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Arriving & Departing
The main São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro highway is the Via Dutra (BR 116 North), which has been repaved and enlarged in places. The speed limit is 120 kph (74 mph) in most places and there are quite a few tolls that range from $3 to R$8 for a car. There are also plenty of call boxes to use if your car breaks down. The modern Rodovia Ayrton Senna (SP 70) charges reasonable tolls (R$6-R$12), runs parallel to the Dutra for about a quarter of the way, and is an excellent alternative route. The 429-km (279-mi) trip takes five hours, and either route is considered relatively safe, although you may be stopped at certain police checkpoints for a random car inspection. If you have time, consider the longer, spectacular coastal Rio-Santos Highway (SP 55 and BR 101). It's an easy two-day drive, and you can stop midway at the colonial city of Paraty, in Rio de Janeiro State.
Other main highways are the Castelo Branco (SP 280), which links the southwestern part of the state to the city; the Via Anhanguera (SP 330), which originates in the state's rich northern agricultural region, passing through the university town of Campinas; SP 310, which also runs from the farming heartland; BR 116 south, which comes up from Curitiba (a 408-km/265-mi trip); plus the Via Anchieta (SP 150) and the Rodovia Imigrantes (SP 160), parallel roads that run to the coast, each operating one-way on weekends and holidays.
Driving in the city isn't recommended because of the heavy traffic (nothing moves at rush hour, especially when it rains), daredevil drivers, and inadequate parking. You'll also need to get a temporary driver's license from Detran, the State Transit Department, which can be a very time-consuming endeavor. If you do opt to drive, there are a few things to keep in mind:
The high-speed beltways along the Rio Pinheiros and Rio Tietê rivers—called Marginal Tietê and Marginal Pinheiros—sandwich the main part of São Paulo. Avenida 23 de Maio runs south from Centro and beneath the Parque do Ibirapuera via the Ayrton Senna Tunnel. You can take avenidas Paulista, Brasil, and Faria Lima southwest to the Morumbi, Brooklin, Itaim, and Santo Amaro neighborhoods, respectively. The Elevado Costa e Silva, also called Minhocão, is an elevated road that connects Centro with Avenida Francisco Matarazzo in the west.
In most commercial neighborhoods you must buy hourly tickets (called Cartão Zona Azul) to park on the street during business hours. Buy them at newsstands, not from people on the street. Booklets of 10 tickets cost R$20. Fill out each ticket—you'll need one for every hour you plan to park—with the car's license plate and the time you initially parked. Leave the tickets in the car's window so they're visible to officials from outside. After business hours or at any time near major sights, people may offer to watch your car. If you don't pay these "caretakers," there's a chance they'll damage your car (R$2 is enough to keep your car's paint job intact). But to truly ensure your car's safety, park in a guarded lot, where rates are R$5-R$7 for the first hour and R$1-R$2 each hour thereafter.
Invest in the Guia São Paulo Ruas, published by Quatro Rodas, which shows every street in the city. It's sold at newsstands and bookstores for about R$30.
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