We all travel for different reasons. Some of us are searching for relaxation and a break from our daily grind. Others are traveling to learn new things. But me? I travel for the adventures. When I’m old, I want to be able to look back on life and know that I truly lived it to the best of my ability. My trip to Sao Paulo was the definition of truly living.
I was invited by MH Tours to visit Brazil because I was speaking at Sao Paulo’s 2nd International LGBT Tourism Conference with The Brazilian LGBT Chamber of Tourism and Commerce. I was there to talk all things blogging and lesbian travel. It was a work trip, but I was pumped to get out in the streets and meet people.
São Paulo is a magical and enormous city, known best for its thriving restaurant scene, incredible nightlife, and as home to Parada do Orgulho one of the largest LGBT pride festivals in the world. They’re also home to samba, Carnival, and capoeira – you get my point – Brazil has a lot of rad going on.
São Paulo in particular is interesting because it’s the economic hub of Brazil, but when compared to its sister city, Rio de Janeiro, foreigners know very little about Latin America’s largest and most populous city.
I wish I had more time to explore São Paulo. When I’m invited to speak at these events I’m usually there to present on one of a few topics, this time I spoke about the need for travel and tourism brands to recognize queer women as a demographic worthy of investment in front of an audience of professionals from all over Latin America. While the conference was super important to bring awareness of the unique needs of LGBT travelers to the Latin American market – I was itching to get out of those meetings so I could explore the city.
I love big cities. I spent most of my adult life in New York City and haven’t been able to shake my boujie urban tendencies since.
Sampa, as it’s affectionately referred to by locals, is like NYC’s less polished Latin cousin. There are plenty of things to do in São Paulo with more than more than 100 museums, 120 theaters, around 300 cinemas. It’s also welcoming and affirming of queer travelers. They’ve had marriage equality since 2012, incredible gay nightlife, and LGBT people in Sao Paulo are generally socially accepted.
Now, that doesn’t mean São Paulo is perfect. Brazil still has major social issues like massive income inequality, corruption, deeply held issues with racism, colorism and colonialism and Brazil also had the highest murder rate transgender women in the world. Reports vary on the exact numbers but it was about 850% higher than the US in 2012.
That being said, as an American in the era of Trump, I’ve never been more aware that the people of a country are not their government.
Brazilians in the tourism industry would probably prefer that I omit that last paragraph but I cannot in good conscious pretend like any destination is without issues – especially when it could impact our community. That being said – I had an incredible time in Brazil and didn’t experience a single instance of intolerance or disrespect – even while roaming around with a bunch of obviously gay men and lesbians.
Things to Know About São Paulo
I spent 5 days attending events, parties, and exploring Sao Paulo with a mixed group of LGBT Brazilians. One thing I love is that Brazilians love to say goodbye. Every time we left a party everyone had to hug and kiss and chat for at least 10 more minutes with each person before we could actually leave an event. Apparently, it’s a whole cultural thing. Anyway, everyone I met was super friendly and eager to help me learn about Brazil. I collected a few of the most interesting Snapple facts from my time there.
- After a night of intense drinking er I mean – research – I learned all about the local Brazilian beer. I posted a shoutout on my Instagram story asking if there were any Brazilian lesbians who’d show me around. Which is where I met my friends Carol and Amanda. Try a Brahma – according to them, it’s the most traditional beer in Brazil. Apparently, if you’re trying to come off as someone who’s experienced and knows a thing or two about Brazilian beer – you drink a Brahma. If you want to come off as a tourist or you just want to have something to write about for your blog post – try a classic Caipirinha. A Caipirinha is a cocktail made with using cachaça a liquor made from fermented sugarcane, lime juice, and sugar. It’s actually pretty tasty.
- Lots of famous people are from Brazil. The most famous Brazilians are actually international models (If Gisele Bundchen and Adriana Lima are reading this – call me) and soccer players (like Neymar and Ronaldo) but you probably already know that. What’s slightly more interesting is all the cool inventions that come out of Brazil like THE WALKMAN – my morning commute was forever changed by your ingenuity Brazil. Oh and Brazil also invented the Hot Air Balloon for all your romantic travel needs.
