We arrived in São Paulo high off the incredible time we’d had in Rio de Janeiro. Rio had been all we’d hoped and more – so much so that we’d ended up staying there for a whole 11 days! (See my previous blog for all the tips and antics!) Needless to say we knew there wasn’t a lot that could top Rio – especially in Brazil. We arrived on the Catrienese bus which cost 201 Reals/£46.94 for two people and took 6 hours. São Paulo is well known as the traffic-clogged commercial centre – often referred to as the “locomotive” of Brazil. It’s the location of most foreign company headquarters & it’s where many of the country’s richest keep an address. The city is densely populated with high-rise apartment & office buildings. To be honest the the city’s horizon looks more like Manhattan! In total we spent 8 days in the city and to be honest it was far too long. I’d recommend no more than 5. We had expected there to be much more to do there and we hadn’t anticipated such high prices. You know when you read stuff online and you don’t quite believe it would be that expensive? Well yeah it was… The city is heavily influenced by European & American culture. Imported craft beers are everywhere here if you fancy paying 20-30 Reals/£5 or £6 for a beer then this is for you! Restaurants are full of European and Japanese food. If you’re not on a backpackers budget you’ll be sure to enjoy it. The place to stay in São Paulo is the Vila Medelena/Pelorinihos neighbourhood. You’ll find most of the hostels and boutique hotels here along with a super hipster vibe.
It’s full of art shops, boutiques and coffee shops with suitably fitting bearded baristas. We stayed at the O de Casa hostel (120 Reals/£30 a night private room) which is actually a restaurant & bar too. It was suitably overpriced and overrun with British backpackers but it was also on the other hand a lot of fun, sociable & the location perfect. This is also the area where the super fab Beco de Batman (Batman Alley) is located. If you aren’t already aware Beco de Batman is a pretty famous area around Rua Gonçalo Afonso & Rua Medeiros de Albuquerque. It’s a popular tourist destination because of the dense concentration of street art that lines the alley ways. The nickname for the area is attributed to a piece of street art of the DC Comics character Batman which was painted on one of the walls in the 1980s. After then local art students began filling the walls with other psychedelic and cubist influenced designs. It’s truly a really fantastic place & perfect for taking cool photos. Street art is everywhere in São Paulo, you don’t just have to head to Beco de Batman. You only have to walk around for a day to experience street art covering shops, apartment blocks and even houses. If you’re a big fan of street art São Paulo is must stop for you.
São Paulo is known for its huge football following. Make sure you check out the Football Museum which is located in the Pacaembu arena where São Paulo football club play. The museum is free on Saturdays! (WIN!) The Museum is hugely centred around infamous footballer Pele & honestly is a very well put together place full of interactive exhibitions and captions in English. Even if you aren’t keen on football it’s still pretty interesting.
While we were at the stadium we thought we’d look into some tickets for an upcoming football match. The match we attended in Rio was one of our major highlights so we thought we couldn’t go wrong… we purchased two tickets at the stadium to see São Paulo vs Botofogo the next day. The stadium of course was nowhere near as impressive as the Maracana stadium in Rio but we thought it would be a laugh. We arrived at the stadium the next day slightly annoyed at the fact that the previous evening had seen torrential rainfall for hours & it was expected again. Either way we had our anoraks packed & thought it couldn’t be that much different from a match in the rain in London! We bought a couple of beers outside the stadium thinking they would be much cheaper than inside and watched everyone start to queue up at the entrances. It was still two hours until the match but we did what we thought was best and followed the crowds! We found our seats & within just a few minutes we noticed the sellers with their cool boxes selling copious amounts of Coca Cola. As we took a closer look we realised that none of the sellers were offering alcohol. We thought this must be a mistake… maybe the beers were at the bars at the back? Nope. The stadium did not sell alcohol. We couldn’t believe it. We now had 2 hours before the match even started and potentially torrential rain on the way & NO BEER. This might sound crazy to some of you but if you’re into watching live sport especially football you know how much getting drunk is part of the fun! So we settled in for the match… in all honesty the match wasn’t the worst but wasn’t the greatest either. It was a great atmosphere from the fans (as always in Brazil) but the stadium was pretty run down… there wasn’t even screens or a clock! We were quite surprised. The rain held off & we went home knackered.
