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When visiting Brazil most travelers head straight to the big cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. However, Paraty is worth the visit too, and here is why.
Paraty is a beautiful historic city that has 65 beaches, more than 60 islands, emerald green sea, waterfalls, colonial mansions, churches from the 18th and 19th centuries, and the most charming historic centre.
Paraty is a small town and it’s almost impossible to get lost. However, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to do. Below is a list of reasons why you should visit Paraty on your next visit to Brazil.
The history of Paraty is fascinating! The city was founded in 1667 by the Portuguese and had a great importance for the Brazilian economy due to the production of sugar cane and later for its role in the gold cycle.
Paraty grew in the 18th century as a strategically important port for exporting the gold mined in Minas Gerais. When shipments in nearby Rio began to attract the attention and ambition of pirates and privateers from rival European powers, the Portuguese began using Paraty as their safe port for getting their gold to Lisbon.
Together with Ouro Preto, the town was part of the Royal Road (Caminho Real or Caminho do Ouro, Gold Road), a route used to export gold in the colonial times. It was also an obligatory sleep-over stop for travelers between Rio and São Paulo until the late 1800s.
In the 19th century, when the gold ran out, it was coffee and the slave trade buoyant that kept the city on the map. But by the turn of the century, it became a ghost town, stalled in time and away from all the ‘progress’. In the 1970s, it was rediscovered as a popular tourist destination. Result: a true open air museum!
Enchanting Historic Center
The entire historic centre is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s one of the best preserved colonial sets in Brazil. The cobblestone streets were paved by slaves and designed to fill with seawater at high tide (the cobblestones are the rock ballast brought from Lisbon, then unloaded to make room in the ships for their gold cargoes).
The colorful colonial houses date from the 19th century. Today they became shops, quaint inns, restaurants and art galleries. I think the word that defines Paraty is ‘charming’ – it has a very simple and rustic beauty.
The car traffic is prohibited in the area. The best way to discover the place is by foot, just stroll around the old streets and the alleys. In the evening, the historic centre comes to life, offering some delicious dining options and some of the tastiest caipirinhas (sugar cane drinks). Don’t be surprised to catch acapoiera demonstration or even a Carnival rehearsal near the main square.
Church of Santa Rita: This is the oldest church in the city. It was built in 1722 by freed slaves. Now, it hosts the Museum of Sacred Art of Paraty. It’s one of the postcards of the city.
Church of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios: Also known as Igreja Matriz, the building dates back to 1873, it’s the largest of all. There is a small art gallery inside with paintings of local artists.
Church of Nossa Senhora das Dores: built in 1800 by women from aristocracy, this church is also known as Capelinha. In my opinion, Capelinha makes the most beautiful postcard view of the city!
A Fort And A View
The Perpetual Defender Fortress was built in 1703 to defend the gold against pirates and British privateers.
It’s located at the top of Morro da Vila Velha, a pleasant short climb from the historic centre. The fortress has a terrific view of the city and bay, in addition to housing a collection of various objects from the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s also a great place to watch the sunset.
The Trindade Village
Trindade is a blend of a fishermen village, hippie refuge and an ecological paradise. It has several gorgeous beaches, some remain unspoiled to this day.
The most famous spots are the ones next to the village, such as Cepilho, Fora, Cachadaço, Meio and Ranchos. You can visit all of them in one single day hiking through trails in the middle of the Mata Atlântica rainforest. The farther you walk, the less people you’ll find.
The top attraction is the natural pool of Cachadaço, excellent for floating and snorkelling. To get to Trindade, simply take a Trindade-bound bus from the Paraty bus station.
Boat Trip Through The Bay
The brightly coloured boat tours depart from Paraty’s port. There are several boats going to different beaches and islands. Each boat follows their own route, usually making three to four stops on a different islands for snorkelling and swimming.
Among the most popular stops are Lula Beach, Red Beach, Jurumirim, Akita, Engenho Beach, the gorgeous Blue Lagoon, Saco da Velha and Comprida Island.
There are small boats available for charter, but always negotiate the price before leaving. The boat trip is a must do! You can buy tickets at the port or go to one of the agencies at Av. Roberto Silveira.
Paraty is also known for its exceptional scuba diving. In fact, some people go there to become certified divers.
The waters in the area are calm and clear, providing for high visibility underwater. You may find tropical fishes and if you are lucky: some turtles!
Caipirinhas, Cachaça, and Distilleries
Caipirinha is the national drink of Brazil (I’m a big fan!), which is so strong and delicious thanks to a special ingredient: cachaça (the sugar cane-derived spirit)!
Due to the large production of sugar cane in the past, Paraty gained fame in Brazil for its cachaça.
In Paraty, you’ll not only get to taste the real-deal cocktail, but also learn how cachaça is made and sample some at one of the seven distilleries in the area. The most famous distilleries are: Maria Izabel, Coqueiro, Engenho D’ouro, Corisco and Murycana Farm.
On the last weekend of August there is a Cachaça Festival, at which local cachaça producers set up several stalls in the main square for cachaça tasting. There are also stalls of regional food and live music shows.
The Gold Road
Outside of Paraty, you can still see the remains of the old ‘Gold Trail’ which was the reason Paraty became so rich. This 1630 kilometre road was entirely paved with large stones and was used to transport the gold from the mines back to the city’s port and to send miners and slaves back up to the mines. Today you can visit two excavated and restored sections of the trail which make for a great hike.
How To Get There?
Paraty is connected by road to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo (via road BR-101). Air-conditioned buses leave daily from both cities to Paraty.
The trip to and from São Paulo takes about 6 hours and costs about BRL 60. The trip to and from Rio de Janeiro takes about 4 hours and costs about BRL 80. From São Paulo try Reunidas Paulista and from Rio de Janeiro, Costa Verde Transportes.