Paraty was an unexpected stop on our southbound itinerary, but we needed to change our course, as Florianópolis was drowning under a week-long deluge. A woeful and monstrous nimbus was spreading quickly across the continent. I wondered if this was nature’s way of rectifying man’s lamentable ignorance, by drenching the fires and oil ravaging Brazil in a long and torrential wail. With only a day or two before the impending rain, we resolved to wring out the final sundrops in Paraty. Off we set from Vila do Abraão, venturing for the first time on our own without a tour group or guide. It was a daunting operation, but everything went smoothly, to both my surprise and my relief. The locals were quick to point us in the right direction. It was a 45-minute boat ride first to Angra dos Reis, and from there, two and a half more hours by bus to Paraty.
Along the way, we saw flashes of a rural Rio. In dioramas of potholed sidewalks, chipped bricks, and bedewed buildings, we saw the children play and the people chitchat. They were beaming and full of life and paid no attention to the clouds descending on their land, slowly blanketing the whole stretch of Costa Verde in a morose and sullen mist that creeped inside our bus and turned everything damp, mute, and gray. I fell asleep in the quietness.
We rolled into the bus station in the late afternoon. It was a short but muddy walk to the town kernel which, compared with the newer neighborhoods of Paraty, looked immaculate almost to the point of being an imitation of itself. The pristine whiteness of the old colonial walls reminded me of Córdoba, half a world away in distance, but much closer through the lens of history. We strolled, chattered about the changing weather, and eventually took a seat at the Margarida Café where we shared a moqueca de camarão, a delectably savory stew of shrimp, coconut milk, and lime juice.
A powerful drumming jolted us from our beds at ten in the evening. It sounded like an invasion. We slipped on our sandals and, stepping out onto the streets, I felt the beat of Brazil reverberate against the barrel of my chest. A maracatu was taking the village by storm. The spirited sound of bass drums, cowbells, and shakers roused the sleepy little hamlet to its feet. We watched as the musicians rocked wildly to the rhythm of their creation, limbs flailing and hips swaying to release an energy too immense, too ethereal for their earthen bodies to contain.
The next day, having already traced and retraced the breadths of the town, Alessandra, the owner of our invitingly verdant guesthouse, arranged a tour for us to explore the landscapes and cachaça distilleries surrounding Paraty. We were a group of nine: Guillermo, our Argentinean guide and driver; Ed and Carys, a young English couple backpacking the world; mom; me; and four towering Dutch. Throughout the course of the day, between meandering through vine-laced jungles and slipping down waterfalls, Guillermo patiently dispensed pieces of Paraty’s history in Spanish…
The story of Paraty, as told by Guillermo
Paraty is the starting point for the Caminho do Ouro (Gold Trail). It is called this because it was the first road to connect the coast with the colonial villages of Ouro Preto and Diamantina, where, as their names unmysteriously suggest, the Portuguese had struck gold and diamonds.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, traveling on the Gold Trail up to the mines in Brazil’s interior meant a full expedition: it took three months to make the one-way journey from Paraty to Diamantina. For each trip, the Portuguese assembled a caravan of indigenous guides, slaves, horses, and mules. On the way down from the mines, each mule saddled as much as 300 kilograms of gold and diamonds. Once in Paraty, everything was loaded onto ships and taken back to Lisbon.
This went on for some time. Eventually, however, the Portuguese began to lose much of their precious cargo to pirates hiding at Trindade, a secluded cove off Paraty. Thus, a new trail, Caminho Novo, was constructed to Ouro Preto from Rio de Janeiro. After this, the original road from Paraty slowly fell into disuse.
In the old city of Paraty, history is not only in the walls, but in the ground as well. Many of the large cobblestones that pave the center of Paraty have come a long way. Originally used as ballast for ships that crossed the Atlantic, they are actually from Portugal. Upon making landfall, slaves carried the rocks ashore and lined them on the streets, where children were then ordered to jump on them, sinking each one slowly into the ground. Hence, Brazilians occasionally refer to such kind of cobbled roads as calçamento pé-de-moleque, or brat’s foot pavement.
How to get to Paraty
Direct buses depart daily from Rio de Janeiro to Paraty. The journey takes approximately 4.5 hours, with tickets starting from around R$85. If traveling from Ilha Grande, public Colitur buses depart every half hour in front of the Santa Luzia pier in Angra dos Reis. The journey from Angra to Paraty takes roughly 2 hours and costs approximately R$12.50.
Where to stay in Paraty
Tucked between Paraty’s colonial streets is the green grove of Pousada Jardim das Oliveiras, where you can enjoy each morning a breakfast of sweet papaya, honeydew melon, freshly squeezed juices, and pão de queijo—Brazil’s delectable cheese bread—while taking in the Atlantic Forest atmosphere of the guesthouse’s beautifully decorated inner courtyard. Doubles start from R$168.
What to do in Paraty
The historic center of Paraty is a pleasure to explore on foot and contains some of Brazil’s best preserved architecture from the 1700s. Nearby natural attractions include the natural waterslide of Cachoeira Tobogã (Toboggan Waterfall) and the sublime beach village of Trindade.
Paraty is also an important cachaça-producing region. In the past, a glass of parati was synonymous with the distilled sugarcane spirit. Today, one can visit one of several nearby distilleries and sample the country’s best cachaça, including exotic infusions like vine, chocolate, and chili pepper. For a Paraty specialty, try a Jorge Amado, an exuberant cocktail made from passionfruit, lime juice, and cachaça infused with cloves and cinnamon. Excursions to the falls, distilleries, Trindade, and more can be booked from Paraty Adventure.