Due to a series of events, my short time in Sao Paulo provided even less time to experience the city than I had planned – I didn’t explore the nightlife, restaurants, or museums at all really, and only saw a few of the main sights. Part of it was how late I got to my hotel on the first night, but there were also work crises that took up a good portion of my time there, rainy weather, and problems with my phone which required multiple trips to a market that sold tech accessories and a wipe of my phone. But what I did experience I enjoyed, and Sao Paulo was unlike any other part of Brazil I’ve been, with the feeling of a bustling mega-metropolis and a great energy. Plus, my stay at the Intercontinental was fantastic.
Pulling up at the Intercontinental late at night felt really good after my days in bug-infested Morro de Sao Paulo. It was shiny, clean, and fancy. The lobby and common areas were sleek, modern, and well-maintained. I had reserved two nights at the hotel on points at a rate of 40,000 a night. Just before my trip, the rate dropped to 35,000 points a night, but there were no award nights left at that point, and my attempts at asking IHG Reservations to adjust me the difference went nowhere. The hotel is in the Jardins area of Sao Paulo, which is relatively safe, clean, and fairly convenient to get around. The concierge an front desk staff were helpful and friendly, and the hotel felt like a retreat from the busy city.
One reason I love staying at Intercontinentals is they are the most consistent in honoring elite status benefits, and I never have to fight for them – even on a reward stay like this, which they aren’t required to do. I was upgraded to a large full suite, with a separate living room, long corridor, gigantic bathroom, and bedroom. The room was clean and modern, though the bathroom was a little dated.
I had been offered lounge access for 295 reais a night, which at nearly $80 a night was not worth it. Upon getting to the room, there was a welcome amenity of cookies awaiting me, in addition to the standard fruit bowl and water that is a benefit for Ambassadors. (Note: the cookies were delicious, but still one of the lamer welcome amenities I’ve had at ICs, which have included wine, an olive oil gift set (Tel Aviv), a lacquer decorative plate (Saigon), and a Jesus keychain (Panama City).
I slept very well, and slept in. I had a great workout at the hotel gym, which, as with lots of ICs, was excellent, and served as a private gym for non-guests. Since it was late, I just had fruit, in-room coffee, and a protein packet as my breakfast. I then spent a few hours working on what was a grey day. The space of a real desk and working area, and free wifi, was nice, although at one point the desk chair completely collapsed under me as a result of a leg that had been wobbling from my arrival.
I won’t get into detail over my phone drama, but the front desk helpfully directed me to a market-like area right by the hotel that had lots of “Chinese stores” — basically stalls selling technology products, sunglasses, and some other junk. I was pretty stressed out, so for lunch just ate at a buffet by the hotel which wasn’t very good (though super cheap).
After lunch, I meandered towards Ibirapuera, Sao Paulo’s massive park, on par with Central Park in terms of size and scope. It was about a 30 minute walk, and it gave me an opportunity to wander through Jardins and some of the other middle class/upper class neighborhoods, despite gray weather.
By the time I got to the park itself, the weather was turning worse, so I went inside the Museu Afro Brasil, which is dedicated to Afro-Brazilian culture. Some of the stuff seemed cool, alas there was very little English signage. I didn’t spend a lot of time there before walking back to the hotel, for work, more phone putzing, a nap, and the gym. I had a quiet mediocre steak dinner at a restaurant by the hotel, but did stop by the 24-hour Starbucks across the street, which was hopping on a weekday night at around 10:30pm, picking up a gift, and heading to bed with a plan to make the most of my second day in Sao Paulo, since my flight to Brasilia wasn’t until 5:45pm.
Intercontinental Ambassadors are supposed to be guaranteed late checkout til 4pm. I called to request it when I woke up and the helpful front desk clerk said “Of course, it’s automatic!” At 7am I was at the gym, which was packed with the morning pre-work crowd, but I still got my swole on, before heading out in the nicer weather, and stopping at a Starbucks for a muffin and latte for breakfast on Avenida Paulista.
There is a metro stop very close to the Intercontinental, but the transfer was easier from one a bit farther away, which gave me a chance to walk down the impressive Avenida Paulista for a bit and continue to get a sense of the city. The Metro itself was a bit confusing, though it had wide coverage, as the lines are identified by numbers, and by colors, but also are sometimes referred to by their operator, as they are not all technically Metro (though an integrated fare system). And although it’s very cheap – under $1 a ride – single ride tickets have to be bought from an agent, not a machine. A tip, though, is that you can buy multiple at once. Some of the transfers had long walks, but otherwise it was a pretty easy system – much less complicated than in Asian cities.
My first stop was the Latin America Memorial, which is an Oscar Niemeyer designed art and event space in the North of the city, a short walk from the Barra Funda metro. The complex sounded much cooler than it actually was, although the buildings were still a good example of modernist architecture. If you were going to Brasilia like I was, it wasn’t a must see. There wasn’t very clear tourist info, though the main pavilion had displays dedicated to the cultures of individual Latin American countries, albeit in Portuguese only. There was another exhibit about a Mexican tv show that had been popular in Brazil, which required tickets and I assumed was only in Portuguese as well.
On the other side of a busy street was a cavernous building, which seemed closed, but I went in and saw it held one very large painting, the Painel Tiradentes.
It was a quick metro ride from there over to Estacao da Luz, a beautiful old train station. Next to the station is a really lovely garden, Parque da Luz, , as well as the Pinoteca museum. I skipped the museum, but sat and read in the park for a bit.\
The Centro of town is definitely grittier than Paulista/Jardins, though I didn’t have any safety concerns. It was an industrial and wholesale district, so it was interesting to walk past the storefronts. I made my way over to the Mercado Municipal, which is not a very tourist-oriented market, mostly just selling produce. One of the most famous things there is the Mortadella sandwich from one of the restaurants in the market. I attempted to order one, but failed immensely, as I realized when a plate of steak arrived before me. Still it was tasty and about four dollars.
I took the metro back to the Paulista station, and stopped at the very crowded Bella Paulista bakery for dessert. Bella Paulista has a bakery counter, in addition to diner-style seating, which was packed with business folks at lunch time. I picked up some cookies to bring to Brasilia, and a pastry for then, which was delicious. At this time, the streets were full of office workers getting lunch, and it felt like a completely different city from the Centro.
As I walked back to the hotel, the rain started coming down. I popped into a few stores before getting back to the Intercontinental and taking a little nap before I needed to head to the airport. In all, I need to get back to Sao Paulo and see more of the nightlife and culture, and explore a bit more. But I enjoyed what I did see, and would definitely stay at the Intercontinental again.