This time it is not so hard to say goodbye to Rio de Janeiro . And there are three reasons: it has been raining since dawn, a tour of the Costa Verde of Brazil begins and, in a few days, the trip will close a circle and end in the city of Christ, the Sugar Loaf – now covered by clouds – and the Maracana. See you later, Rio.

What will a road trip through the Atlantic Forest be like , combining sections by bus and jeep with several boat trips? Because the hills, the waterfalls and the islands will be the predominant landscapes on the Costa Verde, a name that alludes to the coast of the Brazilian Southeast where the exuberant vegetation reaches the sea.

Precisely, before or after spending a few days in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo (the main gateways to the neighboring country), this itinerary is an option that many more visitors could take into account when visiting and enjoying the beaches. more jungle, colonial streets, water activities, historic haciendas and walks on nature trails.

Overview of Angra dos Reis, in Brazil.  Photo Shutterstock

  In the 1980s, with the incipient beginning of tourism in this region, the section of highway BR-101, which runs through towns and cities -such as Mangaratiba, Angra dos Reis and Paraty-, in the state of Rio, was called Costa Verde.

From the city of Rio de Janeiro as the starting point, it is 232 km to Paraty, in the Bay of Ilha Grande. That is to say, the van has three or four hours of asphalt ahead of it and the gaze rests in front of the window: green, greener, all green.

A roadside inn offers coffee and hot cheese bread, while someone reflects that the Costa Verde would not be such without the rain. True, but for more immediate tourist purposes, everyone celebrates every time the sun rises.

Angra dos Reis, en la Costa Verde de Brasil.  Photo by Shutterstock

 “ Angra dos Reis has luxury resorts, golf courses and water sports… It is a more exclusive place. On the other hand, Paraty stands out for a more cultural and gastronomic tourism, with its history of boom and decline, many natural attractions and a unique architectural ensemble”, says Ramon, the guide who was born in Barcelona and has lived in Brazil for years.

When you arrive in Paraty and, since it is a pedestrian city, it is best to take a walking tour of the historic center. Here, the balance consists of listening to the explanations, taking photos and walking without stumbling on the original stones of the 18th century.

Founded in 1667, Paraty is an example of preservation and richness of colonial architecture and the ancient town is recognized by the Instituto do Patrimonio Historico y Artistica Nacional (IPHAN). In turn, the territorial portion comprised between the municipality of Paraty and Ilha Grande was declared in 2019 as a natural and cultural Heritage by Unesco.

Postal de Paraty, and Brazil.  Photo Shutterstock

 The port of the city was key during the Gold Cycle in Brazil, since the production of gold and precious stones that were extracted in Minas Gerais and taken to Rio de Janeiro and Portugal flowed through this place.

For this reason, Paraty was part of the Camino Real (in Portuguese, Estrada Real ), which covered about 1,630 kilometers through three states (Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo). How did the Portuguese get into the jungle? They followed the indigenous Tamoios and Guaianas, who lived in the coastal zone before colonization and went to Paraty in winter to fish and eat oysters.

through the colonial streets

The facades of the houses are white with the high doors of vibrant colors, in tune with the times in which the paints brought by foreign ships were used -randomly-.

“There are many doors because before there were many businesses. Since we lived in a gold rush in the 18th century, people from all over the world came here by boat, but between Paraty and Ouro Preto there was nothing. So, they had to carry provisions”, explains Ramon, and emphasizes that it is a planned city from an architectural and military point of view.

The colonial streets of Paraty, in Brazil.  Photo Shutterstock

 With the gardens covered by walls, the houses were built on the same line so that guards could watch each block and protect the gold that came from the mountains. In turn, everything was at sea level and, when the tide rose, the water entered and cleaned the streets.

Unlike other neighboring towns, Paraty was never attacked by pirates. Apart from the difficulties of access and the fort with great panoramic views, it is believed that it was a “friendly” port with which fruits and alcohol were exchanged, among other things.

By carefully stepping on the uneven stones, the church bells can be heard, although they are usually closed. While Santa Rita -which functions as a museum- was the church of mulattoes and freedmen, San Benedito was the temple where slaves went and Nuestra Senora de los Dolores was the meeting place for women. Facing the main square and built without bell towers, the church of Nuestra Senora de los Remedios stands out.

A few meters away is the cinema, which reopened in 2018 and is open to the public with free programming. Beyond, the old headquarters, which was a prison until the late 80s.

The waterfalls of the Costa Verde, in Brazil.  PD photo

 “Gold found a faster way and only by land from the mines to Rio,” sums up Ramon, referring to the years of abandonment after its heyday, and the same happened with the sugar cane and coffee produced on the haciendas. nearby.

“Meanwhile -he adds-, the people who went from Rio to the interior of Sao Paulo stopped using this road because other well-paved roads were built and a railway was even built. Paraty was isolated and it was not until the 70s and 80s that tourism began to function”. 

Having left behind the reign of gold, and then those of sugar cane and coffee, Paraty today thrives on tourism. For this reason, on one side and the other, cafes, restaurants, inns, souvenir shops, cachacarias and street stalls selling typical sweets multiply.

