Paraty: a Colonial Gem and Photographer’s Paradise
We visited Paraty on our way to Rio de Janeiro. Paraty is around 250 kilometres south of Rio, but still in the state of Rio de Janeiro . We didn’t expect Paraty to be such a photogenic little colonial gem – by far the prettiest town we’ve been to in a long time! Of course we had read and heard about it (sometimes it’s spelled Parati) but not really enough to arrive with any particular expectations.
Because we knew so little about this town, it left room for us to be positively surprised. Paraty has become a popular destination for Brazilians from both Rio and São Paulo, as it is roughly half way between the two. Nowadays it’s more easily accessible and receives a lot of weekend visitors, so we decided to arrive on a Monday.
The History of Paraty
Learning a little about Paraty’s history is quite interesting. It explains the signs of the former wealth and provides an explanation for the town’s well preserved historical centre.
The first Portuguese settlement was recorded in 1667. Before this there was a small Guarani village in that place. The Portuguese town flourished quickly as it became the main port to export gold from the state of Minas Gerais to Portugal. The Caminho do Ouro (Gold Road) connected it with Diamantina, over 1,200 kilometres away. Many of the large boulders, which pave Paraty’s streets, were ballast from Portuguese ships, which transported Brazil’s plundered riches to Europe.
After the gold rush ended Paraty had its second boom period as one of the main regions to grow sugar cane. ‘Cachaça’, the rum like liquor to make the famous Brazilian ‘Caipirinha’, was once known as ‘Parati’.
Later, as coffee became more fashionable in the western world, this valuable crop replaced some of the sugar cane. But most of the profits relied heavily on the cheap workforce of black slaves.
Once slavery was banned, in 1888, the productivity of the farms declined and so did the significance of the port. Around the same time, a railway was built to connect São Paulo with Rio de Janeiro, giving Rio’s port more importance. In the first half of the 20th century Paraty was almost a ghost town, with less than 500 residents remaining. It fell into a long slumber until the region was finally connected by a new road to Rio. That’s when tourists and expatriates started slowly to arrive and discover the attractions of the town and its environment.
It’s not only the historic centre, which draws visitors. The subtropical beaches of this part of Brazil are famous. There are also hundreds of islands offshore – often uninhabited. Boating, snorkelling, and diving are popular water activities. The mountains inland from town are still covered by large remnants of the Atlantic Rainforest, with walking tracks and hidden waterfalls.
Paraty is the most photogenic colonial town we have visited in a long time!
We chose well to arrive at the beginning of the week as the town was quiet – almost deserted. A friend commented on one of our photos, asking whether there are any people living in Paraty… Let me assure you that there are, though the majority live in the newer parts surrounding the historical centre.
Tip for Photographers:
visit out-of-season and during the week to find a much quieter town!
The historical centre is fairly small, only five by six blocks in size, and best explored by foot. Vehicles aren’t allowed in, except for early morning deliveries (some by handcart) and horse driven coaches. This gives Paraty a more relaxed feel. You can stand in the middle of the road and wait for the perfect opportunity for the next photo, without the danger of being run over.
There are photo motifs on every corner. Most houses are white washed with colourful trim around their doors and windows. All windows and doors are painted in bright primary colours, which gives the place a vibrant appearance overall. Old fashioned light fittings and balcony balustrades complete this picture.
We posted a number of photos on Instagram . It doesn’t surprise us that nearly all of those pictures from Paraty are among our most ‘liked’ Instagrams…
The small shops are mostly geared towards visitors and sell a smorgasbord of quirky things, often adding to the colourful appearance. Many coffee houses, ice cream parlours, and restaurants invite you to take a rest, so you can spend full days there without getting tired.
Have we wetted your appetite?
When will you go and explore the colonial town of Paraty?
Further reading: Wikitravel on Paraty