Paraty, Brazil is a gorgeous colonial town in Rio de Janeiro State, about 250 km down the coast from Rio de Janeiro city. Last October, we spent four days in Paraty during our month-long exploration of the Rio area and parts south. And we could have easily stayed longer: The breathtaking scenery, laid-back vibe, great restaurants, and deep sense of history make Paraty a perfect seaside escape, as evidenced by the hordes of Rio and São Paolo residents who flock there on the weekends.
Paraty is one of Brazil’s oldest towns, and its human footprint dates back well before the first Portuguese explorers arrived there in the late 16th century. The Guaianás indigenous people were the original inhabitants and gave the town its name, “Paraty” for “rivers of fish” in their Tupi language. The Portuguese turned up in 1597, but Paraty didn’t really thrive until the discovery of gold in Minas Gerais state a century later. The gold was carried overland to the port at Paraty for shipping to Europe over the famous Cominho do Ouro (Gold Trail). As such, Paraty became one of the most important ports in the Portuguese Empire. It’s still possible to hike the Gold Trail today; here’s a good article with more info.
Here’s how we spent four fun and active days in Paraty, Brazil! Photos are in galleries – just click the first to see larger versions.
Getting to Paraty
Paraty is easy to reach by bus from Rio de Janeiro. The journey takes about five hours and becomes more and more scenic as the road begins to follow the coastline. One of the stops is in Angra dos Rios, the jumping-off place for visiting scenic Ihla Grande.
Paraty was our next stop after spending four extremely chill and relaxing days on Ihla Grande, a must-visit if you’re traveling the coastline near Rio. From Angra dos Rios, we boarded a van operated by Paraty Tours for the 1.5-hour drive to Paraty. As we’ve mentioned before, Paraty Tours offers an economical and super-convenient alternative to public transit; their door-to-door service shaves hours off transport from city to city in this part of Brazil.
Strolling the Town
We could have spent weeks wandering the historic center of Paraty, with its cobblestoned streets and colonial architecture dating from the 18th and early 19th centuries. The historic district is closed to motor traffic on most days, and it bustles with shops, restaurants, galleries, and cozy cabarets.
Paraty isn’t just a wonderland of colonial architecture; its natural beauty is unparalleled. Backed by verdant, jungle-clad mountains, the town fronts a bay with more than 300 islands, many of which are easy to get to – just hire one of the many excursion boats on the waterfront. We signed on with Paraty Tours aboard the schooner Netuno II and enjoyed a day of snorkeling and relaxation with stops at several outer islands.
The jungle side of Paraty is laced with scenic rivers and waterfalls, just the ticket for cooling off on a warm day. Since we were carless, we signed on for a day-long jeep jungle excursion with Paraty Tours that took us to three waterfalls and also included a visit to the Pedra Branca distillery, a scenic cachaça crafter. (If you’ve followed our other Brazil posts, you know that cachaça is Brazil’s national firewater, similar to rum and a key ingredient in the national cocktail, the caipirinha).
Eating, Drinking, and Night Life
By far our favorite dining experience in Paraty was O Mercador, open on most days just for lunch. We loved the fabulous food, friendly service and scenic waterfront location so much that we lunched there twice. We also enjoyed Thai Paraty and the family-run Dolce Vita Tratoria and Pizzaria. Quintal Das Letras was our splurge meal in the swank Pousada Literária hotel. Finally, check out Casa Coupe for late-evening cocktails and live bossa nova music.
If you’re a fan of cachaça, Brazil’s national fire water, you’ll find numerous chachaça tasting rooms in Paraty.
Paraty offers the full range of lodging options, with the most expensive hotels located in the historic district. As usual, we opted for mid-range accommodations at Pousada Morro do Forte, whose hillside location offered panoramic views of the bay with just a short walk into town.
Next Up: Our Final Brazil Destination, Florianopolis!