According to Ramon, tourists come here to “rest from tourism”: they read a book by the pool in family accommodation, have a coffee without rushing in town… They come for three or four days to do nothing.

The stills and historic haciendas open to tourism.  PD photo

 Between waterfalls and stills

Paraty is surrounded by some 50 beaches and 65 islands, but also by forests and freshwater courses. For this reason, the next day, the jeep excursion proposes to visit the Serra da Bocaina National Park , created in 1971 with the aim of protecting the last areas of Atlantic forest and marine ecosystems on the south coast of Rio. The protected area covers some 104,000 hectares, with rugged relief, rich flora and fauna, and secret waterfalls.

The cachoeiras (waterfalls) Pedra Branca and da Toboga are the closest. As you drive through the lush vegetation, the driver Tuti stops when he sees something of interest. With a machete he cuts the crust of a garlic bread: “It’s good for rheumatism and to drive away evil spirits,” he says. A few more meters and he jumps out of the jeep to bring a palmetto or to smell the root of the beard of San Pedro: “He is a muscle relaxant.”

Where others see only trees, Tuti finds a natural apothecary . And they are the same species that, throughout the 20th century, helped the inhabitants of the region because the place was quite isolated.

At the Pedra Branca waterfall, en la Costa Verde.  DP photo

 With more than 400 varieties of birds, snakes, wild boars, ounces or jaguars, and monkeys, nature is home to magical corners such as the Pedra Branca waterfall . Two Chileans dive into the water and, although they recognize that it is cold, it is evident that they are used to the Pacific.

“Come take a walk through our history” , invites a sign on the Pedra Branca alembic, which explains the production process of cachaca from sugar cane, and invites you to taste the traditional white drink.

“You have to take a deep breath, drink the brandy, swish for 5 seconds and swallow, but breathing through your nose.” This is the technique shared among hundreds of bottles, so that the 44° alcohol content is smoother on the throat.

Like this site and Engenho D’Ouro, there are several fazendas (farms) that make cachaca by hand and are open to tourism. According to what they say in the alembic, until the 70s and 80s there were plantations of sugar cane, coffee and bananas, but they stopped being productive.

The Pataxo village, on the Costa Verde.  PD photo

 Another community that has tourism as its main income is the Pataxo indigenous village . Originally from the south of the state of Bahia, several families live here, offering visitors some ceremonies and crafts. A great end to the visit if it’s hot: a dip in the large nearby waterfall.

The beautiful island

“After a storm from God, look how this paradise was left . ” Hopeful, the poster synthesizes the spirit of Bar do Bete , a family inn that Bete Martins opened around 1997 on a beach on Ilha do Pelado .

A few minutes by boat are enough to reach the island, small and unforgettable, which has everything you need to enjoy a great day at the beach in Brazil: soft sand, transparent waters, cliffs everywhere, natural juices and homemade food.

Bete, the owner of a beach restaurant in Ilha do Pelado.  PD photo

 It’s just Bete’s 62nd birthday, and she transmits all her energy in every word and in every hug. With 7 children -all participate in the venture-, 24 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren, she was a pioneer on the island: in the beginning, she came rowing a boat to sell fresh fish until, with temper and muscles in her arms (she touches her biceps as proof of the physical effort of so many years), he built the restaurant on a beach.

“Here comes Frank.” At 11 o’clock on a sunny Saturday, Bete points out a boat on the horizon, from which one of her sons gets off with a net and several bass weighing about 6 kilos. “Every day he goes fishing at 4 in the morning, even when it rains, and he brings fresh catches for the business.”

After a refreshing swim in the sea, lunch is served at Bete’s tables, under the shade of the trees and a large Santa Rita: the menu consists of fish moqueca and cakes (cheese, shrimp, meat and chicken ).

The beaches of Ilha do Pelado, near Paraty.  DP photo

 When touring the island and avoiding large round rocks, other beaches appear with proposals for jet skiing and stand up paddle. But the memory stays with a hammock facing the waves on Bete beach and another sign: “Volte sempre” (Always come back).

Life on Ilha Grande

It is always said that Angra dos Reis has 365 islands, one for each day of the year. As the number is unverifiable and several islands are private or uninhabited, it is best to go to the port of Angra, get on a boat and spend a few days on the island that does not disappoint and is the largest of all: Ilha Grande .

150 km from Rio de Janeiro and 400 km from Sao Paulo, it occupies 193 km2 with areas of open sea and calm sea, more than 100 beaches -some frequented and others deserted- and dozens of incredible small islands.

“There are four protection units: the Ilha Grande State Park, the Tamoios Environmental Preservation Area, the Marinho do Aventureiro State Park and the Praia do Sul Biological Reserve,” says the guide Carlos, born in Peru, who lives in Brazil. Since more than 30 years.

Ilha Grande, the largest island of Angra dos Reis.  Photo TurisRio

 There are no motor vehicles on the streets of Vila Abraao, the main town that serves as the gateway for boats and is the docking point for international cruise ships.

