Supersized São Paulo, Brazil

Last year, more than 3.5 million people took part in São Paulo’s gay pride parade celebrations – it’s the biggest gay pride parade in the world.

To put that in perspective, that’s triple the number of people who went to see Pope Benedict’s speech in 2011 – and Brazil is the world’s most populous Catholic country! In short, this city gets behind the gays. Brazil is a nation that prides itself on being gay-friendly and sexually liberated, making it a wonderful place to visit, particularly during gay pride.

Ordinarily, São Paulo Pride takes place in June, but this year, due to the World Cup, it’s been moved forward to May 4. The action kicks off at noon at Consolação metro station on Avenida Paulista, which is the high-rise heart of the city. If you know anything about the colour, music and spectacle of Carnaval – which is famous around the world – you’ll have some inkling of what to expect from pride here. Much like Sydney’s Mardi Gras, the ‘parada’ is a street party celebration, so don’t be afraid to dress up! The parade route is over 4km long, starting at Avenida Paulista, travelling along Rua da Consolação and winding up at Praça Roosevelt in downtown São Paulo, where festivities end at 10pm.

Sao Paulo city skyline at night

The parade is embraced not only by the city itself, but also supported by the federal government as well as by the Governor of São Paulo.

For more information on parties and festival events visit the official Pride Parade website.

Why visit São Paulo?

Rio might be well known around the world for its natural beauty, but São Paulo is the commercial heart of the country. This giant melting pot is the largest city in Brazil and the southern hemisphere, and has a strong gay community, excellent nightlife and a vibrant creative and cultural scene.

Milton Jung

There’s so much to explore in this sprawling city. Here’s our top 5 must-dos while you’re there:

Jardins

This is the city’s posh district, where you’ll find the grandest homes, leafy streets, boutique shopping and plenty of great places to eat and drink. Temakeria e Cia does great yakisoba, and the best coffee can be found at Suplicy and Oscar’s Café.

Frei Caneca Shopping

We’ve heard of gay clubs, parties and neighbourhoods, but a gay shopping centre? Believe it or not, São Paulo’s Frei Caneca Shopping comes about as close as we’ve ever found. It’s not that it’s exclusively gay, nor are the shops particularly homocentric, it just seems like every gay in town got the memo.

Rua Augusta

This bustling strip cuts across Avenida Paulista and is where the cool kids shop by day, and party by night. Caos is a fun bar which lives up to the name – expect to find toys, memorabilia – even bicycles – glued to the walls and dangling from the ceiling.

Liberdade (Japantown)

This district is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan in the world. Here you’ll find loads of karaoke bars, restaurants and markets. Porque Sim cannot be beaten – the food is amazing and there’s karaoke upstairs. Across the road you’ll find Yamaga, which is pretty great too.

Vila Madalena

Take a wander along leafy Rua Girassol and the surrounding streets – there are plenty of restaurants and shops to explore. Coffee lovers will adore the laid back vibe at Coffee Lab – it almost puts Australian coffee to shame, which is no small achievement.

Where to stay?

Hotel Unique, Jardins (standard rooms start from R$962 p/night)

Skye Bar in Sao Paulo

If you’ve got the cash, and you’re interested to see what modern, edgy design and hospitality looks like in São Paulo, spend a night in Hotel Unique. This hotel, located in the upmarket district of Jardins, near Ibirapuera Park, certainly lives up to its name. The building is one of the most striking in the city, comprised of a quirky semi-circular shape with the flat edge facing the sky. With curved walls and floors, glass porthole windows, and odd, yet tasteful furnishings, it’s part UFO landing, part optical illusion. Downstairs you’ll find the glass-floored gym, where you can run on the treadmill while watching people swimming in the pool beneath your feet. The pool also has a giant slide too. On the roof of the building is Skye Bar, which offers a 360-degree view of this expansive metropolis, along with tasty cocktails and a blood red swimming pool. You don’t need to be a hotel guest to visit the bar (there’s no cover charge either), but the rooftop pool and sun lounges are for hotel guests only during the day. Rooms are spacious and plush, with sumptuous bedding, Jacuzzi baths and motorised black-out blinds. Expect luxury without the pretence.

