Uma Bela Caminhada: Hiking on Ilha Grande

Ilha Grande stole my heart — and it also gave it a workout. Cardio and adventure fans alike will flip for the hiking opportunities on this untamed Brazilian island.

With sixteen marked trails of varying length and difficulty, we were spoiled for choice when it came to which corner of Ilha Grande to wander. As we were hoping to cool our budgets and enjoy some solitude, we eliminated the trickier routes for which guides were recommended and stuck to the classics. We spent our three short days hitting three of the island’s most popular routes, and left daydreaming about our return to tackle a few more.

Hiking on Ilha Grande

Abraão to Mangues/Pouso: Trail T10

Leaving directly from the far East side of Vila Abraão, and connecting directly to Trail T11, together Trail T10 and T11 make up one of the most popular hikes on Ilha Grande. And we were perfectly positioned to tackle it: our hostel, Che Legarto, let out directly onto the path.

A helpful sign at the start of T10 alerted us we were in for a 5.6-6 kilometer, 2.5-3 hour trek to reach the twin beaches of Mangues and Pouso.

Hiking on Ilha Grande

Hiking on Ilha Grande

We set off a bit later than we’d hoped, around noon, but were still surprised to have the trail more or less to ourselves as we headed away from Abraão village. We’d dutifully let the receptionist at our hostel know where we were going before setting off, and were shocked when we checked to make sure we’d be able to buy more water along the way — and were told we couldn’t. So like good little responsible hikers we brought everything we’d need for the entire hike and then some, practically drowning ourselves along the way in an attempt to lighten our loads.

Hiking on Ilha GrandePhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Hiking on Ilha GrandePhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Hiking on Ilha GrandeWeb photo by Heather Holt Photography

Just over an hour into our trek we hit our first beach, Praia de Palmas. We quickly realized our receptionist had never done this hike when we saw enterprising locals all along the beach had hung out hand-painted signs advertising water, coconuts and other treats for the thirsty hiker for sale. It was the kind of beach we ordinarily might linger on, especially when we discovered it all but abandoned. Yet we had loftier stretches of sand in mind.

Hiking on Ilha GrandePhoto by Heather Holt Photography

And so onward we forged.

Hiking on Ilha Grande

Hiking on Ilha Grande

Hiking on Ilha Grande

Exactly another hour later (after a few lengthy photo stops), we hit Praia Mangues, and cheered as we soaked up yet another postcard-perfect beach. After a quick scramble over the rock separating Mangues from neighboring Praia Pouso, we paused to confirm with local boat captains about the return trip to Vila Abraão. Unfortunately for us slow starters, the last boat was at 4pm — but if you’re headed to these parts, check for yourself, since it seems to vary based on the sunset.

By the time we got moving again to tackle the T11 portion of the trail, about two hours and twenty minutes had passed — and that included plenty of time for photo shoots and dawdling.

Hiking on Ilha Grande

Hiking on Ilha Grande

Hiking on Ilha Grande

Mangues/Pouso to Lopes Mendes: Trail T11

From the end of Trail T10, we picked up Trail T11. Boat tours advertising transport to Lopes Mendes are actually a bit of a sham — in reality the boats cannot reach that side of the island due to waves, and the boat will actually leave you at Praia Pouso. So regardless of how you get to Praia Pouso, you’re getting to and from Lopes Mendes on your own two feet.

The good news? At 2-2.4 kilometers, it’s just a 30 minute to one hour roundtrip trail. While the trail gets quite steep, it’s shockingly short — we made it from start to finish one way in twelve minutes. And while we were decked out in trainers from the bigger bulk of the hike, we saw plenty of people returning in flip flops.

Hiking on Ilha Grande

Lopes Mendes Beach Ilha Grande

At this point, I’d really just been enjoying the journey and not worrying too much about the destination. But as we laid eyes on Lopes Mendes beach for the first time, I think my jaw may have actually dropped, cartoon-character-style.

Hiking on Ilha Grande

Lopes Mendes Beach Ilha Grande

Lopes Mendes beach is often hailed as one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil — and we could easily understand why. But even on this beautiful sunny day after a long stretch of rain, we really didn’t have to look to hard to find a wide space to spread out our cangas on.