The massive down side of this museum and the Pacaembu arena is the location. Although centrally located, it is not directly by a metro stop which means quite a long and complicated journey from the nearest stop if you don’t know the area. The nearest station is Metro Paulista and the walk was about 30 mins ‘around the houses’ as they say. It is also important to mention that there are two other teams in São Paulo – Corinthians (who won the league 2017 and Palmero who have the newest stadium. The tickets are 3 times the price but it might be more enjoyable to go there.)
One museum I was massively looking forward to was the Afro Brazilian museum which was located in the famous Ibirapuera Park. We arrived and somehow managed to walk in free (we still have no idea why they gave us free tickets). The museum was HUGE and full of exhibitions. Very modernised too a combination of art, photography, history and design. I was so disappointed that none of the info was in English and they didn’t even have a hand out! For such an impressive museum covering such important topics I was very surprised. I would loved to have read some of the stories in there.
One of the most famous things to do is visit the Mercadao – Sao Paulo Municipal Market in São Paulo. I was recommended to visit this market by LOADS of people & they were not wrong. It was fantastic.
Take the metro to Luz on the yellow line. The metro is fantastic in São Paulo – do not hesitate to use! However we didn’t find it as easy to purchase pre paid tickets as it was in Rio. We simply just bought single tickets at the booth each day for 3.80 Reals/£0.90 a go.
Anyways… the direct area around the market is really a huge assault on the senses. The streets are SO busy & noisy it almost reminded me of markets in India. Street sellers shout over each other and the hustle and bustle is pretty overwhelming. Be prepared to be sold anything & everything! We eventually found the food market which was a welcome break from the madness outside. As we entered we immediately noticed the HUGE sandwiches everyone was eating. This was the famous Mortadella market sandwich. I’m not sure which cafe or stall is the best but honestly they all looked very similar (however I’m sure Brazilians would tell you otherwise!) we picked a stall and made a huge mistake of ordering TWO! Oh my do not make the same mistake as we did! I’m a huge eater too I can usually polish off sandwiches no problem but believe me I was sweating by the end of it! Anyhow it couldn’t be anymore delicious so make sure you hit up the market! This is me polishing one off below:
Paulista Avenue (Avenida Paulista) is one of the most important avenues in São Paulo & runs for a huge 2.8kms. This city really is a concrete jungle full of surprises. The first time we walked down the Paulista Avenue I was quite shocked. It was nothing like I had expected. The road was HUGE. It reminded me so much of New York. Each building was so different in its unique style too, there clearly wasn’t really a design that was common. Some of the buildings honestly were some of coolest & unusual styles of architecture I had ever seen. The headquarters of a large number of financial & cultural institutions are located on this road & interestingly as a symbol of the centre of economic and political power of São Paulo it has been the focal point of numerous political protests beginning in 1929 & continuing into the 21st century. MASP is also located here – often described as South America’s most comprehensive fine art museum. We didn’t actually visit MASP – it was pretty pricey to get in & we are not the biggest art lovers… The day we first stepped on Paulista Avenue it was a Sunday & in that particular day it was completely pedestrianised minus a bike lane. There was also music in the streets and stalls. We genuinely couldn’t work out if it was a special event or not!
São Paulo is renowned for it’s nightlife and disappointingly we did not experience too much of it. From what I have heard Brazilian techno is a big scene here & parties go on ALL night until the early hours. To be honest it’s not completely our scene – we love to drink & socialise but once we do an all nighter the next day is a complete write off! We did have some nights out though… if you wander around the Vila Madelena & Pelorinhos areas the streets are lined with busy bars and restaurants. One night we ended up in this really cool bar covered in street art and old newspaper clippings lined the walls inside. Drinks were expensive though about 12 Reals/£3 a beer & I was super disappointed to see a couple with their dog IN THE CLUB until gone 1am dragging it around the dance floor… either way the music was very cool & we really enjoyed the vibe!
After São Paulo we decided to head to Curitiba in the state of Paraná. Weirdly enough I had always wanted to visit Curitiba. Curitiba was the city I had studied for my Geography GCSE when I was 16. I wrote all about their waste management & recycling initiatives. I loved it so much I even got an A*! We boarded a Cometa bus which cost 188 Reals/£41 for two people and took about six and a half hours. We decided to stay at Che Legarto Suites which were the company that owned many of the other hostels we stayed at. Curitiba was pretty cheap! We got ourselves a hotel (private bathroom, satellite TV, computers) for £22 a night which is cheap by Brazilian standards! When we walked in I couldn’t believe it – they even had a KETTLE! The first kettle I have experienced in Brazil. What did this call for? TEA BAGS! We celebrated our first cup of earl grey tea in Curitiba – could we get any more British? This spot had kitchen facilities too – meaning we could save a few £. The nearest supermarket and also a popular band in Brazil is Pao dAcucar translating literally to Sugar Loaf Mountain. It’s like the equivalent of a Waitrose!
