Getting Here and Around
Navigating São Paulo is not easy, and staying either in the central areas or at least near an inner-city subway station is advisable, especially if you don't plan on renting a car or taking cabs. The subway is quick, easy, inexpensive, and covers much of the city, with stops near the most interesting sites for travelers. Buses can be hard to navigate if you don't speak Portuguese. Driving in São Paulo, particularly in peak hours, can be slow and difficult. For longer stays, obtain a provisional driver's license and a good map or GPS—with a little care and a lot of confidence, you can get by. Parking can be perplexing, so it's probably best to use a parking lot (estacionamento), which are numerous and relatively cheap, depending on the neighborhood. Cabs are reasonably priced, safe, and abundant in the popular neighborhoods.
Nearly all international flights stop in São Paulo, so it's easy to get from São Paulo to everywhere else in Brazil. There are flights every half hour covering the short (around one hour) trip between São Paulo and Rio (starting from around R$100 one-way). There are also multiple departures per day to other major cities such as Brasília and Belo Horizonte.
São Paulo's international airport, Aeroporto Internacional de São Paulo/Guarulhos (GRU) or "Cumbica," is in the suburb of Guarulhos, 30 km (19 miles) and a 45-minute drive (longer during rush hour or on rainy days) northeast of Centro. Much closer to the Zona Sul region is Aeroporto de Congonhas (CGH), 14 km (9 miles) south of Centro (a 15- to 45-minute drive, depending on traffic), which serves regional airlines, including the Rio–São Paulo shuttle.
Aeroporto Internacional de Congonhas. Avenida Washington Luís s/n, Campo Belo, São Paulo, 04626–911. 011/5090–9000; www.infraero.gov.br.
Aeroporto Internacional de São Paulo/Guarulhos. Rod. Hélio Smidt s/n, Guarulhos, São Paulo, 07190–100. 011/2445–2945; www.infraero.gov.br.
Airport Transfers: Buses and Taxis
State government–operated EMTU's Airport Bus Service buses (air-conditioned blue-and-white vehicles) shuttle between Guarulhos and Congonhas airports every 30 to 40 minutes from 5:30 am to midnight and every 60 to 90 minutes from midnight to 5:30 am (R$36.50). Look for the EMTU stand near the private bus and cab stalls outside the arrivals terminal. You may also be able to arrange a free transfer with your airline as part of your ticket.
The EMTU buses travel between Guarulhos and the Tietê bus terminal (which is also on the main subway line) from 5 am to midnight, every 30 to 60 minutes; the downtown Praça da República (5:40 am to midnight, every 60 to 90 minutes); and Avenida Paulista (5:50 am to 11:10 pm, every 60 to 70 minutes), stopping at most major hotels around Avenida Paulista. Lines also connect Guarulhos to the Barra Funda bus terminal, Brooklin, and Itaquera. The cost is R$36.50. Alternatively, there is also a local, non-air-conditioned line that connects to metro Tatuapé for R$4.45.
The blue-and-white, air-conditioned Guarucoop radio taxis are the official taxis at Guarulhos Airport and can take you to Centro for around R$105 and Paulista for around R$125. It can cost up to R$170 to more distant destinations such as Morumbi. The price is set before the trip based on your drop-off address or suburb and can take from 45 minutes to two hours in peak traffic. The line for the cabs forms just outside the arrivals terminal and moves quickly. Congonhas is much closer to downtown and the Zona Sul, so it usually costs no more than R$50 with the airport's offical radio taxi company, Vermelho e Branco. Prices are not set before the trip, so fares can vary.
EMTU. 0800/770–2287; www.airportbusservice.com.br.
Guarucoop. 011/2440–7070; www.guarucoop.com.br.
Rádio Taxi Vermelho e Branco. 011/3146-4000; www.radiotaxivermelhoebranco.com.br.
The three key bus terminals in the city of São Paulo are connected to metro (subway) stations and serve more than 1,100 destinations combined. The huge main station—serving all major Brazilian cities (with trips to Rio every 10 minutes during the day and every half hour at night, until 2 am) as well as Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Paraguay—is the Terminal Tietê in the north, on the Marginal Tietê Beltway. Terminal Jabaquara, near Congonhas Airport, serves coastal towns. Terminal Barra Funda, in the west, near the Memorial da América Latina, has buses to and from western Brazil. Socicam, a private company, runs all the bus terminals in the city of São Paulo.
EMTU. 0800/7702287; www.airportbusservice.com.br.
Socicam. 011/3866–1100; www.socicam.com.br.
Terminal Barra Funda. Rua Auro Soares de Moura Andrade, 664, Barra Funda, São Paulo, 01154–060. 011/3866–1100; www.socicam.com.br.
Terminal Jabaquara. Rua dos Jequitibás, s/n, Jabaquara, São Paulo, 04321–090. 011/3866–1100; www.socicam.com.br.
Terminal Tietê. Av. Cruzeiro do Sul, 1800, Santana, São Paulo, 02030–000. 011/3866–1100; www.socicam.com.br.
Travel within São Paulo
Municipal bus service is frequent and covers the entire city, but regular buses are overcrowded at rush hour and when it rains. If you don't speak Portuguese, it can be hard to figure out the system and the stops. The stops are clearly marked, but routes are spelled out only on the buses themselves. Buses don't stop at every bus stop, so if you're waiting, you'll have to flag one down.
Bus fare is R$3.50. You enter at the front of the bus, pay the cobrador (fare collector) in the middle, and exit from the rear of the bus. To pay, you can use either money or a rechargeable electronic card bilhete único . The card allows you to take four buses in three hours for the price of one fare. Cards can be bought and reloaded at special booths at major bus terminals or at lottery shops.