Unlike the other beaches we’d passed on our journey, this one had no permanent structures, yet there were plenty of locals with coolers hawking cold drinks and even snacks sandwiches, and we settled in to enjoy the last stretch of the day’s sun.

Lopes Mendes Beach Ilha Grande

Lopes Mendes Beach Ilha Grande

Lopes Mendes Beach Ilha Grande

Lopes Mendes Beach Ilha Grande

In total, it took us 2.5 hours to hike the full 7.2 kilometer route to Lopes Mendes beach, plus a little bonus 1.2 kilometers to hike back to Praia Pouso for the boat ride to Abraão — which was a bargain and a blessing at 15R (or $4USD). Much as I loved getting there, I don’t think I’d have been up for the full trek back!

Our only regret? Bringing so much water — we could have packed half — and not leaving first thing in the morning. Lopes Mendes truly is stunning, and you’ll want to spend literally every second you can there.

Lopes Mendes Beach Ilha Grande

Lopes Mendes Beach Ilha Grande

Lopes Mendes Beach Ilha Grande

Circuito de Abraão: T1

On our last full day on Ilha Grande, we decided to tackle one last trail, the unassuming Circuito de Abraaão. This easy stroll covers 1.8 kilometers and takes about an hour to an hour and a half, according to the trail marker at the kick off. You could do this one in flip flops, as we ourselves did.

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha Grande

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha Grande

This trail starts on the far East side of Abraão, the opposite end from T10. Just walk as far as the road goes from town, and keep going. You’ll run into it eventually — but not before stopping to ooh and aah over beautiful views of the bay.

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha Grande

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha Grande

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha Grande

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha Grande

What I really loved about this little loop were the near constant distractions of little stops along the way. We tackled the trail clockwise, and so our first stop was a viewpoint over Praia Preta. Not bad, eh?

Next was an aqueduct viewpoint that we couldn’t quite see the aqueduct from, followed by an unspectacular waterfall. But all were lovely distractions from the physical exertion, which are always welcome in my book.

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha Grande

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha Grande

Next up, the aqueduct! Now, this was cool. At eleven meters high, the twenty-six arches stretched so far deep across the jungle we couldn’t see either end, and felt like we’d stumbled upon a mysterious clue from the series Lost.

Constructed in 1893 using stones and whale oil, the aqueduct still carries to Abraão village to this day.

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha Grande

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha GrandePhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Eventually, we wound back to the coast and arrived on the beautiful shore of Praia de Galego. Here, we stopped for a well deserved beach break.

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha Grande

When we’d had our fill of sun, we wandered next door to the Lazareto Ruins, a reminder of Ilha Grande’s seedy past. This now abandoned building has had many lives. Originally a farmhouse, in 1884 the structure was redesigned as a Brazilian Ellis Island, a quarantine stopover for European immigrants by order of the Emperor of Brazil in the midst of a devastating cholera epidemic.

Closed in 1913, Lazareto was given new life as a penal colony from 1940 to 1954, and finally abandoned for good again in 1963.

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha Grande

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha Grande

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha Grande

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha GrandePhoto by Heather Holt Photography

After lingering just a tad too long in the damp old ruins, I cheered when we reached Praia Preta. Here, we shared the beach with a few local pups, a fisherman who proudly showed us his catch, and other travelers vying for the last bits of beach at high tide.

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha GrandePhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha GrandePhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Hiking The Circuito de Abraao on Ilha Grande

The the label “adventure paradise” is thrown around pretty loosely these days, I feel confident bestowing the title on this beautiful island. Equal parts beautiful and accessible, I can’t think of a better hiking destination I’ve visited recently — and we only brushed the surface! If you’re looking for an independent adventure in Brazil, look no further.

While Ilha Grande feels idyllically safe, we still took some base-level security precautions — this is Brazil, which as guidebooks, other travelers, and our mothers warned us frequently, has a bit of a reputation for crime. Though we took the calculated risk of hiking with our cameras (after backing up all our memory cards), we carried very small amounts of cash and always told our guesthouse reception where we were going. While T1 and T11 were well-trafficed trails, T10 was quite desolate. Some trails should only be tackled with a guide — ask around if you’re considering others.

