Which is to say, anywhere along Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon. On Sundays the coast road that joins them all is pedestrianised and it seems that the whole city comes out to walk. The beach – because it is free – is the most democratic area of Rio and you see all social classes and ages.
In the late 17th century, when the Portuguese Bandeirantes (literally standard bearers or pioneers) discovered gold and precious stones in Minas Gerais, a safe deep water port was required to ship these riches back to Europe. The calm, sheltered waters of the Baía da Ilha Grande, accessed by the precarious Indian trails that traversed the Serra da Bocaina, were ideally suited for this purpose. Thus, in about 1670, the settlement of Paraty was founded and within 20 years was one of the most prosperous ports in the Iberian Colonies.
Unfortunately for the good burghers of Paraty, but happily for the modern traveller, by 1720 a much shorter trail had been blazed from the prospecting towns of Minas to Rio de Janeiro. Despite a brief disturbance during the coffee and sugar booms of the 19th Century, this historical accident, and the fact that Paraty only became accessible by motor vehicle in the 1950s, left the region in its own development-free time bubble.
Today Paraty is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its former wealth is reflected in some of the most beautiful and assiduously preserved colonial architecture in the whole of Brazil. The Centro Histórico is a masterpiece, with its baroque churches, roughly cobbled streets that flood with the rising tide and graceful merchants’ mansions. Set all this man-made elegance in a heart-stopping setting of rainforest-clad escarpments, the dramatic Costa Verde coastline, dozens of near deserted beaches and the tropical islands of the Baía and you have a combination of sophistication and natural exuberance that is hard to beat anywhere in Brazil.
It has to be said that, as a popular weekend retreat for the well-heeled of São Paulo and Rio, Paraty is not cheap by Brazilian standards but if anywhere around Rio is worth a bit of a splurge, this is it. One lower priced accommodation option is the Cigarras Pouso Familiar near the bus station. It is a popular location for makers of period movies and novellas and has en suite rooms including breakfast at R$100 and small self catering apartments for around R$150. My personal favourite, however, is the gorgeous Mercado de Pouso, Paraty’s former coffee market, on the old quayside beside the Santa Rita church, where a double room with air conditioning, ceiling fan and bathroom with breakfast included will set you back around R$250. The hotel also has its own 80 foot schooner and organises dolphin spotting, diving and beach cruises to the islands. For the truly budget minded, camping is available at the Camping Club do Brasil a short distance out of town beside the Praia do Pontal.
One of the real pleasures of Paraty is its bewildering profusion of excellent restaurants. In a high class field there are two that really stand out. The Restaurante da Matriz is situated in a colonial house on the main square, Praça da Matriz. It is rightly famous throughout Brazil for its deliciously authentic Caiçara dishes, named after the natives of this coastal region. Try the mouthwatering sea bass and shrimp moqueca, a traditional fish stew spiced with ferociously piquant dendê oil, or the prawns fried in batter with ginger and mango sauce.
If that doesn’t take your fancy, on Rua do Comercio you will find Merlin o Mago, an award winning establishment with an idiosyncratic fusion style that incorporates the best of Europe, Asia and Brazil. The restaurant is aptly named as its chef, the German-born former restaurant critic, Hado Steinbrecher, is truly a magician. His onion ice cream (yes, that’s onion ice cream) dumplings on tomato with grilled goat’s cheese are a sensation and you’ll have to go a long way to find anything to beat the lobster in orange sauce.
A good, if expensive, time to visit Paraty is during the low season months of July and August when two events draw visitors from all over the world. Every August since 1972 the town has organised the Festival da Pinga. Time was when the town and surrounding area had over 200 distilleries, or “alambiques”, producing Brazil’s sugar cane spirit, cachaça, the principal ingredient of the ubiquitous caipirinha. Whilst the alambiques are somewhat less numerous today, Paraty is still a major producer and the festival attracts some 20,000 aficionados who take their cachaça as seriously as any single malt whisky drinker.
For those of a less bacchanalian disposition, for four days every July Paraty becomes a sort of tropical Hay-on-Wye as it presents the annual Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty. Run by Bloomsbury Publishing founder, Liz Calder, the festival has played host to the likes of Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie and, after only three years, is already established as one of the world’s premier literary events.
Do bear in mind that accommodation prices can double and even triple during these busy periods and hotel bookings should be made weeks, if not months, in advance.
As far as activities are concerned, clearly the sea plays a major role. A number of companies offer skippered sailing and motor yacht charters in modern, well equipped boats and Paraty is also one of Brazil’s scuba diving meccas with a host of companies to choose from. On the other hand, if just lazing on a palm-fringed beach is your thing, the boat ride to Praia do Sono is an absolute must. Quite simply, they don’t make beaches any lovelier. Praia do Sono and the larger, busier beach at Trindade can also be reached by bus.
