Is Paraty A Tourist Trap?
7 Things To Consider Before Visiting

Is Paraty A
Tourist Trap? 7 Things To Consider Before Visiting

Published August 31, 2020

As someone who has spent the past four months moving as slowly as possible from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, I can guarantee that there are dozens if not hundreds of unique places to stop along the way. Perhaps the most popular halfway point is Paraty, a small town in the state of Rio de Janeiro recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its colorful historic district. After spending two weeks here, I admittedly have some mixed feelings about it.

Is Paraty a tourist trap, though? That depends on how you define the phrase. For me, tourist traps are places where attractions are mostly manufactured, prices are artificially high, and the overall experience just feels shallow. I wouldn’t go so far as to put such a scathing label on Paraty. However, certain aspects of the town sort of lean in that direction. In this blog post, I’ll discuss those issues and more so you can make an informed decision about visiting.

Full disclosure: I visited Paraty in August 2020, literally the week it opened to tourists after being shut down for months due to COVID-19. This may have influenced my views of the town, although I’d say that probably contributed positively: the town was largely empty, which made it easier to appreciate both the historic district and the beaches.

Click or tap any of the links below to jump to one of the seven main topics of this post!

  1. The Historic Center
  2. Beaches
  3. Food
  4. Prices
  5. Day Trips
  6. Safety
  7. How long should you stay?

1. The Historic Center

Paraty’s historic center is undoubtedly the city’s most unique offering. Cobblestone streets are lined with long white walls. Windows and door frames are painted with bright reds, yellows, blues, and greens.

The Centro Histórico is genuinely charming. You’ll want to wander down each and every alley and take an album’s worth of pictures. There are also a bunch of souvenir shops, restaurants, and bars to try here.

However, after about two days, the novelty of this area started to wear off. I continued to stroll through it most afternoons, but it’s not exactly the kind of place that offers something new on your fourth or fifth walk-through.

Another thing to note is that while those cobblestone streets are very picturesque, they are pretty exhausting to walk on. You have to constantly be looking down to make sure you don’t trip, and there is some risk of a rolled ankle if you’re not careful. For that reason, this whole area is not really handicap friendly.

Finally, I have a recommendation. The best time to take pictures here is during dusk. Trust me, you’ll be tempted to get some pictures during the afternoon when the bright colors seem to pop the most. But unless you’re focusing on a specific window, door, or pattern, shadows detract from these daytime shots because the walls are white.

I’m no professional photographer by any stretch of the imagination, but I can guarantee that you’ll capture the essence of the historic center more easily in the early evening. Cloudy weather can also similarly work to your advantage.

The streets of Paraty’s historic area tend to flood after heavy rains. This can be an inconvenience if you’re trying to cross the road, but it also is a great opportunity to get some beautiful reflection shots.

2. Beaches

Paraty is home to two main beaches: Praia do Pontal and Praia do Jabaquara. They are conveniently located and offer some pretty stunning views of the mountains surrounding the town. Since Paraty’s main attraction is the historic center, these beaches are kind of an added bonus.

Praia do Pontal
View of the Igreja de Nossa Senhora das Dores from Praia do Pontal
Praia do Jabaquara

Both beaches are home to a number of kiosks that offer food and drink throughout the day. To learn a bit more about dining options, read on…

3. Food

In general, Paraty has a wide selection of seafood (both high-end and casual), Italian food, typical Brazilian cuisine, ice cream parlors, and more. Here are some of my top recommendations.

Address: R. Mal. Deodoro, 264 – Centro Histórico, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000
This one was so good I had to go back a second time!

This casual, centrally-located burger place made a pretty good pineapple and pepper jam burger as well as crispy onion rings.

Address: R. do Comércio, 371 – Centro Histórico, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000

It had truly been over two months since I’ve last had any Asian food, so I was overjoyed to find a Thai restaurant in Paraty’s historic center. Their pad thai really satisfied my craving for noodles!

Address: R. Mal. Deodoro, 615 – Fatima, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000
This one was so good I had to go back a second time!

This restaurant’s espaguete pôr do sol (sunset spaghetti) was honestly the best pasta I’ve had in recent memory. The combination of red and white sauce ended up being so delicious. The noodles were perfect and the red sauce even had thinly sliced spicy pepperoni sausage. As the name implies, Torre di Pizza is mainly a pizza restaurant, but this spaghetti was a ten out of ten both times I got it!

Address: R. Pres. Pedreira, 696 – Chacara, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000
This one was so good I had to go back a second time!

