Paraty, Brazil: A Colonial Beach Paradise

When visiting Brazil, many people head straight to the big cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. However, there is a beach paradise located in between the two metropolises called Paraty that is a worthwhile destination no matter what your travel style is. During my trip to the area, I couldn’t get enough of the historical activities, colorful colonial buildings, beautiful beaches, adventure sports, excellent shopping and old-world charm that hasn’t changed in centuries.

Paraty is a small town and it’s almost impossible to get lost. Just because it’s not large in size, however, doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to do. Here are some of my favorite experiences I had while exploring the village.


The main reason most people visit Paraty is to learn about the colonial history of the city. Paraty was built around 1600; however, it wasn’t until the 1800s that the city really made its mark on the map, as this is when gold was found in the area. During this time, the area prospered, two-story homes began to be built and Paraty became the second most important port in Brazil, as it was shipping gold to Portugal. Moreover, African slaves created cobblestone roads for transporting the gold. These have been perfectly preserved, as you can see by how uneven and not uniform they are.

It’s a bit difficult to find an affordable, English-spoken tour in the area. However, Paraty Tours on Av. Roberto Silveira was excellent for this. For about $11, I was able to get a guided walking tour of all the historical sites with a knowledgeable guide. You’ll get to learn about Antiga Cadeia, an old jail from the early eighteen century, the Morro do Forte, an ancient defense fort from 1703, and the historical churches of Igreja de Santa Rita, Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário, Capela de Nossa Senhora das Dores and Matriz de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios.Shopping and dining

Take a walk along the Rio Perequê-Açú. It is a very peaceful river with colorful boats, immaculate houses and people happily fishing. It is especially beautiful at night, when the sun is setting and the streetlights illuminate the water. Along the river, on its more commercial side, is a row of handicraft markets selling handmade jewelry, scarves and souvenirs.

Continue on to the carless Rua do Comércio and you will be placed in the most romantic shopping setting you’ve ever experienced. In Paraty, shops stay open until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., so I would recommend also exploring this area after sunset. It’s really charming with illuminated cobblestone roads, boutique stores, art galleries, specialty shops, fine dining restaurants and white carts selling delicious cakes and pastries. You’ll also be able to experience an array of local and international music, as one block may be filling the air with upbeat Brazilian music and another could be blasting Akon or jazz and blues. It’s also very lively at night, as the streets are filled with locals and tourists shopping and going out for dinner and drinks. Note: Do not wear heels! While beautiful and historical, the cobblestones are very uneven and difficult to walk on. Even locals do not wear heels on this street.

If you’re hungry but don’t want to spend a lot of money, turn down Rua da Lapa and walk one block until it turns into Av. Roberto Silveira. You’ll know when you’ve hit it as there will be cars again and the charming ambiance will be replaced with a more hurried feel. Instead of going into a typical restaurant, enter one of the many Acai cafes. Brazil is well known for its delicious Acai (shown right), and these eateries not only sell juices and desserts, but usually dinner as well. My favorite was Boutique do Acai, where I was able to get a cheeseburger and bowl of acai gelato with banana slices and honey for about $4 total. They also have outdoor tables, ideal for people watching and enjoying the fresh air and surrounding palm trees.

Hiking and adventure sports

Paraty features many mountains and tropical Atlantic rainforest, so there are ample options for the hiking enthusiast. I took the bus to Laranjeras, where I was able to take a two-hour rainforest hike, which ended on a white sandy beach. There’s also a little fishing village that’s fun to explore. Getting there can be a little confusing, but not impossible. Catch the LINHA 1040 bus from the bus station, which costs 3 Reais (about $1.60) each way. The stop is towards the end of the route. However, the driver will complete the entire route without telling you where the end is, so if you don’t know where to get off, you could end up back in Paraty. The stop is at the top of the hill, once you enter the uphill community off the main road. Your best bet is to ask the driver to announce your stop. If you don’t speak Portuguese, ask someone at your hotel to write the request down on a piece of paper to show the bus driver.

Another excellent hike that will allow you to explore lush rainforest, challenging mountains, unique rock formations and paradisiacal beaches is in Trindade (pictured right). There are four beaches and Trindade is first on the hike. I usually subscribe to the thought that while certain beaches are more beautiful than others, a beach is a beach. Trindade changed my mind immediately, as unworldly rock formations scatter on one end of the beach and tropical flora sets a jungle-like background. You can also explore various hidden rock and forest alcoves, all small but very unique. To hike all four beaches while also going through patches of rainforest and stopping at Caixa d’Aço — a natural swimming pool excellent for snorkeling — you can access the trailhead at the opposite end of the beach from where the bus drops you off. It is in the area where the bars and restaurants are.

For more intense hiking, you can cross the road behind the beach and head up an opening in the mountain. I accessed a trail by first following the arrow for “Vila de Trindade.” When you’re about two-minutes uphill, there’s another sign advertising “Pousada Encontro das Àguas,” which is where the hike begins. To get to Trindade, simply take the Trindade bus from the bus station. You will see signs for the area and the beaches.

