Excursions from Rio
The Costa Verde
More tempting jewels are to be found on the Costa Verde, or “Green Coast,” heading down the coast from Rio. Sailing enthusiasts and divers will want to check out Angra dos Reis, two hours from Rio, not so much for the town itself, worth a miss, but for its beautiful bay studded with islands set in calm, clear, emerald waters.
Another couple of hours down this spectacular coastline brings you to the restored colonial settlement of Parati, again on an island-dotted bay, but with the added attraction of a cobblestoned town with whitewashed, colorfully trimmed houses that betrays its past as a trading conduit for gold and coffee. It is so well preserved that it was used as the set for the movie “Gabriela,” the film version of Jorge Amado’s colorful book “Gabriela, Clove, and Cinnamon.” Additionally, it was filmed in parts of “The Kiss of the Spider Woman,” and many more films and television productions.
Though Parati is a well-developed tourist location, the development here has been for the most part tasteful, and prices, though not especially low, are at least still accessible.
Apart from the town of Parati, you can explore the bay islands either on an organized schooner tour, or by independently hiring a boatman to take you for an arranged fee. Check with your hotel or pousada.
When my mother visited me in Rio, I took her down to Parati, and on an early morning walk, she discovered a shop that rented bicycles for a song. She suggested a bike ride into the hills (go Mom!) and it turned out to be a very worthwhile adventure. The forest in this area is lush, full of wild orchids, and there are even waterfalls you can ride to if you’re energetic enough. One caveat in this area is to bring lots of strong insect repellent. The no-see-ums are merciless. This applies especially to forested areas and the beaches at dusk.
For lodging, the best deal I have found in Parati is the simple, but spotlessly clean and friendly Pouso Kotory, just on the other side of the river from the old town.(24) 2371-2260.
Coming with a high travelers’ recommendation is the Pousada Solar do Algarve, located at Rua Derly Ellena, 28, Patitiba. The owner, Richard, speaks English. (24) 2371-1173
Try Restaurante Arpoador for a great moqueca, a classic Bahian seafood stew typically made with palm oil (dendê) and coconut milk. Caldeirada is a different kind of seafood stew, more typical of Rio, also well worth a try. It is hard to go wrong with seafood in Parati. Just take a walk around town for a survey of more restaurant choices. A few more options are Banana da Terra at Rua Dr. Samuel Costa 198, Margarida Café at Rua da Lapa 256, and Restaurante da Matriz at Praça da Matriz 6. Later you might stumble around to the bars and cafés of this hospitable town, where you just may find some live music to accompany your evening drinking. Try Café Paraty at Rua do Comércio 253, or Dinho’s Bar on Rua da Matriz.
Cachaça, that crazy Brazilian firewater, is a specialty of the region, so much so that the name “Parati” is virtually synonymous with this wonderful drink. Try it in a caipirinha, that sweet, friendly lime cocktail with the kick of a mule, or in a batida, a smooth and seductive fruit drink made typically with coconut milk, passion fruit, or a variety of other local tropical fruits.
My favorite method is to skip the preliminaries and head straight on to straight up. A fine cachaça, such as that produced in Parati, needs no fruity little excuse. Try it young and clear, or aged and amber-colored in oak barrels. No aficionado of fine liquor will be disappointed. If you lose your mind over this delicacy, as I have, and you have a car at your disposal, you could visit some of the local distilleries for an interesting look at the production of this fine nectar – and some samples too, of course (but lordy me, be moderate). Alternatively, you could rent a bicycle for a wobbly ride from one canebrake to the next. The three most important are Vamos Nessa, Corisco, and Coqueiro, all around six kilometers out of town.
It is worth mentioning the Festival da Pinga, a three-day festival in honor of this blessed cane spirit. It takes place in August and attracts plenty of crazed revelers, so try to make reservations during this period if you intend to make an appearance.
For those who have a few days to spare and are especially nature-minded, Ilha Grande is an excursion well worth considering. This tangled island, accessible only by ferry from Angra dos Reis or Mangaratiba, is a vine-covered maze of junglery encircled by wild beaches that are the stuff of legends. Numerous trails connect these beaches from the islands three tiny towns. There is an ecological reserve on the western portion of the island. As in Parati, the insects are downright draconian, the little price I’m afraid one has to pay for this primitive paradise. Bring the strongest repellent you can. No kidding.
Lodgings can be found in any of a number of pousadas, mostly in and around Vila do Abraão, the island’s main town. You will likely be met at the ferry by runners offering rooms. In addition, there is a tourist office at the dock that can offer recommendations. Check carefully before committing yourself. During the high season and on long weekends, be sure to reserve in advance. One fine option is the Pousada Guapuruvu (24) 3361-5081 or cellular (21) 9949-3627 at Rua do Bicão 299. You can e-mail Alexandre and Creuza in advance at email@example.com. I like this place because it’s a little way out of the center of the village, although still an easy walk. Consequently it’s much quieter than the places right in town. There is a wonderful breakfast area overlooking a creek and shaded by a thatch roof. A very pleasant spot. If they are full, they can recommend other pousadas in the area.