It’s been a long time since I last had sushi, and this combo plate with a huge variety of rolls at Mandala Sushi was fresh, delicious, and authentic. I highly recommend this place!

Address: Praça da Bandeira, 5 – Centro Histórico, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000

This bar and grill on the far end of the historic district near the waterfront may look semi-casual, but the prices are a bit steep. Nonetheless, the chicken I ordered was really tender and the drizzle it came with was deliciously tangy.

Address: R. Jango Pádua, 151 – Parque Imperial, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000
This one was so good that I wanted to go back again, but they didn’t seem to be open every day of the week.

If you’ve never had food from the Brazilian state of Bahia before, you need to visit Divino Acarajé! Located a little bit outside of the historic district, this small, cozy restaurant’s prices are much better than most other restaurants on this list.

Their specialty is acarajé, a kind of fried bread delicacy pictured above. If you order it “no prato” (as a combo), you’ll get shrimp, two kinds of sauces, and veggies with it. It wasn’t a massive plate of food, but it was pretty filling. The service was great and the owners were so friendly, too. This was probably my favorite of all the restaurants I tried in Paraty!

Address: R. Manoel Tôrres – Parque Imperial, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000

I am pretty much never going to turn down Turkish food no matter where in the world I am, and getting lunch at Istanbul restaurant one day was definitely the right decision. I’m not completely sure what I ordered, but it was basically a beef stew in hummus served with pita. For 30 BRL, this was another bargain lunch compared to most other places.

Istanbul Paratii is located close to the bus station, a short walk inland from the Centro Histórico.

Address: Centro Histórico, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000

I discovered this place on my final day but would probably go back for more if I had time. Despite being a pizzeria, the waitress said they were only offering pasta for lunch. However, the spinach and pistachio ravioli I went with ended up being incredibly delicious. They even had a pepper-infused olive oil that gave the dish a little kick to balance out the creamy sauce.

A few other ‘honorable mentions’ are listed in the collapsed list below. Click or tap the links to expand them.

Address: Av. Roberto Silveira, 16 – Patitiba, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000

This was a fairly standard restaurant. It’s located on the town’s main street, and the shrimp and fish I got here was pretty good.

Address: Pontal, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000

There are quite a few beach kiosks on both of the beaches in Paraty, and they generally offer more competitive prices than the fancier sit-down restaurants in the old town. I ordered a pretty typical plate of fried fish, rice and beans, fries, and a salad.

Address: Avenida Jabaquara Quiosque n° 07 – Jabaquara, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000

Casa Nossa is located on Paraty’s northern beach (Jabaquara). I ordered fish with plantains, and it came out almost looking like a curry or hot pot. I was definitely not complaining about that! The dish was very filling and full of interesting spices. Slices in tomato in the stew went perfectly with the fish and plantains.

Address: R. Dr. Samuel Costa, 267 – Centro Histórico, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000

This restaurant is typical of what you’ll come across in the historic part of town. I tried a plate of fish and squid with rice and their signature cocktail, a unique strawberry and tequila concoction. This meal is pictured in the next section below.

Address: R. do Comércio, 315 – Centro Histórico, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000

I liked that this pizzeria offered genuine Italian-style pizza (usually Brazilian pizza has pretty thick crust and may not have enough tomato sauce in my personal opinion).

Address: R. do Comércio – Centro Histórico, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000

When I passed by Pippo and saw their unique interior, I knew I would have to try it. I ordered black squid ink ravioli filled with shrimp, fish, and clams. This meal was probably the most expensive I tried, but it was worth the splurge.

Address: Rua comendador Araújo ( rua da matriz,em frente ao asilo – Centro Histórico, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000

My first experience with cuisine from Bahia (at Divino Acarajé mentioned above) was so good that I had to try it again at a different restaurant. Raiz de Sol is in the heart of the historic district, so it’s more expensive than Divino Acarajé. Nonetheless, the seafood skewers over a plantain purée didn’t disappoint. I would love to make it to Salvador (the capital of Bahia) someday to try these dishes straight from the source!

Address: R. Dr. Pereria – Pontal, Paraty – RJ, 23970-000
This one was so good I had to go back a second time!

Located next to Quiosque do Ceará on Praia do Pontal, this beach shack offers similar food and drinks: fish, chicken, or beef combo plates with fries, a salad, rice, and beans.

