When you ask most people in the world that aren’t from Latin America what they think of Brazil, the response is usually along the lines of parties, crime and jungle, somewhat like this Simpson’s episode. Truth is though, Brazil is the size of Australia and you can find many types of terrain and people within it. Sao Paulo, in particular, is a booming megacity of 11 million with a truly diverse makeup. For example, did you know that it has a Japanese population of around 2 million making it the biggest Japanese city outside Japan? The country has an incredibly diverse society with a rich source of culture and unique style of creativity.
For those who love escape rooms, a small but highly creative escape room industry is emerging from Sao Paulo. With the Olympics underway in Rio de Janeiro, we thought this would be an appropriate time to introduce Sao Paulo’s escape room scene, given that is only 1 hour flight away from Rio. If you are over in Brazil for the Olympics or are headed there in the near future, why not take a look at the escape rooms in Sao Paulo?
What are Brazilian escape rooms like?
No random players! First up, escape rooms in Brazil follow the Europe / Australia model where bookings are private and there is no stacking of players with random strangers. Although this is a positive, in our opinion, it can pose a challenge for smaller groups of travelers as most venues require a minimum of four players for games in order to maintain minimal profit. However, we’ve found that the venues tend not to mind if players pay the difference for ‘missing’ players.
Language: Portuguese (not Spanish) is the primary language of Brazil. However, all venues we have been to in Sao Paulo had English speaking gamemasters who ran slick games. As a matter of courtesy though, establish contact with the venues before booking and ask about any language preferences you might have. This will allow them to schedule English-speaking staff. When booking electronically, make sure to select the right language. Spanish is also available in most places. Again, don’t assume this would be available on the day and make contact first.
Bookings: Speaking of bookings, foreigners will probably have to book most venues over email as credit card bookings in Brazil tend to require the local equivalent of a US Social Security number called the CPF. This security measure, designed to prevent credit card fraud / use of stolen credit cards, does make booking with venues over there slightly more cumbersome. We didn’t find too much of a problem doing bookings through email though. Besides, its probably beneficial for English speakers to email beforehand, as mentioned above. Puzzle Room was the only venue we observed to have the ability to book via their website without a credit card and then to pay on the day.
Our recommendations from venues we have played at (in alphabetical order):
- Escape 60: This franchise is rapidly expanding throughout Brazil, establishing themselves in Rio, Sao Paulo, Santo Andre (a satellite city of Sao Paulo) and Fortaleza (North East of the county). Although the escape rooms from this franchise tend to be more on the ‘conventional’ side of the industry, they have been known to invest in good settings and they also cater well to groups of all ages and experience. Recommended room: Death Row. Why? A fun take on the common ‘prison break’ genre done well. Our list of Escape 60′ reviews can be found here.
Closest public transport: There is a bus stop approximately 50m from the Vila Olimpia venue. However, we recommend that travelers unfamiliar with Sao Paulo take a taxi there. Same deal for the venue in Moema.
- Escape Hotel: Atmosphere is the strong point of this venue which has the most impressive waiting area we have seen thus far. True to its name, the entire venue has been renovated to resemble a hotel and players are actually greeted at a concierge when they enter. Although the website is in Portuguese only, don’t be deterred. The owners Vanessa and Patricia speak English fluently. Recommended room: Cena Do Crime (‘Scene of Crime’ in English). Why? This game ties very neatly into the hotel setting and has some puzzles which give a pretty different take on traditional expectations. Our list of Escape Hotel reviews can be found here.
Closest public transport: Faria Lima subway station (3-5min walk from venue).
- Escape Room SP: We had immense fun at this venue, which features highly creative and layered puzzles in Side B and Atelier. The three rooms they run are all very different and the way the gamemasters interact with players in Atelier and Harbinger was very immersive. Recommended room: Harbinger. Why? An investigative horror escape room set based in Call of the Cthulhu setting. What’s not to like?! Our list of Escape Room SP reviews can be found here.
Closest public transport: Ana Rosa subway station (15min walk from venue). For travelers unfamiliar with the city, we recommend taking a taxi from the subway station.
- Puzzle Room: This venue draws from Brazilian stories to give most of their escape rooms a local flavour. We only had time to try their Upside Down Room which we highly recommend. Players have to escape from a room in which everything is upside down. Simple concept. Excellent execution.
