The owner of our hostel tells us it’s possible to stay in Paraty for 14 days and never visit the same place twice. We have only three days, but it’s just enough to experience three different sides of this small town.
Day 1: Culture
Sipping a caipirinha in front of an old church, watching a teenage girl try to tie a bow in her puppy’s hair and listening to music slipping out through the colorful window frames of nearby restaurants…this is a great way to spend an afternoon.
You might call Paraty Old Town a tourist trap, but it’s a very charming one. Smiling families, here for the weekend, ride horse-drawn carriages along the cobblestone streets. At the seafront, painted boats are lined up, visitors returning from day trips to the islands which dot the coastline here. Jason Mraz plays at every other dock and signs advertise a party cruise setting sale that evening. Cake sellers open up their mobile carts in time for mid-afternoon snack time.
Wandering down the small side streets, it’s easy to lose the crowds. The pre-tourist Paraty is still visible here. Paint peels in dull-colored flakes, damp patches creep up walls and plants grow amongst stones or on roofs.
Day 2: Waterfalls and Swimming Holes
I give up trying to ride my bicycle uphill. Instead I push it, puffs of dust circling my feet and sweat dripping down my back. Eventually I catch up with the others. They’ve given up too and stand in the shade at the roadside, applying insect repellant. This was supposed to be the easier part, but we’re perhaps too exhausted after a whole morning of cycling to look at this objectively. There’s no question of giving up though. Not after where we’ve just been.
Sliding down the ridge of smooth rock and splashing into the pool at the bottom; fighting our way against the flow of water to climb up behind a waterfall and listen to its torrential crash around us; laughing amongst the Brazilians, here on holiday too, as people slip and trip across the rocks to bask in the sun and cool water simultaneously. All this at just one site. We can’t give up on reaching another.
With tour agencies in town charging R$70 for transportation and a mere half an hour at each waterfall, we can’t help thinking we have the better deal. It’s hard work now, but we know how refreshing that water’s going to feel once we’re in it.
Day 3: Beach
“You wanna take a bus or walking?” asks Pablo, the Argentinian owner of our hostel. He gives us instructions on how to get to Praia do Sono. “It’s fucking paradise,” he tells us. After a 30 minute bus ride we arrive in a small village. There’s only one way to the beach and that’s by foot through an area of protected land. When the path begins to descend we think we must be reaching the beach, but it’s a false hope. We hike on past banana trees and palm fronds and purple flowers.
As we walk we catch glimpses of the light blue sea between the deep green of shadowy jungle leaves. More than an hour later the trees part and there we see it. Praia do Sono.
I’m not a beach person, but here I become one. The water is warm and calm, the sand fine and golden. Colorful buildings sit back from the shore and tents are pitched in the shade of trees, but there are only a handful of other visitors. It feels like some magical make-believe place.