5 Free Things To Do in São Paulo, Brazil

So your going to São Paulo, Brazil… As the largest city in the southern hemisphere, it can be intimidating knowing where to start or how to budget, which is why we have put together this list of extremely affordable, and really quintessential São Paulo experiences to help you explore the city of São Paulo on a tight budget! Whether you use this list of free activities in São Paulo as your starting guide or the itinerary for your whole trip to this megalopolis, you’ll have the experience of a lifetime while you explore São Paulo.

1. Take in the view at the top of the Martinelli Building or the Banespa Building in São Paulo’s centro.

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Our view from the deck at the top of the Banespa Building in central Sao Paulo

It would seem a shame to visit the largest city in all of South America and the southern hemisphere without taking in the enormity of the place. And what better way than from the upper floors of two of the tallest buildings in the city center, especially since they are free of charge. That’s right. Free. Just make sure to bring your passport along and you will gain access to the observation floor in whichever building you decide to visit. They are about a block away from each other so either one is a good choice. From there, allow your mind to be boggled as you take in buildings as far as, and farther, than your eye can see. How many can you count?

Tip: You can ride São Paulo’s efficient metra to the São Bento stop and then walk a few blocks to either the black Martinelli building (entrance on the side) or the white Banespa (housing the Banco do Brasil) building across the street. While we didn’t check out the view from the Martinelli building, we would recommend the Banespa building because its taller and has better visiting hours. It also offers a 360 view of the city. Just make sure you remember your passport or a copy of it to secure your free entrance!

2. Stroll around Ibirapuera Park and pop into one (or more) of the free museums located in the park.

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When the hustle and bustle of the city start to overwhelm you, find a little peace and tranquility in Ibirapuera Park.

Easily found on any map, Ibirapuera park is not only a great place for a bit of outdoor recreation, think rollerblading, biking, a morning jog, but also is home to a variety of the city’s museums. These include the Afro Brasil Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC), Museum of Modern Art (MAM), and the Planetarium along with many other cultural spaces and sites, which if they aren’t free everyday, often host special free days or events. If none of the above interest you, take a book, a newspaper, a picnic and just find yourself a nice shaded spot in the park to relax or people watch – you are on vacation after all!

Tip: Check out http://www.parqueibirapuera.org/ to find out more information on park offerings, museum hours, and anything else you might want to know about the park before you visit.

3. Peruse the Mercado Municipal, enjoying the people watching as you see, touch, taste, and smell the local goods.

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The Mercado Municipal in São Paulo is one of my favorite spots in the city, because – food, but it is also a great place to hang out, take pictures, people watch, shop, and, of course, eat. If you don’t feel like eating at the market (which is a shame as you can get some of the best value for your money here eating one of the famous sandwiches on offer in the lower level), take the time to pick out fresh ingredients for your home cooked hostel meal later or snacks to bring to your Ibirapuera Park picnic.

Tip: If you go for lunch, you’ll be sampling, eating, and perusing right along with the local lunch crew, which means you can follow the crowd to the best stalls and restaurants to get your grub.

4. Experience the country’s passion at the very well done Museu do Futebol (read: soccer museum) inside the Estadio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho.

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I really don’t know if a trip to Brazil could be considered complete without some aspect of soccer involved. Whether you join a pick up game on the beach, find your way into a stadium for a local match or international match (like the 2014 Fifa World Cup), witness Brazilians cheering their favorite teams on at a bar or find yourself in São Paulo at the Museu do Futebol, don’t leave the country without at least a little soccer fanaticism. If São Paulo is in your trip itinerary, a stop here can be a great introduction to Brazilian soccer and its impact on the country. With its free admission on Thursdays and Saturdays the value can’t be beat. Even if soccer isn’t your sport, the museum is still a fun way to kill a rainy afternoon in the city, and if soccer is your sport you’ll enjoy this museum full of memorabilia from all the Brazilian greats, facts on every world cup, and a look inside the Brazilian passion for the sport.

Tip: Bring your passport (not a copy), and you can rent a free headset with English translations for any of the exhibits that are not already in English. Also, make sure you go on a Thursday or a Saturday to gain free admission. If you won’t be in São Paulo either of those days, you can visit any other day and pay only a six reais fee (that is roughly 3 USD).

5. Be amazed by the street art found in Batman´s Alley (Beco do Batman), arguably the best place to see this type of artwork in Brazil.

