By Fiona Hurrell, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Continually ranking in the list of top ten South American cities, Rio de Janeiro is a heaving metropolis of sun-drenched sands, lively samba bars and rich colonial history. Nevertheless, the constant hustle and bustle of the city can prove too much even for the most devoted Carioca. When quiet rest and relaxation is the order of the day, head for the undisturbed peace and quiet of Ilha de Paquetá.
Just one hour by boat from Centro, the tiny island of Paqueta lies in the tranquil waters of Guanabara Bay. Part of the state of Rio de Janeiro, it measures just 1.2 km in diameter and eight km in circumference, roughly the size of the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas.
In order to preserve its natural and historical feel, cars are not allowed on the island. Consequently there are no proper roads, instead the streets are covered with a layer of dirt or gravel and are traveled either on foot, by bike or in a horse drawn carriage.
Despite its size, Ilha de Paquetá has a rich and complex history. It was once used by the Tamoio Indians as both a hunting and living ground until the 15th century when it was officially registered by King Henry II of France as a French discovery.
Later, under Portuguese rule, the island was largely inhabited by rich land owners and their slaves, producing a vast amount of fruit and vegetables, as well as stone and timber used for construction on the mainland.
Paqueta is home to at least twenty baobabs, a type of African tree and one of the only groups found in Brazil. One of these trees, named Maria Gorda (Fat Maria) due to its size, is said to be lucky. Legend has it that if you kiss the 1,628 year old trunk before making a wish, that wish will come true.
The island’s rural setting and small, scenic bays are what attract so many Cariocas and their families every weekend. Praia da Guarda is a large sand covered beach to the east of the island, although many small coves are tucked away, affording greater privacy for bathers.
There are four hotels on the island and a number of bars, restaurants and kiosks serving simple, traditional food at very reasonable prices.
Camila Freidman, a resident of Rio de Janeiro, is a regular visitor to Ilha de Paquetá. “I really like coming here. It is like a small village inside the city, its own little community in the sea. Absolutely wonderful.”
As well as its many praias (beaches), Paqueta is also home to some equally attractive praças (parks), cultivated to display beautiful flowers and lush green grass. It is not hard to see why this tiny island has served as a source of inspiration for many artists and writers over the years.
Italian painter Pedro Paulo Bruno immortalized the island in his many works of art. Consequently, a bust erected in his honor sits in the praça pintura Pedro Bruno, looking out at his beloved island. Art lovers can see some of the island’s exhibits displayed at the Casa de Artes in the northern corner of Paqueta.
The name Paqueta means many caves and thanks to its natural resources, the island has long been a breeding ground and dwelling place for much of Brazil’s wildlife. Small mammals such as opossums and bats, marine life and wild birds all form colonies here, protected and sheltered by the rich landscape.
Ilha de Paquetá, though renowned for its peace and quiet, can get busy at weekends as many Cariocas descend upon it. The best time to visit is during the week when the beaches and coves are practically deserted, offering a true insight into what life is like on this island in the sun.