By Liz Behler
The colonial town was once an important port for exporting gold, but fell on hard times and was all but forgotten until the 1960s when a road to Rio de Janeiro was built. Since then, Paraty — the halfway point between São Paulo and Rio – has become a center for laid-back artsy types and nature lovers looking to explore the rainforest-covered mountains and turquoise waters that surround the town.
Though Paraty gets its name from an Indian word for a local fish, when said aloud, it sounds almost identical to the Portuguese phrase “for you.” How perfect, I thought, as I wandered the quiet streets.
Planning a trip to Paraty? Here are a few tips for exploring the town, and beyond.
You’ll need more than a day to discover and enjoy all Paraty has to offer. Before arriving, reserve a night in one of six suites at the Pousada Arte Urquijo in the historic district. For an ocean view — and a small deck and hammock from which to enjoy it — book the Sofia suite.
The attention to detail you’ll find at this quirky inn — classical music wafting through the common areas, old stone walls covered in owner and artist Luz Urquijo’s bold art, and handmade slippers to wear while you relax — will make your stay that much more special.
A trip to Paraty wouldn’t be complete without trying cachaça, a liquor made from fermented sugar-cane juice that has deep regional roots. In the 19th century, the town was such a well-known producer that cachaça was often referred to as “paraty.”
Cachaçarias can be found throughout town and are easily recognized by their floor-to-ceiling shelves displaying hundreds of varieties of the liquor. Cachaçaria Caiana Cana offers samples — so you can try before you buy — and sells an array of handmade candies. While you’re there, ask for tips on how to make a mean caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail made with cachaça, sugar, and limes.
Paraty is a coastal town, so it’s no surprise that seafood is a mainstay at most restaurants. For true local flavor, try camarão casadinho, a regional dish that consists of giant, deep-fried shrimp stuffed with a spicy farofa (toasted manioc flour) mixture.
For something sweet, order an acai. The sorbet-style treat is found throughout southern Brazil and made from the frozen paste of the acai berry. Up the sweetness by asking for it “completo” — topped with sliced bananas, honey, and granola.
Though it will be tempting to spend all your time poking around the boutiques and restaurants that line the quaint cobblestone streets in the town’s historic center, Paraty is the perfect jumping-off point for lazing on tropical beaches and exploring the rainforest. Hop around some of the nearby islands on a boat tour, or take a bus to Trindade, a former hippie haven with arguably some of Costa Verde’s best beaches.
In Trindade, shop the main street, relax on the sand while sipping juice from a freshly cracked coconut, or grab a bite at one of the beachside restaurants.
If you’re feeling adventurous, follow the nature trail through stretches of shoreline and uneven jungle terrain to get to a natural swimming pool — just a 45-minute hike from the town center. Here, tiny fish nibble your feet while you wade through an aqua enclave framed by sloping green jungle and large, jutting rocks.
Too relaxed (or tired) to hike back to town? Boats are often available to ferry swimmers to the main beach for only a few reals.