Must sees in Curitiba include the very interesting Oscar Niemeyer Museum Niemeyer (no not the footballer) is a pretty famous Brazilian architect & he constructed a huge gallery in the shape of an eye in his home town. We walked in and found ourselves with free tickets! Turns out it was the 25th anniversary and they were having a celebratory month or something. Tickets are usually 9 Real/£2 each but it is always free on the first Thursday of every month and there is free entry after 6pm!
We had a great night out down at Avenue Vicente Machado. The bars were super cool – especially The Meatpack House full of craft beer, burgers and students. Great value too. The beers were 6 Real/£1.40 a chopp (half pint). We found ourselves some of the oldest in the crowd here, but it was certainly an experience as there really were no other foreign tourists in sight. The receptionist at our hotel told us that Curitiba was in fact a pretty big tourist destination for Brazilians (not entirely sure why…) but they rarely ever see foreign tourists. This makes it extra special. We just love finding spots off the beaten track, it’s just so much more exciting.
Centro area in Curitiba is more run down than expected. Homelessness & alcohol problems are a definite problem in this city. I can only imagine that the lack of industry here has something to do with it. We however still felt very safe here as we have done everywhere in Brazil really.
There is a main square which houses a the old own hall (free to wander around) and also a historical square named Alden Square which houses a cultural centre (also free with very nice cafe). This area is quite well preserved and lined with restaurants and bars. They tend to only get busy in the evenings though. There is an interesting sandstone coloured metropolitan cathedral which honestly looks like it could be better placed in Disneyland… and ‘Rua 24 horas’ is an covered area full of bars (pretty expensive however).
Probably one of the most surprising parts of Curitiba was the huge shopping centre called Shopping Estação. (The shopping wasn’t the surprising part… there are HUGE shopping centres everywhere in Brazil) it was the fact that the shopping centre used to be the old train station. Take half an hour out of your day to check out the mini museum, old ticket office and original steam train. Most of the trains were imported in from the UK and it’s a fascinating little find.
As always in all Brazilian cities be sure to navigate your way to the food market. Every city has one – they’re always filled with the most amazing food and drinks. In Curitiba’s municipal market is famous for is free samples especially in cheese! Being huge cheese lovers we ensured we took plenty on our wander around. The market had lots of cheap bars too, and a farmers style market just outside of the main hall. It was here we discovered the Bode Brown beer stand – a fantastic craft beer brewery. The locals were fabulous here too and they were really keen to chat to us, especially about European cities they’d visited. Whatever you do avoid the garlic bread! We spent a few Reals on purchasing some garlic bread to put in the oven back at the hostel and honestly it was so horrific. Brazilians do not do garlic bread well.
The time came yet again to keep moving our way down the country. We’d done a little research and discovered this crazy place which held the biggest Oktoberfest in South America – Blumenau in the state of Santa Carina. It sounded right up our street for the next two days! So we set off grabbed a Catarinense bus which cost 102 Reals/£23.79 for two people and took about seven hours (longer than originally advertised) and made our way to this German city. As soon as we arrived about 2 hours outside of Blumenau we stared to notice so much German architecture. The buildings were just SO different to anything we’d seen before in Brazil. Villages had little town squares with big wooden clocks and wooden clad houses. We eventually arrived and checked into Stammisch backpackers (120 Reals/£30 a night private room). There was only two options really online to stay here as we were in off peak season and the place isn’t huge. Stammisch was a really cool German beer focused hostel with a huge bar, pool table and large rooms. It was super cosy to to see out first lot of Christmas decorations too! Unfortunately we are actually the only guests to be staying there meaning it was SO quiet. I’m sure this place is heaving during Oktoberfest time.
So it turns out Blumenau is literally Brazil’s German Disneyland. Vila Germanica sits proudly in the centre of the town. It’s pretty much a whole replica of a German village! As it was nearing Christmas the village was pumping out famous Festive tunes in English, had a live brass band in the evenings and even fake snow! It was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever seen, especially in 32C heat! So surreal. The actual village in a permanent fixture – the bars and restaurants all serve German food and alcohol from all over the world. The shops sell Laderhosen & dirndls in preparation for Oktoberfest among other famous German souviners! Our favourite bar was the Bier Vila which had some great knowledgable staff & good WiFi! Even for some more fancy imported craft beers it was only 12 Reals/£3! It’s fair to say we got absolutely battered here and rolled home after trying about 8 beers each….
