Paraty, Rio de Janeiro: The Ultimate Guide

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The colourful town of Paraty, Rio de Janeiro is one of the prettiest in all of Brazil.  If you are planning a trip to the south-east region of the country, make sure you don’t miss Paraty.

Located only a few hours drive from Rio, this Portuguese colonial-era town is full of history, interesting architecture, and atmosphere.

The area around Paraty is also seriously beautiful, with world-class beaches, crystal-clear lagoons, waterfalls and thickly-forested mountains all on its doorstep.

There are many fantastic things to see and do in Paraty itself.  It’s also a great base from which you can explore the surrounding area, including the lush mata Atlantica (Atlantic forest) and the numerous excellent diving spots.

This guide contains everything you need to know to visit Paraty, RJ.  If you haven’t already been, start planning your trip!

** If you need a visa to visit Brazil, I recommend using iVisa.com.  Their online visa processing service is quick, secure, and easy to use. **

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Paraty, Brazil

Where Is Paraty, Rio de Janeiro?

Paraty is located at the southern tip of the state of Rio de Janeiro, in south-east Brazil.

The town is roughly halfway between the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo: about 230 kilometres (140 miles) south-west of the former, and 260 kilometres (160 miles) north-east of the latter.

Paraty’s natural setting is a true tropical paradise.  The town is sandwiched between the forested Bocaino Mountains of the Serra da Bocaina National Park and the Bay of Ilha Grande, dotted with idyllic tropical islands.

(Brief) History Of Paraty, RJ

Most historians think Paraty was founded in the 1500s, although the exact date is not clear.

By the early 18th century, large amounts of gold, diamonds and other precious materials had been discovered in the nearby state of Minas Gerais.  These needed to be transported from (landlocked) Minas Gerais to the port of Rio de Janeiro, and Paraty became an important stop along the route (known as the Caminho do Ouro/”Gold Trail”).

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Many of the buildings in Paraty’s historic centre were built during this period.

Later on, as Paraty grew in size, farming became more profitable and the town became famous for the production of high quality sugar and cachaça – the famous Brazilian distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice.  

From the 1830s, the area also became known for the production of coffee.  

However, by the late 1800s, the town had entered into decline.  A railway had been built to connect Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and Paraty had become far less important as a shipping port.  

As time went by, the town became forgotten by most.

However, in the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government started to promote Paraty as a destination for tourism, both domestically and internationally.  Today, people come here from all over the world to enjoy this fascinating and beautiful place.

Best Things To Do In Paraty, RJ

There are so many things to do in Paraty.  The following are some of the very best.

Explore the historical centre of Paraty

Paraty’s historical centre is a network of cobblestoned streets and beautiful old buildings.  Wandering through its streets feels like stepping back in time.

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Historical centre of Paraty, Brazil

This UNESCO World Heritage site contains some of the best-preserved examples of Portuguese colonial architecture anywhere in the world.  

The whitewashed buildings are decorated with beautifully painted, colourful doors and windows.  Many have elegant courtyards, with fountains, flowers and ornately carved wooden balconies.  

The cobbled streets are pedestrian-only, which adds to the atmosphere and calmness of the place.  These streets were designed by the Portuguese to occasionally flood with very high tides, which naturally keeps them spotlessly clean.

Paraty’s old waterfront contains a traditional fishing harbour.  It’s a peaceful, timeless place to explore.  You can sit and watch the boats going in and out, while fishermen sort through their catches.

Santa Rita church (Igreja de Santa Rita) is the oldest church in Paraty, built in 1722.  Today, its baroque interior houses the Museum of Sacred Art, which contains important artefacts made from various materials, including silver, wood and clay.  (Entrance to the museum is free on Tuesdays.)

Restaurants in Paraty

Many of Paraty’s best restaurants are found in the historical centre.

For an authentic (and delicious) taste of the local cuisine, try to get a reservation at Banana da Terra.  They serve traditional local dishes, often with a modern and innovative twist.  Try their regional specialities:  prawns marinated in cachaça and grilled over an open fire.  Or cod roasted with plantain.  Excellent food, wine and service – highly recommended!

Other good options include Sarau (traditional Brazilian), Refúgio (amazing seafood), and Thai Brasil (excellent and interesting Brazilian/Thai fusion).

Most restaurants in the centre have seating inside and outside.  The atmosphere is usually casual, friendly and fun – it’s Brazil after all :).

Taste (& buy) cachaça

Brazil’s national drink, cachaça is a spirit distilled from fermented sugarcane juice.  It’s comparable to rum, although does have a distinct taste.

Cachaça is the main ingredient in a caipirinha, the national cocktail.  It’s a delicious (and very boozy) blend of cachaça, sugar and fresh lime.