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One of the coolest streets in the city in my opinion, Batman’s Alley is a place for graffiti artists to express themselves in a highly visible way. This street is dedicated to street art and almost every inch was covered in color and design when we visited in May 2014. Not only is it an incredible place to take pictures and oogle at the talent of others, but it can also be a learning experience if you take the time to look into the meaning behind the pieces and the history of the alley. The alley’s artwork can also change daily, so if you find yourself yearning for more, don’t hesitate to head over to Vila Magdalena a second time on your visit to see if anything new has shown up while you were out soaking up other artsy things in the MAC or MAM.

Tip: The alley is located in the very hip and artsy neighborhood of Vila Madalena. It can be a great place to hang out at night whether you are looking for a few casual drinks while you listen to live jazz or an all-night, shots-and-dancing, seeing-the-sunrise, kind of night. For these reasons, and that its a relatively safe, budget friendly neighborhood, we’d also recommend staying in this area of the city. We stayed at Vila Madalena Hostel which was good value and had really friendly and knowledgeable staff.

This list is by no means exhaustive. In a city the size of São Paulo (~12 million) the list of budget friendly and free activities could be endless. Our aim with this list was to pick a few of our favorite free things in São Paulo to help any traveler realize that there are many awesome and free things to do and the city shouldn’t be overlooked by the budget conscious traveler. With that in mind, we’d love to hear other suggestions for free things to do in São Paulo, Brazil!

Beaches of Uruguay

Punta del Este

After Montevideo, we continued our trip up the eastern coast of the continent stopping in Punta del Este, Uruguay. Since we wanted to get to know both the glamorous as well as the more laid back beaches of the country, we also made a stop farther north in Punta del Diablo. Both towns turned out to have some really great beaches. Arriving in Punta del Este outside of the busy season was a surreal experience. Punta dell Este has what you call a superpeak season in January and February where everything is packed with people, prices more than triple, and parties fill the summer night. However, when our bus dropped us off at the station at 8pm, we made our way a few blocks to our hostel and we did not pass a single person. On the four lane route running along the entire coast in town, maybe only five cars passed us. In the hostel, we were the only guests. The lack of lights on in the high rises along the beach almost made it seem like a ghost town. In the morning we spent our time on the equally deserted soft white sand of Punta del Este’s beautiful beaches. We walked the entire peninsula that makes up Punta del Este, past the longest beach, Playa Brava, past the port, and Playa Mansa, with its calmer waters on the bay side of the peninsula. We also got a chance to get some pictures with the famous hand in the sand sculpture (La Mano) that has become the city’s iconic landmark.

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Playa Brava in Punta del Este, Uruguay

Playa Brava in Punta del Este, Uruguay

The Hand in the Sand - appropriately named.

The Hand in the Sand – appropriately named.

We had a fun photo shoot with la mano.

We had a fun photo shoot with La Mano.

 

Punta del Diablo

A few days later and a 4 hour bus ride up the coast and we arrived in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay. Perhaps the antithesis of the glamorous, Punta del Este, Punta del Diablo is much more of a fishing village turned summer escape that attracts a much more budget traveler. There are no skyscrapers along the beaches here, just colorful one or two story houses complete with hammocks to relax the day away. Again, because we were in town during the low season, we had the picturesque beaches almost entirely to ourselves again.

Low season (April - June) is a great time to visit, less people and lower prices, but just a bit to cold to swim.

Low season (April – June) is a great time to visit, less people and lower prices, but just a bit to cold to swim.

Playa de la Viuda (Widow Beach), Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

Playa Grande, Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

We spent our days in Punta del Diablo walking along Playa de la Viuda to the lighthouse and Playa Grande to the nearby national park. We tried buñuelas de algas, seaweed fritters characteristic of the Uruguayan coast, and our second favorite empanadas in all of South America at one of the little artisan stands in front of the little fishing boats. Our hostel, Hostel de la Viuda, was one of the best hostels we’ve ever stayed in and it was just the cherry on top of our experience in Punta del Diablo.

Rough waters in Punta del Diablo (Devil's Point)

Rough waters in Punta del Diablo (Devil’s Point)

Playa Grande, Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

Playa Grande, Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

Local fishing boats near the fish market in town

Local fishing boats near the fish market in town

If I had to choose which beach I liked best out of those we visited in Uruguay, I would pick Playa Grande in Punta del Diablo because of its length, its long swash zone, and the lack of buildings on and behind the beach. In fact I’d put Playa Grande in my favorite beaches list, behind only Zapatilla Beach in Panama. Overall, the beaches of Uruguay were amazing stretches of soft, white sand that squeaked when you walked, which, because of the time of year, we had almost entirely to ourselves. I’d definitely recommend spending time on Uruguay’s beautiful coast.

