, was abolished at the end of the 1800's, new immigrants from European countries like Italy, Portugal, Spain and Germany filled the need for workers on the coffee plantations. This wave of migration would continue at the start of the 20th century with immigrants from Japan, Syria and Lebanon.

A target of intensive migration from all over the world since the start of the 20th century, this former backwater is now a mega-city which has opened it arms to countless cultures whose tastes it addresses in its more than 12,000 restaurants offering a splendid array of all the cuisines of the world. Its more than seventy giant shopping centers, among them some on the list of the world's ten most luxurious, also make the city the shoppers' paradise of South America. Most of the giant multinational firms operating in Brazil have offices here, a salient detail that highlights the city's economic and commercial importance.

Foremost among the hundreds of cultural, commercial and artistic events hosted by the city are the Sao Paulo Art Biennale, South America's most impressive, Fashion Week, and the Sao Paulo Formula 1 Grand Prix in which Brazilian drivers like Emerson Fittipaldi, Jose Carlos Pace, Ayrton Senna and Felipe Masa compete for the cup.  With strong participation from Turkey, the last biennale was visited by over a million people. Sao Paulo Fashion Week too gives the world's biggest such events in London, New York, Milan and Paris some stiff competition.

Built in the 17th and 18th centuries, Praça Da Sé, the oldest district where Sao Paulo was first founded, is fairly bursting with the best preserved colonial structures in Portuguese baroque style outside Europe.  On a stroll through this district you will relive the colonial atmosphere of a century ago with its bustling avenues. The Cathedral Sé here is a monumental structure that has become a symbol of this great city. And the Mosteiro Sao Bento on the northern edge of the Triangulo district is another of the city's oldest and most important churches.

The Avenida Brigadeiro Faria Lima, or Faria Lima Boulevard for short, has a different air altogether with its countless upscale restaurants, nightclubs and shopping malls catering to the upper class. Watching the luxury life flowing along the boulevard while sipping authentic Brazilian coffee in one of its cafes and imbibing Sampa's Latin spirit has to be one of the most memorable moments you can have in this city.

Paulista Avenue with its culture center and several museums, the Estaçao da Luz train station built at the end of the 19th century, Ibirapuera Park, the city's second largest, chock full of museums and buildings designed by the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Neimeyer, the vibrant Liberdade district where the Asian immigrants live, the historic 'Mercado Municipal' shopping center where a camera is de rigueur, and the Pinacoteca do Estado de Sao Paulo which offers samplings of modern Brazilian art are just some of the must-see places in the city.

With a serious manuscript collection, the Ipiranga Museum, which tries to present Brazil's historical past in over a thousand different objects, espouses the aim of ensuring integration among the countries and cultures of Latin America. At the same time, the Memorial de America Latina, which also houses the Latin American Parliament, and the Immigrants' Hostel where immigrants arriving between 1882 and 1978 were first housed and which preserves objects commemorating those who left their native lands to come to this country with great hopes, also demand a visit by museum lovers.

Always lively and humming,  the giant Praça da Republica square hosts an open air market on Sundays. Everything from semi-precious stones to wood carvings by Amazon natives is sold at this market which offers a not-to-be-missed opportunity for shopping buffs and those in search of authentic handicrafts.

If photographing a panoramic view of the whole city especially at sunset is your passion, then the Banespa Skyscraper on the Rua Joao Bricola, Brazil's answer to New York's Empire State, is the place for you. With its unique blend of almost all the cultures in the world, Sao Paulo is an exceptional mosaic whose match you'd be hard put to find. A virtual Latin American world capital with its cultural, artistic and commercial dynamics.