Paraty is famous for producing some of the best cachaça in all of Brazil.

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Armazém da Cachaça

The best place to buy the stuff in Paraty is Armazém da Cachaça.  This amazing shop has a huge selection of locally made cachaça in colourful bottles stacked from floor to ceiling.  

It’s a great place to buy souvenirs and presents.  The staff are friendly and will let you taste a few different types.  They also run tasting workshops from time to time.

For a Paraty speciality, try Gabriela cachaça (green bottle, far left in the photo above), which is infused with cloves and cinnamon.  This tastes fantastic sipped by itself, but can also be combined with lime and passion fruit to make a Jorge Amado, a signature cocktail unique to Paraty.

Go shopping

For all of your non-alcohol-related shopping needs, Paraty has a range of interesting shops and artisan workshops.  

Here you can buy everything from handmade clothes to pottery, jewellery and bed linen.

Paraty is also a popular hangout for artists, who come here from all over Brazil.  You can browse the various galleries, and maybe buy something if anything takes your fancy.

Drink amazing coffee

Brazil produces some of the best coffee in the world, although you can’t always find it everywhere you go in the country.

Happily, this isn’t the case in Paraty.

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Drinking amazing coffee is one of my favourite things to do in Paraty, Brazil

For one of the best coffees you will probably ever drink, head to Montañita Cafés Especiais.

Located in the heart of the historical centre of town, this tiny family-owned cafe and roastery specialises in top-quality Brazilian coffee.

It’s a great place to sit, have a chat over coffee, and watch the world go by.

You can also buy beans to take home (again, excellent presents).  The staff are friendly and very knowledgeable.  They can advise you of the best beans to get, depending on the style of coffee you prefer.

Coffee lovers (or anyone who knows one), don’t miss this place!

Hire a kayak & explore the Jabaquara mangroves

Jabaquara is a relaxed beachfront area located an easy 20 minute walk north of the historical centre of Paraty.

As well as having many pousadas, beachfront restaurants and bars, Jabaquara is a popular place for kayaking and paddleboarding.

Here you can hire a kayak and paddle in the calm waters of Paraty Bay.

Just north of Jabaquara beach (Praia do Jabaquara) is a thick mangrove forest which is only really accessible from the water.  Exploring this lush swampy wilderness makes a great day activity.  

Keep your eyes out for wildlife.  The mangroves are home to many species of colourful fish, crabs, starfish, turtles, and tropical birds.

A little further along the coast, you will find Saquinho do Corumbê.  This sheltered bay has calm, crystal-clear water and is an excellent spot for swimming and snorkelling.

If you’d like to go on a multi-day sea kayaking expedition, Paraty Explorer offers excellent adventure tours.  These can take you to deserted beaches and islands, allowing you to explore stunning hidden spots along the gorgeous Costa Verde.

Beaches near Paraty, Brazil

Beach lovers are spoilt for choice in the area surrounding Paraty, RJ.

Many of these are located on the small islands that are dotted around Paraty Bay.  Some others, even though they are on the mainland, are only accessible by boat.

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Beaches near Paraty, RJ - beautiful even on a cloudy day

Praia do Pontal is the closest beach to the historical centre.  It’s not the prettiest beach in the area, and isn’t particularly good for swimming as the sand can be a little muddy.  However, it’s located minutes from the centre of town and has many kiosks and popup bars selling food and drinks along the water’s edge.  It’s a popular spot with locals who come here to have a drink and watch the sunset.

Praia da Barra do Corumbê is located just along from Saquinho do Corumbê (see above section).  This beach is popular with families, and has a range of pousadas, restaurants and bars.  Corumbeer restaurant has a seawater swimming pool right on the beach.

However, the most beautiful beaches in the area require a little more effort to reach.

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Awesome beaches near Paraty, Brazil

Praia do Cão Morto is located about 30 kilometres (19 miles) north of Paraty.  This stunning beach is a curving ribbon of golden, soft sand, with a backdrop of mountains and lush Atlantic forest.  

If you have your own car, this beach is simple to reach from Paraty.  However, regular buses run along the coastal highway, so it’s still fairly straightforward to reach either way.

Praia da Lula is equally beautiful, though more secluded and slightly harder to reach.  Located at the end of a thin finger of land within the Cairuçu Environmental Protection Area, this beach is accessible only by boat (easily arranged in Paraty).  

Beware though that in peak tourist season (December-March), Praia da Lula and many of the other beaches in the area can become a little crowded, especially at weekends.

If you’re up for travelling a little further, one of my favourite beaches in the world – Praia da Almada, is a 50 minute drive from Paraty.