For bus numbers and names, routes, and schedules, go to the (Portuguese-language) website of Transporte Público de São Paulo (SPTrans), the city's public transport agency, or use Google Maps, which is linked to the SPTrans system and shows all bus routes. The Guia São Paulo Ruas, published by Quatro Rodas and sold at newsstands and bookstores for about R$15, is another option.
Transporte Público de São Paulo. 156; www.sptrans.com.br.
The principal highways leading into São Paulo are: the Dutra, from the northeast (and Rio); Anhangüera and Bandeirantes, from the north; Washington Luis, from the northwest; Raposo Tavares, from the west; Régis Bittencourt, from the south; and Anchieta-Imigrantes, from Santos in the southeast. Driving in the city isn't recommended, however, because of the heavy traffic (nothing moves at rush hour, especially when it rains), daredevil drivers, and inadequate parking. You'll also need to obtain a temporary driver's license from Detran, the State Transit Department, which can be a time-consuming endeavor.
Major Highways and Roads
The high-speed beltways along the Rio Pinheiros and Rio Tietê rivers—called Marginal Tietê and Marginal Pinheiros—sandwich the main part of São Paulo. Avenida 23 de Maio runs south from Centro and beneath the Parque do Ibirapuera via the Ayrton Senna Tunnel. Avenida Paulista splits Bela Vista and Jardins with Higienópolis and Vila Mariana as bookends.
You can cut through Itaim en route to Brooklin and Santo Amaro by taking avenidas Brasil and Faria Lima southwest to Avenida Santo Amaro. Avenida João Dias and Viaduto José Bonifácio C. Nogueira cut across the Pinheiros River to Morumbi. The Elevado Costa e Silva, also called Minhocão, is an elevated road that connects Centro with Avenida Francisco Matarazzo in the west.
In most commercial neighborhoods you must buy hourly tickets (called Cartão Zona Azul) to park on the street during business hours. Buy them at newsstands, not from people on the street, who may overcharge or sell counterfeited copies. Booklets of 10 one-hour tickets cost R$45. Fill out each ticket, one for every hour you plan to park, with the car's license plate and the time you initially parked. Leave the tickets in the car's window so they're visible to officials from outside. After business hours or at any time near major sights, people may offer to watch your car. If you don't pay these "caretakers," there's a chance they'll damage your car (R$2 is enough to keep your car's paint job intact). But to truly ensure your car's safety, park in a guarded lot, where rates are R$5–R$7 for the first hour and R$1–R$2 each hour thereafter.
Invest in the Guia São Paulo Ruas, published by Quatro Rodas, which shows every street in the city. It's sold at newsstands and bookstores for about R$30.
Five color-coded lines compose the São Paulo Metrô, known simply as the metro by locals, which interconnects with six train lines administered by the Companhia Paulista de Trens Metropolitanos (CPTM) to blanket most of São Paulo in rail. The most glaring gaps exist around the Ibirapuera, Moema, and Morumbi neighborhoods, as well as near the airports. You can print maps of the entire network from the metro’s English-language website, where you'll also find ticket prices and schedules. The first four lines are the most useful to tourists. Most notably they cover the center, Avenida Paulista, and Vila Madalena.
Kiosks at all metro and train stations sell tickets; vendors prefer small bills for payment. You insert the ticket into the turnstile at the platform entrance, and it's returned to you only if there's unused fare on it. Seniors (65 or older) ride without charge by showing photo IDs at the turnstiles. Transfers within the metro system are free. A single ticket costs R$3.50. You can also buy a rechargeable bilhete único (good for combination tickets for the bus and the metro, R$5.45) at metro stations.
Metrô. 0800/770–7722; www.metro.sp.gov.br.
Taxis in São Paulo are white. Owner-driven taxis are generally well maintained and reliable, as are radio taxis. Fares start at R$4.10 and run from R$2.70 for each kilometer (½ mile) or R$0.55 for every minute sitting in traffic. After 8 pm and on weekends, fares rise up to 50%. You'll pay a tax if the cab leaves the city, as is the case with trips to Cumbica Airport. Good radio-taxi companies, among them Coopertax, Ligue-Taxi, and Radio Taxi Vermelho e Branco, usually accept credit cards, but you must call ahead and request the service. Smartphone apps like Easy Taxi and 99Taxis are popular, reliable, and highly recommended.
Coopertaxi. 011/2095–6000; 011/3511–1919; www.coopertax.com.br.
Ligue-Taxi. 011/2101–3030; 011/3873–3030; www.ligue-taxi.com.br.
Radio Taxi Vermelho e Branco. 011/3146–4000; www.radiotaxivermelhoebranco.com.br.
Coming to São Paulo via train is not really practical. The train only connects São Paulo with some nearby small towns in the interior of the state. Most travel to and from the interior of the state is done by bus or automobile.
CPTM. São Paulo, 0800/055–0121; www.cptm.sp.gov.br.
Estação Barra Funda. Av. Auro Soares de Moura Andrade 664, Barra Funda, São Paulo, 01154–060. 011/770–7722; www.metro.sp.gov.br.
Estação Brás. Rua Domingos Paiva, s/n, Brás, São Paulo, 03043–070. 0800/770–7722.
Estação da Luz. Praça da Luz 1, Luz, São Paulo, 01120–010. 0800/055–0121; www.cptm.sp.gov.br.
Estação Júlio Prestes. Praça Júlio Prestes 148, Campos Elíseos, São Paulo, 01218–020. 0800/055–0121; www.cptm.sp.gov.br.