Hiking on Ilha Grande Brazil

Happy hiking! Next stop… Rio de Janiero!

My Kind of Paradise On Ilha Grande

I guess I have a thing for seedy islands.

A pirates lair, a leper colony, and a penitentiary for political prisoners — much like Koh Tao in Thailand and Isla de Coiba in Panama, Ilha Grande in Brazil has quite the illicit past. And much like those islands before it, this one also managed to steal my heart in just a few short days.

Ilha Grande BrazilPhoto by Heather Holt

Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Ilha Grande Brazil

Though the last island prison dissolved in the mid-90’s, gorgeous Ilha Grande’s sordid reputation kept developers at bay, much to the delight of travelers now lucky enough to stumble upon it. And it’s pretty convenient to stumble onto — several boat and van services offer door-to-door connections between Paraty and Rio, making Ilha Grande a natural stop on a hop along Brazil’s emerald coastline.

The first stop for visitors to the island is Vila Do Abraão, a once sleepy fishing village now bursting with pousadas, canga shops, acai stands and other tourist trappings that manage to maintain the tiny town’s ramshackle charm. Adding to the adorability factor is the lack of motorized vehicles. A garbage truck, a fire truck and a police vehicle make up the list of exceptions, and everyone else gets around on foot or by bicycle.

Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

After our rainy five days in Paraty, we could not have been any more thrilled to be greeted by the sun in Ilha Grande. Yet we quickly learned that one thing we were seriously unprepared for pretty much all through Brazil, with the exception of our first lucky week? The weather.

We spent three glorious nights on Ilha Grande, and during the day the weather was beautiful and the temperatures in the high sixties to low eighties. But with strong island winds and temperatures dropping into the fifties at night, we were seriously unprepared for anything Brazil was throwing at us past sunset — which was around 5:30pm at that time of year.

Thank goodness I had bought a pair of jeans specifically for this trip! We fell into a pattern of enthusiastically planning a night out every day, then gradually putting on every layer we had in our bags as the temperature dropped until we were huddled in our beds wrapped in our comforters cursing ourselves for having acclimated so seamlessly to the tropical climates of our adopted homes. The last thing I expected to be on this Brazilian holiday was cold — though on the upside, I’ve lived happily through a Thai heat wave with no air conditioning, so there’s that!

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

We’d waffled on where to stay in Ilha Grande, entertaining lush pousadas, budget hostels and even a charming houseboat on Airbnb. In the end, we settled on the Che Legarto Paraty, a sister property to the hostel we’d tried in Paraty.

We’d been won over by the waterfront location, though I can’t say I’m itching to return. Our dorms were painfully pricey at $25 per night per person (private rooms are no longer offered), the included breakfast was pitiful, the location was a bit out of town and there wasn’t much in the way of hostel camaraderie during our stay. We were tickled by the local luggage service, however, which consisted of a bicep-flexer tossing our bags into a custom push cart and leading the way to our hostel for $4 each.

Che Legarto Ilha Grande

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

How to fill one’s days on such a charming island? Options are a-plenty. We’d originally enthusiastically planned to go diving though were warned off by the local dive shop due to the storm that had plagued us in Paraty and churned the visibility up to nothing.

Other tours for snorkeling, island hopping, and waterfall rappelling were appealing, however in the end we decided to give our budget a rest and entertain ourselves on the cheap. We spent the majority of our time on Ilha Grande tackling three of the island’s sixteen signposted hiking trails — leading to just a few of its hundred and two beaches! This was such a special experience that I have a whole post coming up dedicated to our hiking adventures. Stay tuned!

Ilha Grande Brazil

Hiking on Ilha Grande

And, needless to say, with a professional shutterbug as my co-pilot (she took both the beautiful photos above!), photography walks were a fun part of almost every day. I love how creatively challenged I can be by my travels with Heather, and comparing the different ways we see the world through our lenses.