World-class diving

Brazil has more than its fair share of world-class diving spots.  Some of the best of these are close to Paraty.

There are many incredible places to dive in the area, whether you are a beginner or an experienced diver.  The calm, clear waters of Ilha Grande bay also make this a perfect place to learn to dive.

Dive Paraty is a well-regarded local company offering various diving tours and PADI certification courses.  Their office is located on Av. Roberto Silveira, in the historical centre of Paraty.

With so many amazing things to see below the surface, you’ll want to take lots of photos.  Check out this post reviewing the best cheap underwater cameras.

Hike in the Serra da Bocaina National Park

With the Serra da Bocaina National Park on its doorstep, the area around Paraty is also fantastic for hiking.

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The Serra da Bocaina covers over 110,000 hectares (270,000 acres) of thick jungle, forested mountains and lush valleys.  There are many excellent hiking trails, where you can explore caves, waterfalls, and picturesque villages along the way.  

The area is also a nature reserve home to a wide and diverse range of local wildlife.  Sloths, jaguars, armadillos, howler monkeys, and various species of exotic birds (including toucans) all live in the forest.  Keep an eye out for these beautiful animals.

There are several excellent day walks in the Graúna area just outside Paraty.  You will probably need either a car or a bicycle (which you can rent in town) to get there from the centre of Paraty.

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Hiking near Paraty, Brazil

For those looking for a challenging multi-day trekking adventure, the Trilha do Ouro (Gold Trail) is a 43 kilometre (28 mile) hiking trail starting in the town of São José do Barreiro.  This follows a section of the original route used to transport gold, diamonds and (later) coffee from Minas Gerais to Rio de Janeiro.

It takes 3-4 days to hike the length of the Trilha do Ouro trail.  For more information about this hike, see here.

Visit Trindade

Trindade is a laid-back beach town located 25 kilometres (16 miles) south of Paraty, Rio de Janeiro.

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It has an alternative, slightly hippie vibe, and is popular with locals of all ages.

There are several beaches here, with bars serving fresh seafood and drinks.  The centre of the town (it’s more of a village really) has a range of reasonably-priced restaurants and pousadas.

This is another area with some great hiking trails, passing through thick forest and leading to waterfalls, natural pools, unusual rock formations, and secluded beaches.

Slide down waterfalls

There are many waterfalls in the dense jungles surrounding Paraty.

Some of these have pools where you can swim.  Others have natural waterslides which end in deep plunge-pools.  Some people try to “surf” down, though it’s much easier just to go down on your back!

One of the best-known and most popular of these is Cachoeira do Tobogã (also known as Cachoeira da Penha).  It’s located near the village of Penha, about 9 kilometres (6 miles) from Paraty, along RJ-165.

You can visit this waterfall – and others – as part of an organised tour.  However, I’d recommend just hiring a mountain bike and heading up by yourself.  Then you can travel and explore the various pools and falls in the area at your own pace.

If you prefer, there’s also a bus that goes from Paraty to Penha.  From there, you can walk to Cachoeira do Tobogã.

Take a boat trip

While it can feel a little touristy, taking a boat trip from Paraty is one of the easiest ways to see many of the area’s most beautiful spots in one day.

These tours can usually be booked through your hotel/pousada.  Alternatively, you could just head down to the port and chat with some of the boat operators yourself.  (This usually makes it cheaper, especially if they don’t already have lots of other customers.)

Tours typically last for half a day or so, and take in several of the well-known beaches, islands and other beauty spots, including Praia da Lula, Praia de Santa Rita, and Praia Vermelha.

Most boats have snorkels and will stop in a lagoon to let you swim with the local marine life.

Trips run year-round.  Discounts are usually available off season (September-November and April-June).

Practical Information & Tips For Visiting Paraty, RJ

How to get to Paraty

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Paraty is roughly halfway between the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.  You can easily travel from either of these cities to Paraty in half a day.

The nearest international airport to Paraty is Rio de Janeiro, so if you’re arriving from outside of Brazil, this is probably the way you will come.

From Rio, the distance is about 230 kilometres (140 miles).  From São Paulo it’s about 260 kilometres (160 miles).

There are many buses from both cities to Paraty.  These take around 4 hours from Rio and 6 hours from São Paulo (that road is slower).  See here for more information on how to get to Paraty by bus.

Hiring your own car from either Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo and driving yourself to Paraty would be my personal recommendation.  Just bear in mind that the historical centre of Paraty is pedestrianised.  If your accommodation is there, you will need to ask them the best place to park your car.

Car hire in Brazil is relatively cheap, hassle-free and (despite what TripAdvisor would have you believe) safe.  This option would also give you more flexibility with time, and also allow you to explore other areas in the region.

