Paraty first emerged as a tiny port town in the early 1700s as a consequence of the gold boom in neighboring Minas Gerais. An ancient Guaianá Indian trail was widened into a route used to transport extravagant quantities of gold through the Serra do Mar mountains and down to Paraty, from where it was shipped to Portugal.
Over the next century, Paraty grew into a modest, yet stately town. Its cobblestoned streets filled up with single-story whitewashed mansions—with colorfully painted windows and doors—and austere but lovely churches. However, over time, numerous bandit raids and pirate attacks led to the building of a new gold route linking Minas directly with the city of Rio. As a consequence, Paraty’s importance declined.
Over the next two centuries, the town slowly fell into oblivion, its lovely architecture faded and frozen in time. In fact, until 1954, the only way to reach Paraty was by boat. In 1960, the town was connected to both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo by the BR-101 (Rio–Santos) highway, and in 1966, its historical center was declared a national monument. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that Paraty began to attract a small trickle of hippies and artists, who were drawn to this perfectly preserved colonial jewel.
In subsequent years, the town blossomed into a cosmopolitan place. Artists and entrepreneurs from around the globe transformed its 18th- and 19th-century houses into private homes and ateliers, boutiques, cafés, restaurants, and hotels, which in turn lured a steady stream of weekenders from Rio and São Paulo, as well as international tourists and, more recently, an alternative GLS crowd.
As a result, Paraty boasts a particularly vibrant cultural and gastronomic scene. Although during the summer Paraty can get quite busy, it has managed to stave off the mass hysteria and upscale trendiness of other resort towns such as Búzios. During off-season, the town is sleepier without being dull, and it is easier to soak up its seductive atmosphere.
Urban charms aside, the surrounding region holds numerous natural attractions. Close by are dozens of gorgeously primitive beaches and deserted islands as well as the majestic Serra do Mar mountain range, its unspoiled tropical forest punctuated with refreshing waterfalls.
Getting to Paraty
Viação Costa Verde (tel. 24/3371-1326, www.costaverdetransportes.com.br) offers bus service between Rio and Paraty, with 8–9 buses daily. The 236-kilometer (147-mile) journey takes four hours. Viação Reunidas (tel. 24/3371-2090, www.reunidas.com.br) offers bus service between São Paulo and Paraty, with four buses daily. The 330-kilometer (205-mile) journey takes six hours. The bus station (rodoviária is 500 meters from the centro histórico.
By car from Rio, simply follow the BR-101, the Rio–Santos highway.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition