Earlier this week, I got back from a whirlwind of a trip on My South America Mileage Run Vacation to Foz do Iguacu, Brasil. I spent 2 nights in Foz do Iguazu on the Brazilian side, a side trip to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, 23 hours in Sao Paulo, and 11 hours in Santiago Chile. I’ve been to Sao Paulo a countless number of times, but there’s always something new to be learned with every visit. Here are 10 Things I Learned From My Recent 23 Layover in Sao Paulo:
1. The taxi cab mafia at GRU International Airport still exists – Even though the US Dollar has been stronger than ever against the Brazilian real, the fact is that taxi prices are still overpriced from Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport (GRU). A lot of people give me grief because I don’t take the taxi cabs, but to each their own. Of course it does make sense to take a cab when you’re splitting the fare between people or if you have a lot of luggage (or you have a lot of money to blow). I travel solo and often with a small backpack nowadays for short mileage run vacations with multiple <24 hour layovers. It doesn’t make sense lugging around a huge Tumi carry on because it hinders mobility. However, If you do have to take a taxi, don’t get scammed by taking a metered one. At the arrivals hall, look for a company called Guarucoop Taxi which offers fixed flat rates to your hotel because you don’t want to be stuck in the infamous gridlocked Sao Paulo traffic on a meter.
2. The Bus and Metro from GRU Airport to Sao Paulo City Center is still the best – The best economical way to get from GRU International Airport to Downtown Centro Sao Paulo is by using a combination of the public bus and metro. See How To Get From Sao Paulo To Guarulhos Airport On Public Transit. At the arrivals hall, look for a bus that says Tatuape Metro which will be a 20 minute journey to the Tatuape Bus Station where you’ll transfer to the Sao Paulo subway on the Red Line. Here’s a map of the Sao Paulo metro subway system.
3. Saturdays are really busy in Centro Downtown Sao Paulo – My flight arrived at Guarulhos Intl Airport at around 7am and the only thing I could think of that would be open was the Municipal Market in Centro Sao Paulo. Downtown Sao Paulo is a great place to people watch on a Saturday morning at Rua 25 de Marco and have breakfast at the Mercado Municipal.
4. The Banespa Building is closed on Saturdays – One thing I was looking forward to during my Saturday layover in Sao Paulo was to check out the observation deck at the Banespa tower (Altino Arantes Building). I was psyched to read that admission was free, but you’re only limited to 5 minutes at the top of the observation deck which was fine by me. To my dismay, it was closed on Saturday and I would have to check out other rooftop options for picturesque panoramic views of Sao Paulo.
5. Uber does exist at Sao Paulo International Airport – Despite Brazil trying to ban Uber in Sao Paulo, UberBLACK was available for pick up from Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport (GRU). There’s no UberX available in Sao Paulo (yet), but the UberBLACK prices aren’t too bad from GRU Airport. There was also a note saying: After you request an Uber, please reach out to the driver to set a pick up location.
6. Hotel Unique is pretty unique – Ever since I first visited Sao Paulo a few years ago, all I’ve heard about was how awesome the Hotel Unique building was. Despite visiting Sao Paulo many times since then, I’ve actually never seen it in person. I’m not much of a nightlife person since I heard the rooftop Skye Bar is poppin’ on Friday and Saturday nights. I finally had a chance to swing by this unique boat shaped hotel and now I see why it’s called Hotel Unique.
7. Kilo restaurants are freakin amazing – I know a lot of people give me grief about not fine dining much, but should I be racking up a $100 bill when I travel solo? A kilo restaurant in Brazil is basically a buffet where you pick whatever you want and you just pay by the weight. Don’t be fooled by the word ‘buffet’ because it’s not all you can eat! They should really have kilo restaurants everywhere in the world because they’re so convenient and inexpensive.
8. You can buy a prepaid SIM Card in Brazil for R$5.00 ~ $1.67 USD – I always get the SIM Card in Brazil question and many people seem to be hindered on getting one because they’ve read online that they need a Brazilian CPF number which is similar to the USA social security number system. You don’t need a CPF number to get a SIM card in Brazil. The cheapest place to buy a prepaid SIM Card in Sao Paulo is at Shopping Market Place mall in the Morumbi neighborhood which I got for R$5 Brazilian reais ~ $1.67 USD. There are four wireless carriers in Brazil: Oi, Claro, TIM, and vivo. My favorite one is TIM 4G because you can activate it over the phone flawlessly and they have an English operator. You will need to go inside an Oi, Claro, or vivo retail store with your passport to activate your SIM Card as a foreigner.
9. There’s an Airport Bus Service stop at the Sheraton Sao Paulo WTC Hotel – Previously, the Airport Bus Service that runs to the Brooklin Novo neighborhood usually began or terminated in front of the Hyatt Sao Paulo Hotel. Now, they’ve eliminated that stop and it’s now located in front of the Shopping D&D Mall which is connected to the Sheraton Sao Paulo Hotel.
You can get from Guarulhos International Airport (GRU) to the Sheraton Sao Paulo for R$42.00 ~ $14.02 USD at the following times: 6am, 7:30am, 9:30am, 11am, 1pm, 2:30pm, 4:30pm, 6:30pm, 8pm, 9:30pm, and the last departure is at 11:30pm.
You can get from the Sheraton Sao Paulo Hotel to GRU Airport for $42.00 ~ $14.02 USD during these times: 6am, 8am, 9:30am, 11:30am, 1:pm, 3pm, 4:30pm, 8pm, 10pm, and the last departure to Guarulhos International Airport is at 11:30pm.
10. Always notify your bank when traveling to Brazil – It’s been a while since I’ve taken out money from an ATM in Brazil. Brazil is notorious for running all kinds of ATM scams on tourists, like skimming and even stealing your bank card information from RFID. The most common place for an ATM scam is at the airport (especially Rio de Janeiro’s Galeao International Airport ) because that’s the first place an unsuspecting victim will use their card.
Usually, what happens is the crook works with someone from inside the airport and install a device (ATM Skimmer) over the part where you would enter your ATM Card. Then, the scammer will install a micro camera (the size of a pin hole) overlooking the ATM keypad where you enter your four digit security PIN. The unsuspecting victim will then withdraw money as usual and find out later that multiple successful withdrawal attempts have been made on his bank account. Believe me, this has happened to me several times even though I’ve always gotten my money back from Bank of America and Wells Fargo a few weeks later. You might think it won’t happen to you, but inevitably it will if you travel to Latin America often. See How To Deal With Debit And Credit Card Fraud Alerts While Travelling Overseas.
I tried to withdraw some money from an HSBC ATM machine in Sao Paulo and my transaction was automatically declined, twice. I didn’t think I needed more money, but this was important since I had run out and I ‘might’ have needed this for a late night cab fare if there weren’t any UberBLACK cars available at 4am.
After 2 denied ATM cash withdrawals, my card was blocked and I had to call Bank of America. I had a helpful customer service representative inform me that I should have called in prior to have them put out a travel advisory of the list of countries and dates I would be visiting.
After all this hassle of going back and forth to the HSBC ATM and talking to customer service from overseas, it turned out that I didn’t need this extra money since there was an Uber car available at 4am.