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande BrazilPhoto by Heather Holt

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande BrazilPhoto by Heather Holt

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande BrazilPhoto by Heather Holt

Also kind of needless to say when it comes to the two of us, eating and drinking were also a main form of entertainment.

While Ilha Grande doesn’t have close to the dining scene that Paraty boasted, we did find a few favorites. Fornilha Pizzaria was the perfect comfort food for our first chilly night, Kebab Lounge was a healthy dinner option, and Cafe do Mar was our pick for chic beachside eats in the sun — don’t forget to look for their special evening BBQ a few night a week, too! We both gave a thumbs up to the vegetarian-friendly self-serve buffet at Biergarten, and the flavored mojitos and fresh empenadas at Coruja were definitely the hippest thing happening in town. And let’s just say we made a thorough sampling of the local acai bowl offerings, and we weren’t let down once.

Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

On our final morning, we decided to go wild and for over a few riels for fun. While rentals for bikes, surfboards and kayaks were tempting, we saved our mild splurge for a mutual favorite: stand up paddle boarding.

Stand Up Paddleboarding on Ilha Grande Brazil

Stand Up Paddleboarding on Ilha Grande Brazil

Stand Up Paddleboarding on Ilha Grande Brazil

For 40BR each (about $11), we had an hour to play in the bay. We were heading onward to Rio de Janiero that afternoon, and while it was a city I’d looked forward to visiting for much of my life, I couldn’t help but feel wistful about leaving. The three nights we’d originally budgeted due to rumors of horrific wifi (a serious concern for two online business owners) suddenly seemed far too short. We’d actually tried to extend our trip by another day, but found our transfer was non-refundable and couldn’t be budged.

We were both overwhelmed with happiness as we paddled around and looked back on the beautiful island we were saying goodbye to all too soon. How rare to find such a gem of nature, so unsullied by overdevelopment. Ilha Grande is truly a special place.

Stand Up Paddleboarding on Ilha Grande Brazil

Stand Up Paddleboarding on Ilha Grande Brazil

Stand Up Paddleboarding on Ilha Grande Brazil

Ilha Grande left a big impression on my heart. Here’s hoping I’ll be back someday!

A Brazilian Pearl: Where to Eat, Stay and Play in Paraty

I already confessed that my time in Paraty was a washout. But while five days of rain followed by three hours of sun was frustrating, it did leave us plenty of quality time to eat ourselves silly, lounge about in our accommodation, and look for a few creative activities that didn’t require a dose of Vitamin D.

Heading to this beautiful Brazilian beach town? Regardless of what the weather report predicts, I hope you’ll find my mini-guide useful!

Paraty Travel Guide

Where to Stay

As a popular stop on both the Brazilian backpacker trail and as a getaway for Rio and São Paulo’s well-heeled crowd, Paraty has ample accommodation on all ends of the spectrum. We were able to experience digs on both ends!

Pousada Do Sandi

We were in for a treat arriving at Pousada do Sandi. Ranked as one of the top three hotels in Paraty on Tripadvisor, this colonial gem was just the welcome we needed after a hectic festival followed by running around Brazil’s biggest city.

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Located right in the heart of Paraty’s colonial center, Pousada do Sandi fits seamlessly into the cobblestone streets that lead up to it. As one of the area’s larger pousadas, Pousada do Sandi boasts large gardens as well as a spacious bar and restaurant.

As dreary as it was outside, it was equally bright and cheery inside these walls.

Paraty Pousada do SandiPhoto by Heather Holt

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Rooms are spread on two floors around the garden courtyard. As this is a historic building there are no elevators, so those with an overpacking addiction or mobility issues should request a ground floor room; those who want a bit more privacy and to keep their bedroom windows open should request the second floor.

My favorite detail of the rooms? The brightly colored mosaic bathroom.

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

A beautiful breakfast was included every morning, and one night when a torrential downpour made us dread leaving the hotel, we splurged on room service. Who wouldn’t want to spend as much time as possible in this color explosion?

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Che Legarto Paraty

Later, once we were pampered silly, we headed over to Che Legarto Paraty to get a dose of backpacker camaraderie. Che Legarto is a popular South American hostel chain that I’d heard much about despite never staying at before, and I was excited to check one out. With several hostel options around town they do have some stiff competition, though after scouring reviews Che Legarto seemed the liveliest of the bunch.

