Welcome to Travel Crush, where we pine over places we’ve yet to explore, why they intrigue us so, and what we dream we’d accomplish once we get there. This week’s crush is Paraty, Brazil.
Last month, Instagram feeds went from seemingly endless strings of inflatable flamingo pool toys to devastating alerts of fires in the Amazon rainforest—and ways to counteract the destruction. PSAs shared by everyone from Madonna to your cousin Cathy voiced concern for loss of habitat, greenhouse gas emission, and Indigenous rights.
While the Amazon rainforest’s two million square miles are shared between nine different South American countries, Brazil contains the vast majority—and with fires still blazing in some areas, Brazil and its government have garnered mostly negative attention. President Jair Bolsonaro stands accused of genocide and ecocide for encouraging the deforestation that created conditions under which more than 75,000 fires raged at one time.
Eclipsed by the dire headlines, however, are Brazil’s wins this year. Far from the flames, Brazil’s cities have quite a bit to celebrate: Rio de Janeiro was selected by UNESCO to be the first World Capital of Architecture for 2020, and Paraty, a small coastal city in between Rio and São Paulo, was just selected as a new World Heritage Site for its mix of “culture and biodiversity.”
Visiting Brazil from the States has never been easier: they’ve just removed their Visa restrictions for the U.S. and the exchange rate is better than it has been in the last decade. As one of the largest countries in the world with vastly diverse landscapes and more than 2,000 beaches, the most difficult choice when planning a trip to Brazil is where to actually go.
As the Amazon continues to heal from the wreckage, I’m looking east, to Costa Verde, for natural wonders and seaside culture without the crowds. My dream trip involves a visit to Paraty, four hours south of Rio and four hours northeast of São Paulo, where I can get my fill of nature, history, and maybe even some jazz.
Paraty is a port city, and you know what that means. Fresh-caught local fish and shrimp abound—and for a splurge, I’m heading to Banana da Terra (the most upscale and famous resto in Paraty). What I’m most looking forward to, however, is a night spent with Brazilian chef Yara Castro Roberts and her husband Richard Roberts, who host dinner-slash-cooking-class events at their house, otherwise known as the Academy of Cooking and Other Pleasures. (Wild name, but so intriguing!) When it comes to drink, Paraty is one of Brazil’s most important regions for producing cachaça, which was first made by African slaves in the 16th century from distilled sugarcane juice and is now Brazil’s most popular spirit. It’s said that Paraty’s hillside planting and proximity to the ocean give the local variety its distinct sweetness and flavor. I’d head to the hillside for a tour of Cachaça Maria Izabel, one of Paraty’s leading distilleries, where I’ll get to test the stuff and decide for myself.
For a taste of the quaint colonial flavor that has made Paraty famous, I’m staying at Casa Turquesa Inn, voted Best New Posada (inn or lodge) by Brazil’s Michelin Guide in 2009. It’s got all the creature comforts (free breakfast, poolside bar, spa services) plus a blooming garden and stunning architecture and design that contrast with the lush green mountains behind it. Pousado do Sandi is another good option if you’re looking for quiet and comfortable digs.
Between the 19th century churches and cobblestone streets of the historic center and the sprinkling of easily accessible but secluded islands throughout the Bay of Ilha Grande, Paraty is an escape from city madness. You’ll find me snorkeling it up and soaking in the vitamin D out on the Bay. But, being that it’s also tucked into the Bocaina Mountains, there are also plenty of adventure options by land if that’s more your style. Think tropical hiking, rappelling, and horseback riding (to name a few). If you’re worried about the heat, ideal times to visit are fall and winter, when the weather is comfortably cool and generally sunny. Plus, August holds the annual Festival of Cachaça, also known as Festival da Pinga (Caipirinhas for days) and May holds the Paraty Bourbon Jazz Festival, which brings in top artists from around the world.