A seemingly endless sweep of concrete high rise buildings creeping ever further outwards is the sight that leaves first-time visitors to the top of Edifício Itália gawping in awe at the sheer enormity of São Paulo. Let your gaze drift northward and come to rest upon green – a huge expanse of defiant green – rising up like a barrier to the urban sprawl. This is the Serra da Cantareira, one of the biggest urban forests in the world: 8,000 hectares of virgin Atlantic forest.
Tropeiros (travelling salesmen in the 16th and 17th centuries) gave the park its name – cantareiras were a place where they stored pitchers of water whilst they rested on their way through from Minas Gerais and Goiás. Imagine the view they would have seen over what is now São Paulo: just the humble beginnings of a Jesuit mission, most likely. Visitors today can climb to the 1,000-metre-high viewing point at Pedra Grande and see perhaps the best view back over the city.
Set aside a full day to really explore the park. Swim in lakes and waterfalls, or hike one of the many trails that lead through the shaded forest teeming with birds, monkeys, giant ferns and an extraordinary variety of native trees, all of which can be pointed out if you go with a guide (Ecoturismo Brasil, 3903 0277, ecoturismobrasil.com.br). From time to time, your path may cross with those of joggers, bird watchers and day trippers; but if you’re lucky, it will be a rare chance to just enjoy the blissful solitude.