Telstar Hostel, Vila Mariana (dorms from R$45, private from $150 p/night)

Foyer in Telstar Hostel

This colourful, futuristic-style hostel offers a range of dorm rooms if your budget is tight, or there’s a private double room upstairs with an en-suite if you want some privacy. The hostel is centrally located – it’s just a short walk up the hill to the metro station, and in a few minutes you’re in the centre of town. A modest breakfast is included, along with strong Brazilian coffee and a friendly natter around the kitchen table with the other guests. At night the hostel comes alive with music and cocktails by the pool. During the day, the main living room feels relaxed, with people chatting over coffee or lying on the comfy couches using the wifi. Staff are gay-friendly and English speaking. Guests are generally young travellers from all over the world. The hostel also hosts art and cultural events, as well as parties from time to time. If you’re after clean budget accommodation with a social, party vibe, this is the place to come.

Oca Hostel, Ana Rosa (dorms from R$45, private from R$130 p/night)

Oca Hostel

They call themselves a hostel, but Oca feels more like a boutique hotel, particularly if you stay in one of the private rooms. Located in a quiet residential street, the hostel has a lot of heart – it’s centrally located, only minutes from the metro, in a safe part of town near plenty of shops and places to eat. Oca caters for the traveller who is looking for more of a peaceful oasis, rather than a busy, social environment. The décor has an earthy, rustic charm and pays homage to the indigenous people of Brazil. Not only does the word ‘oca’ come from the indigenous word for ‘home’, but there are also indigenous clothes and handmade crafts for sale in the foyer. Alessandra, the manager, speaks perfect English and her sweet manner makes you feel welcome. A tasty vegan breakfast is served each morning in keeping with the hostel’s ethos – respect for others, for animals and the planet.         

Palacete Carmelita, Luz (private double rooms from R$180 p/night)

Palacete Carmelita

In the rugged neighbourhood of Luz is this charming little B&B. If you’re looking for affordable accommodation with plenty of charm, this is for you. The street is a little on the rough side, but once inside we felt transported. The hotel is beautifully decorated with charming photos, flowers, carpets and lampshades. Rooms are private and spacious with comfortable beds and en-suites. On a wall in our room hung camp portraits of iconic women – Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Carmen Miranda – we loved it. The bathrooms are quirky, with frosted glass bathroom doors that don’t lock and the shower, toilet and sink all together in the same space. There are fans, but no air-conditioning, so think twice if staying in the height of summer. Otherwise, you’ll find hosts Luciana and Rebecca to be sweet, accommodating and welcoming. They did our laundry, they gave us a tasty breakfast each day, they let us cook in their kitchen – all in all, it was a memorable stay.

Café Hostel, Vila Madalena (dorms from R$35, private double room from R$110 p/night)

Foyer in Cafe Hostel, Sao Paulo

This bright, cheery hostel in the well-to-do area of Vila Madalena is a great choice if you’re looking for a social, yet civilised atmosphere. The heart of the hostel is the garden, where there are hammocks and outdoor tables to use. There’s also a large living room with a big screen TV and plenty of sunshine. Breakfast is served daily with bread, cheese, meat and coffee, you’re only a short walk to the bustling, funky cafés, bars and shops of Vila Madalena and a stone’s throw to the metro station. Newly renovated, the house feels like a big rambling share house at times, which can be a really nice atmosphere to come home to after a long day exploring this chaotic city.

Que Tal Hostel (dorms from R$55, private double room from R$125)

Que Tal Hostel in Sao Paulo

Tucked away in a quiet street in Vila Mariana, this hostel is comprised of a large main house, a central bar and outdoor garden area, as well as a smaller building in the garden. There’s a chilled out, arty feeling here. In the garden garage is an art space where local artists exhibit work and hostel staff create their own masterpieces. From time to time the hostel hosts dinners and social gatherings. There are restaurants and supermarkets nearby, and a big kitchen and outdoor eating area where you can relax and mingle with other travellers. Each morning, a tasty breakfast is served in a nearby café. Carlos is a great host, he speaks excellent English and is more than happy to help you navigate your way around the city. The private room here is bright and colourful and comes with its own fridge and desk. Bathroom facilities are private but shared among all guests. If you’re after a funky, cost-effective place to lay your head, Que Tal is a gay friendly, good choice.

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