I’m notoriously not nimble. No one’s ever described me as light on my feet. I harbor an unnatural fear of uneven walking surfaces.
That’s why I was decidedly wary of Paraty, Brazil, a town noted for its roads — which (in the historic center) are paved with enormous, pointy, slippery and unevenly set stones. To hopscotch along these Colonial streets made experiencing the town’s charms both comical and a bit, er, trying for this traveler.
Of course, there’s a great tale behind these wretched road conditions. The town was constructed by the water’s edge, where it was consciously decided flood waters should fill the town’s cobbled streets with the rising tides, washing clean the detritus that might fill them.
Today, tourists bumble along, slipping and tripping, while admiring this remarkably charming Colonial outpost along Brazil’s epically scenic coast.
Ah, but the roads really are only part of the fun. Founded by the Portuguese in the mid-17th century, the historic center evokes the charm of a Colonial Portuguese fishing village, complete with a bustling pier bursting with colorfully painted fishing boats.
Of course, the historic center has been reborn as a hub of tourist-centric shops, galleries, restaurants and street-side touts hawking everything from popcorn and caipirinhas to necklaces and hanging lanterns, yet manages to retain all its charms.
An added bonus: no cars are allowed in the center, so there’s a delightful quiet that permeates.
Adjacent to the historic center, a river bisects the town. The riverside promenade grows busy in the early morning and dusk hours, when families take evening strolls, dogs get walked and joggers and runners zip past.
Still, the town itself is only half the story.
Within walking distance of Paraty’s center lies the excellent beach outpost of Praia de Jaquabara, where beach bars line the sands, stand-up paddle boarding is prevalent, and a smattering of unusual wildlife (think: burrowing owls) can be seen along the shoreline.
Paraty also lies in remarkable proximity to Trindade, one of the prettiest stretches of shore in all of Brazil. The town lies in the midst of the Cairuçu Environmental Protection Area, ensuring that the natural scenery will remain well-preserved.
A 45-minute bus ride from Paraty’s center ($6USD round trip from Paraty’s bus depot) takes you to Trindade’s tiny town center, which is surrounded by 4 distinct (and distinctly gorgeous), boulder-strewn beaches, all of which can be reached on foot.
Other Paraty side trips include boat tours to nearby islands and beaches, as well as a popular jeep tour to see waterfalls and enjoy a tasting at one of the Cachaça distilleries, makers of the popular sugarcane spirit found in caipirinhas.
Should you opt for the boat tour, take note: It’s possible to include the cost of lunch and snorkel equipment in your ticket price. I highly recommend NOT doing so. The waters are don’t harbor enough fish or living coral (read: none) to make snorkeling worthwhile, and it’s cheaper to split some appetizers on-board or bring your own snacks rather than order the full lunch in advance.
Instead, pack some fruit from the local market, and kick back on a floating noodle, enjoying the scenic mountains and tropical forests surrounding you.