Che Legarto Paraty Hostel

Che Legarto Paraty Hostel

Che Legarto Paraty Hostel

Located just on the outskirts of the historic center, Che Legarto Paraty has a nice array of public spaces, from a small pool to garden hammock lounges to indoor movie rooms. They even have resident marmosets that pop in from time to time!

Our private room was basic but proficient, and a continental breakfast was included. Dinner specials are offered as well as hostel-run tours.

Che Legarto Paraty Hostel

Che Legarto Paraty HostelPhoto by Heather Holt

Before arriving in Brazil, I’d been warned by a few friends and fellow bloggers that Brazilian hostels were unlike those in the rest of the continent, and could be a tricky place to meet people if you don’t speak Portuguese. Having experienced hostel culture in other South American countries, I found this hard to accept prior to arrival.

Alas, I found it to be true. Brazil is a massive country that can be tricky for foreigners to visit due to cost and visa restrictions, and so hostels are often filled by Brazilians, who love to travel within their own country. While this is wonderful news for those who speak the language and are keen to meet locals (who wouldn’t be?!), it left these language-challenged gringas feeling a bit left out. Speaking Spanish does help, as many non-domestic travelers hail from neighboring Spanish-speaking countries.

Che Legarto Paraty Hostel

Che Legarto Paraty Hostel

What To Do

Paraty’s most popular activities take advantage of its natural beauty. Schooner cruises, stand up paddling, beach hopping, whitewater rafting, hiking and ocean kayaking were all on our to-do list that were quickly scratched off due to weather woes.

So we had to get creative!

Photography

Well, when a travel blogger and a professional photographer travel together you better believe there are going to be plenty of photo walks involved. Paraty is beautifully preserved and bursting with color. Anyone who is photographically inclined should set aside at least a few hours to go out and capture the details of this beautiful city. I found myself wishing I had a sketchbook, too!

Paraty Photography
Photo by Heather Holt

Paraty Photography

Paraty Photography

Go to The Spa

As two certified spa junkies, Heather and I flipped when we found Shambala Spa. We decided to splurge on a full day of indulgence at this beautiful retreat overlooking Jabaquara Bay.

We started our day with a private hatha yoga session in a gazebo in the Balinese garden. It was a peaceful practice, and put us perfectly in a relaxation mood.

Shambhala Spa Paraty

Next, we made our way to the spa where we learned the unfortunate news that the previous night’s rain had caused a power and water cut through the entire village. Thus, we’d have to skip the body scrubs and special garden soaks we’d booked — if you see the photos of the gorgeous outdoor soaking tubs on their website you’ll understand how gutted we were. I know, I know — woe is us, right?!

Luckily, the massage we were about to enjoy would ease away all those troubles.

Shambhala Spa Paraty

Finally, we capped off our day with lunch at the Shambala Lounge, a ten minute drive outside town. Unfortunately, the lounge closed not long after our visit — a shame as it was one of the best meals we had our entire trip! But stay tuned as I can only imagine the owners have something new up their sleeves.

Shambhala Lounge Paraty

Shambhala Lounge Paraty

While I can’t recommend the Shambala Spa or yoga more highly, I wish we’d also had time to check out Casa do Dharma, which offers regular yoga classes, meditations, massages, origami workshops and more.

Shambhala Lounge Paraty

Shambhala Lounge Paraty

Horseback Ride

One one cloudy day with respite from the rain, Heather and I head out to the countryside for some horseback riding. While I made a total rookie travel mistake and booked a different tour from the one Heather and I had discussed (we thought we were headed to a waterfall and a cachaça farm from the saddle — nope!) it was still nonetheless nice to get out and see some of the scenery outside the city.

Stay tuned for a full review of this tour soon.

Horseback Riding Paraty

Take a Cooking Class

I saved the best for last — one of our absolute favorite memories of Paraty was our evening at the Academy of Cooking at Other Pleasures. And yes, the night was every bit as fabulous as that name hinted at. Part cooking class, part dinner party with the most fabulous eccentric aunt and uncle you always wished you had, it was exactly the kind of quirky travel experience you find yourself swooning over years later.