Getting around Paraty

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As mentioned above, the historical centre of Paraty is a car-free zone.  It’s relatively compact and easily walkable.

If you’d like to venture a bit further out from the centre (e.g. to get to some of the better beaches, and/or the waterfalls), you can hire a bicycle from many locations in town.  Ask your hotel/pousada for a recommendation.

Alternatively, if you decided to hire a car to get to Paraty, you can use that to explore the surrounding area.

Where to stay in Paraty, Brazil

As with most towns in Brazil, there’s no shortage of pousadas (small family-owned guesthouses) in Paraty.  Most of these are high-quality and good value for money.

I can personally recommend Pousada do Ouro.  It has comfortable, spacious rooms, and a great location in the heart of the historical centre.  Spread across a few buildings and a couple of courtyards, it is atmospheric and attractively decorated.  The staff are friendly and helpful, and they offer a great breakfast.

Alternatively, check out Pousada Corsario.  This peaceful guesthouse is a short walk from the centre, on the banks of the river, and also comes highly recommended.

You’ll find a decent range of Airbnbs in Paraty, although most of these are located outside of the historical centre.

Le Gite d'Indaiatiba

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For a really special experience, consider staying at Le Gite d’Indaiatiba.  This is honestly one of the most incredible places I have ever stayed.

Built over 30 years ago by a French and Brazilian couple, this stunning pousada-cum-eco-lodge is nestled in the foothills of the Serra da Bocaina, surrounded by 40 hectares (100 acres) of thick Atlantic forest.

There are several cozy, secluded bungalows and private suites, each full of character.  The lounge/dining room and main terrace offers breathtaking views down over the valley all the way to Ilha Grande bay.  All of the buildings are connected by a series of steps and walkways through the jungle.

The owners are proud of their log fire-heated sauna, built next to a natural plunge pool at the base of a little waterfall.  There is also a swimming pool and many tracks and walking paths through the jungle.

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Olivier’s exceptional French/Brazilian fusion cooking is reason enough to visit.  His on-site restaurant is well-known among foodies, who come from all over south-eastern Brazil to eat here.  Many dishes incorporate a range of produce grown in the gardens and in the surrounding forest, as well as fresh local fish and seafood.

If you have time, I’d recommend spending a few nights here and also a few nights in the centre of Paraty, so you can enjoy both places.

Just bear in mind, Le Gite d’Indaiatiba is situated 16 kilometres (10 miles) outside of Paraty.  You will probably need your own car if you stay here (unless you want to organise taxis each way whenever you go out).

How many days should you spend in Paraty?

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You could see most of the sites in Paraty itself in two days.

However, there are many beautiful places located just outside the town.  So I’d definitely recommend spending a few extra days in the area so you don’t miss out on these.

Personally, I’d suggest booking somewhere in the historical centre (see above) for three nights.  Then maybe spend another three nights somewhere just outside of the town (e.g. Le Gite d’Indaiatiba).  

That way, you’d get to enjoy most of the highlights of the town and many in the surrounding area.

Best time to visit Paraty, Rio de Janeiro

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You can visit Paraty any time of year.

That said, Brazil’s summer months (December-March) tend to be the hottest as well as the busiest time of year.  This is carnival season, the atmosphere is at its most lively, and you’ll find parties most places you go.

However, you may struggle to find accommodation during these months unless you book well in advance.  Prices also tend to be higher during the summer.

If you’d prefer to visit when it’s a little cooler, cheaper and less busy, consider coming in either spring (September-October) or autumn (April-June).

Is Paraty safe?

Is Paraty safe?  The short answer is yes, as long as you are sensible.

Rightfully or wrongfully, it’s undeniable that Brazil does have a reputation for violent crime.  Thankfully, Paraty is one of the safest tourist-friendly destinations in the country.  You can walk around most parts of the town (including the main central historic centre) at all hours of the day and night.

Of course, as with everywhere, you should still have your wits about you.  

Don’t wander around carrying obviously expensive-looking jewellery.  Avoid using noise-cancelling headphones, typing into your phone, and walking along the street all at the same time.  Try to keep your camera concealed whenever possible.  At night, stick to well-lit streets where possible.  Don’t get blackout drunk and try to walk home by yourself.

But these are sensible precautions to take whether you are in Paraty, London, San Francisco, Paris, Cairo, or any other major city or town.  As long as you don’t make yourself look like an obvious target for crime, the chances are you will be totally fine.

That said, the southern districts of Mangueira and Ilha das Cobras do suffer from gang violence from time to time, so it’s best to avoid these areas, especially at night.  However, the rest of the town is very safe.

Have you been to Paraty, Rio de Janeiro?  Let me know your favourite things to do there in the comments below.

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