Foamy shores at Playa de la Viuda (Widow Beach), Uruguay

Foamy shores at Playa de la Viuda (Widow Beach), Uruguay

Lovely coastal vegetation

Lovely coastal vegetation

Don't know what it is but they were all over Playa de la Viuda in Punta del Diablo.

Don’t know what it is but they were all over Playa de la Viuda in Punta del Diablo.

A table out in the sea in Punta del Este.

A table out in the sea in Punta del Este.

Strange mermaid sculptures at the tip of the peninsula in Punta del Este.

Strange mermaid sculptures at the tip of the peninsula in Punta del Este.

 

Colonia del Sacramento

Our first stop in Uruguay was the small, historic gem of Colonia del Sacramento. In the three days we spent in town we never tired of simply wandering the cobbled streets, soaking in the charming atmosphere, and taking pictures of everything.

Upon arrival in Colonia, we welcomed ourselves to the country with a bottle of Uruguayan wine, which for us just wasn’t quite as good as Argentina’s wine (or as cheap). Then we meandered the old city down to the river front where we watched a yacht sail between us and the river island. On Easter Sunday, we went to the oldest church in Uruguay, and then spent the rest of the day sipping coffee, exploring more in the old neighborhood, and eventually venturing into the more “modern” area of the city.

Overall, even though we were in Colonia during Uruguay’s Tourism Week, the town still felt very laid back and relaxing. The old part of the city reminded us of a smaller Cartagena, Colombia, while we felt the rest of the town didn’t really offer too many other activities for the tourist. This being the case, we decided to leave on our third day for the capital city of Montevideo.

 

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What Is WWOOFing Anyway?

We recently posted about our first WWOOFing experience in Argentina, so we thought it might be appropriate to follow up with what WWOOFing actually is and how you can participate.

What It Is

WWOOF, which stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is actually a global organization as its name states. Well, not completely global yet, but found in many countries around the world, WWOOF is a type of work exchange program and a unique form of alternative travel. In South America alone, WWOOF opportunities can be found in Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. But what exactly are these opportunities? They include any type of work on organic farms that you can imagine, ranging from demanding physical labor, to cleaning, to helping create organic food products, and others.

How It Works

Organic farms within each country sign up as WWOOF host farms. This signifies that they would like to accept volunteers to help them with various tasks in exchange for room and board. Each farm puts up a description of the type of work and hours they require, along with other relevant information, such as host descriptions, specific farm rules, dietary habits, etc. Anything the hosts feel the WWOOFer (aka volunteer) would need to know to feel comfortable signing up to work on the farm.

The volunteer in turn, signs up with the country specific WWOOF site by turning in contact details and paying the membership fee online. For WWOOF Argentina this was $36 USD a person for a one year membership. After paying the membership fee, each WWOOFer is given a member ID and access to the contact information of all the member farms within their country. The WWOOFer then has the chance to contact whichever farms they like to find out if places are available during the time they would like to come.

Benefits

Often member farms require at least one week of stay, some like volunteers to stay up to six months, which means WWOOFing can be an excellent form of alternative travel for those with more than one week of vacation time. It is also a great way to cut travel costs by offering a little of your time in exchange for two of the largest travel costs, food and lodging. In fact, setting aside the minimal membership fee, WWOOFing can be a way to travel for free if you are already in the area of the farm where you would like to stay. What’s more is that WWOOFing also exists in the US, meaning you don’t have to buy an expensive flight out of the country to enjoy some time relaxing in the country.

Another benefit for the WWOOFer is that WWOOFing can be an amazing way to learn the local culture of the city, state, or country you are traveling in, because most often you are living right alongside the owners of the farm, sharing meals and conversation. At many farms, if not all, you can and should learn about sustainable and ecologically friendly farming practices that you can continue to use one you finish your trip. There are also a myriad of specialized skills one can acquire through WWOOFing, such as how to construct things, how to make local food, learn the language of the country you are in, and much more. Each experience is different and everyone gets something different out of it. And don´t worry, not all farms are owned by “peace and love hippie types” (although you can definitely find that if you desire). There are plenty of WWOOFing members who are simply interested in learning about other cultures and sharing their own in the process.

How To Participate

Whether you are interested in forestry, wine making, cheese processing, alternative energy, growing and making chocolate, working with animals, carpentry, or anything else you can think of, there is probably a WWOOFing farm waiting to host you. Go ahead! Give it a try. Head on over to www.WWOOf.net to get your member number.