- Brazilians are quick to correct your preconceived notions of their country. There’s a stereotype that all Brazilians are poor. Yes, extreme poverty absolutely does exist in Brazil. But the notion that all Brazilians are barefoot playing soccer on a dirt field – is just not true. São Paulo has the largest GDP in Latin America and the 10th largest in the world. They also have the 3rd largest concentration of skyscrapers in the world behind New York and Hong Kong. Oh and randomly the largest number of helicopters of any city in the world with around 2000 flights per day taking off. That being said – it is estimated that 2 million people or roughly 20% of the population of São Paulo live in favelas which are basically the Brazilian equivalent of slums.
São Paulo Transportation + How to Get Around
São Paulo has two airports. The São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport for all your international destination needs and the Congonhas/São Paulo Airport for domestic flights.
When you land at Guarulhos International Airport the car ride to the city should take around 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on the time of day. If you can, try to avoid flight schedules during 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM, when you will get the worst traffic.
Once you’re actually in the city, there are a variety of options for LGBT travelers looking to get around town, including a well thought out subway system, public buses, cabs, and Ubers. I like to use Uber and Lyft when I’m in other countries because it eliminates some of the difficulty with language barriers. As long as you know the address of where you’re going – you don’t need directions.
The Best Things to do in São Paulo + LGBT São Paulo Sightseeing
Take Photos at Beca de Batman
Beca de Batman is a neighborhood just outside of Vila Madalena which is known as São Paulo’s trendy hipster neighborhood. Definitely swing by for some big and bold street art murals, coffee shops, and adorable boutiques selling the latest Brazilian fashions.
Experience São Paulo Drag Queens at Cabaret Da Cecília
This cabaret mixes 1920s Art Deco speakeasy vibes with club kid subversive genderfuckery. The drinks are strong and so are the sexy vibes. They specialize in Brazilian twists on classic cocktails. I had a Cosmo made with a little extra lime to help me live out my early 2000s femme diva fantasies. The drag show and the clientele here are what really makes this place special. This bar is so far from RuPaul’s drag race that it can’t even really be in the same category. The performers hail from a bygone era of drag as a shocking counterculture. These queens are trying to bring back those notes of challenging societal perceptions in their performances that simultaneously make you say, “what the …” as you refuse to allow yourself to avert your eyes. Expect to see kinksters in their leathers with their human pups, gender-ambiguous but nearly nude performers, queens with hair teased to the gaaawwdds, and camp so thick you’ll leave the place glittering.
Have Lunch at Castro Burger
Castro Burger is an LGBT restaurant named for the famous Castro Gayborhood in San Francisco, California. The vibes are what I think of as subtly gay. Sure, the logo is an equal sign but you kinda have to be in the know to know what you’re looking for. Like the giant mural on the ceiling of the pop divas or the alter table featuring Laverne Cox as a patron saint. The food is incredible. The burgers are giant and the creative fries are even more delicious. Try the Mission Burger and definitely get a side of rosemary garlic fries.
Visit the Sexual Diversity Museum
Museu da Diversidade Sexual is more accurately a small exhibition space dedicated to LGBT history within one of the main subway stations in Sao Paulo. There are a few permanent installations, but the space is continuously updated with new exhibitions, mostly from the visual arts. The space also curates events featuring Brazilian LGBT artists, scholars, and personalities.
Book a Room at LGBT-Friendly Unique Hotel
The Unique Hotel is the definition of luxury high-end accommodations. Each room is gorgeously appointed with all the amenities you’d expect from a hotel of this caliber but one of the fun details of their service is that each room comes with a personalized cell phone for guests to use during their stay. Yes – a cell phone. If that’s not enough, the on-location spa has an adults only waterslide into the indoor swimming pool and offers every treatment under the sun. I got to see a private tour of the hotel and our guide spilled the tea and let us know that Miss 20Gayteen herself, Demi Lovato stayed in the presidential suite. Which by the way, has three living rooms, two spas, a private entrance, two floors and a roof deck – NBD. If booking a room is a bit too much for your budget, spend a day enjoying the spa or have a cocktail at their rooftop restaurant.
