Arriving and leaving
Guarulhos International Airport (GRU; 6445 2945/ aeroportoguarulhos.net), also known as Cumbica, is São Paulo’s major international airport. GRU is located 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the city centre and is served by major domestic and international airlines.
Guaracoop (6445 7070/ guarucoop.com.br) runs a taxi service from outside the arrival area. Rates are fixed and range from R$75 to R$130 depending on the neighbourhood you are going to. For R$35, there’s also an airport shuttle bus (3775 3861/ airportbusservice.com.br), leaving every hour or so, with services that stop in São Paulo’s central neighbourhoods, major hotels, and the Tietê bus terminal (which has metrô access). The most budget-friendly (and time-consuming) option is to take bus 257 from Aeroporto de Guarulhos to Metrô Tatuapé (R$4.30), and then continue your journey by metrô.
São Paulo’s other major airport, Congonhas (CGH; 5090 9000/ aeroportocongonhas.net), serves domestic flights and is just 8 kilometres (5 miles) from the city centre. Your transportation options from CGH are the same as above: taxi (R$30-$40), shuttle bus (R$35), or public bus (R$3).
Located 99 kilometres (62 miles) outside São Paulo, near Campinas, is Viracopos-Campinas airport (VCP; 3725 5000/ viracopos.com.br). The airport is mostly used for cargo transport, but a local airline, Azul (3003 2985/ voeazul.com.br), runs passenger flights from here to many Brazilian cities.
The website toandfromtheairport.com provides detailed information about getting to and from the airports.
There are three main bus terminals in São Paulo, all connected by metrô. The largest bus station is Rodoviária do Tietê, which serves international destinations and most destinations to the north. This is the station you are most likely to use if you take any long-distance buses in Brazil. Some buses going to southern and southwestern destinations leave from Rodoviária da Barra Funda, as well as from Rodoviária de Jabaquara. Buses leaving from the latter also serve coastal cities like Santos and Guarujá.
Unfortunately, there is no centrally organised website listing times and routes of domestic and international buses. SOCICAM (socicam.com.br), however, allows users to search for which companies serve which destinations; and many private bus companies operate their own websites. These sites can be useful for finding information; but without a CPF (Brazilian social security number) you will probably be unable to make a purchase online. Instead, tickets can be bought at the ticket window in the bus station. Tickets do sell out, especially in the summer (Dec-Feb) and during holidays, so it is a good idea to purchase in advance.
- Rodoviária da Barra Funda Rua Maria de Andrade 664 (3866 1100)
- Rodoviária de Jabaquara Rua dos Jequitibás (3866 1100)
- Rodoviária do Tietê Avenida Cruzeiro do Sul 1800 (3866 1100)
São Paulo’s public transport system is extensive. The metrô is clean, safe and relatively straightforward. However, many trips will require at least one transfer, and some neighbourhoods aren’t served at all. Luckily, where the metrô doesn’t go, a bus usually does. The city transport authority, SPTrans (sptrans.com.br), has a useful journey planner that uses Google Maps.
Fares & tickets
The CPTM and the metrô use different tickets so it’s important to know that buying a fare at a CPTM bilheteria (ticket booth) won’t grant you access to the metrô and vice versa. If you plan to make a few journeys on public transport, it’s well worth getting a Bilhete Único (free at metrô stations, but with a R$20 initial minimum credit). This electronic card makes travel slightly cheaper and allows free or low cost transfers between buses, the metrô and CPTM. One bus ride is R$3, or for R$4.65 you can take one metrô/CPTM ride and up to three bus rides in a period of three hours. The Bilhete Único can be obtained at most metrô stations.
São Paulo is served by a large network of buses regulated by SPTrans. A 24-hour hotline (dial 156) provides information on buses around the city. The front and side of each bus is labelled with street names indicating the bus’s route, but if you don’t know which bus to take, your best bet is to ask other waiting passengers or the bus driver, or use Google Maps to plot your journey. Once on the bus, you’ll use a Bilhete Único or pay R$3 to the cobrador (a cashier), often located towards the middle of the bus, and pass through a turnstile. If you are not sure where to get off, ask the cobrador for help.
There are five metrô lines, each identified by a colour and a number. Maps are far and few between at metrô stations so ask for one when you buy your first ticket. A ride to any destination costs R$3 and tickets can be bought at booths labelled bilheteria. With some exceptions, the metrô operates from 4.30am to midnight (0800 7707722/ metro.sp.gov.br).
The Companhia Paulista de Trens Metropolitanos (0800 055 0121/ cptm.sp.gov.br) is essentially an extension of the metrô that serves farther-flung suburban destinations as well as parts of the city that the metrô does not reach. The fare is R$3, and transfers between the metrô and CPTM are free.
