São Paulo, all the bad and the other side of the city

Last week, I wrote about the nice face of São Paulo and gave some tips to enjoy the city (read here). However, some people felt that my writing was just one of the realities of the city as for those who has to live the daily life of São Paulo, there is another story. And it’s true; everyone knows that São Paulo is beautiful when you are visiting for a few days or during a weekend, maximum, and that’s all. Now, for those who came from other places  and have to live in the city (International students, foreigners …), the picture is different.

São Paulo is not an easy city to face, or get along with it. For those born in a small or medium town the city of São Paulo is just appalling. I grew up in a city with nearly seven million people, almost half the population of São Paulo, and I can say that thanks to that I did well at first, with this sea of concrete, but I can also say that there comes a time when the city defies all your limits and tests your love for it.

I made a list of things of the other side of São Paulo and the major headaches that you may face in town.

Reaching SP

The first headache for tourists is the distance between Guarulhos International Airport and SP. A taxi costs around US$ 80 (!), Depending on time and traffic. Following my advice on how to travel with a student budget (read more here), the best option is to use public transport.

In front of the airport you can take the bus “Metrô – Tatuapé” (R $ 4.45). It takes about an hour to get to the metro station, so you can take the subway or a bus to your destination.

To get back to the airport you can do the same path. Always try to arrive and leave SP during the day, so you can use public transportation to move around, otherwise you will be forced to pay the taxi.

The traffic and the rush hour

Maybe, the traffic is the most critical part of living in São Paulo. It’s hard to get around the city without finding traffic jams all the time. I’ve been stuck in traffic at 3 am (!). If you take a taxi, get ready to pay a lot. My recommendation is: use the subway and buses, besides being cheap (within the São Paulo standard) can save you some time. In recent years the city has put preferential roads for Buses, Improving time of transportation inside the city. Improved, did no miracles, of course!

Now, if you suffer from agoraphobia or simply don’t feel comfortable into crowds, forget public transport. Avoid using it during the rush hours, which I don’t even know where it starts and where it ends, because São Paulo seems to be constantly at rush hour. The bike is also reaching an important place in the city and it’s the transportation solution for many residents.

The long holiday weekend (feriadão)

The long holiday weekend, this popular Brazilian holiday (see more here), turned into a nightmare for the Paulistas. In most cities of Brazil, long holiday weekend is synonymous of rest, short trips and beach. In São Paulo, guess what? Traffic congestion …! As the coastline of São Paulo is just over 100 km, is very easy to go to the beach by car, so the highways are packed with miles and miles of traffic jams. I have done this madness, a 1 hour trip turned into a 4 hour, and there was the ending of the happiness of my vacation. My dear tourist, run away in the opposite direction!

And for those who live in the city, there is no choice, or you leave and come back before everyone else or you just deal with traffic jams. And believe me, being stuck in traffic in São Paulo is one of those things you will never get used.

 The (anti) social Life

If you live in a medium-sized city, like me, you can invite your friends for a coffee and you can leave home half hour earlier to meet them on time. But in São Paulo, seeing your friends needs a decent logistics of large events. Jammed schedules, the huge distances, the traffic (again), doesn’t help to the social life of anyone. You may end up isolating yourself at work or college because you will hardly find a space between them that is enough to rest and see your friends and family.

The pain in the pocket

São Paulo is one of the most expensive cities in Latin America. For those who doesn’t have the economic conditions, living well is a challenge. From taking a bus, having a coffee, eating a meal or paying the rental can be a headache when compared with other capitals of Brazil. This added to the other factors already mentioned, the situation just seems to get worse. But not everything in life is money, right? On the other hand, São Paulo offers economical alternatives for almost everything, there are sites like Rolet 20conto that give you tips to enjoy the city spending little or SP honesta that lists the sites with fair and reasonable prices. At the other extreme is the BoicotaSP where people post the places with the most ridiculous prices in town, so you can avoid them.

The crowds and queues

Yeah, the city has almost 12 million citizens. Looks like a crowd everywhere. Always. On the sidewalks, in restaurants, on the subway, at the airport, the museum, etc.

In another post  already said that Brazilians love to queue. And the population of São Paulo makes of them an epic thing. Even there is a Tumblr with 1001 queues to avoid in SP. So fill you up with patience and prepare for a long wait.

the weather

There is a reason  São Paulo is known as the city of drizzle (cidade da garoa). Paulistas likes to joke that one day you can experience the four seasons. You have to leave the house prepared for any kind of weather. One minute it rains and it’s cold, the next one it is sunny and hot, not necessarily in that order. In addition, Brazil is the country where most thunders fall in the world and the state of São Paulo leads the national ranking, therefore, here there is no “dancing in the rain” to anyone.

Going out to party

The latter, I believe is the biggest headache for the international students for partying in São Paulo is more difficult than in any city I’ve ever lived. There is a convergence of the city problems that conspire for you to stay at home.

Starting out, you might be astonished with the entrance fee for a party, the prices are not very friendly big distances and the lack of public transportation are another problem. I’ve seen young people sitting (or sleeping) on sidewalks overnight waiting for the subway or bus lines to start their operation. Paying the value of a taxi in the early hours is clearly not an option. European students complain all the time, because usually there, the public transportation works 24 hours.

São Paulo does have a negative side which for some people is enough to hate the city. But it is clear, SP has the problems that every big city has. Nothing that you will not find in New York, Buenos Aires and Beijing. If you do not believe me, look on the web. Will find videos of how it is getting on subways in the different capitals of the world, here I leave the example of Beijing.

I’ve had enough of listening about how all the cities that I have visited are unsafe, dangerous, expensive and horrible. As the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

So if you go to São Paulo, know that there will be bad things, yes, but nothing you probably have not lived in other cities in the world. Instead, São Paulo also has endless good things to offer you, at the end is not that “everything bad” as it seems. So, relax and enjoy all the good  that it has (read here). Let the city captivate you at the end you have no choice. As one of the readers of the blog said: “There are days of love and days of hate, but love always prevails.”


Cristian Figueroa

Versión en Español

Versão em Português


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