Paraty’s other major attraction is the Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina, which straddles the border of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and is home to endangered species such as spider and howler monkeys, harpy eagles, tree porcupines and giant anteaters. Four wheel drive and horseback tours of the Park and the Trilha de Ouro (gold trail), with English speaking guides, can be arranged at the Centro de Informações Turisticas on Avenida Roberto Silveira.
Paraty is a magical, almost unreal place with a delight round every corner. From the moment you arrive your senses will be overwhelmed by a heady confection of sights, sounds, smells and tastes that few places in the world can equal. Don’t take my word for it, though. While anchored in the Baía da Ilha Grande during his second South American voyage of 1501, Amerigo Vespucci wrote in a letter home, “Oh God! If there was a paradise on earth, it would not be very far from here!” He was not wrong.
To reach Paraty from Rio, take an air conditioned coach from the Rodoviária Novo Rio bus station. The journey time is about four hours. Here are some useful websites: Paraty, www.paraty.com.br/iindex.asp. Mercado de Pouso, www.mercadodepouso.com.br/. Cigarras Pouso Familiar, www.paraty.com.br/cigarras/ICIGARRA.HTM. Merlin o Mago, www.paraty.com.br/merlin. Restaurante da Matriz, www.paraty.com.br/matriz/index.asp. For yacht charters, Coconut Yacht Adventures (www.geocities.com/bra1868/) is a reliable German run company and for diving, Mr. Big Paraty (tel. 024/3371-1327) has a good reputation.
Try this fabulous, thick, black bean soup served with bacon bits, fried garlic and sometimes "queijo minas" cheese. Add some chilli sauce and enjoy. Portions are small but filling. You can find it in most restaurants even if it's not on the menu. Try Bofetada in Ipanema, a popular post-beach hangout.
Bofetada Rua Farme de Amoedo 87, Ipanema
Beware the fierce undertow and crashing surf that can sneak up on you on Copacabana and Ipanema (not to mention beaches farther afield). You really have to watch your footing and pay attention to the lifeguard's flags that indicate when it's safe to go for a dip, or you'll find yourself battling for your life thanks to the steep dropoff and strong rip tides!
I am not sure if it's actually illegal but it's certainly frowned upon. You can wear what you like, as small as you like, as long as there is something there preserving your modesty, even if very little is left to the imagination. As I understood, from good carioca (people from Rio) friends, it's very 'low class' to be topless and have a 100% tan. That's something for the ladies of the night...
After three weeks in Rio we'd seen all the museums, the beaches, the nightclubs and all. I wasn’t bored or anything but the girls were restless and I love new adventures. I went for Marlin Yacht Charters. I was impressed at how attentive the crew was. They had a great infrastructure and the boat was comfortable. The only thing that was a true bummer was that the visibility was horrible due to the polluted waters. But that’s just a whole other issue.
Av. Infante Dom Henrique, s/n - Marina da Glória - Loja. A1 - Glória, Rio de Janeiro/RJ - CEP 20021-140
One of our tour guides over at Brazil Expedition company told us that Rio was the only city in the world where we could hanglide above the mountains, buildings, beach – and even slums – all together in one place. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but after I found out about that, I obviously had to try it out! It was rad! I was a bit scared at first, because I had never hanglided or done anything of the sort, but you jump off the ramp with a fly instructor, and he’s the one who gets all the work, all you have to do is stand back and enjoy the ride! The coolest pics I took of Rio were from my hanglide flight. If you're into adrenaline and tryng out new things, I recommend it!!!
Alone in Rio on the weekend? Want to be occupied without doing much? Want to see Rio beach life?
Rent a bike in Ipanema and pedal all the way up to Gloria and back. Don't forget to take in Urca. It's flat, safe (95% bike paths) and very cool; you'll need about four hours if you take it easy (how else?); you'll see a great cross section of Rio people and the view on the way back is quite different from the view on the way there.
Lonely Planet suggests two or three places. It cost me less than 10 quid.
All of Rio’s beaches tend to get packed – except the small, idyllic Joatinga beach, which feels like you could be on a deserted island. Locals go there on weekends, so if you turn up on a weekday you will be one of the only people there.
The only way of getting there is in a cab – and you need to check he knows exactly how to get there. It’s at the end of the Estrada de Joá and through a private condominium, where there is a precarious trail down to the beach.