Those looking for adventure can enjoy more than just hiking. Paraty is also known for its exceptional scuba diving. In fact, multiple people in the hostel I stayed at were in Paraty specifically to become certified divers. The waters in the area are calm and clear, making for high visibility underwater. Furthermore, tropical fish and marine life make the experience really worthwhile.

Biking, kayaking, surfing, horseback riding and outdoor adventure ropes and climbing courses are also available in Paraty. Click here for more information on these activities.


The national drink of Brazil is the caipirinha, which is so strong and delicious thanks to the special ingredient, cachaça. If you haven’t had a caipirinha in Brazil, you haven’t really had a caipirinha, as it needs this locally produced alcohol to make it truly authentic. In Paraty, you’ll not only get to sample this real-deal cocktail, but also learn how cachaça is made and sample some at one of the seven distilleries in the area. Why should you do this in Paraty? The city was known during colonial times as the most important brandy producing area in Brazil. In fact, until the mid-twentieth century, the word “Paraty” was synonymous with the word “brandy.”

If you’re in the mood to dance, Paraty 33 is an energetic club located in the historic center of the town. While fun, just know it’s also the only dance club in Paraty so it gets crowded. If you want to dance but need more space, head over to any outdoor bar in the area. I loved the popular Geko Hostel Bar, and Brazilians have no problem creating their own dance floors in the streets.

James Cameron completes solo dive of the Mariana Trench

A couple of weeks ago we told you about James Cameron’s plans to dive the Mariana Trench, a massive canyon in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that marks the deepest point on our planet. This past weekend Cameron saw those plans come to fruition when he crawled inside his specially built submersible – dubbed the DeepSea Challenger – and piloted the vehicle nearly seven miles beneath the surface. Once there, he not only set a record for the deepest solo dive in history, but he also became the first person to catch a real glimpse of the murkiest depths of the ocean floor.

Cameron’s journey began with a two-and-a-half hour descent into the Challenger Deep, a cold, sunless abyss that has only been visited by man on one previous occasion. His original plan was to spend six hours exploring those depths but several malfunctions to the sub caused him to cut short his visit. First a mechanical arm designed to collect samples from the ocean floor refused to work and later, the starboard thrusters on the vehicle failed as well. With those engines out, Cameron couldn’t maneuver properly, which prompted him to return to the surface about three hours ahead of schedule. His ascent took approximately 70 minutes to complete.

The bottom of the Mariana Trench was previously only visited by ocean explorers Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard back in 1960. When they made that historic dive over 52 years ago they didn’t have the sophisticated equipment that Cameron carried with him on his expedition. In fact, Walsh and Piccard didn’t even have lights that could penetrate those depths and as a result, Cameron is the first person to actually see the bottom of the trench with any clarity. He described that place as desolate and isolated, and even compared it to the surface of the moon. He also says that he found only very small organisms living at those incredible depths.

Even while wearing his explorer’s cap Cameron can’t get away from his filmmaking roots. The entire voyage was filmed in high definition 3D and the footage will be used in an upcoming documentary on sea exploration. The director expects to collect more video for the film on future dives as well, and has already indicated that a second dive could take place in a matter of days or weeks. I, for one, can’t wait to see what they have to show us.

Find out more about expedition at

[Photo credit: Mark Thiessen, National Geographic]

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Vagabond Tales: Scuba diving Nicaragua in a lightning storm

In spite of being one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, many travelers list Nicaragua as their hands-down favorite country in Central America. The colonial heritage of Granada and Leon, the world-class surf of Popoyo and San Juan del Sur, and the relaxing feel of the islands, these are all highlights of Nicaragua that draw visitors back time and again.

Wait. Did you just say the islands? Since when are there islands in Nicaragua?

While a fair amount of travelers pay a visit to Isla de Ometepe, a volcanic island located in the middle of Lake Nicaragua which is home to some of the world’s only freshwater sharks, not as many people venture off the Caribbean coastline to Las Islas del Maiz, an isolated grouping better known as the Corn Islands.

Reachable via a short flight from the coastal outpost of Bluefields (or an all day/overnight ferry), the Corn Islands were originally colonized by the British and have a distinctly more Caribbean feel to them than the Latin influence found back on the Nicaraguan mainland.

They are also reputed to have some of the best scuba diving along the Central American coastline, which is what ultimately lured me into stuffing myself into a 15-seater prop plane for a flight to the middle of nowhere. Little did I know that heading into this dive trip, things were going to get just a little bit weird.

Having arrived in Big Corn Island after an uneventful flight, a brief taxi ride and fistful of Nicaraguan córdobas landed me on a 30-minute panga ride to Little Corn Island, population 800. With a land area that barely exceeds 1 sq. mile, Little Corn has no motorized vehicles and a single, sandy footpath, which serves as the island’s pedestrian highway.

