The Beautiful Seaside Colonial Town of Paraty

The seaside colonial town of Paraty is one of everyone’s favorite weekend trips from Rio, so we saved the best for last and finally went at the end of our stay. Cobbled roads, whitewashed buildings with bright colored doors, and access to stunning tropical islands and surrounding beaches: We were sold on Paraty before we even arrived.

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Enter: Paraty. Charming, classic and atmospheric just like the photos. We arrived late at night on the bus just as it had begun raining and went to the only hostel listed in our worn Lonely Planet (for the record, there are plenty more in that price range, so backpackers- don’t be discouraged!).

Just a 4 hour journey south from Rio (or north from São Paulo), we hopped on the Costa Verde bus that drives past all of the island escapes surrounding the big cities. We’d been suffering from an unlucky bout of the rainy season in Rio, and hoped a change in location would also mean a change in our luck. As the Semana Santa and Easter crowds cleared out, we rolled in.

The salty man in his forties who ran the boat tours sat with us as he repaired something with fishing line, telling us of the exotic women around the world he had dated, corroborating his stories by rattling off in each of their native tongues as we nodded, impressed. A much older Argentinian woman with fiery bottle-red hair sat between us playing games on her phone, unaware that the headphones weren’t plugged in all the way and that we could hear every bubble burst and Angry Bird. A bubbly young Russian girl fluttered around us, offering tea and cachaca gummy candies with constant refills. We just sat in place and the environment took on a million different life forms before our eyes.

Casa Rio Hostel turned out to be just what we were looking for though. With divided dorms rooms that were practically privates, a kitschy covered lounge area and tiny pool right on the riverbank, it felt like we had gone back in time to the beginning of Rio’s glory days and come to a stop here. Even though the hostel had a sleepy vibe, just like the rest of the town, within just a couple hours of lounging in the hammocks by the pool we had already seen a stream of characters pass through.

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Having arrived late at night, we stepped out just a bit for a drink in the town. We wandered the dark cobbled roads, completely serene with just the faintest sounds around us. Light poured out of a few souvenir shops, and every block had at least one very beautiful, but very relaxed, restaurant. We walked under we heard a bit more life coming from one bar/restaurant- the first music we’d heard. We sat outside and ordered a large beer and took it all in.

We hadn’t gotten to speak with him enough in Rio, but as we sat sharing large cheap beers, he told us of how he had made his way to Rio from France- by sailboat. Well, a plane to Senegal, and then from there by sailboat. A friend of his delivered high-end sailboats around the world, and he was one of the lucky few chosen to go along on that ride. He told us of his plans to return home, and how he had been hoping to find someway sailing back his way. It sounded like something out of an adventure story from a hundred years ago, and sitting in the old colonial town leaning in over candlelight just added to it.
It wasn’t lively, but it was infinitely relaxing. Everything around us looked like a postcard, and we knew we weren’t getting the full effect in the dark. We sat listening to the piano just as a friend from Rio ambled down the empty road. He had been planning to go to Paraty, but without phones we had counted on chance on meeting up. And sure enough, in this tiny seaside town, chance took it’s course and we did.

We walked him to the shore afterwards, hopping over the puddles gathered between the cobblestones, chatting loudly to each other in the deserted streets. There was a bridge to where his hostel was by the beach so we ended our evening walk there. In front of us, were several wild horses, just standing by the water as naturally as could be. Paraty was starting to feel so picturesque it didn’t seem real anymore. We tucked into our tree house of a room that night, with wide open wooden shutters facing out to the river. In a matter of hours, we were a world away from the city of Rio.

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We woke up in the morning to the sound of rain on the roof, blowing just a little bit into the room. We laid listening to the sound, which was beautiful and relaxing for about a minute, before we realizing how seriously disappointing it was. We had left the rain of Rio, ready to escape to the paradise of beaches that surrounded Paraty. The drizzle blanketed over the town, and the sailor at the hostel took one glance at the gray skies before shaking his head and telling us it wouldn’t stop for a week (he was right).

