150 miles south of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, you’ll find a sleepy little town called Paraty, where the mountains meet the sea. With its whitewashed buildings, cobblestone streets and tropical beaches, it’s impossible not to fall in love with this time-warped paradise along the Brazilian coast. There’s also no better place to relax and unwind, after an action-packed few days in Rio de Janeiro.
We spent 3 blissful nights in Paraty, but I still daydream about returning and spending a long, slow summer exploring its many idyllic beaches and remote islands. However, if a weekend is all you can spare, here are a few of the best things to do in Paraty.
Please note: This visit took place prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Please check all current travel advice before planning your visit and travel responsibly.
Explore Centro Histórico
The first stop on any trip to Paraty should be the magical Centro Histórico (historic centre). Free walking tours are available from the main square every day, except Wednesdays, or you can choose to navigate your own way around the maze of pretty streets. Either way, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back a few centuries.
Much like Hoi An, in Vietnam, Paraty is one of those rare places that has managed to retain its historic charm, despite becoming a popular tourist attraction. The impeccably preserved architecture and brightly coloured windows and doors make every few steps worthy of a photo stop, so you’ll want to allow plenty of time to explore!
Paraty (and Ilha Grande) is a UNESCO World Heritage site, reflecting its unique culture and natural biodiversity. Casa da Culture de Paraty is a good little stop in the centre, if you want to learn more about the town’s history and cultural heritage. The town is also dotted with beautiful churches – the most famous being Capela de Santa Rita on the waterfront.
Once you’ve taken in the historic sights of Paraty, be sure to spend some time browsing the boutique shops and designer stores that line the cobbled streets. This is the perfect place to pick up souvenirs, whether it’s local artwork, hand-made ceramics or Havaiana flip flops you’re after (save space in your backpack because they are as cheap as chips in Brazil!) Cool down afterwards at Pistache Gelateria – a gorgeous little cafe and gelateria, serving up freshly made ice cream in the most colourful setting.
Come nightfall, the lamp-lit streets fill with tables and chairs and the sounds of live samba, as Paraty’s restaurant scene comes to life. If you fancy a nightcap, look no further than Paraty Wine Bar de Vinhos, where you can relax with a glass of local wine and some delicious nibbles.
Take a waterside stroll
A footbridge is all that joins Paraty’s historic centre to the other side of town, but it feels like you’ve suddenly entered a different world. Away from the tangle of colourful streets, the mist-clad mountains and jungle scenery suddenly looms into view. Brightly painted boats bob gently on the canal and a footpath leads alongside the water, so you can take in the views. This area is also teeming with wildlife, so keep an eye out for wild birds.
Relax at the beach
Just beyond the canal, you’ll discover a small beach called Praia do Pontal, where you can relax with a cold beer or a traditional Brazilian caipirinha from one of the laid-back beach bars. Or if you’re not quite done exploring for the day, you can also hire sea kayaks, paddle-boards and boats from the beachfront.
Take a boat trip
Paraty has 65 islands and hundreds of beaches, so there’s no better way to experience this beautiful region than by taking to the water. Boat trips and excursions run daily and can be booked from one of the tour operators in town.
We took a 5-hour Schooner tour with Paraty Tours which was an unforgettable way to explore what can only be described as paradise. From the moment the boat leaves the shore, you’ll be greeted with stunning views of Paraty’s historic town, framed by the lush green mountains.
The boat makes several stops at tropical beaches and hideaways, where you can snorkel in crystal clear bays or simply sit back and enjoy the idyllic scenery. Lula Beach, in particular, is a real showstopper with its powdery white sand and emerald green waters. If you weren’t already in love with Brazil by now, this will no doubt do the trick!
Where to stay in Paraty
Finally, the dilemma of where to stay in Paraty. There are plenty of charming pousadas to choose from, both in the town and along the coast (these traditional guest houses are much more commonplace than hotels in Brazil). You’ll pay a premium to stay within the historic centre itself, but Pousada do Principe provides a wonderful alternative, just steps away from the old town. This beautiful building has retained many of its old features, but has been modernised with stylish rooms and a relaxing outdoor pool.
Whilst not quite as picture-perfect as the old town, the streets around Pousada do Principe do have a certain charm. Brightly coloured villas, terracotta roofs, and street art all make for an interesting wander, before relaxing back at the pool.