Shacked up in a multi-colored, refreshingly rustic beach bungalow at Casa Iguana, arrangements were made for doing an offshore boat dive the following morning with Dive Little Corn, one of only two dive operators on the entire island. I was introduced to our dive master, a local Nicaraguan man who would be leading us into the crystalline waters the following morning. From his wide smile and affable demeanor he didn’t appear to be the type of person who would take pleasure in manhandling sharks. Apparently, I would be wrong about this.After an enormously satisfying dinner of locally caught barracuda, I rose the next morning to the sound of heavy raindrops crashing violently onto the bungalow’s tin roof.

The rainy season for Central America generally spans from May to December, often heaviest in September and October. On the bedside table of the bungalow sat my boarding pass from yesterday’s flight. The date read October 11th. A brief look outside confirmed that this rain meant business.

Throwing on an old blue rain jacket, I opted to skip breakfast and hustle down to the dive shop for an update. With each step I trod down the puddle-laden walkway, the rain and wind increased by ferocious leaps and bounds. As I emerged from the soggy bush and rounded the corner towards the dive shop, deafening claps of thunder and frequent blasts of lightning added an orchestra to the tempestuous sky.

There was no way we were going to dive in this.

There in front of me, however, stood our resilient dive master diligently loading tanks, BCD’s, and regulators onto a silver boat that bucked like a rodeo bronco atop the churned up sea.

Amidst the maelstrom that had momentarily engulfed this Caribbean paradise, it suddenly became apparent that this dive was still a go. Any momentary hesitation I may have once felt immediately changed to reckless excitement. I mean, why not dive Nicaragua in a lightning storm?

After all, as the sign above my desk reads, “all bad decisions make good stories.” I tried to keep this in mind as I watched lightning flashes strike nearby from the comfort of a soaking wet metal boat.

As it turns out, once beneath the surface of the water the lightning storm became completely irrelevant. The water clarity was on par with dives from Thailand to Hawaii, and for a moment I was finally able to relax and enjoy drifting weightlessly past colorful fan coral and vibrant underwater pinnacles.

That was, of course, until we started petting nurse sharks, which is an experience probably best left for an entirely different column.

Though the scene may have been tranquil at 80 ft. below the surface, the storm back where we had left the boat had reached incredible new levels of intensity. Surfacing from the dive amidst constant flashes of piercing white light, the hard metal boat bounced about the ocean like a toy boat in a tub.

No te preocupes,” the captain warmly comforted me as he helped schlep my gear back aboard the soaking wet vessel. His calm demeanor stood in stark contrast to the atmospheric fury taking place all around us, and his broad smile revealed a number of missing teeth.

Todo está bien,” he surmised. It’s all good. As the threat of being struck by lightning seemed to be an inevitable reality, however, all did not currently appear to be good.

As legendary travel writer Pico Iyer discussed in a recent piece on Gadling, often times while traveling we must accept that we are no longer in control. There are forces of the universe far greater than we are, which can determine our ultimate fate, and when we strike out on the road and remove ourselves from our comfort zone, we often are left with little more to do than sit back and enjoy the ride.

And what if that ride is on a rollicking metal panga with a shark stroking dive instructor while surrounded by electrically charged bolts of absolute and certain death?

Just follow the thinking of a Nicaraguan boat captain: todo está bien. Just roll with it and see where you go.

Exploring the diverse scenery of East Java, Indonesia

The area of East Java in Indonesia is home to beautiful and diverse landscapes that include beaches, volcanoes, mountains, plantations, lakes, natural reserves, and a lot more. There are also many natural, cultural, and adventure activities to partake in, like scuba diving, hiking volcanoes, surfing, witnessing traditional ceremonies, hearing folklore stories, learning the cultivation process of tea, and photographing wild animals like zebras and cheetahs.

To get to East Java you can fly into its capital, Surabaya, via their international airport, Juanda Airport (SUB).

If you’d like to explore East Java from the comfort of your computer chair, check out the gallery below.


Exploring the marine life of Madagascar

While many people may think of DreamWorks’ animal cartoon movie when they hear about Madagascar, there are many reasons the destination warrants a visit in person. The country of Madagascar is actually a large island off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Because of it’s unique location and climate, the area is home to an array of interesting and colorful diving opportunities.

First of all there is Nosy Tanikely Nature Reserve and National Marine Reserve, located on the very small island of Tanikely that has three very different and distinct reefs, each ranging from 5-18 feet in depth. Here you will find marine life like sea turtles and Leopard Sharks. There is also Nosy Be island, which literally means “big island”. Dive sites here range from about 15 feet to 150 feet and feature myriad varieties of hard and soft corals as well as underwater animals.

The best time to visit is from the end of March up until the very end of December, as January-March is the rainy season, and February is their Hurricane season. In Madagascar, December is considered to be summer and is very hot, while June and July give the country a very warm (about 79 degrees Fahrenheit) and dry winter, making this the perfect time visibility-wise for scuba diving.

To get an idea of the scuba diving experience in Madagascar for yourself, check out the gallery below.