Best Things to Do in Paraty, Brazil You Can't Miss
Check out the best 13 things to do in Paraty you can't miss. Nestled between two giants, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, this colonial UNESCO town offers an unexpected retreat where you can enjoy colorful city center, beaches, views over fjord, waterfalls and stay in one of the luxury pousadas.
Paraty as a tourist destination has been known for a long time among local visitors, but recently has been discovered by foreign travelers as well and became one of the must-visit places in Brazil and overall South America.
There are many reasons behind it's skyrocketing increase in popularity, and we'll show you all of them in this guide.
After a couple of weeks when we were moving around Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, we arrived in Brazil and had a feeling we need to slow down a bit to recharge our batteries. After stunning Iguazu Falls, we started our relaxation quest in Florianopolis where we (apart from doing nothing) also hiked to spectacular Laghoina do Leste beach.
But later our itinerary led us for two days to 15 million monster Sao Paulo, and this experience only reassured us that from now on we need to spend more time in quiet towns or in nature where we would be able to enjoy ourselves at a slow, more relaxed pace.
And this is how we came across Paraty.
HISTORY OF PARATY
The history of Paraty, also sometimes spelled Parati dates back to 1650 when the place started to be used by Portuguese to transport gold from mining area of Brazil, Minas Gerais back to Portugal.
But as the golden route and the port was soon more and more often threatened by pirates, Portuguese had to find another way how to transport the gold safely to their home country, so they started bypassing Paraty.
The town was slowly losing the importance, apart from a short period of coffee boom in the 19th century. Luckily for us, thanks to being away from the progress, the historical center of Paraty remained impact, stalled in time, so today we can still admire the well-preserved whitewashed houses with colorful doors and shutters and see the town almost at the same state as in the 17th and 18th century.
A crucial role in the preservation also played the fact that until 1950 Paraty was reachable only by boat from Angra do Reis.
The unique location close to both, Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, yet near the sea along Costa Verde plus the UNESCO status means that nowadays Paraty receives a fair share of local and foreign visitors, especially on weekend days.
Despite the popularity, Paraty, known as one of the world's most significant examples of Portuguese colonial architecture, still keeps its charm and pleasant, authentic atmosphere. When thinking of it, in South America, we haven't visited such a beautiful colonial city since traveling in Colombia, where we, on the other hand, saw plenty of them, for example, charming Villa de Leyva or our favorite Jardin.
The postcard-perfect streets are inviting at any time of the year, and the fact that it rains quite a lot in Paraty should not put you off visiting the town because only after the rain you'll be able to see another feature Paraty has apart from charming cobblestone streets and cute houses. The cobbles of streets are inclined, so they create channels to drain off water after heavy rain. When it rains, some water stays in the channels, and you can capture picturesque photographs of colorful houses with their reflections.
Also, once in a month, when the full moon occurs, seawater rises (during high tide), enters the city and the water cleans the town. This architectural masterpiece turns Paraty once in a month into a small version of Italian Venice.
After spending three days in Paraty, we've handpicked the best things you can't miss when visiting this Brazilian coastal historic town.
# 1 EXPLORE HISTORIC CENTER OF PARATY
There is no way how you could be in Paraty without exploring the historic center - and if you have only a couple of hours to spend in the town, not beaches, but the Paraty's center should be high on your list of things you can't miss as it is truly exceptional.
Paraty's downtown is a car-free zone, which makes it even more pleasant for all visitors, so unlike in other cities in South America, you can walk around without having a constant fear of being hit by aggressive drivers, and you can entirely focus on the architecture around.
Before visiting Brazil, when someone mentioned this country, all we had in mind were amazing waterfalls, beautiful sandy beaches and Rio de Janeiro. What we had not expected was that we would find here one of the best-preserved towns we've ever seen. All houses in the city center are carefully-restored, shutters and doors newly painted and cobbled stone streets are lined with museums, galleries, restaurants, coffee, and wine bars and artisan shops.
We must confess if we had read this description before our visit, we might have given Paraty a miss as we usually prefer to spend our time more actively than by wandering around a city revolving entirely around tourists.
But Paraty surprised us in a positive way. Shops are decently hidden in mansions, restaurants and bars look fancy but they all have a unique style, a beautiful facade and more importantly (at least for us), there are no touts which can very often create an unpleasant atmosphere.
All those factors let us savor several peaceful afternoons in the lovely town.
# 2 SLIDE THE WATERFALL
Paraty is blessed with lush green nature around, and especially in the summer (rainy) season, you can admire waterfalls near the town in their best.
One of the most famous waterfalls is Cachoeira do Toboga, only 20 minutes drive from Paraty. It is not a classic waterfall though. The stream is running down across a huge smooth rock, and although it was not the most spectacular cascade we've ever seen nor the highest, the best thing is that you don't have to only watch the waterfall, but you can literally feel it as you can slide it down.
