Originally a mission station set up in 1554 by Jesuit priests on the banks of the Rio Tiete, the city of São Paulo is today a sprawling megalopolis, and the industrial and commercial powerhouse of Brazil.
The city grew wealthy on coffee cultivation in the mid-19th century thanks to the rich soil of the region, and the plantation owners took up residence in the bustling regional centre. Gradually, the coffee barons diversified their interests and invested some of their wealth in local industry, resulting in a demand for labour and a resultant surge in the city's immigrant population. Today, 12 million proud Paulistanos live in the congested, chaotic and cosmopolitan city centre and its sprawling surrounds.
Lacking in natural attractions, the city's leisure pursuits are mainly cultural and artistic, and there are some impressive public buildings to delight sightseers, as well as some top-notch museums, theatres, bars and some of the best shopping in Brazil. Neighbourhoods such as Bela Vista and Bixiga are highly photogenic, with ornate mansions and impressive skyscrapers.
São Paulo is a fast-paced urban jungle, which dwarfs New York City in size several times over. But a holiday in São Paulo is definitely not for those who come to South America for laid-back beaches and a carnival atmosphere. What it does offer, though, is brilliant shopping, eating and nightlife, and the opportunity to live it up among Brazil's wealthiest inhabitants.