Paraty ’s compact centro histórico is considered by UNESCO to be one of the world’s most outstanding examples of Portuguese colonial architecture. Although the streets are laid out on a grid plan, the uniformity of the bleached houses coupled with streets’ multiple names can make it somewhat of a challenge to find your bearings.
The crazily paved streets—constructed by slaves out of large irregular stones known as pés-de-moleque (“street kids’ feet”)—mean that vehicles can’t circulate, but also makes getting around treacherous for those with disabilities or sporting high heels.
During high tide, the sea actually swallows up some of the streets closest to the port, temporarily transforming them into tropically Venetian canals. While tides and rainwater can leave the streets slippery, they also keep them clean.
The best way to explore Paraty is by wandering around at random. Among the town’s most handsome sobrados (mansions) is the Casa de Cultura (Rua Dona Geralda 177, tel. 24/3371-2325, 10 a.m.–6:30 p.m. Wed.–Mon., R$5). Built in 1758, it hosts cultural events and has a permanent exhibition tracing Paraty’s history.
Several baroque churches are also particularly interesting. The town’s oldest church, Igreja de Santa Rita dos Pardos Libertos (Largo de Santa Rita, tel. 24/3371-1620, 9 a.m.–noon and 2–5 p.m. Wed.–Sun.) dates from 1722. Built by freed slaves, its interior houses a small collection of religious artifacts.
Constructed a few years later, Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário (Rua do Comércio, 9 a.m.–noon and 1:30–5 p.m. Wed.–Sun.) was built by and for Paraty’s slave population. Despite its simplicity, it is the only church in town with gold decoration on its altars (added in the 20th century).
Paraty ’s principal and most grandiose church, Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora de Remédios (Praça da Matriz, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily) was where the bourgeoisie worshipped. Outside, on the Praça Matriz, there is a small daily crafts market selling local handicrafts. Meanwhile, the town’s aristocrats held their services in the late-18th-century Igreja Nossa Senhora das Dores (Rua Fresca, 1–5 p.m. daily), with a privileged view of the sea (and access to cooling breezes).
Beyond the centro histórico, take a 15-minute walk past Praia do Pontal to the Forte Defensor Perpétuo (9 a.m.–noon and 2–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun., R$1). Crowning the Morro da Vila Velha, this fortress was built in 1703 to protect Paraty’s gold from being hijacked by pirates. Restored in 1822, it houses a small museum with a display of local artisanal objects as well as a store selling handicrafts.