State: São Paulo
Stadium: Arena Corinthians (cap. 65,000)
Games: Six including the opening match between Brazil and Croatia, and England v Uruguay.
Airport to the middle of the metropolis: Assuming you arrive at Guarulhos, expect to spend at least an hour in traffic before getting to Jardins.
São Paulo is South America’s biggest city and a business hub for the continent. As such, it’s no Rio de Janeiro. But I like it more each time I visit.
Will it be ready?
Good question. The stadium, also known as the Itaquerão, has had a catalogue of setbacks, delays and tragic accidents including a crane falling into a corner of the stadium and killing two workers last November.
It’s a race against time to ensure it is ready and the last test event is likely to take place less than three weeks before the opening match.
Construction workers played two 20-minutes test matches on May 1 while their colleagues continued installing temporary seating, and the infrastructure including roads and metro links has yet to be completed.
In order to reach capacity for the World Cup, temporary stands have been installed behind each goal and the structure has a barn-like feel to it. However, the interior is attractive in polished black and white – the colours of Corinthians.
Otherwise, São Paulo is an international city with greater infrastructure than Rio. However, the traffic is horrible on a normal day; prepare for gridlocked roads that make Spaghetti Junction look like a children’s theme park.
No. São Paulo is not a beach city. It’s not really an outdoor city at all. Open public spaces are few and far between while pollution levels will leave you sneezing soot. The roadside clocks that display the temperature also display the air quality level. That said, there are some nice spots for outdoor drinking and eating near the Santander building in the centre and in the popular Vila Madalena strip. And if you have time to explore beyond the metropolis, there is some lovely countryside in São Paulo state.
What about favelas?
Unlike Rio, where there are favelas side by side with the “regular” neighbourhoods, many of São Paulo’s favelas are on the edge of the city, so it has a different dynamic. Instead, the city centre does have the biggest cracolandia, a neighbourhood where crack addicts gather in the street. There have been attempts to address this but with few places to go, users often return to the same place near the Luz station in the centre. I’ve never had any problems there, but São Paulo is a big and busy city. Take the normal precautions.
:: Rio is a sit-and-drink-beer-outside-on-the-pavement kind of city; São Paulo is more sophisticated with a reputation for better restaurants and bars. Vila Madalena is a good place to go out drinking, as is the area around the Consolação strip in the centre. I recommend Rubi wine bar for something a bit classier.
:: Mortadela sandwiches from the Mercado Central are legendary.
:: The stadium is some way out of the city centre with few amenities nearby, though it should be served by the metro by the time the World Cup arrives. Plan your pre-match drinking and your route.
:: São Paulo is in driveable distance from Rio as well as Belo Horizonte and Curitiba. Though driving is not for the fainthearted, I recommend taking the bus: it’s cheaper, pretty comfortable for six hours or so, and a good way to see some of the country while avoiding TAM Airlines for domestic flights.
:: For those keen on getting to a beach, Ubatuba has dozens on the north coast between São Paulo and Rio.
:: São Paulo is currently facing a water crisis with the worst drought since records began in 1930. Depending on where you are staying, you may find low water pressure/water outages although the authorities have said they have enough reserves to see them through for the next few months.
With ongoing thanks to Gustavo Oliveira