Closest public transport: Praça da Árvore subway station (5-10min walk from venue).
What is Sao Paulo like?
Places to visit. When visiting Sao Paulo, consider the following places:
- Paulista Avenue: Vibrant main street of the city with many shopping centres and restaurants. On Sundays, Paulista Avenue becomes closed for cars and numerous stalls open up along it. The Museum of Art of Sao Paulo (MASP) is on this Avenue and is worth a look. There is also a pretty awesome 3-floor bookstore, the Livaria Cultura, where they created a set of dinosaur bones hanging from the ceiling of the store.
- Oscar Freire: The main street of the Jardins (‘The Gardens’) district which hosts Brazilian and international luxury brands. Fanciest hotels and restaurants are in this area.
- Liberdade: The Japanese district of Sao Paulo, with great food. The place to be for fans of anime and manga.
Flavours: Brazilian food is, general, very hearty and nutritious, covering all groups of nutrients. It varies from the savoury to the sweet spectrum, with not much on the spicy or sour sides. No, Brazilians do not eat spicy. Tacos and burritos are from other parts of Latin America.
Rice and beans: Make sure to try the local typical meal: rice, black beans, beef and salad. Brazilian cuisine highlights the natural flavours of ingredients, without masking them with too much sauce or condiments. A way to eat well and cheap is to go to “per kilo” restaurants, where you serve yourself and put the plate on a scale. You pay, literally, per kilo.
Fruits: Enjoy the variety of fresh fruit juices, they can be found everywhere. Pineapple and mint is a good mix, but surprise yourself with cashew juice. It is actually a juicy fruit, but most countries only import the nuts!
Food carts: In São Paulo, street food is abundant, especially in front of subway stations. Try the corn recipes or a simple corn on a cob. The local hot dogs are big and the ingredients are kept together with mashed potato.
Asian food: it is not a big thing yet in São Paulo, except for Japanese, which is excellent! On Sundays, a fair in Liberdade will offer everything, from takoyaki to ramen and mochi.
Pizzas: Order a pizza and eat with fork and knife, like the locals. Due to the amount of Italian immigrants in past centuries, Sao Paulo mastered the art of good traditional pizza and invented amazing local combinations.
Other important points
Transport: Sao Paulo boasts a very modern, clean and reliable subway system that should suffice for most travelers. Fares are also extremely cheap at around $1 USD / $1.50 Australian to get you to any station regardless of distance.
Escape room venues tend not to be in the city centre though and may require additional taxis or uber to ger to. Word of warning about uber. If you do use the service, make sure to record the license plate of the designated vehicle and making sure it matches the car before getting inside. Criminals have been known to target people waiting expectantly with their mobile phones outside locations where uber users are expected to be.
Demystifying Crime: There is no denying that Brazil has a high crime rate and Sao Paulo is no exception. Even so, its not like the place is as dangerous as what movies or media would have you believe. When traveling in Sao Paulo, be a savvy traveler and look after your belongings. Don’t be flashy and you should be ok. Most Brazilians are actually very kind and helpful, however, criminals do target opportunistically on those not savvy to local conditions. If you have to ask for assistance when lost, just be aware that most people don’t speak English, and keep an eye out for your surroundings. We advise going into a store and asking staff. At night, try to stick to main areas in the city with high visibility like Paulista Avenue (I’m sure that I can find places in Sydney, London or Detroit where one has a high likelihood of encountering crime as well – it’s the same everywhere). Most people get by just fine in their lives with common sense.
Disease: The people in the country and Brazilian government take Zika seriously and so should prospective travelers. Following general advice (long sleeved clothing and applying insect repellent) takes care of most issues. For Australians going over there, make sure to get a Yellow Fever vaccine even though the odds of catching this are ridiculously low in Sao Paulo. This is actually an Australian Government requirement for re-entry back into Australia.
Visas: Check with your local Brazilian consulate website if you need to get a visa. It is mandatory for Americans, Canadians and Australians to apply for a Tourist Visas but Kiwis and Brits are fine. Brazil’s visa policy is basically reciprocal – it demands visas from countries that requires Brazilians to get visas. During the Olympic period, Australia, Canada, Japan and USA will receive visa waivers.