The slide is absolutely safe, but in case you were having any doubts or feel you need a bit of help or encouragement, there's a guy who can support you, and who, by the way, can slide the waterfall not on his butt, but on his legs, so he calls himself a surfer.
If you want, you can leave him a small tip in a box at the base of the waterfall.
It is straightforward to get to the falls by taxi when traveling by public transport, take a bus from the main Paraty's station to Penha (the driver will know you want to be dropped off at cascades).
The bus goes every hour and cost R 3 - 5.
# 3 CHURCH ON THE ROCK
When traveling to Cachoeira do Toboga waterfall, the bus stops right across the road from Church on the Rock, an unusual landmark standing, well, on a large rock.
Although it might not be the attraction why you should solely travel out of the city, it is for sure another thing you can see when exploring the surroundings of Paraty and you can combine it with the visit of the falls.
# 4 CLIMB UP FOR THE VIEWS
Paraty keeps another secret which we, unfortunately, were not able to visit during our stay as it rained quite a lot, especially at nights, and the trail to one of the most beautiful viewpoints, Saco do Mamangua, was too muddy to be hiked. It is Brazil's only fjord, so when you have a chance to visit, go for it.
Although we did not go on our own, we did research how to get there. To reach the beach from where you can do the hike, you need to take a boat either from Paraty (you can usually book a tour) or from a small village Mirim. When taking a tour from Paraty, expect to pay about triple the price than when traveling from Mirim, but to get there, you must first take a bus from Paraty, which takes approximately 45 minutes (R 4).
Here you have to negotiate a price with one of the boatmen (it can rarely happen that no one would be there though) to take you to the starting point and wait for you there.
The price should be around R 150 for two people (the rule of thumb here is not to be afraid to haggle) for a boat for about three hours. It is better to travel in a bigger party to share the cost.
# 5 HIT THE BEACH
When in Paraty, you can combine and repeat a couple of activities which never pall.
Eat, sleep in a fancy pousada, explore the narrow photogenic streets, escape to nature when everything around you become too overwhelming and last, but not least, you should hit the beach.
The town's location right on the coast tempt holidaymakers from all around Brazil, but we have a feeling that not many foreigners had ever thought of Paraty as about a beach destination. Paraty has one small beach right in the town called Praia do Pontal, near the stone-made pier where you can also watch local fishermen, but if you follow the path for another kilometer, you will reach longer and more secluded beach Praia do Jabaquara.
For more adventurous souls who want to get on the sea and enjoy beaches on smaller islands around Paraty, there is an island hopping tour.
The beaches we've visited by the boat reminded us of those pristine beaches in Tayrona National Park, Colombia
# 6 ISLAND HOPPING
When you want to escape Paraty for a while, but still want to enjoy a leisure day, but the town's beaches don't seem too appealing anymore, here comes time for island hopping.
Paraty's location is hard to beat, and you will appreciate it, even more, when you set off on boat journey around Paraty Bay, where you can stop on one of more than 60 islands, explore new beaches, jump off the boat and overall, enjoy relaxed five or six hours outside. How to reserve a boat and a one day trip?
Head to Paraty Tours the most reliable tourist office in the town, choose your preferred program, and you are ready to go. You can also make a reservation online.
Our sailing with Paraty Tours was well-organized, the tour started on time, and everything was as smooth as it only could have been. The agency is also able to help you find and organize the best tour for you, but they are also able to arrange private trips on one of their boats.
# 7 GET A SUSTAINABLE EXPERIENCE AT FAZENDA BANANAL
If you are looking for a different experience on things to do in Paraty, we have a perfect tip.
We've never expected to enjoy this activity that much, so we would like to share it with you to give you another idea and inspiration for your trip to Paraty. We are talking about Fazenda Bananal, a sustainable farm only 15 minutes drive from Paraty, and honestly, there is so much we would like to tell you about this project, we are thinking to write an entirely separate post about this place later.
The more we travel and explore diverse corners of the world, the more we realize how necessary is to educate people (especially kids) about sustainability and how important is to spread knowledge about the consequences of our actions. Everyone should know how important is to take care of our planet, even when it should have been only a small part of it and how significant is our awareness about the natural cycle for our everyday lives.
Fazenda Bananal is the place, where you can learn not only about the history of Paraty but first of all and more importantly about the project which has successfully grown here only a couple of years ago. Fazenda Bananal aims to be a rightful member on Paraty's tourism scene, but at the same time, it aspires to be an inspirational organization for all people who are interested in sustainability and the environment where we live.
