The bay town of Paraty (pronounced para-chi), Brazil, is literally off the map. A mere dot against the majestic Costa Verde’s seaside cliffs, burrowed right between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, it’s easy to miss. But once you visit Paraty, with its stunning colonial architecture, postcard-worthy mountains and waters, and some of the best seafood around, it’s hard to forget. Here are just five reasons to add it to your Brazilian vacation agenda.
Preserved Colonial Roots
Paraty’s colonial history dating back to 1667 is what sets it apart from other Brazilian beach towns like Buzios or Florianopolis. The town’s age shows, but in a warm and welcoming way. At its heart is a historic town center, where cobblestone streets are ringed with sand and still traversed by horses towing carriages along the narrow passageways. Famously free of cars, the historic center is denoted by red and white flags strung overhead. But most noticeable is the characteristic whitewashed and wrought iron architecture throughout, which stands out and harkens back to a town built centuries ago. Anchoring the historic center on one end is an inlet lined with wooden rainbow boats, and on the other end is the 1772 Chapel of Saint Rita standing in whitewashed beauty. Somewhere above, the bells of the First Church of Our Lady of the Remedies can often be heard tolling.
Insider Tip: Paraty Tours offers a terrific historical walking tour throughout the town, and there are a few free walking tours that depart from the town square at 5 pm each afternoon.
Paraty has become something of an artistic hideaway with its inflow of artisans that appeal to each of the five senses. The historic center circles around a town square—the Praca da Matriz—where painters create seascapes and local musicians strum and sing. Familiar smells like cheese, cinnamon, and seafood float through the streets, which are filled with fusion bistros, cafes, galleries, and cozy guesthouses known as pousadas. The galleries double as artists’ workshops, which stand open with brightly colored artwork peeking out from behind wooden blue doorways.
Drop by the art and ceramic studios of Aecio Sarti, Brasil Goulart, Renata Rosa, and Jorge Pessotti. Dine at Quintal das Letras if you’re feeling fancy, Restaurante Refugio if you’re looking for top-notch seafood, or Café do Fogo for authentic Brazilian cuisine; be sure to try the flambéed mango with star fruit for dessert. Stay at Pousada Aconchego, Pousada a Joana, or Pousada Guarana, where everyone leaves knowing the owners David and Jimena by name. Sip a rich cappuccino at Café Pingado. Finally, when it gets into the late hours of the night, dance to traditional pagode or forro music at Van Gogh.
Caipirinhas, Caipirinhas, Caipirinhas
This deserves to be mentioned more than once. In Brazil, there’s nothing quite like the syrupy, strong bite of a well-crafted caipirinha on its home turf, and in Paraty you’re close enough to catch a sweet scent of the sugarcane plantations and cachaça distilleries where the magic is made. Bordering the nearby Amazon rainforest, there are seven distilleries where visitors can learn how the country’s famous drink is manufactured and—the best part—enjoy a tasting. Try Cachaça Pedra Branca or Cachaça Maria Izabel for a great educational tour and guaranteed delicious rum.
Insider Tip: Each year in August, Paraty also holds its annual Sugar Cane Rum Festival, or Festival da Cachaça. It’s the ultimate celebration for sugar cane rum lovers, and has cachaça from several different distilleries known locally as pot stills, making it the mecca for seeking out some of the country’s best caipirinhas.
Alluring Twilight Beaches
This is where scenes from the movie Twilight were filmed, and Paraty is rightfully proud of its claim to fame. Seated within the vast Bay of Ilha Grande and dotted by dozens of islands, you need only set off on a schooner with a few others, and within 30 minutes you’ll find yourself among the natural paradise of Mamangua Bay, Praia do Sono (Sleep Beach), and Trindade (pronounced trin-dodgy). With their deep blue waters fringed with banana plants and vivid sunsets, the beaches in Paraty easily rival those in Thailand. It doesn’t get much better for digging your toes in the cashew-colored sand and soaking up some Vitamin D. The waters are calm, crystal, and filled with colorful fish, making it an ideal tranquil stopover for fishing, scuba diving, and sailing. Beyond the bay, the lush vegetation surrounding the beaches hides dozens of glittering waterfalls like Tobago Falls and wading pools that resemble tiny wild aquariums, along with natural rock formations and South American wildlife.
Insider Tip: Ativa Rafting e Aventura offers boat tours that transport you from Paraty’s historic town center to several stunning, secluded beaches.
Adventures Around the Corner
Possibly the best part of Paraty is the fact that its visitors can travel by foot, Jeep, boat, horse, or bicycle. The climate and geography make it the ideal spot for seeking out sports and adventures. The waters surrounding Paraty rise up into a majestic backdrop of the jungled Bocaina Mountains, which means you can take a Jeep deep into the rainforest and trek along tropical hiking trails. There are a number of them in the Atlantic Forest that surrounds the Gold Path, a rugged road originally built by slaves and used for transporting gold in colonial times. But if hiking isn’t your cup of tea, there’s also rappelling (known as abseiling), canyoning, horseback riding, mountain biking, bird watching, and yes, even tree climbing. If you prefer to take your expedition to the water and catch some rays in the process, grab a kayak or go rafting, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, or scuba diving to up close with Paraty’s exotic fish population. Within a stone’s throw of bays, islands, peninsulas, beaches, rainforests and mountains, Paraty presents a truly unique environment for releasing your adventurous spirit and meeting another side of Brazil.
Insider Tip: Paraty Sport Aventura and Ativa Rafting e Aventura are excellent options for a number of excursions by land and sea. Training, guidance, and all of the equipment you need are provided, so that you’ll have plenty of space left over in your suitcase for mementos of your trip to the Brazilian coast.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Paraty Guide