The place has many restaurants, inns and shops, amid lush vegetation and facing the green sea with its boats.

Praia de Abraao is the central beach, with good food and affordable prices. Those who seek more tranquility can walk towards the ends and visit Praia da Julia, da Crena, Comprida, da Bica and Abraaozinho , where there are natural pools.

Vila do Abraao, on Ilha Grande.  Shutterstock photo

 Among the local attractions, the Pico do Papagaio stands out , a hill with a panoramic view of the island and 980 meters high. It takes between 2 and 3 hours to reach the top.

Both water taxis and agencies offer a visit to the most famous beach: Praia de Lopes Mendes was chosen years ago as one of the 10 most beautiful in Brazil by Travelers’ Choice.

There are 3 km of very fine white sand and the sea in different shades of blue. To get there you have to take a boat from Abraao to Praia do Pouso , and then walk along a path in the forest.

At the famous Lopes Mendes beach.

 A tour of the island

“Argentines were always the majority among tourists, but now many French and Germans are arriving,” observes Carlos, one of the 5,000 inhabitants of Abraao and of the 8,500 on the entire island. As he advises, “the ideal is to come for at least 5 days to enjoy the main attractions and excursions (the basic nautical tours are 4)”.

One of them is the “Tour around the Island” and it is a full-day boat tour with several stops. Caxadaco is the first beach where tourists land, with waters protected by a huge wall of rocks.

At Playa Caxadac¸o, en Ilha Grande.  Photo by Shutterstock

 The second stop is in Parnaioca , one of the most spectacular beaches, which also has the mouth of the Parnaioca River: not only does it embellish the landscape, but you can bathe in the freshwater course. Although it has a campsite, the place is rarely visited, since it can only be accessed by boat or a 3-hour walk from Praia de Dois Rios .

Before snorkeling in Meros, the boat stops in Aventureiro,  with only 500 meters of sand, an ideal sea for surfers and a small fishing village. One of the biggest attractions is a coconut tree lying on a small natural pool, as well as two viewpoints that are worth climbing to admire the landscape from above. Of course: they demand a certain physical difficulty to climb between giant rocks and stairs not suitable for people with vertigo.

The tour ends with a late lunch at Bananal, where Lele and Cleuzinha serve oysters and scallops, near the famous Green and Blue Lagoons.

Back in Abraao, some musicians play in the candlelit bars and restaurants.

El Lazareto de Ilha Grande, en Brasil.  Photo by Shutterstock

 After sleeping and waking up to the sound of the sea waves caressing the shore, we tour the center of the town and the State Park, where the ruins of the Lazareto are located . It was a quarantine hospital that received many sick immigrants and had floors for different social classes (like ships).

Although the Lazareto functioned until 1913, Getulio Vargas reopened the place in 1932 to turn it into a prison. But in 1954 the prisoners were transferred to Dos Rios and the building was destroyed.

For this reason, what can be seen today are the remains of walls and bars, wrapped in the roots of the trees.

The aqueduct in the State Park of Ilha Grande, Brazil.  PD photo

 With free admission, the walk is completed with the impressive ruins of an old aqueduct and the Feiticeira waterfall.

Between the fresh water courses, the enormous rocks and the waves of the sea, the nature of the region surprises everyone, once again. And it feels like a big green hug.

MINIGUIDE

How to get. The flight to Rio de Janeiro costs $130 thousand, depending on the time of year and anticipation. The bus to Angra dos Reis costs from R$ 60.42 to R$ 70. You can hire a private or shared transfer at the airports or terminals in Rio. The bus ticket from Rio to Paraty, from R$ 45.

Where to stay  -In Paraty, a double room with breakfast at Pousada do Principe costs between R$300 and R$500. With pool and three minutes from the historic center.

Starting at 350 reais, the Eliconial Paraty, Aconchego and Pardieiro inns. From 500 reais, the Literaria de Paraty, Porto Imperial and Casa Turquesa inns.

-On Ilha Grande, in Vila Abraao, a double room at Pousada Caicara costs between R$300 and R$500, with views of the sea or mountains. Includes breakfast and afternoon tea. The Rubi and Paraiso Azul Retiro – Aracatiba inns, from R$600 to R$1,000, with breakfast.

Excursions and walks. -In Paraty, the 1 hour 30 city tour with a guide who explains the local architecture and tells legends and stories from past centuries, 40 reais per person with Paraty Tours. The 4×4 jeep tour through the Serra da Bocaina National Park, with visits to the Pedra Branca waterfall, the Pedra Branca still with cachaca tasting, lunch at the Engenho D´Ouro restaurant, Toboga waterfall and Tarzan Well, 120 reais .

-In Abraao, many agencies offer continental (in front of the mainland) and oceanic (open sea) nautical tours.

-The tours range between 140 and 170 reais, while private boats for groups are around 2,000 reais. With Green Coast Experience, the trip around the island costs 200 reais; a private boat for 10 or 12 people can cost from 2,500 to 3,000 reais per day.

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