The great thing is that every person with various interests and hobbies can spend a day on the farm, explore it on own, and freely find the most suitable area or activity to fully appreciate the farm's intentions and successes.
What can you do on Fazenda Bananal?
First, without any doubts you should take a walk in Atlantic forest (on the farm they preserve more than 70% of Brazilian Atlantic forest here), watch birds, observe how a human can change the landscape in a positive and more sustainable way, tour around animals who are feeding on spacious pastures, visit greenhouses to see organic vegetable grow, the same vegetable you can later taste in an exceptional restaurant on the grounds which works on the concept farm-to-table.
All day you'll be surrounded by local people working on the farm, you'll be able to meet them in person, and if there's only one place in the world where you can see employees do what they truly love, it is on Fazenda Bananal.
Because they are not doing their job only for themselves to make money, but they also keep the local community in mind.
The farm belongs to a hotel in the town, Pousada Literaria de Paraty and the entrance for all hotel guests is free (another reason to stay), but everyone can visit the farm for only R 20 and enjoy a day out. The farm is open to all there is even a walkway through the forest which is fully wheelchair or stroller accessible.
We suggest you take a guide for R 50, so you will get a professional explanation about things happening on the grounds.
What we liked the most is that the management of the farm doesn't forget about the local community. They organize programmes for local families, schools from the area have free entry to educate kids, they exchange knowledge with other local farmers, support poor people by giving away their organic product and of course, support their employees.
We genuinely like the idea and hope we will be able to visit the Fazenda Bananal again in the future to see the results of reforestation which will be even more evident in a couple of years.
#8 TASTE CACHACA
Paraty is one of Brazil's most important regions for the production of cachaca, a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice. If you want to see the manufactory of cachaca from the very beginning, there is nothing more simple than to visit one of several distilleries close to Paraty. But to taste it, you don't need to go far from the town.
We sampled the sweet spirit in Pousada Literaria's restaurant, Quintal das Letras, but you can also buy a bottle in shops in the center. We liked not only the taste but also the story as the bottle we tasted got the name after a book Gabriela written by famous Brazilian writer Jose Amando.
We have put this book on our must-read list and will always have this book connected with a taste of this sweet spirit.
You can visit a distillery on a day tour.
# 9 KAYAK TO MANGROVES
Kayaking in Paraty is another water activity you can participate in, and it is a great way how to spend your time more actively.
By kayaking, approximately 30 minutes paddling away, you can explore nearby mangroves, other solitary beaches, small islands, and wildlife.
# 10 SHOPPING
If you want to bring home something original, come to Paraty. Plenty of shops all of them situated in cute colorful houses offer a large number of shopping possibilities. You can leisurely wander the streets and buy handmade clothes, original wooden-made handicrafts, or cachaca spirit.
But our favorite shop was only a couple of doors away from our accommodation, a perfectly-lit, spacious book store das Mares, which is, by the way, another property belonging to the lodging Pousada Literaria de Paraty.
#11 HEAD TO TRINDADE FOR A DAY
Trindade is a pretty village only 45 minutes by bus from Paraty.
Apart from the settlement itself which is worth checking, Trindade is home to several pristine beaches and natural pools. It is incredible how many beaches are close to Paraty, but the number has a big advantage. You will rarely find the hot spots around the town crowded.
To get to Trindade, go to the Terminal in Paraty, the bus leaves every hour on an hour or join a guided tour.
# 12 FINE DINING
When walking around Paraty, we couldn't overlook that the concentration of fancy looking restaurants with tempting menus was thicker than in other cities. Simply put, if you have been saving money to have a nice dinner in Brazil, Paraty might be a good spot where to splurge and enjoy an exceptional meal as there is a lot of places where you can eat more than well.
Because we were staying in Pousada Literaria de Paraty, we did not have to think much where to go for dinner.
The hotel restaurant, Quintal das Letras, belongs among the top restaurants in the town and the food here is truly outstanding.
Do you remember us talking about the farm you can visit when in Paraty, Fazenda Bananal? Well, this farm supplies this restaurant with fresh products so it ensures the quality and freshness will be at their highest, and we loved the feeling we exactly know where our food is coming from.
Overall, the friendly yet professional atmosphere, the food styling, and the food itself made our evening extraordinary.
Quintal das Letras is, of course, open for public as well, so if you are in a mood for a gourmet experience, do not hesitate to make a reservation.
# 13 ENJOY YOUR TIME IN LOVELY POUSADA
When looking for a place to stay in Paraty, you will soon find out that the town is dotted with many pousadas, some better than others, waiting impatiently for their guests. We enjoyed our time in the town to the fullest, and one of the reasons was the right choice of the place where we stayed at in Paraty, and we always couldn't wait, after the whole day spent outside, to be back in our retreat, Pousada Literaria de Paraty.
