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São Paulo

São Paulo
  1. Introduction
  2. Capital: São Paulo
  3. Economic Centre
  4. Guarujá Beach
  5. Northern Coastal Region
  6. Southern Coastal Region
  7. Data Table for São Paulo


Little more than a trading post throughout the three centuries of the colonial period and at the beginning of the Empire, in its early years São Paulo was a region that was cut off from the centre of political and economic events in Brazil. Its rapid development began in the middle of the 19th century with coffee plantations that spread all over the state, bringing with their expansion the building of roads and railways, the modernization of the ports and a complete support infrastructure which in just a few decades, enabled the region to assume a leading role in Brazil's economy.

Coffee was also responsible for the state of São Paulo becoming the destination for over half the immigrants who settled in Brazil in the mid 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century. They had a profound influence on Brazilian culture. With immigration men and women from more than 50 countries settled in the state, blending with the indigenous population who were already living there, with the Africans who had come as slaves and more recently, with migrants from various parts of Brazil who had come in search of work. Together, they formed the basis of the cultural mix that comprises the present day paulistas - or natives of São Paulo - and the state they built.

São PauloSão Paulo

São Paulo has just over 34 million inhabitants, making up more than 22% of the population of Brazil. Generating around 35% of GDP, the state has one of the highest GDPs in Latin America and is an extremely important economic centre. It is Brazil's largest industrial focus as well as the nation's financial metropolis, with its capital, the city of São Paulo, which is a point of reference in the supplying of information to the business world. Its production structure covers almost all the productive segments of Brazil's economy backed by an effective teaching and research network and serving the nation's largest consumer market. In the state of São Paulo, 70 km from the capital is the port of Santos, the largest port in Latin America.

The state has 625 municipalities, 39 of which form the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo, the third largest urban conglomeration in the world, with 16 million inhabitants. The region houses many of the largest Brazilian and international companies and foreign banks with head-offices in the country. It is also the headquarters of the eighth largest stock market in the world and the second largest future market.

With its dynamic capital, considered as being one of the world's largest metropolises, São Paulo has become known mostly as a good place to do business. But it is much more than an economic centre. Washed by the waters of the Atlantic, the state's 622 km coastline is punctuated by beaches of the most varied type and size. Taking the city of Guarujá as a reference point, the beaches of the northern coastal region are scattered around towns such as Bertioga, São Sebastião, Caraguatatuba and Ubatuba, and on islands such as Ilha Bela, a paradise for wind-surfers and sailors. In the southern coastal region, around cities such as Iguape and Cananéia some of the world's most important natural areas are preserved, for example, the Juréia-Itatins Ecological Station and the Island of Cardoso in the Lagamar - the Lakeland Estuary Complex of Iguape, Cananéia, Antonina and Paranaguá.

São PauloSão Paulo

Separating São Paulo's coastal strip from the plateaux, the escarpment of the Serra do Mar in the midst of the Atlantic Forest was a major obstacle to be overcome in previous centuries. Nowadays this gateway to the interior of the state is the focus of attention of the Atlantic Forest Biosphere Reserve and other organizations that are seeking to conserve this ecosystem that is reduced to 5% of its original area in Brazil.

Within the interior, the state of São Paulo is crossed by rivers such as the Paranapanema, the Paraíba do Sul, the Piracicaba and the Tietê, the largest of them all, originating 22 km from the coast to run in the opposite direction of the sea before flowing into the River Paraná, 1,100 km further down. With the building of dams and hydroelectric stations along their courses, many of São Paulo's rivers have become considerable lakes within the state, acting as sources of electricity, encouraging sailing and other leisure opportunities. Considered as a whole, they pass through one of the richest regions in the Southern Hemisphere, and in the case of the Tietê, one of the greatest metropolises of the contemporary world.

In the state of São Paulo, leisure is as varied as job opportunities, especially in the capital where there are many options to suit all tastes and budgets. There are a number of options ranging from exhibitions and open-air shows to museums with theatres putting on highly sophisticated performances. And as paulistas also have the right to enjoy life, their capital city has a range of restaurants running from the simple and delicious to establishments that equal the sophistication of the best anywhere in the world.

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Capital: São Paulo

São PauloSão Paulo

Founded in 1554 by the Jesuit priests, São Paulo, by those days a small town, remained peaceful until the middle of the 19th century when it started to expand as a result of coffee-growing. From then on, opportunities began to spring up everywhere and the capital of the state of São Paulo has never stopped growing. Immigrants came from all over the world to solve the labour problem and nowadays it is estimated to be the third largest Italian city in the world, the largest Japanese city outside Japan, the third largest Lebanese city outside Lebanon, the largest Portuguese city outside Portugal and the largest Spanish city outside Spain.

