Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo: Big Metropoles
Both Rio and São Paulo are big cities and points of reference for traveling in Brazil. Several weekly flights from Chicago, New York, and Miami go directly to these Brazilian cities, both of which are situated in the southeastern region and are the two largest cities in the country and in South America.
Rio de Janeiro
Also known as Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City), this urban center is marked by the incredible beauty of its surrounding hills and stunning beaches. The population of Rio is almost 6 million people, and up to 15 million if we count the total metropolitan area. Rio is a great cultural and economic center that boasts several important universities, such as the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro or UFRJ, the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro or UERJ, and the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro or PUC-Rio, which belongs to the great educational tradition of Catholic universities in Brazil.
Some of the most famous beaches of the world are found in Rio: the famous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches have been celebrated in songs heard around the world. The view of the Guanabara Bay is a natural postcard of Brazil, showing its unique view of mountains and beaches in close proximity.
One of the most famous images of Rio de Janeiro is of Cristo Redentor or “Christ the Redeemer,” the Art Deco statue of Christ with open arms blessing the city. The Rio de Janeiro beaches attract tourists from around the world, and for native cariocas (the name given to those born in Rio) they are part of daily life. Beach culture is almost synonymous with Brazilian culture; it is no wonder that the “Brazilian bikini wax” first became popular among beachgoers in Copacabana, later expanding to California and now the entire world.
One of the most important events in Brazilian culture is the annual Carnaval parade in Rio. Every February Brazilians watch hours of footage of dancing performers and intricately decorated floats that cross the Sambódromo, the name of the place constructed specifically for the parade.
One of the biggest events in Rio is also the end-of-the-year celebration when Brazilians bring in the New Year on the night of December 31st wearing traditional white and throwing flowers into the ocean, accompanied by intense fireworks and a party that lasts all night, aptly called the Reveillón, from the French word reveiller or “to wake-up”!
The city of São Paulo has just about 10 million people (17 million if we count the larger metropolitan area). It is the second most populous city in Latin America, losing only to Mexico City. But it is the biggest city in South America, and indeed one of the largest in the world.
São Paulo has welcomed an incredibly diverse international population with immigrants from Italy, China, Japan, and Lebanon, to name a few. The Italian neighborhood of Bexiga in São Paulo is larger than the city of Naples. And the neighborhood of Liberdade, initially populated by Japanese immigrants, now has a large Asian population, with people from Korea and China, among other countries. In this neighborhood children are taught to speak Asian languages. One of the best places to buy sashimi or to watch a folkloric dance show is in these streets of São Paulo. But new arrivals to São Paulo do not come only from overseas. A large population of people from the northeast of Brazil have significantly contributed to the construction, the economic wealth, and even the cultural make-up of the city.
This financial capital also accommodates the culturally savvy: São Paulo is home to the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, also known as the MASP, which run internationally recognized exhibitions throughout the year. It has also a highly respected collection of Modern art classics. The famous art exhibition called Bienal de Artes is a must-see for art lovers around the world.
São Paulo is also known for its passionate nightlife. Much like New York City, the city never sleeps, and the diversity of venues is truly breathtaking. But if dancing all night is not your cup of tea, São Paulo is home to a beautiful city park called Ibirapuera where family and friends gather every morning for a healthy jog or a bike ride.