As the bus finally made it over the last ridge, it turned towards the wild rainy ocean below and began flying down the hill, curving around the palm trees and riding the brakes. When we finally made it eye level with the giant boulders separating the sea from the road, we knew we had arrived. As people got off and stepped out from under the roof of the bus, everyone’s first step was to duck out of the rain. But then, everyone seemed as confused as us about where to go from there. Paraty presented us with one sign in front of the bus stop, and let the internal existential traveler dilemma begin. One arrow pointed to the famous beaches, which we could see softly blanketed by a steady layer of most far behind, or to the easy way out- the main road, a few blocks lined with food and little coffee shops.

So, with no hopes of time in the sun, we set out anyways. Due to the weather we couldn’t do the boat tours to the beautiful islands around Paraty (everyone says they’re incredible), but iwe walked past the colorful boats longingly before optimistically hopping on a bus to nearby Trinidade, the second best option. Trinidade is always first up on peoples’ favorite spots around Paraty, and a friend from Rio had told us anyone who skips it is “just stupid.” So, we weren’t about to miss it. The city bus left from the mini bus terminal in tiny Paraty and for R$3 we got to take the thirty minute ride along the coast. Even though the rain poured down, we could see beautiful greenery up to the edge of the rocks and sea on the left of us. Our bus rolled up and over the tropical hills, with giant sweeping views peeking through the trees.

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While some stood wondering how much they really wanted to explore or prove something to themselves, and most shamelessly turned to the half deserted main drag discussing which coffee shop had a view to see the next bus arriving, we marched on in the direction marked “Praia”. We wandered first to the largest beach, and luckily the rain on the shore was mainly heavy mist. It really did have the undiscovered tropical paradise feel- just on an off day.

Having this stunning beach practically to ourselves, we walked the length of it, taking advantage of the bit that was available to us with the weather. We sat on the dramatic boulders and had our salgado snacks. We almost stepped in footprints that seconds before tragedy came alive with little see-through crabs, scuttling to safety (and usually reaching after us, claws out and swinging.) We passed little houses selling seafood and surf shacks on off season, usually with a few empty hammocks swinging out front. The wonderful thing at the beginning of rainy season is that despite the wetness, the air still keeps you warm. So yes, our day of lounging in the sun and hiking to the waterfalls and secret beaches were not an option, but wandering on the beach for well over an hour was hardly bothersome.

Giant dark boulders spotted the course-sanded beach, with crashing turquoise water that remained bright despite the gray skies above. Lush rainforests pushed right up to the edge of the shore, hiding any view of the roads behind. We zigzagged between the rocks.

We walked to the far end beach before finding a map and realizing we were at end of all of Trinidade and had to return to see more. So, we backtracked all the way, just until we had to cut the corner of one bay and emerged onto another. We had only seen a quarter of it. This really was a hidden paradise.

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This beach was almost hidden behind giant trees separating the trail from the bay. Just as we stepped under the big shadowy trees though, the mist turned to rain and then to very heavy rain. Lighting and thunder began (as they often do in Brazil), as if our entire morning of light mist had just been a warmup. The rain began blowing sideways, the “warm” air went cold, and we knew our sticking it out had expired. We joined the few others running below one tree cover to another on the way back to town, and looked back at the mass of paradise of Trinidade that we had left unexplored.

As we rode back to Paraty, we watched as the weather got worse and worse until it couldn’t anymore. Everyone sat in aisle seats, as rain managed to sneak through any and every crack of the windows. The bus dropped us to a wall of water at the bus terminal, and we ran for cover at our cozy hostel.

Finally out of the torment, we sat bundled up looking out at the rain and knew our run had come to an end. With most of the stores shut due to the lack of people out, we had to pass on cachaca tasting (the town’s main attraction) or any other type of tourist activities. We hung out with our eclectic hostel bunch and by evening gave in and booked our bus back to Rio. Paraty had been beautiful through the gray skies and water, but we decided to change our luck instead of waiting for it to and booked a flight to where we knew we could find sol – the Northeast of Brazil.

The moment the beach trail delivered us back to the main road, the bus swung around like it’d been waiting for us and with hardly a glance at the now ghost town of the two blocks that made the town center, we said goodbye to the artsy houses and laidback escapist refuge. So much potential, it would be worth it (in better weather) to just stay there if you really wanted a secluded escape from the city.

If you are wondering if you can fly to Paraty, there is no flights to get there, only buses.

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