Enjoy a Boujie Dinner at the Skye Restaurant
The Skye Restaurant at Hotel Unique is a posh eatery for even the sophisticated pallet. Each course is artfully curated and arrives at the table presented like art. I had the champagne and caviar sea bass so I could be living my inner Blair Waldorf fantasy. It was absolutely delicious. For dessert, we shared a sampler of every single one of their desserts because if I’m going to be extra I’m going to be Capital E EXTRA. You really have to try the raspberry sorbet and their pineapple cheesecake. You won’t be disappointed. Obviously, the food is to die for but the main event at Skye is the incredible skyline views. The restaurant even has an indoor/outdoor set up with an outdoor ruby tiled pool and white loungers with the entire space encased in glass for excellent photos opportunities.
Celebrate Happy Hour at Violeta Bar & Restaurant
While Violeta isn’t technically a lesbian bar, it draws a large lesbian crowd. It’s a casual hangout spot with great prices and lots of traditional Brazilian favorites. I spent my first night in São Paulo there hanging out with a group of girls and being enthusiastically encouraged to try every Brazilian alcohol they could find. Try the cachaca for hard liquor or if beer is more your style grab a bottle of Original.
Grab a Late Night Treat at Calcado Urbanoide
This food truck park is packed with options for food and drinks and is right in the heart of Rua Augusta which is in one of the biggest party districts in São Paulo. I ended up at the Thai truck ordering some Pad Thai and the guy working the truck was from Brooklyn. So, in the end, an American served me Thai food in Brazil. Gotta love how international so many big cities have become. I wish I could have gotten a picture of this area though because it’s packed with hip vibes and urban industrial design. Grab some food or hang out with a few rounds of drinks – either way, it’s a super cool spot.
For more things to do in Sao Paulo check out this guide from the Vegan Nomad.
Best Gay Nightlife in São Paulo
Festa Girls is the hottest party in Sao Paulo for lesbian, bisexual, and queer women. It’s located at a hip club and restaurant called Tokyo – think futuristic designs with neon signs and pumping music. You’ll find a mix crowd of the trendiest Brazilian girls. Dress to impress.
Baile das Marinheiras
Baile das Marinheiras aka The Mariners Dance, is a monthly queer women’s dance party on a Yacht. The party has a relaxed and unpretentious vibe, with DJs mixing pop, international hits and Brazilian music. This is one of the most popular lesbian parties in Sao Paulo so get your tickets in advance because they will sell out.
Espeto de Bambu
Espeto Bambu is an intimate and colorful casual bar in Cerquira César, Espeto de Bambu aka Bamboo Skewer in English is primarily for LGBT women with live music and mostly female performers.
Sarrada no Brejo
Sarrada no Brejo is one of the events created by the Collective Luana Barbosa. The collective was created by a group of blacks Brazilians involved in the Walk of Lesbian and Bisexual Women of 2016. The Sarrada is a party that was born out of a need for a space for Afro-Indigenous Lesbians Bisexual, and Queer women. Unfortunately, the founders never felt at ease in parties open to the general public. More than an exclusive party for women, it is an area of integration of all physical types, focused on Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Queer women. One of the coolest things about this party is that they provide daycare throughout the event so mothers can enjoy, at no cost. They also do community actions to collect food and other items for people or groups that have needs and especially for the Occupation Alcântara Machado.
Fancha is an independent events company that throws nightlife and daytime events, think acoustic jam sessions, poetry readings, and political actions. But keep in mind their event are exclusive for women. Men will be barred at the entrance to the events.
The L Club
The L Club is a Friday night lesbian hot spot that puts on shows and packs the dimly-lit dance floor with mostly women, nonbinary folks, and trans people moving to tribal house and funk. There’s also lounge seating on an upper mezzanine.
The Week Nightclub
The Week Nightclub is so popular that it has its own Wikipedia entry. While the club is mostly gay boys you’ll find some women partying as well. The club opened in September 2004, the 64,000 square-foot nightclub instantly became the biggest nightclub of Latin America with three dance floors with electronic and pop, a garden, a swimming pool surrounded by bars, a VIP area and a crowd of over 2,500 on weekends.
Lesbian Events in Sao Paulo
Ladyfestinha is a miniature Brazilian version of the original Ladyfest. This event usually includes readings, debates, artistic performances and feminist bands coming together to celebrate queerdom.
Caminhada Lesbica is a miniature Pride Parade strictly for lesbians similar to the Dyke Marches of the US. It takes place one day before the actual Pride and is initially less of a party and more of a political protest.
Samba de Rainha
Samba de Rainha is a lesbian samba group where you can learn to dance to the sway of the samba beat.