Paraty — a link to Brazil’s colonial heritage

By Deanna Palić

by Deanna Palic (Second of two parts. Go to part one)

History abounds at every turn

The town of Paraty, a colonial relic and truly a work of art, has been declared a national monument. The 30 small blocks that comprise its historic center are lined with fine examples of Portuguese colonial architecture. Buildings cannot be higher than two stories. Visitors with mobility limitations would have problems here due to the irregular, rounded cobblestones used in paving the streets. Its unique churches were built by freed slaves and separately for each race (Indian, black and white).

The Santa Rita church, constructed in 1722 for freed slaves, today functions as Paraty’s Museum of Sacred Art. Photos: Palic

The name Paraty was at one time synonymous with the economic importance of its sugarcane mills (it used to have over 250 distilleries). It is said that Brazil’s best cachaça, also called pinga, a potent sugarcane liquor, comes from this area. A popular drink, the caipirinha, is made from cachaça, sugar and lots of crushed quartered limes, all served over ice.

In the 18th century, Paraty was a prosperous port for shipping gold and precious stones that had been carried there on horseback from the mining state, Minas Gerais. From Paraty, these goods were shipped to Portugal. Constant assaults by pirates, who took refuge on beaches such as Trinidade, led to the abandonment of the gold route and resulted in economic isolation for the town.

After the opening of the Rio-Santos Highway in the 1970s, the district of Paraty gradually grew to its current population of 30,000 inhabitants. Paraty is a popular weekend attraction for Brazilians, who descend in droves from Rio and São Paulo. Due to frequent exposure from movies and TV series filmed here, Paraty has achieved increasing international recognition. Although September is off-season, the beginning of the Brazilian spring, I met several travelers from Portugal, the U.S. and Bermuda.

March-November is considered off-season. High season begins Dec. 1. Tourists flock here to enjoy the breathtaking stretches of coastline, countless beaches, islands, forests, waterfalls and an infinite number of species of the Brazilian flora and fauna.

My only regret is that, with only one full day in Paraty, there just wasn’t enough time to partake in the available hiking, fishing, sailing, swimming and scuba diving that a longer visit would have afforded. My recommendation would be for a minimum of three nights and two full days.

Even armed with a good town map supplied by the pousada, it took me a while to become oriented. Choosing landmarks is a big help where one street looks like the other. When I would walk by the Academia de Cozinha e Outros Prazeres (Rua Dona Geralda 211), I knew I was close to the Pousada Urquijo.

At this cooking academy, internationally acclaimed chef Yara Castro Roberts (her husband, Richard, is from the U.S.) demonstrates Brazil’s culture through its distinctive cuisine. Yara shows you a unique side of Brazil as she tells stories about its most unusual ingredients and prepares sumptuous dishes from the Amazon, Minas Gerais and Bahia regions. Make reservations for a very different type of evening; call 011-55-24-3371-6468 or e-mail

If your visit to Paraty is on a weekend, visit the local Artesian Fair at the corner of Rua do Comércio and Travessa Gravata. The fair operates 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday,

To stay in touch with those back home, visit one of the two Paraty Web’s Internet locations, next to the bus station and at the Quebra-Mar Restaurant. Rates are US$.70 for 15 minutes, $1.05 for 30 minutes and $1.40 for one hour. For more details, visit

Accommodations, restaurants and nightlife

As part of the Old Town tour, my excellent guide, Daniela, included visits to a few pousadas that she thought worthwhile to mention in this article. (All of the following rates are for a standard room, off-season, and include tax and breakfast.)

The 18th-century Pousada do Ouro boasts an admirable guest list. Photos of Tom Cruise, Mick Jagger and Linda Evangelista add to the gallery of Brazilian stars displayed in the lobby. $35 single, $43 double. Call the pousada at 011-55-24-3371-1311, fax 3371-1378, e-mail or visit

Paraty looks much as it did in the 18th century. Cobblestones pave the streets, and buildings cannot exceed two stories.

The Pousada da Marquesa is a centuries-old building where many of the furnishings are genuine antiques. Several rooms have large 4-poster beds. $30 single, $39 double. Call 011-55-24-3371-1012, fax 3371-1006, e-mail or visit

At the Pousada Porto Imperial, the guest rooms are not as nicely decorated as the public rooms. $34 single, $44 double. Call 011-55-24-3371-2323, fax 3371-2111, e-mail reservas@pousadaportoimperial. or visit www.pousadaporto

One of the most recommended places to eat is the Margarida Café (phone 3371-2441), which boasts the best pizzas in town, along with paellas and a menu of the day. When I was there at lunch, the specials were a very good fettuccine with seafood as well as beef with mushroom sauce. Both were priced at $6.

The Margarida Café is located close to the corner of Rua Larga da Pedeira and Rua Lapa. In the evening there is live music. Traditionally, Brazilians dine late. You don’t want to plan for much earlier than 9 p.m.

Ristorante Corto Maltese, at the corner of Rua da Cadeia and Rua do Comércio, serves a variety of pastas ($8) and fish ($9-$17).

One of the liveliest nightspots is Paraty 33 (Rua Maria Jácome de Mello 357), resembling a 17th-century tavern.

The Brasil Tourism Office, a treasure trove of excellent information, was most helpful in providing suggestions for my visit. Call the office in Washington, D.C., at 800/727-2945, e-mail or visit

Deanna Palic was a guest of the Rio Convention & Visitors Bureau.