Me and some friends went to Rio last week and we had such a great time there. We really liked the people down there, very warm and kind. The beaches were simply amazing, it was just awesome to get up and walk a few blocks… and bam! You’re in the middle of a beautiful beach! We had the guts to also try the very popular samba, In a place called Casa Rosa Cultural. It’s a hidden place, I guess, but one of the greatest spots there. Plenty of samba lessons, and also some ‘circles’ of it, many great people to know. This trip was the best ever!
Rua Alice, 550
Barril 1800 is almost an institution in Rio de Janeiro. Because of its localization, in the front of Ipanema beach, or maybe because it's been there for decades receiving everybody with great food and beer and lots of courtesy.
People go there straight from the beach, creating a casual environment. They serve traditional Brazilian dishes in huge amounts of food for great prices. And, last but not least, the sight of Ipanema beach is breathtaking. Don't miss it!
Avenida Vieira Souto, 110
Ipanema - Zona Sul - 2523-0085
The light in Rio is spectacular, especially on the beach. Take a walk from Arpaodor to Leblon which takes about 45 minutes. Do this when the sun sets. It sets just behind the Dois Hermanos (two brothers) and the light is light blue/pink most of the time. The sound of the waves, people and Ipanema to your right make this a very special walk and keeps you fit. In the morning the sun comes up from Copacabana, so a walk from Arpoador - do check out the fish market - towards the Copacaban Palace is lovely too. Locals doing morning exercise, fishing boats coming back. I want to be there now!
After a hard day swimming, drinking caipirinhas and watching the beautiful people, come off the gay area of Ipanema beach and head directly up Farme de Amoeda to the Bofetada.
This is a little historic bar that's great for people watching and enjoying an ice cold beer. No need to dress up. Just turn up in your trunks like the local boys do!
Rua Farme de Amoeda
Paraty is a couple hours drive south of Rio de Janeiro. A hidden gem in every sense of the meaning. The beach is quite difficult to find and includes a drive (I did it in a bus) up a mountain, then back down the other side. On the way, you do wonder if it's worth all this palava but once you finally witness the beach, the sea, the backdrop of the mountains and the surrounding coast, you know you've found something very special. Perhaps the most beautiful set of beaches I've ever seen. Just don't forget your suncream - the sun is perilously strong in this corner of the world.
To anyone lucky enough to be able to go to Brazil during the World Cup in 2014, watching the footy on Copacabana beach is a must. I was there during the final of the last World Cup in 2010, and it was probably one of the best days of my whole six month travelling experience! They set up huge screens on the beach from midday, with live samba music, dancers and an abundance of beer and of course, Speedos. Even watching the final between Holland and Spain, the atmosphere was as excited as if it was a South American final. I can't even begin to imagine how it would have been if that was the case - it was truly like a mini Carnival. And my top tip, if you're feeling a little worse for wear the morning after the festivities, grab yourself an Acai berry smoothie from one of the kiosks near the beach, one sip and you'll feel completely revitalised!
Google map: bit.ly/rcHlgh
The picture-perfect beach of Dois Rios lies in a peaceful cove on an island just an hour off the mainland of Rio de Janiero state, where there are no ATMs and motorised vehicles are banned. After two hours of hiking across the island we reached it, with sprawling golden sand, turquoise waters to the front, lush rainforest behind and pretty much nothing else. It really is the perfect deserted beach. Unlike the more popular (and no more gorgeous) Lopes Mendes beach, no tourist boats go here so the only way to reach it is on foot - gruelling in the humidity (and flip flops) but a real blessing in disguise. I hope it remains utterly unspoiled for a very long time, or at least until I can afford to return.
Stay in: Vila do Abraao, Ilha Grande
Google map: bit.ly/oS93At
Cabana Copa gains consistently high reviews from all who stay there, its location is safe and convenient, it is close to the metro and bus stop and is very clean. Moreover, it’s independently owned so there is a very high attention to detail, a more personable approach and the manager is on site everyday.
They offer nice big lockers for all your bags allowing you to explore and enjoy the Copacabana beach (two blocks away) without the constant worry of the safety of your luggage. Friendly and helpful staff complete the package.
I reccomend a nice and cheap hostel called Arpoador Beach House between Ipanema beach and Copacabana Beach. The best spot in Rio is called Arpoador area: there's a great sunset from there!
Rua bulhoes de Carvalho 470
Garota de Ipanema is a famous bikini store located in Ipanema.
I bought some great bikinis for my wife there. They have a special quality and beauty! She loved it.
Rua Vinícius de Moraes, 53 - Loja A - Ipanema - Rio de Janeiro.
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