Paraty Cooking Class School

Paraty Cooking Class School

Paraty Cooking Class School

Along with two other guests, Brazilian-American couple Yara and Richard welcomed us warmly into their beautiful home with caipirinhas and conversation. We lapped up their story of falling in love with Paraty and making a home there in the historic center, enjoying all the highs and lows of life in what is in many ways still a small village. I was also keenly interested in this business they had created, which Richard described as a natural choice for them as opposed to retirement. “What would we do, sit around and watch TV in the evenings? Instead we host travelers from around the world,” he said with pride.

Between Yara’s impressive background in cooking and Richard’s penchant for art and photography, their home would have been equally appropriate in an issue of Architectural Digest or Bon Appétit. They were without question a hospitality powerhouse.

Paraty Cooking Class School

Eventually, we made our way into the kitchen, where Yara demonstrated how to make some of the Brazilian dishes that she perfected in her decades as a culinary professor, cookbook author, and TV host. We were each given small tasks which we embraced with gusto, excited to contribute to our home-cooked meal.

Yara was accommodating of both my non-fish eating and Heather’s vegetarianism, which we were extra appreciate of considering the intimate setting. When we all sat down to eat we felt like old friends, and when we finally said goodbye around mid-night I knew it was an evening I wouldn’t forget soon. While Heather and I walked home we agreed we couldn’t imagine a more beautiful “retirement.”

Don’t come to Paraty without setting aside a night to meet Richard and Yara.

Paraty Cooking Class School

Paraty Cooking Class School

Where To Eat

Paraty had one of the most impressive restaurant scenes I found in Brazil outside São Paulo. While we mostly treated ourselves to the higher-end offerings, cheaper buffets and local joints were also smattered around town.

Paraty Restaurants

Banana Da Terra

Our big dining splurge of our five days was dinner at Banana Da Terra, which lived up to its impeccable reputation. We laughed until we cried at our Google Translate app’s translation of the wine list, and then practically cheered as each course we’d ordered was artfully presented. After a beautiful meal, we waddled home. If you can afford it, don’t miss it!

Banana Da Terra Paraty Restaurants

Punto Divino

Heather and I make it a mission to enjoy the best pizza every city has to offer (everyone has their passions) and we found Paraty’s at Punto Divino. Don’t miss the outdoor seating if you’re lucky enough to have nice weather!

Thai Brasil

Long time readers know I can’t pass up Thai food no matter how recently I spent six months in Thailand! Heather and I were both so pumped to try Thai Brasil we ran their on our first night, and my only regret is we didn’t make it back the rest of the trip. The bright decor, fun presentation and mouth-watering menu made this my favorite pick of Paraty.

Don’t confuse it with similarly-named Thai Paraty, which we also tried one evening and were less than impressed with.

Thai Brasil Paraty Restaurants

Have you been to Paraty? Tell me what I missed in the comments!

When It Rains, It Pours in Paraty

I fell unexpectedly in love with Brazil’s biggest city, but it wasn’t long before I felt the ocean calling me home.

Leaving São Paulo, we made our way towards the sea, where we’d planned to drip along the coast all the way to and beyond Rio de Janiero. Tucked along this so-called Emerald Coast is a turquoise jewel — the colonial town of Paraty. As we planned the trip, it was one of the stops I was most looking forward to. In fact, aside from Rio, it was where we’d scheduled to spend the most time.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty is widely hailed as one of Brazil’s most charm-soaked towns. With an exquisitely preserved colonial center, a mountainous jungle backdrop and an endless array of tropical beaches and islands in the bay, it’s almost painfully picturesque. The lack of cars in the historic center makes it pleasant to stroll aimlessly, and easy to imagine you’ve traveled in time.

