I fell unexpectedly in love with Brazil’s biggest city, but it wasn’t long before I felt the ocean calling me home.
Leaving São Paulo, we made our way towards the sea, where we’d planned to drip along the coast all the way to and beyond Rio de Janeiro. Tucked along this so-called Emerald Coast is a turquoise jewel — the colonial town of Paraty. As we planned the trip, it was one of the stops I was most looking forward to. In fact, aside from Rio, it was where we’d scheduled to spend the most time.
Photo by Heather Holt
Paraty is widely hailed as one of Brazil’s most charm-soaked towns. With an exquisitely preserved colonial center, a mountainous jungle backdrop and an endless array of tropical beaches and islands in the bay, it’s almost painfully picturesque. The lack of cars in the historic center makes it pleasant to stroll aimlessly, and easy to imagine you’ve traveled in time.
The town is a magnet for creatives and a popular getaway for both wealthy Brazilians from both Rio and São Paulo and in-the-know travelers, primarily from Europe. As two bumbling American gringas, we certainly broke the mold.
While some travelers breeze by in a day or so to soak up the white stucco, others — like us — linger. For those that do, there are a dizzying array of ways to entertain yourself. Schooner cruises of the archipelago’s islands are the most popular choice, though a SUP tour, a beach-hopping hiking trip, a cooking class, yoga and spa treatments, horseback riding to cachaca farms and waterfalls, whitewater rafting and ocean kayaking were also on our wish list.
When the sun shines, it would be shameful to find yourself bored in Paraty.
So how did this dreamy place come to exist in reality?
Paraty was already inhibited by the indigenous Guaianás when the Portuguese first rolled up in the 1500’s. Within a hundred years it was a popular stopover on the gold rush route between the mines and Rio de Janiero, though a new route later saw the city decline from greatness. Later, the coffee boom gave the city a boost, and since a new coastal road from Rio was extended to the city in 1960 tourism has been the name of the local economy game.
Paraty is a photographer’s playground. Heather and I went crazy with our cameras, roaming the cobblestone streets looking for the next hit of colonial charm to capture through our lenses. Our options were truly endless.
For the first time in a long time, I longed for a sketchpad and watercolors, for some of the scenes were just begging to be painted. Paraty might just be the most scenic hamlet I’ve come across since my travels to Luang Prabang in 2012.
Photo by Heather Holt
Photo by Heather Holt
Pretty amazing, right? Well, here’s the truth. Almost every single photo above was taken in our last three hours of our five days in Paraty. The rest of the time, it rained. Rained, poured, or simply threatened to with dark, ominous skies.
The scene below? It looked like that for our last morning, as we frantically scrambled around town trying to get in every last blue sky click we could. The rest of the time, it looked like this.
As a photographer, I embrace the challenge of trying to find the beauty in every day and destination, regardless of the weather conditions. Yet as a storyteller, I struggle sometimes to paint an accurate picture of how bleak it is to spend day after day fruitlessly checking the forecast, heavy-heartedly canceling your plans one by one, and staring frustratedly at dark angry skies when the photos I take paint a sunnier picture.
Yes, we tried to make the best of things. But as these behind-the-scenes iPhone snaps reveal, we spent much of our trip in makeshift garbage bag rain coats, laughing so we didn’t cry, or taking advantage of breaks in the downpour to jog off our frustration along stormy cliffs.
While Paraty is a beautiful city regardless of what the weather is doing, it is a teeny tiny one and cancelled boat trips and flooded beaches left us wondering how to fill our days. We did find a few gems, which I’ll cover in an upcoming guide on where to stay, eat and play in Paraty.
At times, we found ourselves wondering if we’d done ourselves a disservice by pre-booking our accommodation and transportation so that we had little room to be flexible. We were reassured however by the fact that we would have been more or less stuck, regardless: the storm blowing through the area was vast and covered any other destinations we could have easily reached by bus, and the steep prices of last-minute domestic plane tickets make spontaneous state-hopping hard to swing, anyway.
So after sunny skies and deliciously warm temperatures in Itú and in São Paulo, it seemed our good weather luck had run out. Even Paraty’s animals seemed a little glum, after a few days.
Photo by Heather Holt
Photo by Heather Holt
Sometimes when it rains, it pours. Weather is the one thing that simply can’t be predicted when planning a trip. We were visiting at the tail end of the rainy season but even locals agreed that arriving in the midst storm of this length and determination was a stroke of bad luck, on our part. Looking at a historic weather chart for the month we visited, it’s almost comical how the temperatures stayed steady throughout the month, our five day visit aside — they plummeted the day we arrived and soared again the day we left, while precipitation levels did the opposite.
