Lessons from Brazil – Concrete Jungle


So I’ve been living in São Paulo for the last month and though I had visited before (even spending one month during a previous trip), this is the first time I’ve treated the city as a place I’d possibly want to live long term. Living in a concrete jungle is good due to there being so many options available at any hour. It’s also good to feel you are not in the middle of nowhere, ie, isolated from the hustle and bustle, the liveliness of so many people sharing the same space. It’s bad because some solutions for having so many people crammed together just don’t work (ie, the bus system is not intuitive, though the metro is great). With the city being so wide, I’ve been confronted with the issue of having to decline invites to meet people or to do interesting things because frankly two hours of interaction/fun rarely equals three hours of roundtrip public transport time (as I found out the other night). Having a car doesn’t much help since over 1,000 new cars are being added to the already congested roads and highways of São Paulo each day.

One of the issues SP has in terms of tourism is there’s no calling card, if you will (see comments). People say the city is an awesome place to be and live but I’ve only seen hints of this. Alas, I think it’s a city that reveals itself slowly. I haven’t been here long enough to vouch for São Paulo’s so-called awesomeness and I’m not sure I’ll stay long enough to confirm it for myself. I left Rio looking for a better ‘Rio’ and I’m realizing it doesn’t exist. Rio, like São Paulo, is unique…but to me Rio is also like my old favorite chair and it’s hard to give that up for another, newer chair that will take time to ‘break in’.


This time, I’m going to leave it up to commenters to compare São Paulo to New York, since that’s what most people say. I’ve never been to NYC but I am told the ‘wide city-transit’ problem exists there, too, as does the upside of ‘doing anything, anytime’.


18 thoughts on “Lessons from Brazil – Concrete Jungle

  1. Funny you posted this picture when I thought it was a picture I took and just posted in my own blog. On my last day there, I got to see a few like your photo, so it was worth it, as much as I didn’t care for São Paulo. The other cities I liked, but São Paulo was probably one of the least of my favorites. My favorites has to be the cities within Santa Catarina and Paraná.

    • I think that for people who see SP as their least favorite or at least as ‘nice but not great’ are those (myself included) who could benefit from a good year long stay in the city. At the same time, there are clearly those that just don’t take to big city life. As I mentioned in the post, if São Paulo had a calling card (in the way that Rio has Cristo, Sugarloaf, beaches, Lapa, etc), then people would be more inclined to come out of it with a more positive view.

      I’ve only ever heard residents of São Paulo say they love São Paulo, which I think supports my view that it’s a city that reveals itself slowly.

    • Funny is the fact that you chose 2 of the most “european states” of the south of Brazil as your favourite ones. In my opinion, nothing is compared to the northeast when it comes to brazilian natural beauties. There are great social problems in the northeast, but I love living in here (I’m from Fortaleza-CE). I’ve lived in the south for a few years and I hated it, especially the racial prejudice many of the southerns nourish towards the rest of the country.

      • Well, I wouldn’t say that SP is among my favorites, per se, but based on life experience (obviously mostly in the US) I know that I feel better in certain types of cities (mainly those with international cultural options). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with anyone preferring to live in a metropolis vs. a mid-sized city or even a small town. Cada um com seu gosto. If you look at this image, you can see the areas shaded in red/pink are where people tend to live (ie, places with the most economic growth, technological diffusion and population growth). That’s just the way the world is, nothing wrong with wanting to live in one or the other.

        I would also argue that the most European states are in the south and not the southeast, but I think I understand what you mean by putting that in quotes. Sorry you hated living here.

  2. I live in New York City(actually in Brooklyn-not Brooklin SP).
    I’ve been to SP–but New York has SP beat as far as transportation systems, and International culture(think the UN,Broadway Metropolitan Museum,Wall Street—on second thought don’t include Wall Street with the mess it got the world into…
    And NY is Cleaner ,Far Safer and much better organized than SP–plus,like Rio it’s surrounded by water-Manhattan ,after all,is an Island.
    Rio has the Charm of it’s Natural Beauty- Beaches and Forests-and a more Casual and Tropical-life-style than SP(or NY). Yet SP has many many Nice and Intelligent and Educated people ,like NY…..So Isto……Just some thoughts…….

