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Since its 16th-century founding, Sao Paulo has come a long way. When Jesuit priests lay the first stones of their mission, they probably weren't expecting their humble project to blossom into the world's third-largest metropolis. The metamorphosis was gradual. In fact, it wasn't until the 1950s that Sao Paulo surpassed Rio De Janeiro in size. But there is no denying the greatness of this bastion of Brazilian culture, and a visit is well worth tourists' time.

The city center, Centro is a comprehensive archive of Sao Paulo's early days as a trading post and market town, though much of what now stands was built in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the highlights are stoic parliament buildings, neo-Gothic cathedrals and a careful reconstruction of the original mission. Accommodation in Sao Paulo is tucked into a maze of alleyways intersecting at odd angles, an intriguing setting for a walking tour.

Modern Sao Paulo is equally fascinating and there's no better place to get acquainted with the modern phenomenon of Brazil. The restaurants in this city are superb with an international scope of specialties. Shopping is equally well supported, from the top-end boutiques of the Jardins district to the rambling marketplaces of Centro. Whether searching for fresh produce, haute fashion or antiques, Sao Paulo is almost bewilderingly well-endowed. Locals insist that can't be found in Sao Paulo probably can't be found anywhere in Brazil.

Congonhas Airport is Brazil's domestic gateway but international visitors arrive at Guarulhos International Airport. Both are served by airport hotels and operate efficient transport to the city center.


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