You can’t win ’em all.
I feel a little sad when I think back on my time in Paraty, only because I think back to how frustrated we felt and regret all the activities we missed out on. I felt a bit trapped by our rigid itinerary, and panicked wondering if we’d be stuck shivering and wet for the rest of our trip. But in spite of that, I have many fond memories from Paraty as well — which I’ll share in upcoming posts.
In the end, there are worse places to be stuck in the rain.
Stay tuned for where to stay, what to do and where to eat in Paraty!
Looks beautiful in the rain Alex, in your photographs Alex.
Also love your friend Heather’s dress 🙂
She bought that in Brazil, actually! There was some great shopping there!
I had never heard of Paraty before, but it is indeed a pretty town.
Love your skirt in the last two photos.
Thanks Stephanie! Such a great travel skirt. Picked it up in Belize and take it everywhere now!
When my husband and I were in Hong Kong, it rained a majority of the time, (hard core monsoon rain!) so I understand how the weather can leave you feeling unenthusiastic about a place. Your Paraty photos are GORGEOUS though! The puddle reflections make for a beautiful and unique point of view, and the garbage bag photos are hilarious! Looking at these photos make me want to visit there 🙂
That makes me happy to hear, because it is a beautiful place and I would hate to put anyone off going! I think every traveler can relate to having a horrible bout of weather damper a trip :-/
OK, but you made it look lovely regardless! This exact thing happened to us on a NINE-day trip to Roatan (and then a subsequent two-day trip to Roatan). I didn’t get a single photo of above-the-ocean’s surface =/
I remember that Roatan trip! That was really bad luck. I’m not greedy… I just need at least ONE full day of sun each trip 😉 Three hours was not enough!
Wow, your and Heather’s photos are absolutely stunning! I always find that I don’t want weather to spoil my trip and therefore come prepared with a lot of outerwear “just in case”. I’ve happily walked along villages without being soaked and in terms of the pretty photos I wanted to take? Well, as long as I could protect my equipment they just ended up being a bit more moody for example!
Anyway, I would absolutely love to travel here!
There are definitely some shots that I’m happy to have a cloudy sky for — portraits for example always look better in nice even lighting. But any kind of big cityscape… I crave the blue skies! I’m just greedy for them!
Such a bummer, but you managed some great photos in any case! And without the rain, you wouldn’t have those great puddle shots!
That is a bright side to look at 🙂
I’m glad you managed to sneak in some of these beautiful shots because the place really is stunning. When I was there 7 years ago (holy crap, can it really have been that long ago!!!) I was similarly swept away by the charm. Spent my birthday there cruising around on a boat with some new friends from the hostel. I took too many photos to count! Glad you enjoyed it x
That sounds amazing! We were pretty gutted to miss the boat tours — something to go back for, for sure.
Paraty looks amazing, though I am sorry about the rain! Good for you for keeping a positive attitude throughout. Can’t wait to hear more about your wet adventures there.
Believe me, we were pretty cranky at the time ha ha. But time always brings a nice perspective!
Looks like a fabulous place. Such pretty pictures.
Thanks Aunt Linda! I think it’s the kind of place you would really enjoy. Wait until you see the hostel we stayed in!
I love how you wrote this article! Although I wish it hadn’t rained 90% of your trip, I find comfort in knowing that even seasoned travelers like yourself can be let down by inclement weather. We felt this way in Costa Rica – the first half of our trip, it was unseasonably cold and wet (not to mention that we both had food poisoning). It was very dreary… Oddly enough, the farther away we get, I start reminiscing about this trip through rose-colored glasses and a chuckle. I bet your Paraty trip will be one that you remember most, too! The leftovers of rain made for some great photos of reflections on the cobblestones!
Indeed! Whenever I’m having a true travel nightmare that seems to be dragging on I try to remind myself that almost everything is funny or charming in retrospect.
Not a place I have heard of, but what awesome photos
Thanks Jo-Anne! We spent a lot of time taking photos!
Thanks for the great tips! I love Brazil but have still yet to get to Paraty. Maybe I’ll have to try this coming year 🙂
Absolutely! It’s so convenient to visit from Rio or Sao Paulo!
So bummed to hear that the weather didn’t cooperate for you. Paraty was probably my favorite place in all of Brazil, but we did luck out with the weather. Your photos are still stunning regardless of the dreary weather!
Thanks Kacy! It definitely gave us a bit of heartache. But I suppose you win some you lose some!
Ummm…WORTH IT for the reflection photos alone. I guess it’s not always the best of experiences that make for the best photos xx
So very true! I’ve definitely become more conscious of how I capture and portray places… I realize the dissonance between my actual experience and the photos I’m sharing more than ever!
It reminds me of Ometepe in Nicaragua! Shame about the weather but it did mean you got some cool reflection shots and the colours of the buildings are a great contrast. I don’t know much about Brazil, enjoying your posts!
I’m surprised to hear that, I thought Ometepe was much more rural than this (I haven’t been). It’s definitely on my list to check out someday!
You win some, you lose some. I think we have all experienced this at least once and it is a bummer 🙁
Absolutely. I’ve never met a traveler who didn’t have at least one sob story related to the weather! You just can’t avoid it once you’re on the road for a while.
LOL i looove the pics of you guys in your garbage bag coats, but notice how in the one pic the ladies behind you have no coats, why didnt you just buy an umbrella? lol beautiful pics though, you’re making me want to go to Brazil so bad.
Well, the downpour started while we were in a little bodega and we had thousands of dollars of camera equipment with us that we didn’t want to get wet. We tried to wait it out but when it seemed it was going to go on for hours we asked for trash bags — they certainly didn’t sell umbrellas there 😉 And then when it lightened up a bit on our way home we took funny pictures.
What a colorful place! Loving all the colorful photos.
Thank YOU for reading Matt! More multi-hued Brazil posts coming soon!
I’m sorry that it rained, but the photos turned out wonderfully! I am still dabbling in travel photography- I hope to get better and take pictures like yours!
Thanks Anya! You’re too kind <3
Ohhhh I know how it feels to have the weather gods be unkind to you on a trip. But I love those photos of the colourful buildings reflecting in the pools of water. And you couldn’t have gotten those without the rain!!! <3
That is true! I’ll have to frame one someday so I can really say we really made the most of it!
WOW though. Glad you got those last few hours of nice weather so you could capture this beautiful town! Bummer about all the rain. Even if you had stayed flexible though you might have stayed just to see if the rain would abate and then feel even more frustrated when it didn’t! Love the trash bag ponchos btw ?
Yeah despite feeling a bit trapped we did also reason that there’s not much we could or would have done differently regardless. The next place we were heading would have been WAY worse to be stuck in in the rain, so it was good to wait it out in Paraty!
‘Even though it rained, the photographs are all gorgeous!
Thanks Victoria! Always love to travel with a fellow shutterbug…
Love Paraty! I got engaged there in 2014, and it was every bit as picturesque as you describe!! Rain is always a reason to return 🙂
Wow, that a beautiful place to make a memory like that <3 Indeed, I'd love to return to Paraty someday!
I’m loving all your pictures again but the one with the cobblestones and reflection of houses is gorgeous! I don’t like how rain can ruin a destination so much – I always just try to take photos but I’m usually disappointed by the result.
Certain destinations are definitely better for rain than others. A big city I don’t mind as much… you can go to museums, the movies, etc. At the beach though, options are definitely a bit more limited!
These photos are stunning! I’m sorry you had crummy weather but I have to say Paraty looks beautiful even in the rain. I love the shots of the brightly colored doors reflected in the puddles.
Thanks Adrienne! It definitely looks better in photos than it did at the time! That’s the magic of photography… and rose-tinted hindsight.
Okay even in the rain, Paraty still looks insanely gorgeous.
It reminds me a little bit of the photos I have seen of Cartagena–I’ll have to add Paraty to the list of coastal South American towns I need to visit!
Cartagena is still on my list! Can’t wait to get there, someday…
I definitely know how much of a bummer it is when the weather doesn’t cooperate! While I loved traveling in the Baltics and Russia in October, I literally didn’t see the sun for nearly 3 weeks. You seriously have to get creative with those gray skies!
If it makes you feel better, though, I still think all of your photos are gorgeous! And at least you did get to grab a few snaps in the sunshine. 🙂
We couldn’t decide if that was a blessing or a curse. We loved it for photo-gathering but lamented it as it made us realize what we’d missed for the previous days, ha.
I’d never heard of Paraty, but it looks like a beautiful place – stunning photos!
Thanks Alys! Definitely our most charming stop in Brazil!
What a gorgeous place.
I can see where you’re coming from with the Luang Prabang charm, or I’d nominate Hoi An or Colonia del Sacramento is being of similar ilk as well.
Can’t wait to get to Colonia del Sacramento someday. It’s very high on my list!
What a beautiful bunch of pictures!
Thank you so much! Paraty was quite photogenic!