After some research we discovered the city was founded by 17 Germans back in 1850 & still to this day the ethnic origin of most inhabitants is either German or Italian. (This explains all true great food then!) Apparently last year here at the biggest Oktoberfest in South America 662,000 litres of beer was drunk here alone last year by 534,000 people! Apparently each year the Oktoberfest attracts on average 1 million people! Who knew eh?
So we were now onto week nine and very excited about the prospect of our last big Brazilian beach stop! It was time for Florianopólis! Florianópolis is a huge island and the capital of the state of Santa Carina. We’d heard great things. We went online and made the decision to spend a little more money and get ourselves a proper hotel opposed to to staying in another hostel. We found ourselves Hotel Gerainius in the Praia dos Ingleses area of the island (this literally translates as beach of the Englishmen). The hotel was 132 Reals/£33 a night and included huge air conned rooms, big bathrooms, a swimming pool, hot tubs and a restaurant. It was so hard to know where to stay in Florianópolis. It’s a huge island and most of the hostels are located around the lagoon area. Either way we went for it. We boarded a Catrinense bus costing 108 Reals/£25.28 for two people and arrived four hours later. The bus drops you at the main terminal and from there you have to take two local buses costing just 3 Reals/£0.75 each. The queues for the buses went on for AGES and we were knackered after the journey. The first bus was packed and we held our luggage as tight as possible desperate not to fall into anyone’s lap or worse into the door. The bus flew round the dual carriageways and arrived at the second stop. We boarded the second bus and nearly melted, I also couldn’t stop moaning – I was stupidly wearing jeans for some unknown reason. It took about an hour and a half from the main terminal in the end.
Finally we arrived in Ingleses. Our hotel was quite clearly the nicest about. It was obvious soon as we arrived that the place was pretty run down and just all round extremely tacky. It was disappointing but to be honest you never know what somewhere is like until you really have a good look around! Either way we were super happy with our pool and hot tubs for the time being…
So it turns our Praia dos Ingleses was disappointing. The town didn’t have much to offer at all- even the ‘Rua Gastonomica’ had rubbish restaurants and overpriced drinks. The food wasn’t great at all- it wasn’t the island life we were hoping for! The actual beach was okay… the sea was in fact pretty turquoise like depicted in the photos, but the beach as a whole was so ugly! I couldn’t understand why there were so many people there!
We did however visit the incredible sand dunes which are walkable from this location. The dunes are so picturesque, really unusual too – there’s even cows wandering about. If you wander through the dunes and towards the sea you find the most amazing beach! We were overjoyed – we knew Florianópolis must have something to offer! We spent ages on that beach which was super secluded with bright white sand and just a couple of bars at the far end.
I think the saving grace of Florianópolis for us was not only the magical beach we discovered but the pizza buffet we found too – 22 Reals/£5 for ALL YOU CAN EAT! There might be a god after all…
Also it turns out there is a super comfy public bus that runs round the island too back to the main bus terminal which costs 8 Real/£2 each so you don’t have to actually queue and take the two public ones … just ask anyone where the yellow bus stops and you’ll be on your way!
Next location on the list was Porto Alegre in the state of Rio Grande do Sol. Oh how we underestimated this place! We pretty much just headed here because it was just en route to Pelotas (where we needed to board our bus to Uruguay) not because we actually wanted to see anything. We took a Eucatur bus which cost 189 Reals/£43 for two people and took about 8 hours. We decided on an overnight one in order to save a nights accommodation (you always regret it in the morning when you feel like shit). Anyways we arrived at 4am and had to sit in the bus station drinking coffee & eating Misto Quentes (jam & cheese toasties) until a reasonable hour. We headed to our accommodation about 7am. We were both really grumpy after a really uncomfortable journey and we had major sunburn from Florianópolis which was pretty much killing us off … (yes we did wear Bloody factor 50 as well.. those dunes are a bitch!) we had booked Açores Flat Design apartment 120 Reals/£30 a night for four days and my god were we in for a treat and we were so happy when they let us check in at 7:30am! What babes! The flats were located right in heart of the historical centre and were MASSIVE! The kitchen was really badly equipped but we made do and absolutely loved the TV, sofa (yes a sofa.. bliss!) and massive bedroom.
