Ah Paraty, the colonial darling in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Flanked by dense jungle, gushing waterfalls and the impressive Costa Verde. Where the streets are lined with whitewashed buildings, vibrantly coloured door frames and elegant displays of wealth by the simplest of expressions (does your house have both a pineapple or a flute jutting from the façade?) Despite the ankle twisting cobbled streets, this little gem of a town charmed the pants off of us.
We were mostly excited about the highly anticipated food scene in Paraty. Words of succulent king prawns and to-die-for Thai food had been on the lips of many travellers we’d met along the way.
Not only were we longing for a variety of food, but also a little sophistication. Not to sound like a complete wanker – but – at the risk of sounding like one anyway. Where were the chic wine bars? The adorable ateliers and the darling live music venues? Okay, okay, to be fair, we’d been privy to an abundance of exceptional live music throughout Brazil. I suppose we were looking for something a little less beach bum and a little more bordeaux blend.
Besides, we’d forgotten what flavour tasted like, let’s just say Northern Brazil was less inclined to include it.
On arrival into Paraty, we checked into our pousada (inn), just outside the historical center. In terms of value, it was perfect. Spacious rooms, convenient location and the best part, breakfast and afternoon tea were included. I should state, unfortunately for me, the coffee was abhorrent. Finding palatable caffeine required a separate item line to each day’s agenda – not possible before 11am, before cafes open.
Just a short walk around the historical centre and you’ll find everything you need to know is in the details, look closely and all will be revealed. Paraty was built by freemasons in the XVIII century, remnants are displayed on colonial Masonic architecture and colorful symbols can be found all over. Expect to see exotic pineapple-shaped lamps, flutes jutting from the façade, even an upward curving roof, auspiciously bringing good fortune.
Historically, Paraty was prosperous first from the gold industry, then the coffee trade, and now profits purely from tourism. (I find it such a shame that a country that produces such good coffee, settle for such low standards for themselves?) Cachaça has been a constant commodity throughout time.
Made from sugarcane, cachaça is the alcohol of choice in Brazil. If Mexico has tequila and Peru has pisco, Brazil most certainly has cachaça – you’ll find it everywhere. No caipirinha tastes the same without it. I found it ironic that the patron saint of Paraty is ‘Our Lady of the Remedies’, after tasting a sip of an eight-year-old, French oak barrelled cachaça, I think it could probably remedy just about anything.
We discover that Brazil was the last country ‘in the world’ to abolish slavery. The slave trade was rife in Paraty, where remnants of retail stores who would trade in slaves are still present. Merchants would get their slaves hooked on cachaça, resulted in not having to feed them as much and it gave them more energy to work in the fields. Learning about slavery isn’t fun.
In terms of food, here were our favourites:
First of all: Coffee at Montañita is a must, they also do a delightful cold brew and sell their beans pre/post ground too.
Manuê for lunch, açaí and coffee.
Thai Brasil had been the talk of our last pousada in Ilha Grande (not to be confused with Thai Paraty, supposedly a serious faux pas in taste and value.) Thai Brasil was so good, we ended up going twice.
Istanbul was a great for Middle Eastern food for either lunch or dinner. They’re a husband and wife team, they make everything themselves, even the wraps are hand rolled and cooked – be prepared to wait for them.
Wondering what you actually do in Paraty?
First up, we really enjoyed the Free Walking Tour. It was a light activity to get us in the know on day one.
Then, chase some waterfalls! Take a local bus to Penha $3.50R ($1.20 AUD) for a free cachaça tour and tasting at Engenho D’Ouro before hitting the waterfall across the road. Hopefully you get to see the local legend ‘surfista’ showing his stuff at Poços do Penha, surfing down the slippery fall.
Engenho D’Ouro has a huge offering of sixteen flavoured liquors and seven variants of the original stuff, which has been matured and aged in French oak barrels.
After that, I really needed a loosen up, I headed for a yoga class at Casa de Dharma. A little more expensive at $50R ($17AUD) than most, but it was definitely worth it, especially when I turned out to be the only student. My first private yoga class.
The following day, the sun was out and the Emerald Coast was calling. It was time to explore the coast by boat. The expedition set out at 11am, cost $50R ($17 AUD) on a five hour group tour, including four stops (two islands and two lagoons), lunch was served on board for additional $. We didn’t pre-book, we simply walked the dock ten minutes before 11am and sought out the boat with the least techno music baring from it’s helm.
I was heartbroken to lose one of my brand new gold earrings on our last day in Paraty (you know, the special one’s I bought in South Africa) – it must have fallen out on our walk to the bus station – I was nothing short of devastated.
Overall, Paraty was definitely a highlight destination for us in Brazil!
If you’re ever thinking about travelling to Brazil, I highly recommend landing in either São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro and spending your time travelling from one to the other. There is plenty to see and do between the two.
From Paraty, the weather was looking tumultuous. We narrowed our choices down to: Petrópolis or Búzios. Given the forecast, we went with the former before eventually finding our way back in the city of Rio de Janeiro.
Until then xo