Paraty: A story of gold and pirates, of sea and sand

River in Paraty

Colonial charm in Rio de Janeiro state is to be found not only in Teresopolis, but much further west too on the doorstep of the neighbouring state of Sao Paulo.

Lying 150 miles west of Rio de Janeiro city and straddling the lush Costa Verde, Paraty has become almost as ingrained into a tourist itinerary as Rio itself; a beautifully preserved old town, bestrode by verdant green mountains, and fine sandy beaches in view of the shimmering Baía da Ilha Grande.

There is an elegant tranquillity to Paraty – owing to the lack of motor vehicles in the historic centre (motor vehicles are banned) and the dim lighting that beckons tourists to its cobbled streets – that is the antithesis of its past.

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Paraty was founded by Portuguese colonizers in 1667 in a region populated by the Guaianás Indians.

Its location was soon to become integral to the town’s meteoric prosperity as well as, eventually, its downfall.

The bay empowered Paraty to become an export port for the gold mined in the mountains of Minas Gerais from 1696, and the 750 mile ‘Gold Trail’ was built to connect the town to Diamantina via Ouro Preto and Tiradentes (not only was the road used for transporting gold, African slaves were also sent to the mines).

Paraty began to succumb to degradation after pirates, operating from nearby Angra dos Reis, attacked the gold-laden ships bound for Rio de Janeiro.

Then, in the late 18th century, the gold rush came to an abrupt end, and Paraty declined.

But then Brazil experienced the coffee boom in the early 19th century and Paraty rose again.

With gentrification came tourism.

The historic old town is a maze of narrow, cobbled streets, now populated by many restaurants, bars, cafes, gift shops and travel agencies – key tenets of a popular tourist resort.

Much of the architecture in Paraty old town has not changed for more than 250 years. The highlight amongst this splendour is undoubtedly the Chapel of St Rita (Capela de Santa Rita) and the First Church of Our Lady of the Remedies (Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora do Remédios).

The St Rita Chapel is the oldest church in Paraty – completed in 1722 – and is now home to the Museum of Sacred Art, while the First Church of Our Lady of the Remedies is the largest.

Encompassing an entire block, the church was completed in 1873 (despite building commencing in 1646) and came with two stipulations demanded by the benefactor of the land, Maria Jácome de Melo; the first was the building of the chapel dedicated to Nossa Senhora dos Remédios and the second was that no one would harm the Indians that lived in the area at that time.

After a day meandering the cobbled streets, evading the odd horse and cart, a trip to the beach is mandatory. Paraty has plenty of choice.

The most spectacular beaches close to Paraty are around Trinidade. Adjacent to a village of the same name 18 miles from Paraty, Trinidade has some of the best beaches in Brazil, spectacularly backed by the Atlantic Forest.

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Praia Cachadaço and Praia do Meio, around Trinidade, are well worth the trip from Paraty, but staying closer to the town is an option, with several beaches in the town, as is the option of a boat trip around the bay, which is made even more fun by the liberal dispensing of caipirinhas.

Written by Graham Vincent

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