Location | Walking down the streets of Paraty for the first time when heading to our home away from home for the next four days, we instantly knew we are in for something special. Pousada Literaria de Paraty is located right in the historical center, in one of those whitewashed streets with many colorful details. After we checked in and went out for the first time, we soon found out that everything is in walking distance. Shops, beach, pier to hop on a boat, restaurants and coffee shops, everything was closer than we could ever wish for.
The Building | Do you know that feeling when walking around elegant houses in colonial cities, with doors wide open and you can only quickly peek from behind in hope you'll be able to see what is inside? We know the feeling very well, but here, in Paraty, we were lucky enough to see the inside of one of those mansions at last. We are still in awe when thinking of the Pousada Literaria de Paraty's building. From the outside the hotel looks inconspicuously, there is only a small sign announcing that the hotel is inside and nothing can prepare you how huge the property is. The pousada has a large courtyard which is lined with rooms spersed on two floors, front desk, breakfast restaurant & bar, spa and fitness facilities, library, and the center of the courtyard is occupied by a pool and deck chairs. It felt like we were staying in the oasis, in an entirely different and quiet world.
Library | It does not happen that often to us that we immediately click with a place, but it happened here, in Pousada Literaria de Paraty, and the credit for this expressly belongs to the library. We are both book lovers who read more than the average population and when back at home we were quite proud of the well-stocked library we had. Now you must understand why the library in Pousada Literaria became one of the favorite places to hang out. It is a stunning room with plenty of space to sit and open a book. It is no surprise why Pousada Literaria is the principal meeting point and the official hotel for the renowned Literary Festival of Paraty. When looking at the pictures, can you imagine a better place where to hold this event?
Breakfast & dining | Eating breakfast outside by the pool? Well, it is hard to resist. Buffet breakfast is included for all guests, so you will enjoy fresh juices, first quality coffee, and tea, fresh bread, sweet pastries, granola, freshly-cooked eggs, jams, ham, fruits, and our favorite cheese from the farm. They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and we certainly agree with that. When breakfast is over, you can enjoy this sheltered area near the pool and enjoy a spirit or two from a well-stocked bar and have lunch as well.
Rooms | There are different types of rooms in Pousada Literaria de Paraty, but all of them have one in common: they are carefully refurbished and decorated. We don't know about other rooms, but ours was just excellent. First of all, it was huge. The room was probably about the size of our former flat in Prague. When we entered the room, we were immediately blown away by numerous things attacking our senses at once. The dimension, another (now private) shelf with books, high ceiling, several lamps (the thing we are always missing in hotels), comfortable couch, waterfall shower, and especially the wooden floor in the bathroom which we keep as an inspiration for our future home. The large and comfortable bed was cherry on the top. Sometimes, in a spacious place like this one, wifi can be a tricky thing, but everything worked well for us.
Spa & Fitness Facilities | In Pousada Literaria de Paraty, we had a great opportunity to get back on track, and we used the fitness center every evening to gain a bit of our condition back (and to burn calories from the excellent breakfast, lunch, and dinner we were treated with). Apart from the fitness center, there is also a sauna and massage center for those looking for a more relaxed way how to spend time in Paraty.
Pool | We visited Paraty in February which is the hottest time of the year. Having a pool only a few steps away from our room came very handy then. And it is also pretty photogenic.
Staff | From the beginning until the end of our stay, all staff in the hotel went above and beyond their duties to make our visit pleasant. They answered all questions we had, the hotel's manager arranged a tour for us, and when we needed to stay one night longer because we did not want to travel to Rio de Janeiro after dark, she arranged it promptly for us. We found interesting that there were so many employees, it seemed that there is at least one person assigned for each individual task, so everything was clean, well taken care off and the whole our stay went smoothly - our room was always clean when we came from breakfast, driver was waiting for us when we wanted to get back from the farm to Paraty, and we could continue for long. Apparently, someone here knows how to manage a hotel.
HOW TO GET TO PARATY
Paraty is easily accessible from Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro.
There are five buses daily from Sao Paulo to Paraty, the bus ride takes six to seven hours and cost R 77 per person. The connection to and from Rio de Janeiro is much more common, approximately 12 buses a day, the bus ride takes five our, and the price for the ticket is R 75.
You can also reach Paraty by rental car, boat, but not by plane.
WHAT TO PACK FOR PARATY
Waterproof Dry Bag | This is a great waterproof daypack for all water activities.
Sunscreen | We used SPF 50+ every day in Brazil.
We've also written an in-depth South America packing list where you will find more useful tips and advice on what to pack.
This post was written in collaboration with Pousada Literaria de Paraty and Fazenda Bananal. As always, all opinions are our own.
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