Brazil Weekend Trip: The Charming Coastal Town of Paraty

by  Keith Flanagan | Jan 8, 2016
Keith Flanagan
Keith Flanagan

What waned centuries ago as a port after Brazil’s gold rush is now arguably one of country’s most charming seaside towns. Paraty, wedged between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, enamors small in-the-know crowds with its cobblestone streets, pristine beaches, brightly painted inns, and laid-back coastal vibe. Here’s your guide.

A Brief History
Paraty flourished as a port at the turn of the 18th century, after the discovery of gold in the nearby Minas Gerais mountains. Its economic relevance declined after the gold supply ran out -- but not before a robust town was minted with Portuguese architecture and baroque churches. It was near a ghost town by the 20th century, then interest renewed after a popular telenovela, "Gabriela," used the town as its backdrop in the late 1970s. Intrigued by the preserved charm they saw on film, not to mention improved routes to the destination, Brazilians began to visit Paraty once again to see the forgotten town for themselves. Still, the town remains off-radar for most Americans -- which may just be part of its appeal -- and you'll find that there's plenty of room on the sandy shores that surround Paraty.

What to Do
Leisurely strolls are the primary activity in Paraty’s pedestrianized historic center. Whitewashed and vibrantly trimmed colonial buildings, once warehouses and old homes to Portuguese colonists, now house boutique shops to visit along the way. We especially recommend popping into Armazém Paraty to browse collectibles like woven baskets and beaded accessories that are all handmade by indigenous tribes. If liquor is your vice, the well-stocked Empório da Cachaça sells locally made cachaça, a sugarcane spirit best known as the base for the limey caipirinha cocktail. Paraty’s many art galleries -- a result of artists being drawn to the town’s mountainous seaside landscapes in the early 1980s -- are also worth a gander.

Myriad operators like Paraty Tours offer walking excursions that run you through the town’s storied past -- and can also take you beyond its borders. Ask for outdoorsy trips to spots like Toboga waterfall, where experienced locals love gliding down the natural stone water slide. A day trip to Trindade, a nearby fishermen’s village that comprises several wonderful beaches, is also a favorite. Here, scope out Praia Brava, a “wild beach” that’s great for waves and privacy, accessible only by a trailhead that every guide knows well.

Keith Flanagan

What to Eat
There’s no shortage of eateries in Paraty. For coffee, Cafe Pingado is among the few spots with handcrafted espresso drinks (and its daily pastries and sandwiches make it a worthy spot for lunch, too). For the evening, Banana da Terra is known for classic seafood and presentation with flair; one decadent dish, escondidinho de camarão, is made of cassava (yucca root) and shrimp served inside a pumpkin. Meanwhile, the town’s latest opening, Quintal das Letras, sits above a contemporary bookstore and serves up upscale versions of local, coastal dishes. And don't forget to keep an eye out for town’s roaming pushcarts, one of which sells sweet cakes in seemingly endless variations.

Where to Sleep
Even at the best hotels, rates run low in Paraty. But to make the most of your trip, check into a property within the charming historic center. At Pousada do Ouro -- which has received the celebrity likes of Mick Jagger and Salman Rushdie -- you can enjoy the private pool as well as its central location starting at $130 per night. If you're looking to really save, hostel private rooms for as low as $50 abound. Che Lagarto Hostel Paraty is just one example -- and it happens to have its own pool, too, if you’re counting.

Keith Flanagan

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