The town is a magnet for creatives and a popular getaway for both wealthy Brazilians from both Rio and São Paulo and in-the-know travelers, primarily from Europe. As two bumbling American gringas, we certainly broke the mold.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog PostPhoto by Heather Holt

While some travelers breeze by in a day or so to soak up the white stucco, others — like us — linger. For those that do, there are a dizzying array of ways to entertain yourself. Schooner cruises of the archipelago’s islands are the most popular choice, though a SUP tour, a beach-hopping hiking trip, a cooking class, yoga and spa treatments, horseback riding to cachaca farms and waterfalls, whitewater rafting and ocean kayaking were also on our wish list.

When the sun shines, it would be shameful to find yourself bored in Paraty.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

So how did this dreamy place come to exist in reality?

Paraty was already inhibited by the indigenous Guaianás when the Portuguese first rolled up in the 1500’s. Within a hundred years it was a popular stopover on the gold rush route between the mines and Rio de Janiero, though a new route later saw the city decline from greatness. Later, the coffee boom gave the city a boost, and since a new coastal road from Rio was extended to the city in 1960 tourism has been the name of the local economy game.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty is a photographer’s playground. Heather and I went crazy with our cameras, roaming the cobblestone streets looking for the next hit of colonial charm to capture through our lenses. Our options were truly endless.

For the first time in a long time, I longed for a sketchpad and watercolors, for some of the scenes were just begging to be painted. Paraty might just be the most scenic hamlet I’ve come across since my travels to Luang Prabang in 2012.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog PostPhoto by Heather Holt

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog PostPhoto by Heather Holt

Pretty amazing, right? Well, here’s the truth. Almost every single photo above was taken in our last three hours of five days in Paraty. The rest of the time, it rained. Rained, poured, or simply threatened to with dark, ominous skies.

The scene below? It looked like that for our last morning, as we frantically scrambled around town trying to get in every last blue sky click we could. The rest of the time, it looked like this.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

As a photographer, I embrace the challenge of trying to find the beauty in every day and destination, regardless of the weather conditions. Yet as a storyteller, I struggle sometimes to paint an accurate picture of how bleak it is to spend day after day fruitlessly checking the forecast, heavy-heartedly canceling your plans one by one, and staring frustratedly at dark angry skies when the photos I take paint a sunnier picture.

Yes, we tried to make the best of things. But as these behind-the-scenes iPhone snaps reveal, we spent much of our trip in makeshift garbage bag rain coats, laughing so we didn’t cry, or taking advantage of breaks in the downpour to jog off our frustration along stormy cliffs.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

While Paraty is a beautiful city regardless of what the weather is doing, it is a teeny tiny one and cancelled boat trips and flooded beaches left us wondering how to fill our days. We did find a few gems, which I’ll cover in an upcoming guide on where to stay, eat and play in Paraty.

But we did find ourselves wondering if we’d done ourselves a disservice by pre-booking our accommodation and transportation so that we had little room to be flexible. We were reassured however by the fact that we would have been more or less stuck, regardless: the storm blowing through the area was vast and covered any other destinations we could have easily reached by bus, and the steep prices of last-minute domestic plane tickets make spontaneous state-hopping hard to swing, anyway.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

So after sunny skies and deliciously warm temperatures in Itú and in São Paulo, it seemed our good weather luck had run out. Even Paraty’s animals seemed a little glum, after a few days.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog PostPhoto by Heather Holt

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog PostPhoto by Heather Holt

Sometimes when it rains, it pours. Weather is the one thing that simply can’t be predicted when planning a trip. We were visiting at the tail end of the rainy season but even locals agreed that arriving in the midst storm of this length and determination was a stroke of bad luck, on our part. Looking at a historic weather chart for the month we visited, it’s almost comical how the temperatures stayed steady throughout the month, our five day visit aside — they plummeted the day we arrived and soared again the day we left, while precipitation levels did the opposite.

You can’t win ’em all.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

I feel a little sad when I think back on my time in Paraty, only because I think back to how frustrated we felt and regret all the activities we missed out on. I felt a bit trapped by our rigid itinerary, and panicked wondering if we’d be stuck shivering and wet for the rest of our trip. But in spite of that, I have many fond memories from Paraty as well — which I’ll share in upcoming posts.

In the end, there are worse places to be stuck in the rain.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Stay tuned for where to stay, what to do and where to eat in Paraty!