Four reasons to visit the financial heart of Brazil: São Paulo

São Paulo, a.k.a. the "financial heart" of Brazil, boasts the highest GDP in the country and is the 10th richest city in the world. With a GDP of approximately GBP 125 billion (2011), its economy is comparable only to that of a country. What's more, according to the UN criteria for urban areas, São Paulo is the third largest city in the world, with a population of 11.32 million (2011) spread over nearly 589 square miles.

Despite these impressive, not to say slightly intimidating, figures, São Paulo is somewhat overshadowed by its rival Rio de Janeiro in the international tourism arena. Many tourists are familiar with the city only because most international flights to Brazil land in São Paulo. Therefore, instead of quickly catching a connecting flight from São Paulo the more popular cities of Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza or Salvador, here are four reasons why you should not miss out on this magnificent city.

São Paulo is a "city of superlatives"

Nothing is in short supply in São Paulo. Tourists have in excess of 280 cinema screens, 180 theatres, 90 cultural centres, 110 museums, 79 shopping malls, 12.5 thousand restaurants and countless nightclubs to choose from. Talk about spoilt for choice; it is practically impossible to be bored in São Paulo!

São Paulo's Mercadão is a foodie's paradise

In addition to its 12.5 thousand restaurants serving more than 52 different types of food, São Paulo is home to the Municipal Market of São Paulo, known as "Mercadão" (Big Market). The architecture of the building with its stained glass windows is undoubtedly worth seeing, but the real attraction is the gourmet experience. There you can find fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, pasta, sweets, and all sorts of spices from all over the world in a bubbling multicultural cauldron of cuisines. If you are not shopping for food, you can enjoy the buzz of the market while sipping a beer and eating one of the famous "mortadela" sandwiches (bottom left of the picture below) from one of the top terrace restaurants.

São Paulo has a very famous and colourful Carnival parade

Although Rio has the most traditional and internationally renowned carnival parade, São Paulo arguably provides the most genuine experience of the Brazilian carnival. According to the tourism operator, SPTuris, 98.8% of the tourists travelling to São Paulo for the carnival festivities are Brazilian. Over a period of four days, the main parades at Sambódromo Anhembi are attended by in excess of 110 thousand spectators and are broadcast to millions of people worldwide. The parade's colours, sounds, creativity and opulence are second to none. You do not want to miss this party.

São Paulo is the helicopter capital of the world

São Paulo has one of the most chaotic traffic in the world. Not surprisingly, it also has the highest number of helicopters, ahead of New York and Tokyo. Contrast, as exemplified by having the worst traffic and the largest helicopter fleet, is the essence of São Paulo. São Paulo is a city of striking contrasts, between poverty and wealth, hope and helplessness, old buildings and modern architecture, frugality and luxury, bountifulness and hunger. How could you not want to see some of this for yourself?