Trekking in El Chalten & Mount Fitz Roy

Imagine going to sleep to the sound of a howling wind whistling across the jagged, snowcapped, and cloud-covered mountains while you huddle inside your sleeping bag fully clothed- jacket, hat, mittens, the works. Then it begins to rain. Its okay though because you have already brushed your teeth and gone to the bathroom so there is no need for you to get up until the morning. You just hope it stops raining by then.

When you wake you`re delighted! It has stopped raining and the wind has stopped as well. So you unzip your sleeping bag only to find that it is snowing: snowing and the mountains are still obscured by the strangest clouds you have ever seen, but, at the moment, its too cold to stop and take pictures of those marvelous formations of rock and cloud anyway. You and your crew need to pack up the frozen tent and get on your way to your next campsite. So you do, and after hiking through a beautiful, fluffy snowfall, you are rewarded with the sun again, a magnificent ancient forest to hike through and later a view of one of the most famous mountain ranges in all of South America – the Fitz Roy Range.

If you haven’t guessed it already, this is kind of how our trekking in the north end of Argentina´s Parque Nacional Los Glaciares went. We took a bus from El Calafate to El Chalten, in search of some multi-day wilderness adventures. The town of El Chalten is located within the boundaries of the National Park and thus, our bus stopped at the park office so the passengers could get a safety talk as well as maps, and information about the treks in Argentina’s trekking capital.

Mount Fitz Roy is the major draw for the visitors to the town. It is perhaps Patagonia’s second most famous mountain range and it is only several hours away from the trailhead (it can also be seen looming over the pueblo). We began a three day, two day hike the same day we arrived in El Chalten and needed just over 3 hours to hike to our first campsite. Most of the hiking that we did in Los Glaciares National Park was the same difficulty level as a Saturday afternoon walk through a forest preserve in Illinois. The trails were also marked just as well as a forest preserve`s might be, and the number of people on the trails was about the same. In fact, we probably did not even need a map other than to tell us how long the distances were between campsites. The only major differences were the landscape and the unpredictable weather for which Patagonia is famous.

Although there are many different paths to see Mount Fitz Roy, some which need registration, some which require a guide, and most that only require a few hours, what we ended up doing was a hike on our first day to Campamento Poincenot, passing Laguna Capri, a great mirador of the Fitz Roy Range where we stopped for a lunch break. This first day we saw the famous Fitz Roy Mountain for just a few minutes before it was shrouded in a foreboding accumulation of clouds unlike any I had ever seen before. At night, the wind howled through the Poincenot campsite at the base of the trail up to a closer and more impressive lookout of Fitz Roy. In the morning, the weather was great while we climbed to Laguana de Los Tres and had fun taking pictures, but the mountain range was again quickly covered by the ominous clouds that swirled around it, so we hurried back down the mountainside to pack up our tent and continue on to Campamento De Agostini. This campsite was much better sheltered from the wind, and was at the base of the lookout to another of the famous mountains in the park, Cerro Torre.  Unfortunately, however, the clouds never left the area, and the cold and snow started to set in so we headed through the Patagonian steppe and forested mountainsides before returning to El Chalten to spend the night in a hostel we had reserved in advance.

Despite being Argentina’s trekking capital, we were suprised with the hiking in the area. Though the mountain range was magnificent, the hiking was not as rewarding as we wanted. Too many people, too short of trails, too few of options. Because of this, we took off on a different trail the next day to Laguna Toro, a much less hiked trail than those we had done in the previous days. This trail took us through ancient forests, marshy wetlands, more Patagonian steppe, and descended into a wide open river valley where we encountered the laguna and a very windy pass (Paso de Viento). The campsite was located in a little mountain cove, where we were protected from the strong winds just around the corner. That evening though, we had fun playing in the winds of the Paso and scrambling the mountains on the other side to get a glimpse of the glacier on top.  The following day we returned to El Chalten by the same trail and were rewarded with a sunny, almost windless day. On this beautiful trail, there were much fewer people, less trail markers, and more of the kind of hiking we were looking for.

A word on El Chalten: the town is located within the national park limits, where residents need to follow the same rules as campers, regarding washing near the rivers and streams in order to guarantee that they remain drinkable for future hikers. There are also problems with stray dogs hunting the endangered Huemul deer, so it is necessary to make sure that no dogs tag along on any of the trails outside of town. Inside the park all of the campsites are free and basic. This means that what you carry in, you must carry out, including and especially trash. All buses entering El Chalten stop first at the park´s information office before continuing to the bus terminal to insure that all tourists know the rules of the park before they head out on the trails.

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