The only less-than-satisfactory restaurant experience I had was at Camarão Para-ty. I ordered a steak parmesan (a very typical Brazilian dish that is usually hard to mess up) which just tasted like they used low-quality meat, sauce, and cheese. It was also supposed to come with rice and beans, fries, and a salad; it only came with rice and fries.

A Mini Rant about Languages, Dining, and Privilege while Traveling

How does dining tie in with a place potentially being a tourist trap? Well, it’s a small thing, but kind of a pet peeve of mine: when waitstaff insist on speaking in English the second they hear a foreign accent. This happened a handful of times in Paraty, and it just left me feeling a little annoyed because I can hold my own in Portuguese when it comes to ordering food.

I totally understand that this is a subjective issue and people probably have different opinions about it. I’m aware that in many circumstances, switching to English is a sign of good hospitality (and a privilege that many Americans are treated to while traveling), especially when we demonstrate that we can’t speak the local language.

In the end, I think this ultimately says more about American tourists than local waitstaff. It suggests that when Brazilians hear an accent, they assume that we can’t speak Portuguese. This is probably true in most cases. But I sort of wish that servers, bartenders, and baristas abroad weren’t pressured to switch to English so quickly in the name of good service. As visitors, we should have to struggle a bit to learn basic phrases abroad and maneuver situations like ordering food or paying a bill.

To wrap up this section about cuisine, I’ll close with this: dining out in Paraty is more expensive than in other towns I’ve been to. I can only assume that’s because the city (under non-pandemic circumstances) receives so many international visitors. The next section will tell you what to expect.

4. Prices

As hinted above, Paraty is pretty expensive, both in terms of food and accommodation. The restaurants in the Centro Histórico are especially pricey: expect a minimum of about 50 BRL per person, and meals could be upwards of 100 BRL with a drink and/or appetizer.

The beach kiosks offer a wider range of prices. Some may be on par with the prices listed above, but others specifically cater to budget diners by offering set meals for 15 or 20 BRL. In general these beach bars typically were pretty good and offered a much more casual experience.

As for my Airbnb, I paid about 330 USD for 15 nights. It ended up being a lovely place with two bedrooms and a full kitchen only a block away from the historic center, but this was still significantly more than I paid in Cunha, Aparecida, or Ubatuba.

I almost always use Airbnb when I travel and I love that it puts money into the pockets of locals during this otherwise slow period for tourism. To browse Airbnb options in Paraty, feel free to use the widget below!

5. Day Trips

Ok, so Paraty definitely has some of the makings of being a tourist trap (the most obvious being the high prices). However, the best way to offset that feeling is to go on a day trip. There are a lot of options, but here’s a taste of what one might look like.

Day Trip to Paraty Mirim and the Saco do Mamanguá

This day involved a boat ride and a hike, which was the perfect change of pace after wandering the Centro Histórico for many days. I would’ve never known how to do this trip on my own, but luckily I had a local guide. We first took a public bus from the terminal in downtown Paraty to Paraty Mirim, a small village with a pier.

From there, we hired a boat to take us over to this beach on the western side of Saco do Mamanguá, a tropical fjord surrounded by gorgeous green mountainsides.

After disembarking, we started our hike up to the Pico do Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Peak), as shown in the photo below. The hike was honestly so grueling, with a relentless uphill climb through the dense forest. The hike up offered no scenic views, either. Absolutely bring a big bottle of water, and I’d recommend eating a healthy meal before going up; you’re going to need the energy.

Despite the hike being so tough, the view from the top ended up being totally worth it. In order to make the final ascent, you will have to go up a few meters on rocky terrain. Once you reach the summit, you will definitely need to be careful: there are no guardrails anywhere.

After taking pictures on top and resting for a good while, we made the descent down. This was equally tough, although this time on the knees (compared to the aerobic workout that was going up). From there, we had to hire a boat to go back to Paraty Mirim and finally took the bus back to Paraty proper.

This is pretty much what the whole hike looks like. Not the most exciting trek in the world.

Note that there is no cell service anywhere in Paraty Mirim, on the beach, or during the hike, so prepare accordingly. Bring cash for the boat and bus, too: 5 BRL for each bus ride and between 50 and 100 BRL per person each way for the speedboat.

6. Safety

The historic district as well as the town’s main street (Av. Roberto Silveira) were completely safe in my experience. As always, use common sense. The road going from Praia do Pontal to Praia do Jabaquara shown below is a bit wooded, but I also felt safe walking along that little stretch as well.

