Seventeenth-century charm meets twentieth-century comfort in Paraty, a colonial town located just 155 miles south of Rio on the island-studded Bay of Ilha Grande, which has been splendidly preserved in its original state by Brazil’s National Trust. Paraty (or Parati) once served as an export port for gold from the Minas Gerais mountains, a safe harbour protected by a fort, as well as a busy tobacco port. However, a new trail that provided direct access to Rio was made in 1720, leaving the town to slumber until its eventual rediscovery by Brazilian, and foreign, artists, writers, and chefs, among others.
Covering an area of roughly 6-by-6 blocks, heavy iron chains block off all motor traffic to this UNESCO World Heritage Site’s crisscross of tiny streets. It’s no surprise the best way to explore is by foot, a pleasant stroll about the winding streets revealing whitewashed colonial houses with vibrantly-painted frames among some centuries-old buildings, several churches, quaint inns, tiny restaurants, an old fort, shops and art galleries, and a crafts museum as well as a lively nightlife.
While Paraty does have its own share of beaches, they aren’t nearly as attractive as the hundreds of diverse beaches found along its surrounding coastline and among its nearby islands, many of which can be reached from the town’s port, or by car and bus. Some of the best and most accessible of these beaches are found 16 miles from Paraty at Trindade, a charming fishing village with a hippie atmosphere. Praia do Meio and Praia Cachadaҫo boast natural swimming pools, while Cepilho and Brava make excellent surfing spots. But with fine sands and crystalline waters, Praia do Sono is inarguably one of Trindade’s most beautiful.
For lovers of nature, Paraty has a number of nearby parks and nature reserves closer inland, such as Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina.