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.
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.
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…
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
This post was published on Aug 31, 2020