  3. I’ve recently moved to Belo Horizonte, the distant 3rd largest city of SE Brazil, and I think it similarly struggles in comparison to Rio’s “calling cards”. It does have some (locally) famous sights and many other cultural, entertainment and natural attractions (including the ability to get straight out into beautiful hills) but its true; the heavy concrete buildings can make for imposing architecture. Particularly in the older parts of town. The 45 degree street-grid does make for some pretty cool triangular high-rises though.
    Having moved here from London, I can imagine the attractions of big, cosmopolitan city life in São Paolo although it sounds like it is lacking London’s beauty (and the great public transport which only residents complain about!). BH feels like more of a backwater but as with other similar cities (in the UK at least), the people are very friendly, and it feels quite ‘manageable’. I actually think the bus network in BH is very good. It seems to be more the local attitude (and maybe concern about security) that makes the residents want to lock themselves in their cars and the traffic-jams that go with them. I happily sit on the bus as it flies down the separate bus-cariageways on the major commuting routes in/out of the centre.
    I’m looking forward to going to visit SP before too long but I think I would try Rio if I was to move to a bigger city.

    • I almost moved to BH once but when I was considering it, I wondered if it would feel backwater-y. I suppose most sizable cities in Brazil feel that way when compare to RJ/SP (certainly Belém and Natal do, as per my personal experience). The hills, though, those must be nice. Speaking of such, I’ve been meaning to get myself to southern Minas some day soon.

      The buses here in SP are modern and frequent, but the gov’t’s official public transport site and Google Maps pub. trans. info seem to give correct info only half the time. For some reason, I can always get to where I’m going fairly easily but returning is a nightmare. Said ‘official’ directions don’t work and no one (not bus drivers, terminal employees, people on the street) know how someone can get somewhere. I lose 2+ hours each time I return from somewhere just in the attempt to find the right course to take, which usually involves several means of transport.

  4. I have been living in Volta Redonda, a small city compared to Rio or SP, for 3,5 years now. Being a tourist guide (in Rio de Janeiro), I’ve been in and around Rio de Janeiro countless times and only a few times in São Paulo. Although Rio is by far my favorite, I don’t think I would be able to live in either one, but that’s just because I’m not the city type of person. I need to be able to jump on my bike and get out of the city in 15 minutes. For that, Volta Redonda is perfect. As to “calling cards” in São Paulo (I guess you mean the “cartões postais”, right?), it’s true; Rio is a city where there’s a lot to see, while IMHO São Paulo is more a city to “experience”, if you get my drift. That’s not to say that there’s nothing beautiful to see in Sampa. There are several monuments, churches, historical buildings museums and parks spread all over the city. A stroll around the historical center is a good way to start, or check out some online city guides (like Lonely planet http://www.lonelyplanet.com/brazil/sao-paulo). Due to the sheer size of the city, I think you’re right, it is a place that needs time to be discovered. Me? I’m always perfectly happy to leave the city behind me (whether it’s São Paulo, Rio, Belo Horizonte, or any other :) )
    Cheers and have a great time in Sampa.

  5. I recommend Florianopolis, SC. It has it all: big city (but not overly big), beaches/surfing, mountains, lake… all on an island that is easily accessible to the mainland. Perfect. I’ve been there twice and plan to retire there.

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  8. I was born in a small city close to Sao Paulo, but lived in Sao Paulo for 37 years, I also lived in Rio for a while and I have been living in Brasilia for 13 months. My theory is the following: Rio has its natural beaulty that “fills up” your eyes very quicly. And then, you discover that Rio has Lapa, Santa Tereza, the “baiies funk”, the samba schools, etc…..And your options narrow from this pont onwards.
    Brasilia is so organized that it makes it good for living, but boring. Definitely, it is not a party city, a place to have fun. It is green, ful of “calling cards” and it is prety, though
    São Paulo is noisy, ugly, crowded, polluted. When you get there you do not feel like it is a place to visit. However, when the night comes,, another city raises.. Bars, discos, galleries, parties, design stores, concerts, shows, restaurants that never closes, mixed people, with different sexual orientation all together,…and then, you think this might be the place to be. However, what to do during the day? If you wanna go to the beach, SP state has very beautiful beaches too (Ilha Bela, Cambury, Maresias, Ubatuba,, to mention a few), with a less urban sttyle, but full of night clubs and bars too. However, it is a 2 hour drive…But if you wanna stay in the city for the weekend, take a look on any SP official touritic guide.. Ibirapuera Park, MASP, Praça Benedito Calixto, Mercado Municipal, Copan, Museu do Ipiranga, Centro Histórico, Rua 25 de Março, Liberdade, Vila Madalena, Pacaembu, Museu do Futebol, Museu da Lingua POrtugues, Sala São Paulo, Pinacoteca, etc., etc. And also take a look at the B side of São Paulo. It is is easy on the internet. :)
    But, my favourite “calling card” in Sao Paulo is the view of the city from the Hotel Unique’s Bar called Skye. Go there, have a drink and you will understand what I am saying.

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