Sao Paulo Layover

Why Sao Paulo:

When looking at options to fly back from Buenos Aires to the US, I discovered that I could save $1400 by flying out of Montevideo. That itinerary had a 15-hour layover in Sao Paulo, Brazil. For most people, this layover would likely be a huge inconvenience, but for me this was an opportunity to see my many friends and explore the city for the first time. 

Due to the time clearing immigration and checking in for the outbound flight, I realistically had 12 hours to explore. I enlisted my business school friends Sonia and Kaue who created a special “Sao Paulo Express Tour” itinerary and acted as my tour guides. Kaue is a Sao Paulo native and was in my Section in the MBA. Sonia is Portuguese from the Douro Valley and only moved to Brazil a year ago, but seems to be thriving. In May 2021, Sonia and I spent a week in Kyrgyzstan

November 26, 2022: The Sao Paulo Express Tour

Sonia and Kaue picked me up in her car at 8:40 after the 2.5-hour flight from Montevideo. Since it was a Saturday morning, there was no traffic, and the ride only took 40 minutes to get into the city center. 

My first impression is that Sao Paulo is GIGANTIC. It is the largest city in the Americas, the Western Hemisphere, and the Southern Hemisphere and sure felt like it. 

Our first stop was for breakfast at a Brazilian café called Boston Bakery…. complete with a framed Tom Brady jersey. There we were joined by our other MBA friend Stella.  We ordered a heavy French toast stuffed with cream cheese and acai with orange juice to drink. 

Also in true Brazilian fashion, they had a strange payment scheme. Each person receives a credit card. The bill for each item goes onto the card. To leave the restaurant, you have to pay the bill on your card with the cashier at the exit. Once the bill is paid, the casher will unlock the gate to let you out. 

Next, we parked in a very fancy residential neighborhood full of high-rise apartments. The buildings had very high electrified fences. My friends explained that most people with money live in secured buildings. Not only is there 24-hour security, but there is also a double gate to drive into the complex. After the first gate closes, the security guard will scan your license plate and check your face before opening the second gate. 

From our parking spot we walked to a farmer´s market. Unlike temperate Uruguay, the market in Sao Paulo had tropical fruits including many that I have never heard of such as abiu, cupuaçu, and caju. The most popular fruit in the market is pineapple. The unique Portuguese word for pineapple is abacaxi, which is comes from an indigenous Brazilian language. In virtually every other language on earth, the word for the fruit is some form of pinya/piña or ananas.  

We continued our walk into Ibirapuera Park, the main city park of Sao Paulo. It reminded me of tropical Central Park. The central loop had loads of people walking, biking, skating, and slow jogging to attract the ladies (trote paquera). Ibirapuera is clearly the place to be seen, as all three of them ran into people they knew.  

The park contains a few museums including a modern art museum and an Oscar Niemeyer-designed exhibition pavilion. 

Just across a bridge technically outside the park was the Contemporary Art Museum of the University of Sao Paulo (not to be confused with the Modern Art Museum and the Contemporary Art Museum). The museum used to be the central office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (or whatever the Brazilian equivalent is). Kaue explained how he took his driving test here. 

The museum contains six floors of art, but we came here for the roof deck which contains a fancy restaurant and epic views of the endless high rises spreading in all directions. 

Back at the car, we said goodbye to Stella for now and headed into the city center. Our destination was the Farol Santander. Formerly the headquarters of a bank that eventually got acquired by Santander, the Art Deco landmark was also the tallest building in Brazil for nearly 2 decades. Today, the building is mixed-use, and I really mean it. 

The top floor is an observation deck with an even more incredible view of the endless high rises of Sao Paulo. 

The floors just below contain art exhibitions. 

A floor below that has a skate park. 

Down on the second level, we visited the historic offices of the bank president- Weirdly enough this is the second historic bank president’s office I have visited I Brazil- I also saw this in Rio´s Centro Cultural Banco do Brazil. 

In the basement, we visited a bar in what used to be the bank´s vaults. Behind a huge door was a room full of safety deposit boxes. There, we ordered cocktails containing the unique Brazilian fruits. 

We then drove to our final neighborhood, the hilly Pinheiros. The neighborhood was full of outdoor bars that were packed with young people. Amidst all these bars is the Beco do Batman (Batman Alley). This alley is full of street art, art shops, music, and good vibes. It reminded me a lot of Los Angeles´s Venice neighborhood. 

Having fully completed the sightseeing part of the “Sao Paulo Express Tour”, it was time to commence the drinking part of the tour. We headed over to one of the bars where we met up with IESE friends Stella (again), Aflalo, Catelan, Lucas and Thais. 

My friends explained that the bars are packed every weekend, but this weekend was slightly better than most because of the World Cup. We drank beers and caipirinhas and caught up on life and danced. So. Much. Fun.

At 8pm. I caught an Uber to the airport to unfortunately head home to NYC.  

Final Thoughts:

Sao Paulo is massive, and I barely scratched the surface. I loved all the different neighborhoods, but definitely would need more time to get a feeling for the city. Based on my one day, it reminded me a lot of Los Angeles but with more tall buildings. But I will leave any real judgement for after I visit for longer. 

Having so many friends in a city also made this trip special. For this reason  (and many others), I am so thankful for IESE. 

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