By Hakan Almerfors, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – First discovered in the 16th century, the colonial history of Paraty (also written Parati) really starts in the 17th century when the Portuguese first constructed a church and larger houses. When it was mandated that all merchant shipping from the the colony of Brazil to Portugal must pass through Rio de Janeiro, Paraty boomed. The so called “gold trail” connected the town with the rich gold mines in Minas Gerais, and tax incomes soared. Sadly a turbulent period of naval battles and piracy followed, and when the gold reserves became depleted in the late 18th century, so did the importance of Paraty.
The slave trade continued in the area for the cultivation of the ever growing coffee plantations. In Paraty itself, the production of cachaça (the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in Brazil – used in the Caipirinha – the national drink) grew to significant proportions, with over 150 distilleries in the area. The cachaça production dried up with competition from industrial distillers though – today there is only a little production from micro distilleries, all considered of high quality. With the end of the slave trade and cachaça production the importance of Paraty disappeared, and the town remained untouched for years.
When a road was built connecting it to the city of São Paulo it was re-discovered, this time as a tourist destination. The buildings had been left almost untouched for the last century and Brazilians came to experience a place frozen in time. In 1973 the Rio de Janeiro-Santos highway was inaugurated, and tourism soared. Today it is one of the more popular tourist destinations in Brazil.
Old buildings, plenty of churches and streets paved with immense stones make for a picturesque experience. Paraty offers stores with handicraft, lots of good restaurants and bars with live music. One of the more famous occurrences is the flooding of the streets – Portuguese engineers deliberately constructed Paraty so that the high tide could enter the streets at full moon, thus cleaning them and taking the garbage out to sea.
There is lots to do in Paraty other than admire the old architecture, shop and relax. There are several festivals, one of the more famous is Festa Literária Internacional de Parati (FLIP) which is an international literature festival held every year in July. Worth a mention is also the Festival da Pinga – dedicated to cachaça. There is also quite a thriving culture scene with a puppet theater and many small events occurring year-round.
When it comes to outdoor activities Paraty provides many great options. There are plenty of waterfalls in the region, perhaps most notable are Tobogã (which is like a big natural water slide), and the absolutely stunning Pedra Branca. These can be reached on different tours or by car or motorbike. Paraty also offers horseback riding – where you will pass rivers and waterfalls as well as old farms and jungle.
The many islands just outside Paraty are reachable on various boat tours, and there are a few diving schools in town, with the very calm and clear conditions make it a good place to learn. There are also countless beaches in close proximity to town. Quite a few agencies arrange all the outdoors activities mentioned above. Go to Paraty.com for a list of agencies, as well as options for accommodation.
The Costa Verde bus company operates the stretch Rio de Janeiro-Paraty. The duration of the ride is about 4 hours, for itinerary check site Costa Verde.
Hakan Almerfors is Swedish and has been living in Rio de Janeiro since 2003. He has been working with tourists ever since, in 2007 he created the Rio travel information site Gringo-Rio.com