From the paradise island of Ilha Grande, we decided to head to the colonial city of Paraty, on the Costa Verde. Founded in the first half of the 17th century by Portuguese colonizers to serve as a transit harbour for the gold excavated in Minas Gerais, the old town was originally used as a fishing bay by Guaiana natives.
Today, the Historical centre has been beautifully preserved to host local artists’ workshops, Cachaça emporiums and quirky little restaurants.
If you are in the mood for art, you will find various art galleries and the great Casa de Cultura in the old town, where you can watch exhibitions & listen to some live music performances. When we stayed there in mid September, the International Paraty Photography Festival was on, with exhibitions at every corner and out on the streets.
A great collection of religious art can also be found inside the Igreja de Santa Rita (Santa Rita Church), which houses the Museum of Holy Art, with artifacts from the various religions present in the area. The entrance fee is of R$4, free on Tuesdays.
If you are feeling a little lazy or need more tan, the close by beach of Jabaquara is amazing. A few restaurants offer to have your meal on the beach, with your feet in the sand, enjoying the incredible view over the bay and its islands. Our favourite there was La Luna, with authentic local food and great value, especially at lunch time. If you feel like getting wet, you will see how warm it is, mainly because of the shallow water. If you have some time to kill, I’d recommend walking to the next island. That’s right, you don’t have to swim there, it’s so shallow you can walk across the bay in less than one hour!
On the other beaches of Paraty, be careful with what looks like round stones or pebbles along the shore. They are a type of mud that acts like quicksand, sucking you in. If you do walk into them, do not panic, try to lean on the sand and either ask for help or crawl out. Once a year, to open the Carnival festivities, the local youngsters rub this mud on their face and body and start a scary parade around town, supposed to drive away evil spirits.
There are many tourist attractions in Paraty, we particularly liked to walk near the cemetery between Paraty and the Jabaquara bridge, where you can find the ancient Defense Fort. Surrounded by majestic trees, it hosts various exhibitions inside, but the best part of it is outside, between the overlooking view of Paraty’s Centro Historico and the many cute Sagui monkeys that come down the trees to check you out.
Jeep tours of the surrounding waterfalls and distilleries can also be found from about R$40 p.p. They usually start on the old Gold trail (that leads all the way to Minas Gerais where the gold came from), going through distilleries like Pedra Branca or Engenho d'Ouro. It will then take you to waterfalls and natural toboggans! A great day out!
One of the highlights of our stay was Yara & Richard Castro Roberts’ house, where you will find the incredible Academy of Cooking & Other Pleasures. In the warmth of their home, you will be taught how to prepare delicious traditional Brazilian dishes, how to taste Cachaca & prepare Caipirinha (with one of the most delicious Caipirinha I’ve had served by Richard) as well as eating a full Brazilian meal with wines. I am still dreaming about the grilled Coalho we had for starter, a grilled Brazilian cheese from Minas Gerais served on a stick with a light salad.
Last but not least, you are still in South America, you can relax but don’t be silly. Don’t take dark little alleys at night or walk with your fat wallet hanging out of your back pocket. Everyone who was assaulted says the same, had I known, I would have been more careful. Avoid the hassle, take only what you need and leave the rest behind. You can even put a little quick cash in one of your pocket to hand it out in case and put them at ease. You can really relax when you have nothing to lose. So’ & I got assaulted there, carrying way too many valuable things. We will learn from that, don’t make the same mistake!