São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil, with a municipality population of 12.1 million, and about 21.3 million in its metropolitan region - the second most populous of the Southern Hemisphere. It is the capital of the Southeastern state of São Paulo, and also a beehive of activity that offers a jovial nightlife and an intense cultural experience. São Paulo is South America's major economic center and possesses the 10th largest GDP in the world, though poverty, especially in the suburbs, is still widespread due to the blatant social inequality. Historically attractive to immigrants and to Brazilians from other states, it has a unique cultural identity formed by combining Portuguese and African roots (common to the entire country) with other influences, in particular Italian, Arab and Japanese.
São Paulo, or Sampa as it is also often called, is also probably one of the most underrated cities tourism-wise, often overshadowed by other places in the Brazilian sun & beach circuit such as Rio de Janeiro and Salvador. It is in fact a great city to explore, with an impressive (and almost intimidating) skyline, unpredictable neighbourhoods and architecture, a vibrant culture and arts (in particular street art) scene, not to mention the world-class restaurants and diverse regional and international cuisine available to all tastes. If there is a major attraction to this city, it is the excellent quality of its restaurants and the variety of cultural activities on display.
Just south of the city, lies the Parque Estadual Serra do Mar (part of the Atlantic Forest South-East Reserves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), a mountain range covered by lush rainforest that faces the coast and provides various ecotourism options.
São Paulo is the most visited city of Brazil, but mostly because of business and event tourism, with many of the visitors not taking much effort to explore the city. Those who do so may, however, discover one of the most complex and fascinating cities of the world, where even nearby areas may look and feel like a different city, due to São Paulo's staggering social inequality and variety of cultural influences, and its lack of comprehensive urban planning.
For instance, if you walk from one end to another of Rua Augusta (which later becomes Rua Colômbia and Avenida Europa), starting from Downtown, you will pass through:
One of the city's hottest nightlife areas in Baixa Augusta
A vibrant cultural and business area surrounding Avenida Paulista
A variety of shopping options in the area surrounding Rua Oscar Freire
The green, affluent low-rise neighbourhood of Jardim América
A stream of expensive car shops in Jardim Europa
The modern business district in Av. Faria Lima and the ultra-affluent neighbourhood of Itaim
Although the first impression might be that of a grey concrete jungle, soon it becomes apparent that the city has a great number of pockets of beauty, and fantastic places (and not always expensive) to dine, drink and hang out.