Just as I’d found with Florianopolis, the Brazilian town of Paraty is best visited with company. It’s a beautiful place with plenty of beaches, cute cobbled streets and impressive churches, but there’s not much else to keep you occupied. It also sees its fair share of rain, which can add to your sense of loneliness if you happen to be passing through solo. But, other than ensuring you have a partner in crime, what else do you need to know?
Be prepared to make detours
I’ve referred to Paraty as the Brazilian Venice because it was built purposefully so that its streets would flood with sea water whenever the tide came in. This means that you can be walking through town and reach a dead end where your only option is to wade through a few feet of water or to take a big detour along the tiny pavements that line the streets to figure out a way to get past it.
Choose your accommodation wisely
I stayed in two different parts of Paraty. The first time, I chose a hostel on Avenida do Jabaquara, where the beach is less busy. This was a very pretty area, but somewhat isolated from the main town. There were no buses, which left me with only one option: to hike for 30 minutes down desolate roads through the humid jungle, detouring inland to cross the canal.
I’m not one to shy away from a bit of exercise, but after arriving with my increasingly heavy backpack from a 22-hour bus journey and with no map in my guidebook, it wasn’t the most inviting prospect. Some of the hostels have a pick up service, but the staff at mine were conveniently not answering their phone. The second time I visited, I stayed in the centre and much preferred it.
Leave space in your backpack for some serious souvenir shopping
There’s no denying that Paraty has some of the best souvenir shopping in Brazil. And, since it seems to also get more than its fair share of rain, you might find yourself spending more time in the shops that expected. There’s a book store with a reasonable collection of novels in English – something I struggled so hard to find in Brazil that I ended up picking up ‘The Bitch Witch’ and ’50 Shades’ from one of my hostels – and plenty of stores selling beach wear and trinkets. You can also ‘try before you buy’ flavoured cachaca in the liquor stores. That’s certainly not a bad way to while away a damp afternoon.
Research the boat trips
Since I was isolated in my hostel on the beach, I asked the staff there to arrange for me to to take a boat trip around some of the nearby bays and islands. When I arrived at the pier, I had to force my way through a throng of people to find my boat, and singling out the one I’d already paid for among a hundred others just like it wasn’t easy either. Most of the trips leave around 11 am, so my advice would be to wander down at around 10:30 and see if you can get a deal. Aside from the financial advantage, you’ll be able to check out who is already on the boats and how much space they have. I’d gone on the trip in the hope of meeting a bunch of other travellers, or at least some locals my own age. It ended up being me and about 100 Brazilian families and couples.
Beware of the supermarket
I’m fully aware that most backpackers like to hunt down a bargain, and shopping in supermarkets for cheap ingredients you can cook up into something basic in your hostel is par for the course, but Paraty supermarket was one of the worst I’ve encountered. It was always busy no matter what time of day I stopped by. Either go once and stock up for the whole of your stay, or treat yourself to a few good meals at some of the many quality restaurants in town.
Get yourself a ‘por kilo’ meal
One way to get a good meal in at a fraction of the usual cost of eating out is to visit a ‘por kilo’ restaurant. You’ll find these dotted all over Brazil and they’re perfect for when you have a massive appetite. The principle is simple. Just grab a plate, pile onto it whatever you like from an extensive selection of seafood, meats, salad, fried side dishes, vegetables and fruits, then get it weighed to figure out how much you owe. It’s always a bargain. My only concern was how long some of the food had been sitting out in the midday heat, but we got by without illness. Now, guess which of these was mine…!