São Paulo taxis are white with a sign on the roof, which is lit when the taxi is available. Taxis can be hailed on the street, though the safest way is to call for one, or find one at a ponto de táxi (taxi rank), or downoload one of the handy new smartphone apps such as Safer Taxi (safertaxi.com), Easy Taxi (easytaxi.com.br) or 99Taxis (99taxis.com).
Taxis use electronic meters, and fares start at R$4.10. Each additional kilometre costs R$2.50 (band 1). After 8pm and on weekends or public holidays, the price per additional kilometre will be 30 percent higher (band 2). Most rides will cost between R$20 and R$50. Some companies have bilingual drivers (often for an extra fee) who may be reserved with between one to five-days notice. Most taxis don’t accept credit or debit cards, so make sure to have cash to hand.
- Central Táxi 3035 0404
- Delta Rádio Táxi 5072 4499
- Ligue-Táxi 2101 3030/ 3873 3030
Driving in São Paulo is not for the faint of heart – drivers can sometimes be assertive and traffic and parking can be a nightmare, especially during peak hours. Ethanol is just as common in Brazil as traditional fuels, so make sure you know which fuel your hired car runs on. Most new cars run with both ethanol and petrol.
Car rental companies will happily hand you a set of keys as long as you have a driver’s licence, credit card, and a passport corresponding to the country in which your licence was issued. The minimum age required to rent a car is usually 25, though some companies will rent to 21-year-olds. Most cars are manual, not automatic.
- Avis 3259 6868/ avis.com
- Budget 3587 7165/ budget.com
- Hertz 3258 9384/ hertz.com
- Localcar 4062 0862/ localcar-locadora.com.br
- Localiza 5533 3535/ localiza.com
- Thrifty 2085 2085/ thrifty.com
During business hours, there is a per-hour parking fee of R$3 on streets in the commercial downtown areas, so be aware of signs and road markings. Booklets of tickets (Cartão Zona Azul) can be purchased at newsstands (ten tickets cost R$28). For each hour a car is parked, a ticket must be filled out and placed visibly in the window. After business hours, many streets have self-employed guards who will ‘watch’ your car for you while it’s parked. You don’t have much choice in the matter, so to prevent your vehicle from being damaged it’s best to pay these ‘freelancers’ R$2 for the service. Many restaurants and bars also offer a valet service for a small fee.
Rotating transit policy (rodízio)
From 7am to 10am and from 5pm to 8pm, there is a rotating transit policy (‘rodízio’), forbidding the use of cars in the expanded city centre. The policy is based on the vehicle’s licence plate number and the day of the week. If you are renting a car, make sure that the dealership explains which days and what times you are not allowed to drive. On Mondays, licence plate numbers ending in 1 or 2 cannot circulate; on Tuesdays, numbers ending in 3 or 4 are prohibited; on Wednesdays, 5 or 6; on Thursdays, 7 or 8; and on Fridays 9 or 0.
There are still relatively few ciclovias (bicycle paths) in São Paulo but there are some located in Parque do Ibirapuera, Cidade Universitária and along the Rio Pinheiros. Cycling is safer and more pleasant on weekends when there is less car traffic. There are also ciclofaixas (closed off lanes reserved for cyclists) on Sundays and holidays from 7am-4pm (check ciclofaixa.com.br for routes). On weekends and holidays, bicycles are allowed on the metrô.
Despite efforts to improve cycle safety, accidents do happen frequently. With the old adage of safety in numbers in mind, you can join up with one of the many cycle groups that head out en masse, often in the evenings. Read our round-up of cycle groups.
Though São Paulo is a car-oriented city, it is possible to explore many areas on foot. The best neighbourhoods for wandering around on foot are the historic Centro (which is less safe at night), Vila Madalena and Jardins. Rua Oscar Freire in Jardins is a pedestrian-friendly street with many designer stores (read our Jardins shopping area guide).
Parque do Ibirapuera is also a nice place to stroll as it has many trails. Neighbourhoods like Jardim Paulista, Higienópolis, Consolação and Bela Vista are quite hilly. When crossing streets, watch out for speeding traffic as cars rarely slow down for pedestrians.
São Paulo is unfortunately not the most accommodating city for visitors with disabilities. Higher end restaurants and hotels are more likely than other places to cater to individual needs.
Private tour agency Go in São Paulo (3289 3814/ goinsaopaulo.com.br) provides tourist services and assistance for people with limited mobility, while the non-profit agency Instituto Mara Gabrilli (img.org.br) also provides information for the disabled on accessibility in public places.