All eyes may be on Rio de Janeiro's carnival this week but another Brazilian city -- Sao Paulo -- can easily compete as Brazil's party capital. It's the city that never sleeps, the concrete jungle, a fast, furious corner of the tropics that is not all that it seems at first sight. It's the economic powerhouse of Brazil -- and it even beats Rio de Janeiro as the country's cultural center.
While Sao Paulo has no beaches or any of the breathtaking scenery that define Rio as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, it more than makes up in other ways. It features world-class restaurants, museums, theatres and boutiques. It is only a couple of hours away from lush, tropical beaches fringed by Atlantic rainforest.
If you are a business traveller to Brazil, Sao Paulo -- the country's economic capital -- is more than likely to be part of your itinerary than Rio. It is one of South America's largest and most vibrant cities, so there'll be much to explore there.
Where To Stay
The city is huge and traffic gets gridlocked. So staying somewhere close to the main areas downtown or around Avenida Paulista, the city's main artery, is a good idea.
There are many apartment services to chose from. The apartments are clean, comfortable and sometimes cheaper to stay at than hotels. The Jardins area of the city is always a good bet, with many good self-service rooms for the travelling executive. It is also a secure part of the city.
Where To Eat
Sao Paulo is a place of gastronomic delights. The city is powered by an ethnically diverse group of peoples, all of whom have left their mark on the city.
Sao Paulo is home, for example, to nearly half a million people of Japanese descent -- the largest community outside of Japan -- and you'll find sushi bars in most neighborhoods.
The best place for Japanese food is the area known as Liberdade, Sao Paulo's 'Little Japan.' You can head out to the Moema or Vila Olimpia, the location of the famous Nakombi restaurant. It offers traditional private rooms for you and your clients.
Sao Paulo also boasts good Italian restaurants. Try as Appolinari on Rua Oscar Freire, or La Buca Romana on Avenida Paulista. For more traditional fare, head to the famous Familia Mancini downtown, which is where the hub of the city's theatre crowd will gather for a post-performance supper.
If you're looking for more of a head-spinning experience, try the Terraco Italia restaurant , located on the 44th floor of the Edificio Italia building downtown. You'll get a sweeping view of the city as well as a delicious meal.
The city's large Syrian and Lebanese communities also mean that Middle Eastern food is easily to be found. Try Arabia, located in the Jardins district. The food here is just as good as any to be found in Beirut.
Sao Paulo is teeming with churrasco, or barbeque, restaurants, where waiters float among the tables, offering different cuts of meat until you've had enough. Fogo de Chao is part of a chain found around the city. It gets a thumbs-up from diners as does Paulista Grill on Av. Joao Moura.
What To Do
Take a walk in the park in Sao Paulo. The Ibirapuera Park is the city's largest urban park and is frequented by joggers and sightseers who come to look at the exhibitions in the pavilions and museums, including the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The Sao Paulo Museum of Art is an absolute must. Located on the Avenida Paulista, this striking museum, designed by the renowned Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, is a wonderful place from which to view the city. It's built on stilts so visitors can take in a breathtaking view of downtown Sao Paulo. The museum is a pioneering center for post-war Brazilian art.
There is also the Pinacoteca art museum, located near the Luz railway station downtown. This turn-of-the-century building was converted from a railway terminal and now exhibits an impressive collection of Brazilian art.
Nearby is the municipal market, a haven for food lovers. Everything can be found here, from imported delicacies such as Italian salamis with truffles to tropical delights such as cashew fruit. Try some Cupuacu from the Amazon, a nutritionally potent fruit which has a creamy citrus flavour and makes great juice.
Soccer -- or Futebol in Portugese -- is the country's unofficial religion and Sao Paulo is home to such teams as the Corinthians and the Sao Paulo FC. But a word of warning: the crowd can get rough. Rio, for all its splendor, is also a city with widespread poverty. There are great places to go, but there are also slums and street crime.
Despite that, Sao Paulo's nightlife cannot be beaten anywhere else in the country, as even the most ardent lover of Rio regretfully admits. Whether it's theatre or live shows or simply hanging out, Sao Paulo's diversity and cosmopolitan vibe means there is something for everyone. For clubs and hangout joints, Rua Augusta and Rua da Consolacao have plenty of clubs and bars to while away the night.
For a relaxed evening, head to Vila Madalena, a neighborhood that has galleries, bars and some of the most beautiful restaurants in town.
You may follow the candlelit path into Santa Gula, a romantic haven housed in an old villa. Or try Grazie a Dio, a beautiful bar and restaurant which has live music in the evenings and a delicious cocktail menu.
If you want a slice of history, then head to the Brahma Bar on Avenida Sao Joao. It's a traditional Brazilian pub which serves some of the best beer to be found in the city. It is in the middle of the bustling downtown area, with plenty of tables outside for people-watching. It was also THE place for writers, poets and intellectuals to congregate over a choppe -- the famous Brazilian ice cold beer -- on many an evening. For the full Sao Paulo experience, go on a Thursday or Sunday, when a samba band plays live.
As Marlene Dietrich once said, "Rio is a beauty but Sao Paulo… Sao Paulo is a city."