Escape from Rio: Paraty and Ilha Grande

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March 4, 2017
Katie Uniacke

Rio de Janeiro is a beguiling city, with an endless list of things to discover, see, hear and taste. The city could keep anyone busy for weeks, but if you tire of the hubbub and decide you want to explore something of Brazil beyond the confines of it’s most famous metropolis, without going too far, you can’t do any better than Paraty and Ilha Grande. From the colonial, cobbled streets of Paraty to the warm waters and idyllic beaches of Ilha Grande, this will give you a taster of the Brazilian good life, and I defy you not to want to come back for more.

 

Paraty

A view of Paraty as seen from a boat.

Paraty, img: Otávio Nogueira

Stepping into the centre of this colonial town is like stepping back in time. There are no cars allowed in the heart of Paraty, and the cobbled streets and charming architecture will transport you back to a less hectic time. Spend an afternoon and evening strolling around the streets and peep into the countless shops selling locally made handicrafts and souvenirs. Sit down and enjoy a Brazilian delicacy at one of the many restaurants that spill out onto the square, or simply grab some local street food and enjoy the atmosphere.

Behind the town are dramatic hills and mountains, covered in lush, green vegetation. From Paraty, you can easily reach several picture-postcard beaches. Trindade is one of the most famous beach spots. If you catch the local bus, be sure to hang on tight when the driver takes the hairpin bends! Once you’ve reached the small beach village of Trindade, make a bee-line for the beach.

The streets of Paraty, img: Rodrigo Soldon

The highlight is the natural swimming pools, which you can either walk to (be prepared for a bit of clambering over rocks- but it’s a great, tropical adventure!), or catch a boat to. Here, boulders have formed a calm salt water pool which is home to huge amounts of marine life that you can peer at through your snorkel. Just make sure you’re watching where you’re going, as some of the barnacles on the rocks can give you a nasty scratch. Once you’ve had your fill of snorkelling, it’s back to the beach proper for some quality chill-out time.

 

Ilha Grande

A view of a beautiful beach in Ilha Grande

Praia de Palmas – Ilha Grande, img: Rafael Vianna Croffi

Further along the coast from Paraty, you’ll come to Angra dos Reis, one of the points where you can catch a boat out to the island, which is hugely popular with foreign tourists and Brazilians alike. The boat drops you in the main village on the island, which is where the accommodation is concentrated, Vila de Abraao. People don’t swim off the beach where the boats pull up, but dump your stuff in your hostel or hotel and head in either direction and you’ll soon come to a paradise beach with beautifully warm water to bathe in.

There are no cars on the island, so you can reach other beaches on the island on foot or by boat. If you’re looking to have a beach to yourself, go for the walking option, as most of the boat tours call at the same beaches during the day, and what was once a quiet slice of paradise can quickly turn into a scrum if a few boats turn up.

The climate is always wonderfully warm, but this does mean that you’ll sweat when walking the trails around the island, and will need to take plenty of water with you. When wandering through the trees, you’re likely to spot monkeys and exotic birds. There are a couple of waterfalls on the island that you can cool off in after a long trek.

A shot of the serene Ilha Grande

Ilha Grande

One of the charms of Ilha Grande is that there is no electronic music or clubbing scene, so the nights are very relaxed. There’s plenty of live music, mostly forro, samba and bossa nova, which goes perfectly with the tropical atmosphere. Find yourself a spot in a bar and strike up a conversation with your neighbours. The island vibe tends to infect everyone as soon as they step off the boat, so the people are generally charming.

The other charm of the island, at least in my opinion, is that there is zero mobile signal and very little wifi, so if you’re looking for somewhere where you can shut yourself off from the outside world for a few days, you’ve come to the right place.

There are plenty of other beautiful spots within easy reach of Rio, but if you’re pressed for time and want to get a hit of colonial architecture as well as some beach and rainforest time, make these two your priority. I wouldn’t mind betting that you’ll fall in love with this country the size of a continent, and having had a taste of it, you’ll soon be back to explore more.

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