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Paraty, Brazil: A Colonial Beach Paradise
Paraty is a small town and it's almost impossible to get lost. Just because it's not large in size, however, doesn't mean there isn't a lot to do. Here are some of my favorite experiences I had while exploring the village.
The main reason most people visit Paraty is to learn about the colonial history of the city. Paraty was built around 1600; however, it wasn't until the 1800s that the city really made its mark on the map, as this is when gold was found in the area. During this time, the area prospered, two-story homes began to be built and Paraty became the second most important port in Brazil, as it was shipping gold to Portugal. Moreover, African slaves created cobblestone roads for transporting the gold. These have been perfectly preserved, as you can see by how uneven and not uniform they are.
It's a bit difficult to find an affordable, English-spoken tour in the area. However, Paraty Tours on Av. Roberto Silveira was excellent for this. For about $11, I was able to get a guided walking tour of all the historical sites with a knowledgeable guide. You'll get to learn about Antiga Cadeia, an old jail from the early eighteen century, the Morro do Forte, an ancient defense fort from 1703, and the historical churches of Igreja de Santa Rita, Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário, Capela de Nossa Senhora das Dores and Matriz de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios.
Take a walk along the Rio Perequê-Açú. It is a very peaceful river with colorful boats, immaculate houses and people happily fishing. It is especially beautiful at night, when the sun is setting and the streetlights illuminate the water. Along the river, on its more commercial side, is a row of handicraft markets selling handmade jewelry, scarves and souvenirs.
Continue on to the carless Rua do Comércio and you will be placed in the most romantic shopping setting you've ever experienced. In Paraty, shops stay open until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., so I would recommend also exploring this area after sunset. It's really charming with illuminated cobblestone roads, boutique stores, art galleries, specialty shops, fine dining restaurants and white carts selling delicious cakes and pastries. You'll also be able to experience an array of local and international music, as one block may be filling the air with upbeat Brazilian music and another could be blasting Akon or jazz and blues. It's also very lively at night, as the streets are filled with locals and tourists shopping and going out for dinner and drinks. Note: Do not wear heels! While beautiful and historical, the cobblestones are very uneven and difficult to walk on. Even locals do not wear heels on this street.
If you're hungry but don't want to spend a lot of money, turn down Rua da Lapa and walk one block until it turns into Av. Roberto Silveira. You'll know when you've hit it as there will be cars again and the charming ambiance will be replaced with a more hurried feel. Instead of going into a typical restaurant, enter one of the many Acai cafes. Brazil is well known for its delicious Acai (shown right), and these eateries not only sell juices and desserts, but usually dinner as well. My favorite was Boutique do Acai, where I was able to get a cheeseburger and bowl of acai gelato with banana slices and honey for about $4 total. They also have outdoor tables, ideal for people watching and enjoying the fresh air and surrounding palm trees.
Hiking and adventure sports
Paraty features many mountains and tropical Atlantic rainforest, so there are ample options for the hiking enthusiast. I took the bus to Laranjeras, where I was able to take a two-hour rainforest hike, which ended on a white sandy beach. There's also a little fishing village that's fun to explore. Getting there can be a little confusing, but not impossible. Catch the LINHA 1040 bus from the bus station, which costs 3 Reais (about $1.60) each way. The stop is towards the end of the route. However, the driver will complete the entire route without telling you where the end is, so if you don't know where to get off, you could end up back in Paraty. The stop is at the top of the hill, once you enter the uphill community off the main road. Your best bet is to ask the driver to announce your stop. If you don't speak Portuguese, ask someone at your hotel to write the request down on a piece of paper to show the bus driver.
Another excellent hike that will allow you to explore lush rainforest, challenging mountains, unique rock formations and paradisiacal beaches is in Trindade (pictured right). There are four beaches and Trindade is first on the hike. I usually subscribe to the thought that while certain beaches are more beautiful than others, a beach is a beach. Trindade changed my mind immediately, as unworldly rock formations scatter on one end of the beach and tropical flora sets a jungle-like background. You can also explore various hidden rock and forest alcoves, all small but very unique. To hike all four beaches while also going through patches of rainforest and stopping at Caixa d'Aço -- a natural swimming pool excellent for snorkeling -- you can access the trailhead at the opposite end of the beach from where the bus drops you off. It is in the area where the bars and restaurants are.
For more intense hiking, you can cross the road behind the beach and head up an opening in the mountain. I accessed a trail by first following the arrow for "Vila de Trindade." When you're about two-minutes uphill, there's another sign advertising "Pousada Encontro das Àguas," which is where the hike begins. To get to Trindade, simply take the Trindade bus from the bus station. You will see signs for the area and the beaches.
Those looking for adventure can enjoy more than just hiking. Paraty is also known for its exceptional scuba diving. In fact, multiple people in the hostel I stayed at were in Paraty specifically to become certified divers. The waters in the area are calm and clear, making for high visibility underwater. Furthermore, tropical fish and marine life make the experience really worthwhile.
Biking, kayaking, surfing, horseback riding and outdoor adventure ropes and climbing courses are also available in Paraty. Click here for more information on these activities.
The national drink of Brazil is the caipirinha, which is so strong and delicious thanks to the special ingredient, cachaça. If you haven't had a caipirinha in Brazil, you haven't really had a caipirinha, as it needs this locally produced alcohol to make it truly authentic. In Paraty, you'll not only get to sample this real-deal cocktail, but also learn how cachaça is made and sample some at one of the seven distilleries in the area. Why should you do this in Paraty? The city was known during colonial times as the most important brandy producing area in Brazil. In fact, until the mid-twentieth century, the word "Paraty" was synonymous with the word "brandy."
If you're in the mood to dance, Paraty 33 is an energetic club located in the historic center of the town. While fun, just know it's also the only dance club in Paraty so it gets crowded. If you want to dance but need more space, head over to any outdoor bar in the area. I loved the popular Geko Hostel Bar, and Brazilians have no problem creating their own dance floors in the streets.