With a population of around 12 million, São Paulo is the biggest city in Brazil and South America as well as the entire southern hemisphere. It’s also the sixth most populous city in the world. It has an absurdly large amount of shopping centres and has the largest fleet of helicopters on the planet. But there’s another superlative that’s not so well-known: on the northen edge of the metropolitan area lies what is allegedly the largest urban forest in the world, the Parque da Cantareira.
While São Paulo itself is a concrete jungle of five and a half thousand skyscrapers, the Cantareira spreads for 80 million square metres of Atlantic rainforest. There are several areas (or núcleos) which have been developed for tourism. Last weekend I visited the Núcleo do Engordador which has a relatively easy trail past some waterfalls. The Cantareira reservoir provides water to the city, but has been severely depleted this year. It was developed in the 19th century as the city began to grow and this núcleo has a fascinating little museum, the Casa da Bomba, which houses disused pumps, including a steam driven one dating from 1898 and shipped all the way from Lincoln, England.
There are little bits of the UK all over Brazil. The Estaçao da Luz train station in São Paulo was designed by a British architect and all materials for construction were brought over from England. In the Amazon the Manaus opera house was constructed with steel from Glasgow.
In another part of the forest, the Núcleo da Pedra Grande has a trail which eventually opens out to give you an incredible view of São Paulo. Near here the Horto Florestal is a small little park which is home to caipibaras, the biggest rodents in the world. Further to the west is the Pico do Jaraguá which at 1,135 metres is the highest point of the city and has similar outstanding viewpoints.
The beaches to the south of São Paulo are an easy weekend getaway, but to escape the crowds a visit to the Parque da Cantareira is highly recommended. Breathing in the oxygen here just feels healthier and as you walk along the trails, observing ancient trees and listening to the birdsong, it’s hard to believe the city is less than a 2-hour bus ride away.