One of the places we keep revisiting is Paraty; a paradise gem on the east coast of Brazil with cobblestone streets, colonial architecture and turquoise waters. The historical town center is car-free (and seemingly care-free) and as you step away from your car in one of the parking lots outside the town center you simultaneously step away from the 21st century and into the Paraty of the 17th or 18th century. The streets are cobbled with gigantic blocks of rock totally unsuitable for anything with wheels or heels although you will bump into locals on bikes who give you a dirty look when you are occupying any of the stones that are part of the carefully planned less bumpy route.
Paraty – history crash course
Paraty was founded in 1667 around the Church of “Nossa Senhora dos Remedios”, its patron saint. Paraty (sometimes spelled “parati”) had a significant economic importance due to its sugar cane mills (it used to have over 250 distilleries), and the name “Paraty” was at a certain time synonym of a very good sugar cane rum.
In the 18th century, the port of Paraty was an important outlet for the gold and precious stones brought on horseback from Minas Gerais State to be shipped to Portugal (the old “gold route” still exists and is open to tourists who want to tread in the heavy footsteps of the african slaves shipped over in the millions). However, constant assaults by pirates who took refuge in the surrounding beaches, led to abandoning the gold route, resulting in a great economic isolation in the area in general and in Paraty in particular.
After the opening of the Paraty-Cunha road, and especially after the opening of the Rio-Santos Highway in the 1970s, Paraty became an attraction for Brazilian and international tourism due to its good state of preservation and thanks to its natural beauties.
Paraty – 3 times a charm (but not nearly enough)
We have been to Paraty three times so far. The first time was for easter in 2018. Peter and I took the kids for a long weekend. The second time was just for a day when Magnus and Elisabeth came to visit us. The third time was this week when Irena and Caroline came to visit. I never tire of Paraty. There are so many things to see and do but just strolling (or rather getting lost) on the streets is my favourite part.
Staying in Paraty
Pousada Sandi is a beautiful hotel located in the middle of old-town. Beautiful colourfully decorated rooms, gorgeous square and pool area. The breakfast was a winner the moment they placed a basket of fresh homemade donut holes dusted with sugar and cinnamon on the already fabulous buffet table. It is a little on the pricy side but so worth it considering the location in the center of old-town and the experience of being surrounded by so much history.
Side bar: There are lots of Pousadas in Paraty. A pousada is equal to a hostel or an inn. The ones we have stayed in around Brazil have had rooms with own bathroom, included breakfast and sometimes a pool. Our first time in Paraty we stayed at Pousada Tesouro which means Treasure. It was clearly not however we do not come to Paraty to stare at the inside of our room. Breakfasts are usually good and consists of a standard Brazilian breakfast which is fruit, white bread, white cheese, ham, tomato and lots of baked cakes with sugary frosting to the kids’ delight.
Things to do when in this colonial paradise
The town center is the place to be. The mornings are lovely as the sun light is reflected on the whitewashed walls lining the streets and light up the colourful door and window frames and shutters. By midday all the shops have opened and it is like a treasure hunt to walk along the streets. There are no big signs indicated the shop and even if there were you wouldn’t know any of them (except maybe the Havaiana store). They are a mix of local artesian artists who are selling their art whether it be indigenous jewellery, baskets, paintings or clothes. Caroline and I went crazy on purses, clutches and beach baskets. I even bought myself a Brazilian hammock.
There are restaurants in abundance for every tastebud and the tables balancing on the uneven cobblestones are always full at night.
On our first day in Paraty with Caroline and Irena we went to some of waterfalls in the area; the Toboggan waterfall and the Tarzan Pit. There are tons of waterfalls around Paraty and there are as many companies that offer expensive jeep tours to a handful of them in half a days tour. We did the tour the first time we were here. Thats when we realised we could have done the tour ourselves in our own car. So that is what we did this time around. Being here in low season and on our own was a much better experience than the one being herded like a pack of sheep by tour companies. We had the falls to ourselves. I could almost imagine being the first Portuguese ship to sail into the bay and discovering this paradise for the first time. The water is cold, clear and pure. Caroline and I took a walk up the falls and found a lagoon under the canopy of the rainforest. It was beautiful and tranquil save for the sound of water rushing in our ears.
On our third day we went down to the pier (the same pier that all the gold was loaded onto and sent to Portugal in the 18th century) and surveyed the row of boats berthed along the dock. These boats all have a sundeck and are equipped with snorkelling masks and noodles (for swimming) prepared to take up to 20 guests out on the turquoise waters for about 5 hours. That morning James woke up, very excited about our planned boat trip and told us he had had a dream that night in which we were on a boat the was “pool green”, red and white. Good luck I thought but as luck would have it we did find James’ boat and incidentally it was called “Good Luck”. The captain of the boat wanted 300 reals to take us out for 5 hours. What a steal! When we were here for easter last year it was high season and they charged around 600 reals for the same trip.
The captain cast away while we all settled on the sundeck for a nice cruise. We had three stops during our cruise. First at a beach where we snorkelled and played in the water, second at a place where we were surrounded by fish as we snorkelled. The third beach had a restaurant where we sipped coconut water and beer in our bikinis and the kids played in the water while we waited for our Moqueca and fried seafood.
Last year we also took a boat trip but since it was only the four of us we opted for a schooner trip. On the end of the same pier are the big boats that the kids call pirate ships. They take roughly 100 passengers and do the same thing the small boats do. At 80 reals per adult it is only a fraction of the price in high season as the smaller boats. We were early (punctual by Swedish standards) to get on the boat and found a nice spot on the deck to spread out and lounge which we did for 2 hours before all the passengers had boarded and we cast off. These boats tend to be more of a party boat and are very popular among all the groups of young people. Having experienced both, the private boat is much more suitable for families.
Visit a Cachaça distillery
As I mentioned before this area was abundant with distilleries turning sugar cane into liquid gold; Cachaça. Some of them are still active and give tours of the distillery process and lure you into their shop at the end of the tour, not that anybody seems to mind. It is fun to take some original Cachaça home for those weekend caipirinhas.
Tips when going to Paraty
- The road to Paraty, at least from the interior of São Paulo is fine with good highways until you get to the plateau and start winding your way down to the coast. It is a serpentine road that takes a long time and even longer if there is an accident on either side as it blocks all traffic in both directions. This is also the bottleneck if you go during high season. Our first time was during easter; it took us 7 hours to get there but 12 hours to get home because of all the traffic leaving the coast on the same day as us.
- Be sure to plan a last pit stop before you leave the highway for the descent to the coast. Once you leave civilisation you won’t find a place to fill up on gas, go to the bathroom or eat for a very long time, especially if there is traffic. There are any amount of “Graal’s” along the highway so hit one of the last ones before the descent to paradise.
- AirBnb is great but try and get something in the historic center when it comes to Paraty.
- Buy a water pouch for your phone for those fabulous pics in the waterfalls and on the beaches (the boats cast anchor off the beach and you have to swim in) and under water.
- And last but not least; sign up for a “SemParar”. It is the little strip on your windshield that allows you to pass all the toll stations along the road, and there are many since the roads are privately owned). You get a bill at the end of each month for all the tolls and parking that month. If you don’t get a “SemParar” make sure to have a baggie full of coins and prepare to slow down your trip by 30 minutes.