My one safety warning would be to avoid the neighborhoods of Ilha das Cobras and Mangueira. In other words, don’t wander south of the municipal airstrip that divides the town into north and south. According to this article, both neighborhoods are not safe due to gang violence.

A picturesque pedestrian bridge connects the Centro Histórico to Ilha das Cobras. This seemed safe to explore during the day, but once you cross the bridge to see the views, it’s best to turn back around. Don’t keep wandering south.

I accidentally wandered into the eastern part of Ilha das Cobras and could tell immediately that this was not a place for tourists to be walking through. There are no historic buildings down here, and as a tourist you will stand out, especially if you’re carrying a camera or are wearing anything flashy. Avoid it, even during the day.

7. How long should you stay?

One of the main reasons I framed this blog post around this question of whether Paraty is a tourist trap is because I found myself feeling sort of ready to leave after a week. As a long-term traveler, this is highly unusual for me: I almost always leave destinations wishing I had more time to explore more.

If you’re doing a two or three week vacation in Brazil and traveling between São Paulo and Rio with a stop in Paraty, I recommend two or three nights there. This is enough time to see the beaches, wander the old town, and do a day trip or other activity.

Final Verdict: Is Paraty a Tourist Trap?

A tourist trap is the kind of place with a reputation large enough to always attracts visitors, but that leave many people feeling disappointed or even swindled afterwards. With that in mind, Paraty doesn’t exactly qualify as one; I genuinely enjoyed my time there. However, the question came to my mind more than once while I was there. Going on a day trip or visiting a local, non-toursity business outside the historic district can go a long way in terms of making your experience just feel a bit less commercialized.

If you’re the type of traveler who prefers to go further off the tourist route, two alternatives to Paraty are Ubatuba (another beach destination) and Cunha (a small village in the mountains). Both are clearly still getaway destinations, but they cater much more to domestic tourists. In my personal opinion, they offer a more uniquely Brazilian holiday experience.

What do you think? Will you be stopping in Paraty on an upcoming trip to Brazil? Have you been before, and if you have, did you get the same vibe I did? Am I being a little too harsh? Leave a comment and let me know! My next stop will be further east to the district of Angra dos Reis, so keep an eye out for that post! Have a great day, guys!

Share This Post With Fellow Travelers!

This post was published on Aug 31, 2020

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. sarahemjames

    It’s certainly a pretty place in the old town; my goodness that water after rain – it’s trying to rival Venice! Your hike sounds hard but worth it for the view. I suspect that I’d have found 2 weeks too long as well, these days 10 days is about the perfect break for me (unless going to Australia!)

  2. Zarina

    Interesting article and I really value your honest opinion! I often find myself in a kind of contradictory situation where I’m a tourist myself but then complain it’s too touristic. It’s a difficult one I find, but I think you gave a balanced opinion here. I think that if I was in the area, I might go to Paraty for a couple of days perhaps, but not longer after reading your article as I’m not a beach person and by the sound of it, the town doesn’t have that much to offer for a longer stay. It does look very pretty though so in that sense, I’d be very curious to see it in real life. I recognise your thoughts about the staff immediately reverting to English. Depending on the situation, I wouldn’t be too bothered with it though, but perhaps because I can’t speak any Portuguese (I would make sure to learn the basics though and carry a phrase book with me ;-)) What always turns me off when I travel is when restaurants have photos of the food in the menu, I avoid those places at all cost ha ha!

  3. Your photos of the historic downtown area reminded me of Villa de Leyva, outside Bogota, Colombia. Same thing there: It is very touristy, but you get to enjoy the beauty and are not harassed by local vendors. And quite honestly, we found that you can have authentic experiences even in bad tourist traps. It is often good enough to just walk a few feet away from the main drag and you find amazing places that are almost exclusively visited by locals.
    As to your mini rant about waiters speaking English: I wonder if they are just being nice and/or if they are trying to polish their English which they may not have used in some time due to the travel restrictions. If something like that happens to us, then we just keep speaking in their local language. Almost all waters will switch back to their native tongue eventually.

    1. I didn’t get all the way out to Villa de Leyva when I was in Bogotá, but I’ll make a note of it for next time! Did you stop at Zipaquirá? I found that town to be pretty cool with the Salt Cathedral and not overwhelmingly touristy. And yes, you make a really good point, I’m sure the people who work here do want to practice their English since they probably haven’t been able to for many months. Continuing to respond in the local language is a great strategy for people to demonstrate that they did take the effort to learn at least some basic phrases, too.

