A Visit To Ilha de Paquetá, Rio’s Tranquil Island Getaway
A Visit To Ilha de Paquetá, Rio’s Tranquil Island Getaway
Published October 31, 2020
Welcome to the blog’s very first installment of Rio de Janeiro 360! This weekly series will highlight all the best things to do during a visit to Rio. Future posts will cover the city’s most iconic attractions such as Christ the Redeemer and the Sugarloaf Cable Car, but I wanted to start off the series with a little corner of Rio that most people have probably never even heard of. In fact, this island is so calm that it’s hard to believe that it’s only an hour away from downtown Rio by ferry.
This blog post is all about Ilha de Paquetá, a small island located in the northeastern part of Rio’s Guanabara Bay. Because it’s so easy to get to, Paquetá is perfect for a day trip from the city. This post will explain exactly how to get there and what to expect when you arrive. Let’s dive right in!
How to Get There
Getting to Ilha de Paquetá from downtown Rio de Janeiro is straightforward and very affordable. First, you’ll want to head towards Praça XV (15) ferry terminal, which is a short walk away from the Carioca metro station. Be sure to check the times beforehand, but as of October 2020, boats leave at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on weekdays, in addition to some later and earlier times.
If you are arriving by metro, the walk from the station to the dock is quite a scenic one, and you’ll pass by quite a few impressive examples of colonial architecture. This area of Rio (downtown, or “Centro”) is by no means a favela, but you will want to keep a close eye on your personal belongings.
One of the things I love about this day trip is that it’s so affordable. The ferry only costs 6.50 BRL each direction (approx. 1.10 USD as of October 2020). The boat itself is basic but comfortable. Vendors on board do sell snacks, but there’s no canteen or cafeteria. I recommend eating before you embark and bringing water and anything else you may need.
Unfortunately, the ferry doesn’t have an open-air deck, so if you want a view of the bay, you’ll have to sit towards the front. Be sure to keep an eye out for Ilha Fiscal, a small island near the port that has an eye-catching green castle on the water. About halfway through the hour-long trip, you’ll pass under the large Rio-Niterói Bridge.
Arriving on Ilha de Paquetá feels like going back in time. Most notably, the island has no cars, only golf carts and bikes. As soon as you leave the ferry terminal, you’ll notice how quiet and tranquil everything is. Some sources online claim that 4,500 people live here, but the population fluctuates greatly based on time of year. Walking around the island, even residential streets were really quiet, so I’d be surprised if more than 1,500 people were there when I visited.
The main feature of Paquetá is its beaches. It’s fairly easy to walk around the island while sticking to the shoreline. However, there’s no clearly designated path or trail for pedestrians. With that said, there are a couple of dead ends if you try to follow the roads along the coast. A loop all the way around the island is about 7 kilometers.
The beaches on Paquetá are incredibly varied. Many of them have views of large, smooth boulders sticking out of the water. Along the west coast, the white sandy shores are long, flat, and open.
Along the east coast, the beaches are much smaller and rockier. You’re probably more likely to run into some seabirds here than other people!
My personal favorite beach is this one here, which is so small and out of the way that it doesn’t even have a name! It was such a good place to take pictures because the water was so incredibly calm.
If you stay on the island late enough to catch the sunset, you’re in for a treat. In Rio, the sun sets behind the mountains, so the views usually aren’t anything special. In contrast, Paquetá offers a true sunset on the horizon. From Praia José Bonifácio, it was simply spectacular!
A Park with a Fort
On the island’s southwest corner is a park called Darke de Mattos. With wide open grass lawns, a couple of small sandy beaches on the southern side, and beautiful palm trees, this public park is the perfect place to relax, especially if you’re not in the mood to walk all over the island.
The one thing you won’t want to miss here is a fort built into a rocky hill that offers a panoramic view of the island. I’m not sure if “Mirante do Parque Darke de Mattos” was originally a military structure or not, but with winding pathways carved into the rock and little offshoots and tunnels, it’s definitely unique.
Although almost every beach on the island is picturesque, the view of Paquetá from the fort on the top of the hill can’t be beat! Since the bay is surrounded by mountains on all sides, this is the perfect place to capture some gorgeous shots with clearly defined layers of water, beaches, hills, mountains, and clouds. Darke de Mattos Park looks like it closes every day at 5:00 p.m., so be sure to visit before dark.
In addition to the abundance of beaches, another fascinating thing about Ilha de Paquetá is its architecture. A lot of it looks colonial, but many of the houses look abandoned. Some roads on the island are surrounded by stretches of tall concrete walls, hinting that grand estates are hidden inside. Perhaps Paquetá was an exclusive getaway for aristocrats a century ago, but it seems like it went out of vogue and only those who made a modest living by fishing stayed after its heyday.
This is my biggest complaint about the island: there are very few food choices, and outside of the town center near the ferry terminal, there’s almost nothing. I decided to try one of the half-dozen sit-down restaurants for dinner, and the baked spaghetti I got there actually ended up being delicious. Nonetheless, more choices would’ve been nice.
As I mentioned earlier, everything about Ilha de Paquetá makes it perfect for a day trip. If you choose to spend one or more nights on Paquetá, I recommend checking out Airbnb, which has quite a few cozy looking options. I actually liked the island so much that I may go and spend a night there sometime! If you want to browse Airbnb listings on Paquetá or anywhere in the world, feel free to use the widget below!
Walking around the island, I passed by quite a few hotels. Almost all of them looked temporarily closed or permanently abandoned. I’m really curious if this is a result of COVID-19, or if it’s just the slow season. I visited Paquetá on a weekday, so perhaps they’re only open on weekends. Nonetheless, I found this odd, since hotels in Rio proper have reopened again after lockdown.
I’m not quite sure what to say about safety, to be honest. In general, I felt safe on the island. However, some areas were just so calm and quiet that I felt like I had to remain alert. As I’m sure most avid travelers know, it’s usually safer to be around people than to be completely alone.
Be aware that Ilha de Paquetá is not exclusively upscale. There are areas that look quite nice and areas that look more run-down. There is even a tiny favela right here (pictured below), but it shows up as a dead end on the map. I don’t think tourists would accidentally wander in.
Returning to Rio
Whether you decide to do a day trip or spend a couple nights on Paquetá, you’ll head back to Praça XV in Rio out of the same (and only) ferry terminal where you disembarked when you arrived. The price to go back is the same: 6.50 BRL.
Again, double check times just to be safe (so that you don’t find yourself stuck on the island overnight!), but it looks like return ferries depart at 5:20 p.m. and 7:40 p.m. on weekdays. Purchase tickets directly at the ferry terminal.
Ilha de Paquetá: A True Gem
Overall, Ilha de Paquetá is a fascinating little slice of Rio de Janeiro that I assume the vast majority of tourists don’t make it to while vacationing here. If you’re spending less than a week in the city, I’d say that you can skip it unless you’re really drawn to these empty beaches. However, if you’re going to be in Rio for two weeks or more, a day trip to Paquetá is a really interesting and memorable way to see some of the beauty of the greater metropolitan region!
Have you been to Rio or Ilha de Paquetá before? Are you planning a visit? Let me know in the comments below! If you liked this post, don’t forget to share it on social media! Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next Rio de Janeiro 360 post, coming very soon!
This post was published on Oct 31, 2020