About Sao Paulo Airports
Considering that Sao Paulo is Brazil's largest city and a world financial powerhouse, its two airports - internationally focused Guarulhos (GRU) and domestic only Congonhas (CGH) -- are often crowded, at best, and sheer transportation hell at worst. Decrepit, inadequate facilities can mean unpleasant experiences can happen quickly and without warning, but as the major hubs of virtually every Brazilian airline, it's best to accept your fate and learn to minimize the pain of using either airport.
Sao Paulo Guarulhos International Airport
Officially named Aeroporto Internacional de Sao Paulo/Guarulhos-Governador Andre Franco Montoro, but more commonly referred to by the satellite city in which it is located, Guarulhos (pronounced gwa-RULE-yoos) sits 16 miles northeast of central Sao Paulo. A semi-direct public bus runs from the airport to the Tatuap subway station (about $2.15 each way, journey time is 30 to 40 minutes). One-way subway trips cost about $1.50 each way.
Taxis from Sao Paulo Guarulhos Airport
Taxi cabs can be obtained at the airport, and at pontos de taxi throughout the city, or by telephone service, although English speaking staff are hard to come by. All cabs have meters and most now come with GPS monitors that the passenger can see from the backseat. Most drivers speak very little English. The journey time between Guarulhos and central Sao Paulo is somewhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on trafffic. Only one taxi company is located at the airport but any cab company may drop passengers off at Guarulhos. A taxi from Sao Paulo airport to city hotels can also be booked safely with Sao Paulo Airport Transfers, who provide an online booking service and free call number from the USA and United Kingdom.
Keep in mind that one of the world's most mind-boggling evening rush hours coincides with check-in times for night departures to North America and Europe. At present, Guarulhos Airport operates 2 passenger terminals, connected pre-security, where all international and domestic departure and arrival procedures take place.
Sao Paulo Congonhas Airport
Sao Paulo's domestic-only airport is the Aeroporto de Sao Paulo/Congonhas (pronounced con-GONE-yas), only 5 miles south of downtown Sao Paulo. Congonhas is connected to the Sao Judas subway station via bus 675I-10 (about $1.50 one way, journey time is roughly 20 minutes). Taxis from Congonhas to Sao Paulo's hotel zones and business districts take around 20 minutes, depending on traffic, and can be booked with Sao Paulo Airport Transfers.
Within the airport itself, Fast Sleep offers small sleep cabins with an external shower (if you need just a few hours to nap and freshen up), as well as "suites" with private bathrooms. For full-service hotels in the area, both the Marriott and the Caesar Park are located on the airport's periphery, with free shuttle service to the terminals. Less expensive options, such as the Mercure and the Hotel Mnaco, can be found in the neighboring city of Guarulhos.
As Congonhas is located within a densely developed area of Sao Paulo, you have a choice of several nearby hotel options, including the Blue Tree Premium, the Ibis and the Transamrica.
Spare Time in Guarulhos Airport
The uninspiring concrete architecture (Terminal 4 is a refurbished hangar) and mediocre-but-expensive shopping and dining options make Guarulhos the perfect place for you to finally finish War and Peace. Wi-Fi is only free for departing passengers, who can get the password from any of the information kiosks in the terminal by showing their boarding pass. As in most places in Brazil, the people-watching is great.
Spare Time in Congonhas Airport
Opened in 1936, the well-kept main terminal building at Congonhas still maintains a touch of the glamour of early air travel, and the stunning mural of Brazil on the departures level would delight any Art Deco aesthete. Watching planes zoom down the airport's single runway can be fun for a little while as well. That said, the food options are merely adequate -- mostly overpriced coffee and snack bars -- and aside from a few newsstands and small boutiques, there isn't much to shop for.
Guarulhos Nearby Attractions
Being so far outside of town, Guarulhos isn't really an optimum launching pad for incursions into the city. Still, a 45-minute jaunt into downtown Sao Paulo means a mean mortadella sandwich at the Mercado Municipal, as well as a spectacular view of the entire metropolis from atop the Banespo -- Sao Paulo's Empire State Building -- or a few hours of free culture at the ornate Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil.
Congonhas Nearby Attractions
For exercising body and mind, hop a cab over to nearby Parque do Ibirapuera, a verdant 545-acre outpost of fresh air in the middle of the city. Aside from its extensive hiking and biking trails (rent bicycles at Porto 3), the park's marvelous Oscar Niemeyer-designed museums and exhibition spaces draw visitors in for hours as well.