About 300km from Rio on the BR-101 is the Costa Verde’s main attraction, the town of PARATY. Inhabited since 1650, the centre of Paraty (or, officially, Vila de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios de Paraty) has remained fundamentally unaltered since its heyday as a staging post for the eighteenth-century trade in Brazilian gold, passing from Minas Gerais to Portugal. Before Portuguese settlement, the land had been occupied by the Guaianá Indians, and the gold routes followed the old Indian trails down to Paraty and its sheltered harbour. Inland raids and pirate attacks necessitated the establishment of a new route linking Minas Gerais directly with Rio, and, as trade was diverted to the bigger city, Paraty’s fortunes declined. Apart from a short-lived boom in the nineteenth century of coffee shipping and the production of cachaça, Paraty remained hidden away off the beaten track, intact but quietly stagnating. Nowadays, however, Paraty is very much alive; UNESCO considers it one of the world’s most important examples of Portuguese colonial architecture, and the entire city has the status of a national monument.
Paraty is a perfect place simply to wander aimlessly, each turn of the corner bringing another picturesque view. The town’s small enough that there’s no danger of getting lost and, no matter what time of day or night, you can feel confident about your safety. Additionally, there are several buildings worth seeking out if you don’t happen to come across them.
Keeping yourself amused while visiting Paraty should be no problem, even if you quickly exhaust the possibilities of the town itself. From the Praia do Pontal on the other side of the Perequé-Açu River, and from the port quay, schooners leave for the beaches of Paraty-Mirim, Jurumirim, Lula and Picinguaba. In fact, there are 65 islands and about two hundred beaches to choose from, and anyone can tell you which are the current favourites. Tickets for trips out to the islands, typically costing R$30 per person, leave Paraty at noon, stop at three or four islands for swimming opportunities and return at 6pm. These trips can be pretty rowdy affairs, with the larger boats capable of carrying several dozen people and usually blaring out loud music. Alternatively, for around R$250 (or R$150 in the low season) you can easily charter a small fishing boat suitable for three to five passengers.
You can reach some of the mainland beaches by road – ask at the tourist office for details of bus times. If you’re really feeling energetic, you can hire a mountain bike for R$35 a day from Paraty Tours at Av. Roberto Silveira 11, who also supply maps marked with suggested itineraries covering beaches, mountains or forests. They can also arrange car rental for around R$140 a day.
Seventeen kilometres southwest of Paraty, including 8km along an unpaved road (which should be avoided following heavy rains), is Paraty-Mirim, an attractive bay with calm water ideal for swimming. There are six buses each day from Paraty, with a journey time of about 45 minutes. Although there are a couple of bars serving food, there’s nowhere to stay at the beach. Roughly halfway between the beach and the main road, however, is the Vila Volta (t 24/9815-7689, w www.vilavolta.com.br; R$121-180), a rustic but comfortable pousada run by a Dutch and Brazilian couple; here you’ll find a friendly reception, an extremely peaceful setting, excellent Dutch-Indonesian-Brazilian food, trails and natural swimming pools.
Some of the best beaches are near the village of Trindade, 21km southwest of Paraty and reached by a steep, but good, winding road (7 buses daily; 45min). Sandwiched between the ocean and Serra do Mar, Trindade has reached the physical limits of growth, the dozens of inexpensive pousadas, holiday homes, camping sites, bars and restaurants crammed with tourists in the peak summer season. The main beach is nice enough, but you’re better off walking away from the village across the rocky outcrops to Praia Brava or Praia do Meio, where the only signs of development on what are some of the most perfect mainland beaches on this stretch of coast are simply a few bars. The best (though hardly luxurious) place to stay is the Pousada do Pelé (t 24/3371-5125; R$121–260), which is situated right on the beach and has rooms that sleep two to four people. There are numerous modest pousadas slightly back from the beach, all with private bathrooms: try the Agua do Mar (t 24/3371-5210; R$121-180), the Pouso Trindade (t 24/3371-5121; R$71-120), or the Ponta da Trindade (t 24/3371-5113; R$71-120), which also has space to pitch a tent.
Another good way to see a bit of the landscape is to drive, cycle or catch a bus from Paraty’s rodoviária, following the Cunha road up into the Serra do Mar. The easiest place to head for is at Km 4, where there’s a well-signposted side road leading 900m to the Fazenda Murycana (daily 10am–6pm; R$5), a farm complex that dates back to the seventeenth century. As well as a farm, Murycana originally served as an inn for travellers on the Caminho do Ouro and also as a toll post where the royal tax of twenty percent on goods was levied. The restored buildings can be visited, the most interesting being the slightly ramshackle, yet still attractive, casa grande, now a museum. There’s a restaurant serving typical country food (R$25 per person), and you can taste and purchase the fazenda’s famous, but poor-quality, cachaça and liquors. Horse riding is offered, as are a number of adventure sports such as canopy walking in the surrounding forest. Be sure to note, however, that this is one of the most popular excursions and the fazenda can get unpleasantly crowded, especially at lunchtime, with the arrival of tour groups.
Continuing up the Cunha road to Km 6, you’ll spot signs pointing to the Cachoeira das Penhas, a waterfall up in the mountains that offers a chance to bake on the sun-scorched rocks of the river gully and then cool off in the river. From here you can descend from rock to rock for a few hundred metres before scrambling up to a road above you. About 2km along the road, just across a small bridge, you’ll enter Ponte Branca where, at the far end of the village, overlooking the river, is the Ponte Branca restaurant, where you can take a break and enjoy a cold drink. The easy walk from the waterfall takes you through the hills and valleys, and past tropical-fruit plantations – all very pleasant. If you don’t have your own transport, you’ll probably manage to get a lift back to Paraty from the restaurant or you can wait by the Cunha road for a bus.