the gold stops here
Thinking about going to Rio de Janiero? Why not try for something a little smaller, a little cozier, and a little more colonial. The coastal city of Paraty (par-ah-chee) is about a three hour drive from Rio and is thus easily accessed by bus, taxi or van from the airport. Paraty rests on a natural bay on Brazil's Costa Verde (green coast). The bay is protected from waves surrounded by coastal mountains, and spotted with so many small islands that one feels planted in the middle of a Pirates of the Caribbean scene. The waters and sands of Paraty are not the typical images of sprawling sands covered with sun bathing bodies. The beaches are shallower, dotted with shade trees, and offer more than an arm's length of personal space between you and the sun-bathing Brazilian next to you. But more than the beach, more than the private jungle swimming with pool-side monkeys, more than the five-hour boat cruise through the bay with quick blue-water dips, is the fact that Paraty is an historically preserved colonial town complete with original cobble stone streets, Portuguese tiled and painted buildings, and an overall feeling in the air whispering that you have been transported back in time, and if you just look over your shoulder, there will be a majestic caravel sailing off the port with its bounty of Brazilian gold. How romantic. Just keep the murderous pirates out of your fantasy.
Paraty was "founded" by the Portuguese in 1667. The original inhabitants were the Guaianás Indians, but the Portuguese felt their need for a gold port was slightly more relevant than a complete way of life. However, in well-known Portuguese courtesy, the original name of the region was kept. Paraty, which in the Tupi language means "river of fish", became the destination exit port for gold mined in Minas Gerais (view story on Ouro Preto). Today, Paraty is an historically preserved heritage site with a down town reserved only for pedestrians willing to navigate the uneven hand-size cobble stone alleys puddled with sea water and the occasional crawling crab.
We arrived in Paraty at night, after a six hour drive (four hours under good conditions) from Sao Paulo through the foggy Serra do Mar, the coastal mountains that separate the sea level from the upper plains, and the never-ending stretch of coastal high way through machine-gun rain. With nerves wrecked (Brazilian rain can kill, and it often does), we entered the town through stone gates. Priceless. The rain trickled off as we made it through the city center toward "pousada avenue" as it appeared. There is no lack of lodging in this vacationer's destination. Of the some one hundred pousadas, the Brazilian equivalent to the bed & breakfast, out destination was Eliconial Pousada & Spa (website); a paradise inside of paradise already. A private pool surrounded by palm trees and tropical vegetation and visiting monkeys. Each room is fashioned as a miniature suite complete with kitchen and private bathroom. The private secluded atmosphere is undoubtedly one of the strongest features of the place, as are the welcoming staff typically Brazilian breakfast served each morning. Eliconial, and the majority of other pousadas in Paraty, are within walking distance (about 3 minutes) of the beach and of the downtown (about 20 minutes).
The best way to explore Paraty and it's breathtaking bay are to first simply stroll through the historic down town on your way to the port, and then jump on one of the many boats ready and waiting to take you on a cruise through the bay's many coves and miniature islands. A boat ride through the bay is undoubtedly the number one must-do in Paraty. The rides are extremely affordable, between 20 and 4o reais per person for a four to five hour cruise. Mine, however, was free as i was on my honeymoon. Remember that tid bit. The dock is packed with an immeasurable number of schooners (escunas) and their crew calling-out for customers. Choose whichever appeals most to you, however, i recommend "The Name of the Rose," (O Nome da Rosa) a comfortable and friendly schooner whose crew lead you on a five-hour tour to numerous islands and inlets, anchoring for blue-water swimming dips straight off the boat and a snorkeling dive to view any willing sea life. Many of the locations visited are only possible via boat, so don't miss out. My husband and i both agree that lounging on the deck of boat while sailing through the warm blue-green waters was the biggest highlight of the trip.
As far as food goes, Rio de Janeiro does not have as distinct a regional food as say Mineira cuisine (from Minas Gerais). However, when in Paraty, take advantage of the fresh seafood. If the area is crowded by pousadas, it is overrun by restaurants. Aside from tourism and art shops, the down town hosts no less than three restaurants on every street. The atmosphere is not unlike the nightlife in Paris' Latin Quarter, complete with a variety of gelato (sorveteria) shops to make the cobble stone walk after dinner a little sweeter.
Visit the churches, view some local art, read up on some of the town's history, buy a t-shirt--but when you're ready to relax, grab a towel and a coconut water, and plant yourself under a palm on the beach and just enjoy the beauty around you. I could not have wished for anywhere better for my honeymoon. History, beach, privacy- paradise on earth.
upcoming: my new kitchen