In São Paulo, the mixing of races and ethnic groups has increased with the passing of time and has had a profound effect on the city's cultural and economic life. As a nucleus within the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo which consists of 39 municipalities, the capital is the main economic centre and the largest urban concentration in Brazil. Like all metropolises, it is facing problems that have arisen from the population density, such as pollution and heavy traffic, but it is also going through a process of economic deconcentration with the restructuring of urban services, for example, the tripling of the underground rail system by the year 2004, an indication that the quality of life offered could soon be improving.

With an economic infrastructure that was established during the last century and a half, the city has an integrated industry, a network of services linked to the main world centres and extensive resources for information, leisure and culture. There has been a trend to consolidate its vocation as a large and modern metropolis bent towards the provision of services that rely on leading edge technology.

The intense cultural life of São Paulo received a major boost during the 1920s when it hosted the Modern Art Week, the landmark for a movement to encourage renewal within Brazilian art. Nowadays, that dynamism is expressed in the capital's well-appointed museums, the range of options offered and a certain guarantee for artists that to achieve success in São Paulo signifies general acclaim. The city also offers considerable opportunity for leisure and one of its main assets is perhaps its range of restaurants, as varied as the origins of the paulistas themselves.

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Economic Centre

During the middle of the 18th century, the former province of São Paulo was essentially agricultural and sparsely populated and its capital, the city of São Paulo was scarcely more than a small town. With the expansion of coffee-growing, the capital became Brazil's second largest city at the turn of the 19th century and thanks to the technical and industrial knowledge of the immigrants, it began to generate capital from coffee and the recently inaugurated hydroelectric power, on course to becoming Brazil's largest industrial centre.

The stock market crisis of the 1930s marked the end of the agricultural export-based economy and the crystallization of industry as a source of dynamism within the Brazilian economy. Because of the favourable conditions, including the preceding accumulation of capital from coffee and the existence of a reasonable consumer market, at that time São Paulo was emerging as leader in the industrialization process.

Until the 1970s, industry was largely concentrated in this state. After that time, a process of industrial deconcentration began, partly as a result of the search for new sources of raw materials, cheaper labour and new consumer markets, and partly from federal policies aimed at the correction of regional imbalances and the stimulation of exporting activities. A process of deconcentration is now taking place in São Paulo, for important activities are now being diverted to industrial and agricultural export-based centres such as Campinas, Ribeirão Preto and the Paraíba Valley which are now competing with the capital in what concerns social and economic indicators.

The crisis of the 1980s had a major effect on São Paulo. However, the state is now undergoing a major restructuring of its production base, modernizing its industry, increasing agricultural exports whilst at the same time reinforcing the service sector and facing the challenge of becoming integrated within the world economy. São Paulo is keeping pace with the latest technological innovations in parallel with the expansion of the economic, political and cultural opportunities for the most disadvantaged section of the population.

Additional Information: São Paulo state is responsible for approximately one-third of Brazilian GDP. The state's GDP (PPP) consists of 550 billion dollars, making it also the biggest economy of South America and one of the biggest economies in Latin America, second after Mexico. Its economy is based on machinery, the automobile and aviation industries, services, financial companies, commerce, textiles, orange growing, sugar cane and coffee production.

Wealth is unequally distributed in the state, however. The richest municipalities are centered around Greater São Paulo (such as Campinas, Jundiaí, Paulínia, Americana, Indaiatuba, São José dos Campos, Santos, etc.), as well as a few other more distant nuclei, such as around São Carlos and Ribeirão Preto. Some regions, such as Registro and the Bananal region, in the border with Rio de Janeiro, are very poor, some of them nearly as poor as municipalities in the Northeast of Brazil.

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Guarujá Beach

Guarujá BeachGuarujá Beach

One of the busiest of São Paulo's beaches, 87 kilometres from the capital, Guarujá is a town that is devoted to tourism and has dozens of beaches that stretch along its avenues and urban zones, or are to be found in less accessible locations. In the central area, the blue waters of the beaches of Pitangueiras and Astúrias have great appeal to the tourists. Amongst the most popular spots are the beaches of Enseada and Casado. On the open sea and not good for bathing, the Tombo beach is excellent for surfers, in contrast with tranquillity of Guaiúba, Prainha Branca and Iporanga where the fertile vegetation is enhanced by a waterfall and a freshwater swimming pool. Guarujá also has relics from history such as the Barra Grande Fortress built in the 16th century, the Forte Velho just 8 km from the centre and the Armação das Baleias, the first industrial plant set up in the state for the extraction of whale oil.

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Northern Coastal Region

The beaches of São Paulo's northern coast are spread around fishing villages or small towns. Going north from Guarujá, the first town is Bertioga where an ancient fort still guards the memory of Hans Staden, a German adventurer seized by the Tupinambás in the middle of the 16th century who, after escaping being eaten by the cannibal Indians, wrote an account of his adventures together with a series of drawings believed to be the first ones depicting Brazil.

