Perfect little Paraty, Brazil
I don’t like to throw the ‘P’ word around but Paraty may be the perfect weekend getaway. Pretend for two minutes that this lovely seaside town in Brazil is not 11 cramped plane hours and the guts of US$1,000 away. Pretend, for example that you live in Sao Paulo, a mere four hours away by bus and probably only three by car. Pretend that you have a spare weekend in which you can just flitter about eating ice-cream, sunbathing and tripping along the cobblestones. Well since you’re here now anyway, you might as well have a look around.
A perfect mix of Colonia del Sacramento and Ilha Grande, Paraty has as much sparkling white sand as you could ask for along with an interesting dash of old world colonialism. As you wander along the cobbled streets navigating your way between the three churches – one for the working slaves, one for the freed slaves and one for the Portuguese – it is not hard imagine the first settlers arriving on the beaches, throwing out their rowboats and paddling to shore.
Once they had shooed away the locals using a combination of gunpower and western diseases, they would have had a rare old time tending to potted plants on their brightly-coloured windowsills, whitewashing their terraced bungalows and chasing passing monkeys down the cobblestones with sweeping brushes. It’s a pity for them that the Italian influence came later because, like so many other spots in Brazil, there are few more enjoyable things to do in Paraty than to buy a kilo of self-serve ice-cream and sit on the beach watching the tide come in.
The centre of town fills a few lopsided blocks along the beach, white houses lining uneven streets. As you walk up and down the doors and window scream at you with their flipbook catalogue of bold blues, reds, yellows and greens painted onto whitewashed walls. Every now and then a monkey leaps from an overhanging tree onto a roof and scarpers along the drain. And inside is no less interesting. The Portuguese are gone now, leaving only their pale, fair-haired genes. Instead the dimly lit houses have been filled with boutiques full of hand-made clothes, hand-made jams and walls and walls of coloured potions with hand-made labels.
Where the real beauty lies in Paraty though, is where the Portuguese didn’t go. Just a half hour out from town is a string of pristine, white-sand beaches backed by forest. The first few have the odd beach shack with plastic furniture laid out for huge families of Brazillians (or families of huge Brazillians) where Mum and Dad sit sipping a Skol beer while the kids bob about the sheltered water in rubber rings or play barefoot football on the huge expanse of clear, flat sand by the washout. As you move further and further away from the town though, trekking over headlands and through the forest, the shrieks of delight fade away and beaches become more and more deserted.
Because the waves are so violent down here there is a constant, dreamy mist clinging to the shoreline. As you look back at where you have walked from and see clumps of towering trees and grey rocks disappearing behind the screen, it’s hard not to feel removed from the rest of the world.
After about 40 minutes of leaving fresh footprints on wet sand, of walking barefoot through mud and over coarse rocks, the forest trail leads back to the beach. Late in the evening this spot is almost empty as most have fled the dusk and its cloak of mosquitoes. This part of the sea is almost completely sheltered, cut off from the crashing waves by a barrier of rocks the size of houses. The water here is calm, the level rising and falling only once every few minutes as the tide advances and retreats. Stripping off, you leave your clothes on a huge rock and crabwalk down the face and into the water. It’s freezing cold but after a humid trek through the jungle there’s no harm in that. As you watch the mist swallow the light for yet another day and listen to the waves batter the shore only metres away, it would be hard not to agree that Paraty is the perfect weekend getaway.
There are more pictures from Paraty available in the gallery