One of the best-preserved colonial towns in South America, the almost impossibly-picturesque coastal town of Paraty appeals to culture vultures, outdoor enthusiasts, beach lovers and partiers alike.
The entire historic centre of Paraty is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the cobbled streets are lined with whitewashed cottages that today function as guest houses and boutique hotels, restaurants, bars, art galleries, museums and shops selling innumerous types of cachaca (sugarcane rum – Brazil’s national drink and a specialty of the area). Baroque churches frame town squares and stand proudly on the bay, creating postcard-perfect images.
With steep mountains, tropical jungle and the Atlantic ocean right on the doorstep, Paraty (sometimes spelt Parati, and pronounced ‘Para-tchee’) is a good base for adventure sports activities, and water sports such as stand up paddle are popular activities here. Nearby, Saco de Mamanguá is an inland area of flooded mangrove – like Norwegian fjords transplanted to the tropics – where kayaking, hiking and wildlife-spotting trips are among the attractions.
The town has carved a reputation for itself as one of Rio’s most important cultural centres thanks to a major annual literary festival – FLIP – (Festival Literario Internacional de Paraty), and other arts events.
It’s not just a highbrow destination, however, and Paraty is equally renowned for its raucous carnival celebrations (featuring the Bloco de Lama ‘Mud Parade’) and its yearly Festival da Pinga – (cachaca festival).
Festivals aside, the pace of life in Paraty is pleasingly sedate – horses clip clop around the town’s squares, fishermen bring in their haul for sale at the many excellent fish and seafood restaurants, and small boats bob around the harbour. At night, stalls crop up selling caipirinhas and tropical fruit cocktails, along with traditional street food such as tapioca pancakes and barbequed meat.
Although it has its own beach on the far side of the river, with a couple of beach bars selling cooling coconut water and ice cold beers, the best swimming and sunbathing are certainly to be found away from the town. Small fishing boats transport visitors out to the impossibly beautiful surrounding islands, with stops for swimming and sunbathing. Alternatively, a 45 minute bus or car ride south from Paraty is the pretty beach village of Trindade which, with its waterfalls and jungle trails, also worth a day’s exploring.
It pays to keep a close eye on the weather when planning a trip to Paraty – the cobbled streets can become flooded in heavy rains (at high tide), confining visitors to their lodgings. The age of the buildings means that cheaper accommodations in the historic center are prone to leaking and damp, too, so it’s worth paying a little extra for a more comfortable stay.
Things soon dry up once the sun shines, however, and there’s plenty of exploring to be done in and around the town.