The next town is São Sebastião, separated from Bertioga by dozens of beaches lapped by the intensely blue sea. Founded at the end of the 16th century, the region contained numerous sugar-cane mills and coffee plantations. Nowadays, the region's economy is largely based on tourism, fish processing and being the state's second major port, on various port activities. A historic city, the centre of São Sebastião has many ancient buildings dating from the colonial period and many are registered as historical heritage. The town has 78 km of attractive countryside and waters both to the north and the south, with beaches such as Enseada, Cigarras, Guaecá, Toque-Toque Grande, Toque-Toque Pequeno, Paúba, Maresias, Boissucanga, Camburi, Barra do Sahy and Juquehy amongst so many others.

Just off São Sebastião is Ilhabela, the largest maritime island in Brazil with an area of almost 350,000 m2. Ilhabela has become increasingly well-known as a water-sports paradise where water is the magic word. There are 400 waterfalls flowing amongst the huge variety of trees and plants in the Ilhabela State Park and the sea attracts those keen on sailing, surfing, underwater fishing or simply swimming. The island has 150 km of coastline and beaches, some of which are still wild and accessible only by boat.

Further north before reaching the border with the state of Rio de Janeiro, Caraguatatuba and Ubatuba still retain the exuberant landscape that enticed the first discoverers. There, the beauty of dozens and dozens of beaches with their blue waters is in contrast with the mountain profile covered in the greenery of the Atlantic Forest. Amongst its well-preserved areas, the region has several parks, ecological stations and beaches such as Picinguaba, an old fishing village with a large and untouched green area.

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Southern Coastal Region

The Juréia-Itatins Ecological Station on the southern coast of São Paulo was one of the first natural areas to be conserved in Brazil. Some 200 km from the state capital, in a highly indented section of coastline, the ecological station contains some of the main coastal ecosystems that existed in São Paulo before it became so intensely developed, continuing a systematic effort for conservation, research and environmental education. Amongst 80,000 hectares of vegetation, mostly primitive and untouched, there are forests emerging on sandbanks, mangroves, high-level fields, ciliary forests, wetlands and algae in the coastal area, away from the Atlantic Forest. This great variety of ecosystems is responsible for the amazing diversity of fauna and flora of the ecological station, one of the last refuges for several species of mammal such as the muriqui, the painted lynx and the tapir. The station's largest river is the Una do Prelado, also known as the Comprido, which flows for around 50 km through plains and is fed by several tributaries. Navigable along its entire length, the river is used by the native fishermen who live on its banks.

The Juréia forms part of the Lagamar, a region that stretches in a straight line over a 200 km band between the towns of Iguape and Cananéia on the southern coast of São Paulo, and Antonina and Paranaguá in the north of the state of Paraná. Considered as being one of the last unpolluted regions of the South Atlantic, Lagamar is formed by the hundreds of water courses that flow down the Serra do Mar and also by tidal rivers, lakes, mangroves and an inland sea protected by islands such as Cardoso, Comprida and Peças. In addition to its environmental importance, Lagamar is one of São Paulo's historical landmarks: it was there that the Portuguese dignitary, Martim Afonso de Souza landed in 1531 to begin the process of colonizing the state.

Of the various conservation units contained within Lagamar, one of the most important is the Island of Cardoso State Park, consisting of bays, hills, estuaries and several islands that both protect it and form it, parallel with the mainland, a series of channels washed by a mixture of fresh and salt water. Located in the municipality of Cananéia, 272 km from the capital, the Island of Cardoso is recognized by the National Union for the Protection of Nature as the world's third most important conservation unit in relation to primary productivity. Its channels are lined by mangroves that act as nursery ponds for many marine species.

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Data Table for São Paulo

Capital São Paulo
Area 248,808.8 km2
Towns 645
Location South-east of the South-East Region
Population 36,969,476 inhabitants (2000)
Population in the Capital 10,900,000 inhabitants
Climate Tropical
Mean Annual Temperature (capital) 20º C
Time in Relation to Brasília The same
Density of Population 149 inhabitants/km2
Urbanization Index 93.6% (2000)
Infant Mortality 21.4 per thousand live-born (2000)
Illiteracy Rate 6.2% (2000)
Contribution to GDP 36.9%
Representation at National Congress 73 Members of Parliament
Vegetation Swamps along the coastal strip, tropical forest in the rest of the state


  • IBGE 2000 and Projections for 2002
  • Abril Almanac
  • Gabeira, Gabriel Luiz - "Synthesis of the Brazilian Economy", Rio de Janeiro, National Trade Confederation (CNC), 1999