Porto Alegre had a lot of little gems to offer! Our apartment was located right next door to the incredible huge pink Casa de Cultura Mario Quintana which was once known as ‘Hotel Majestic’. The Hotel Majestic had its heyday in the 30s,40s & 50s and had an intriguing Art Deco design. The hotel had many famous political visitors, such as former presidents Getúlio Vargas & Jango Goulart, & from the artistic world such as Vicente Celestino, Virginia Lane & Francisco Alves. The House was named after one of the greatest Brazilian poets, Mário Quintana, who was born in the city of Alegrete in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, but adopted Porto Alegre as his city. The writer actually lived in the hotel between 1968 and 1980, in apartment 217. Today it houses a cultural centre, a cinema, restaurants and an AMAZING roof top garden lined with the original baths filled with flowers. It’s so cool and perfect for snaps over the city.
Porto Alegre has another fantastic food market named Galeria Mercado Publicó, cheap food, craft stalls and beers the cheapest we found in all of Brazil – just 6 Reals/£1.40 for 600mls! The city is also famous for its art and culture – Santander own the huge old bank named Santander Cultural on the Rua Sete de Setembro and have converted it into a museum. Wander in and take a look at the old safes and money – it’s so fascinating!
Probably the best spot was the stunning Igreja Nossa Senhora das Dores (Church of our lady of the sorrows) built in 1813. It reminded us so much of the brightly white painted churches in Salvador – one of our favourite spots in all of Brazil. Overall Porto Alegre was truly a lovely stop. It’s not huge but I would definitely recommend scheduling in 2 days here to explore some of the fabulous architecture.
Our last and final stop in Brazil (CRY!) was to be Pelotas where we would take the bus over the border to Montevideo, Uruguay. We boarded our final Expresso Embaixador bus in Brazil from Porto Alegre which cost 71.50 Reals/£17 each and took about 4 hours. This bus was one of the only interstate buses we took in all of Brazil and it was far more more complicated to buy a ticket. Unusually they didn’t even accept cards so we had to go on a wild goose chase to get last minute cash before we boarded. Despite all this the actual bus was great – really comfy.
The next day was Jack’s 28th birthday!! We hadn’t quite planned our dates out very well but we struck lucky with our hostel. We checked into Hello Hostel 132 Reals/£33 a night. (There isn’t much other choice) Hello Hostel was AMAZING! 100% recommend- super comfy rooms, great facilities and the best staff!
Pelotas was a bizarre place. It was almost like it was frozen in time. There were so many beautiful colonial European style buildings in the main square but they were all run down and desperately in need of repair. I couldn’t even work out if they were abandoned or not. There was one that was my absolute favourite – the photo below. I love how the clock is stuck on 5:40. I wonder if something happened at that precise time? So we spent our one day in Pelotas wandering aimlessly around trying to find something fun for Jack’s Birthday. We really hadn’t planned well at all – we had the entire day and our bus to Uruguay was at 1am so no matter what we had to stay up and ready! We found Madre Mia bar which was so weird because it was SO busy – despite the rest of the city being some sort of ghost town… the bar was super cool but very expensive. The chef even popped his head out to say hey and we were stunned when he told us he used to be the chef at Gaucho in Tower Bridge and lived in Brockley just down the road from our place in London! Anyways I told the chef it was Jack’s birthday but sadly no freebies and we couldn’t afford to drink there so time to move on… we headed back to the market square and saw that a live band was setting up. We parked ourselves at the adjacent bar and drank our way through 4 litres of beer at the price of 12 Reals/£3 each! Bargain! The band began and a small crowd piled in. Next minute we know a few stalls open selling large cans of beer for just 5 Reals/£1.30. We join in the fun in the sun with some locals and get suitably drunk. I spotted a photographer and tried to tell him that it was in fact Jack’s birthday today. He seems pretty excited and runs up to the stage to tell the band! Next minute I know the band stop the music and call out ‘jack baby … jack happy Birthday’ and beckon him up to the stage. They present him with a CD! The photographer presents Jack with a copy of his new photography book and signs it. We have a small photoshoot and after all the frivolity we wander aimlessly to McDonald’s. We toast to Jack’s 28th year with a Big Mac meal each and wonder how an earth we’re gonna board the bus this drunk.
We wander back to the hostel steaming drunk knowing they have a TV room we can chill out in. We meet a hilarious member of staff who literally made our day and we end up chatting for about 4 hours straight. We grab an Uber and make it to the really dodgy bus station.
It was time for Uruguay and we already had bloody hangovers!