  4. The Top Ten Traveler

    Tourist trap is a pretty harsh expression. This place looks like a lovely small town (love your pics), and I find it OK that they try to make money out of tourism, without saying it’s a trap. I have been to a few cities that are small and 3-4 are more than enough to explore them all. Having said all that and after reading your post, I think you loved this place after all 🙂

  5. josypheen

    It’s interesting that you felt ready to move on after such a short time. It certainly looks like a stunning area to explore (especially with your photos of all the reflections in the giant puddles…) but I’m not a massive fan of spending a long time on beaches, so I would probably feel the same way.

    btw, I looove your new pop out sections for all the food. It looks good and is easy to navigate. I love the sound of Divino Acarajé. Om nom nom…

    1. Thanks, Josy! I’m always looking for new ways to make the blog easier to read and navigate, and while I definitely wanted to feature these restaurants, I didn’t want this post to turn into a novel! 🙂

  6. Smita

    We considered visiting Paraty during a visit to Rio but didn’t get the time. I do love the historic center and your reflection shots are beautiful!
    The views from the top of the Sugarloaf Peak are stunning! But I don’t think I’d be able to make the hike up – sounds too tough. Also, is this the same sugarloaf in Rio or a different one?

    1. That’s a great question! No, these are two different Sugarloaf Peaks. I’m now wondering if that name is used to describe any old exposed rock at the top of a mountain here in this part of Brazil. When my guide suggested it as a day trip idea, I asked if he meant driving all the way into the city of Rio because that’s what I was thinking as well!

  7. I hadn’t heard of this place before now, so thank you for introducing it to me! I love old cities with cobblestone streets and colourful houses, I think I would love it here. Unfortunately it seems like it’s not one you can do on a tight budget, so I’ll keep that in mind when I plan my trip there!

  8. Kez

    It does look like a lovely little town but it also looks like more than a few days would be too much time to spend there. Any towns that have hikes in or near them are okay with me.

  9. Aradhana Bakshi

    I like how you have interwoven the concept of a tourist trap and that thread remains alive till the very end of your post. Is Paraty a tourist trap? is a question I was hooked onto and almost urges me to scrape the layer of tourism off a lot of places I have been to, which may be called ‘touristy’ or ‘may be not’. The cobbled streets and walkways with yellows and blues did remind me of the Albufeira particularly in Portugal Algarve. I loved the reflective images in your post.

  10. Zack L.

    Paratay seems very much like a town I live near. While it has it’s touristy aspects, I wouldn’t call it a tourist trap out right because there are plenty of places to visit that only locals know.

  11. samantha karen

    Wow this looks so amazing! It reminds me of a a small town in Europe, the cobblestone streets and charming buildings! So very cute. I’m also very enticed by the food, in particular the icecream, YUM!

  12. We were in Paraty for the day and chose to spend the day on a boat snorkelling. Sorry now we missed the colourful cobblestone street town. It does look charming! Although I know from experience that too much walking on these streets will kill my feet and ankles in no time. The day trip spots do look lovely. And might make me want to spend a few days here.

  13. Delphine Mignon

    Tourist trap or not, this is a very pretty town and the food looked quite decent. Maybe it didn’t require too much time? Still, it’s great that you got to visit when there were no tourists, it’s such a rare occurrence… I loved your photos of the early evening, great reflections!

  14. iemexploring

    Well I have never heard of Paraty before and wow it looks so beautiful! Tourist trap maybe but I will be adding it to the bucket list for sure!

  15. Maggie

    This looks like a lovely place to hang out for a few days but not stay too long. Though the old town is charming! And you are absolutely right about those reflection shots – they looks awesome!

  16. Yehuda Kovesh

    Very informative and helpful travelogue. Tourist vs Traveller is a very old question, now that there are more tourists..I fell in love with Paraty at first sight, reminded me so much of Baracoa in Cuba where I was living at that time. I have been there twice and plan to be there soon.
    For fans of Brasilian movie, a 1983 film Gabriela (wondeful book by Jorge Amado) was shot in Paraty.
    from Wiki:Gabriela is a 1983 Brazilian romance film directed by Bruno Barreto. It was shot in the cities of Paraty, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, and in Garopaba, Santa Catarina. It starred Marcelo Mastroianni and Sonia Braga.
    Like Baracoa, Paraty attracts the out of the way people who live there. Tourists may not come across them but travellers would. I hope to stay at Pousado do Principe this time. Once again thank you for a good read

Leave a Reply