This was my first proper trip to Sao Paulo. I had been to Sao Paulo once before, but I never left the airport, as I was just connecting from EZE to GIG on that occasion.
For this stay, I had redeemed Hyatt points at the Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo. There are some absolutely absurd values in the Hyatt system. While a night at a top tier property like the Park Hyatt in Sydney will set you back 22,000 points/night, rooms at the S.American Hyatt properties (all of which are Grand Hyatts I believe) run only 8,000 points/night. On top of that, by virtue of my Platinum Status with the Hyatt chain, I was upgraded to a room on the Club Floor, for my entire three night stay in Sao Paulo.
Sadly, I must confess, I totally wasted my first day in town. Everything you have heard about the horrors of Sao Paulo traffic is true. It’s right up there with Moscow, Beijing and it might even surpass them, it would be impossible to oversell how bad it is. Between immigration, baggage claim and traffic, it was after 5pm by the time I got to the Grand Hyatt.
After three flights, three time zones and three continents in the past three days, I didn’t have much left in the tank. I dropped my bags in the room, got in a quick workout, then took a shower with the aim of going to meet some friends for dinner…this did not happen.
Post-shower, I told myself it would be ok to take a brief nap before dinner, surely I would wake up and still force myself out. When the alarm on my phone did go off, sleep won out, and I rolled back over until morning.
The benefit of this much needed rest, was that I was up early the next morning. I availed myself of the free breakfast in the club, then hailed a cab to the Art Museum. From there, I wandered around town for a bit until it was time for lunch.
I went to a churrascaria that the internet had recommended and ate an obscene amount of meat. I kicked around SP until it started to get dark, then went back to the hotel to get ready for the evening. Even though I was still a bit messed up on time zones, I vowed not to fall victim to a nap again.
I went over to Skye Bar at the Hotel Unique to meet my friend C. Despite the warm daytime temps, it was pretty cold up there on the roof, and I fortified myself with Jack Daniels while waiting for C to arrive. It’s tough to describe the sprawl of Sao Paulo. From Skye Bar, you get a great view of the city, and you realize that there isn’t anything resembling a “center.” In every direction there are skyscrapers and huge buildings ringing you in. It’s seems to be a never ending metropolis spinning out in all directions. Not like the low level sprawl of L.A., which makes that city feel like a bunch of small towns and strip malls cobbled together in the vicinity of a downtown core, but more like someone just cut and paste endless New Yorks next to each other as far as the eye can see in all directions…it’s very cool and it makes you realize why the traffic is so awful.
C finally arrived…late, and after one drink outside, suggested we move to the warmer confines of the inside bar. Whisky notwithstanding, I was pretty cold, and readily agreed. It was early in the week, and not a “big” going out night in SP, but C was confident we would be able to find some trouble to get into.
We hopped into her car, and she started a tour of the places she normally frequents…all of them were closed. After some digging, we finally find a club C deemed “ok” that was open. It was incredibly early apparently (by SP standards), so there were only a handful of patrons when we got there. As the drinks went down, the bar started to fill up, and I knew things would be ok.
Sometime around two C told me she had to leave, since she had work in the morning. She asked me if I wanted a ride home, but by this point, the bar was getting pretty packed, and I was pretty sauced. Even though, I speak no Portuguese (ok, maybe like 5 words), I decided I liked my odds and told her I would find my own way home.
On a slightly related note… I know one person’s anecdotal experiences don’t count for much in the face of actual statistics, but if you stick to non-favela and non-crime ridden areas of Brazil, you’re usually ok. I’ve been wandering around Rio (and now SP) late at night, alone and inebriated and never felt the least bit unsafe, nor have I been given any reason to worry. Now i’m not recommending everyone try to emulate these behaviors, but if you’re the kind of person who is on the fence about visiting Brazil because you’ve heard horror stories about the crime and violence…go. As long as you keep your wits about you (or at least about you-ish) and don’t put yourself in stupid situations, you can manage the risk and keep it at an acceptable level.
Anyway, I awoke the next morning not too much the worse for wear, and after one more pleasant day in Sao Paulo, it was time to move on to the next stop. I have heard Brazilians describe Sao Paulo as being like NYC, and Rio as being like Miami. I don’t think either of them are apt comparisons. SP and Rio are very different cities, and neither are much like their purported American counterparts. This isn’t a bad thing, I found SP to be a unique city, and that’s something the Paulistas should embrace. I enjoyed Sao Paulo, and I will be back, but for the moment at least, I prefer Rio.
I had the “good” fortune of leaving Sao Paulo on some sort of holiday. The normally horrific traffic surged to almost unbelievable levels as half of the city tried to drive out of town for the weekend. When I initially made a car reservation with the concierge, he seemed shocked that I wanted to leave the hotel more than three hours before my flight to Buenos Aires was scheduled to depart. After slogging through almost two and a half hours on the road to get from the Hyatt to the airport, I made it to the Qatar Airways desks about an hour and 15 minutes before my scheduled departure. I was happy I had played it safe.
Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo Report Card
Pros: There is no “center” but the location was as good as any, staff spoke good English, nice gym, very decent club floor, efficient, modern, absolutely no complaints about the service or physical facilities.
Cons: Clearly a hotel more aimed at business travelers.
Verdict: Would I stay at the Hyatt again? Yes. If someone wants to give me the cash to stay at the Fasano I’d surely take them up on it. If I was going back with a group for a fun trip, I would also probably lean towards picking a “hipper” hotel with a better bar in closer proximity to some nightlife (once I figure out/remember where exactly the bulk of the nightlife was located), but for 8,000 Hyatt points / night with the possibility of an upgrade, this is an amazing value.