By Jessica Festa
While most travelers to Brazil head straight to Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo, there are many lesser-known destinations within the country worth exploring. One of these is Paraty, located about three hours from Rio and three and a half hours from Sao Paulo. As it’s located in between these two popular tourist destinations, it makes for an easy stop by bus or car when making your way from one to the other via BR-101.
What makes Paraty a worthwhile destination isn’t just its beautiful beaches, energetic nightlife and crystal waters, but also its well-preserved colonial history. Despite how tedious walking over uneven cobbled streets can be, it’s an interactive heritage experience. Paraty was founded in the 1600s, although its height of prosperity came in the 1700s when gold was discovered in the area. African slaves were forced to build these cobblestone roads for transporting the gold for shipping to Portugal.
These historic and pedestrian-only (except for taxis) roadways also add a whimsical ambiance to the town, which is filled with colonial architecture, boutiques, handicraft stalls, art galleries, pastry carts, lively bars and romantic restaurants. At all times of day and night you’ll find locals and tourists roaming from shop to shop, making it one of Brazil’s safer destinations. In this historical center you’ll also find the Rio Perequê-Açú, a serene river that makes for a scenic stroll.
Around Paraty are a number of historical sights worth visiting. The largest church in Paraty is the Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora do Rosário, which covers more than a full town block. Its construction lasted from 1646 to 1873, built on top of an old burial ground and used as the town’s black parish. Alternatively, local aristocrats used Capela de Nossa Senhora das Dores, built in 1800. And to see the oldest church in Paraty’s historical center, Capela de Santa Rita was constructed in 1722 and was used by freed slaves. Today, it also houses the Museum of Sacred Art, filled with religious art like a 17th-century picture of São Sebastião, ornately-carved altars and traditional candlesticks. Simply walking around the historic center will introduce you to important buildings and interesting design, with UNESCO naming the area one of the most important examples of Portuguese colonial architecture.
Paraty offers more than history and culture, as it’s rich with outdoor offerings. First there are the numerous virgin beaches, one of the most popular of which is Trindade Beach, littered with hiking trails, enormous rocks for climbing and natural pools. People enjoy coming here to swim and snorkel in the clear waters. Cachadaco Beach is another recommended option — a short bus or taxi ride from Trindade — while Jabaquara Beach offers a natural mud spa experience. And for an energetic beach party in the evening, Geko Hostel & Pousada’s beach bar features strong caipirinhas, Brazilian dancing and a social atmosphere.
Active adventure is also on the menu in Paraty. Hike in the Atlantic Rainforest or along the coast, stand up paddle board at Jabaquara Beach, kayak to nearby islands, repelling down the Pedra Branca Waterfall, or white water raft in Serra da Bocaina National Park. Keep in mind, Paraty is one of South America’s top destinations for scuba diving, whether you’re looking to get certified or are already experienced.
And for a mix of history and adventure, trek the Gold Path. Paved by slaves between the 17th and 19th centuries, the route was created so gold could be transported from the Brazilian Interior for shipment to Portugal. Walking it means you’ll be immersed in palm trees, waterfalls, tropical plants, Atlantic Forrest, bird life and small villages. Note: The Gold Path can only be experienced with a certified guide.