After leaving left Punta del Este, Uruguay, our first stop in Brazil was Rio Grande do Sul. Advertised as the “play ground of the rich and famous” I wondered if they meant the sand-box of the rich and famous as the port and town was covered in a cloud of blowing sand. In a matter of hours little dunes collected on the deck chairs. I got exfoliated just walking down the pier. Now, I know this city is an important city, famous for its agricultural exports but it was not the Brazilian hot-spot hoped for by many. It paled in comparison to the previous day in beautiful, sunny Punta del Este. The town lacked value for visitors and for me it was an unfortunate “miss.”
After Rio Grande do Sul I feared that the next port of Santos may cause people to question what was so special about Brazil? Santos is the largest port in not only Brazil but all of South America! It serves the 19 million people of São Paulo. Santos has some nice residential areas along the beach but for the most part it is a huge city and an enormous industrial port. Most of the ship took the 8 hour excursion to São Paulo; I did not. I was extremely lucky to be invited by one of our guests Isabel Penteado, who drove down from her historic 140 year old farm outside of São Paulo to take Bob and Honie Geis and me to the island of Guarajá. We spent the day in a national park among pristine Atlantic Forest and virtually deserted beaches. We lunched at a wonderful restaurant where we feasted on a sizzling platter of fresh shrimp, calamari, fish and grilled hearts of palm. We enjoyed ourselves so much we were the last ones back on the ship. (Thank you Isabel!) Santos as a port is a necessary evil if you want to see São Paulo; the port - one of the largest in the world - may be of interest to those who follow Brazil’s growing economy however, for those who do not… I would do as the locals do and head for Guarajá! Right outside the port gates is the ferry that will take you to the island where a delightful escape from the city awaits. Because of this insider’s tip Santos is a “qualified hit.”
The following day we stopped in Paratí. I am not a beach person and normally beach stops are not my thing but Paratí truly is different. This little town — little town in the North American sense of the word not the Brazilian where a little town has less than 1 million people — this little town tucked into a secluded bay surrounded by lush green mountains seems to have not changed since it was first enjoyed as the retreat of Brazil’s king and emperors from the 19th century. Colorful boats line the wooden pier into town; when not out fishing they can be hired to take visitors to nearby beaches. The colonial church on the open square surrounded by palm-trees and white washed buildings is the quintessential Brazilian scene; bougainvillea cascades over the stone walls of the narrow streets. You can walk the entire town in less than an hour; but why rush, there is so much to see. A lot of money has gone into the preservation of the buildings which house very nice shops, galleries and restaurants. One restaurant Banana da Terra, is known throughout Brazil - their specialty of the house is a fish dinner served on a hand-painted commemorative plate - very cool! I have to say it is the most charming place I have ever visited in Brazil - clean, relaxed and delightful. I liked it so much I looked into some of the many small hotels in town - all beautifully appointed and reasonably priced - this is a place I would like to visit again and spend more time. The setting and town itself is inspirational - I almost filled my sketchbook with drawings. It would make a great romantic retreat. For me, Paratí was a “home run!”Put the coast within the same broad bay where Paratí is located is Ilha Grande - the Big Island. With no infrastructure within the island the only buildings are along the coast; there are only a handful of vehicles on the island, everything comes and goes by sea. The town of Abraão is even smaller than Paratí and it lacks the romantic feel that I found appealing. There are shops and restaurants along the maze of tree covered alleys. There is a nature trail around the island which would be very nice for an early morning or late afternoon hike - I would not recommend midday. The stop is great for those who enjoy the beach or want to have fresh fish and a beer (or caipirinha). As that’s not me, my vote would be “miss” - though it is very pretty.
Final addition is Buzios; made famous by Brigitte Bardot in the 1960’s this resort area is really a series of crescent shaped beaches many of which are now lined with expensive homes, pricey shops and restaurants. The streets in town are narrow; they wind through an eclectic combination of old and new, funky beach-bungalow and high-tech modern. If you are there on a slow day Buzios is fun; lots of window shopping, great restaurants, plenty of bars and cafe for people watching - and as this is one of the haunts of the rich and famous you never know who will appear! In many ways it reminds me of St. Barts - very cosmopolitan, very wealthy. But if you arrive when several cruise ships are in at one time, it can be crowded and uncomfortable. My vote, “okay, maybe.”
Please keep in mind that with the exception of Rio Grande all the “new” ports are tender ports; in Paratí there is a very long wooden pier with boards spaced about one inch apart. These towns have cobble stones streets; not suitable for high heels. May be hard to navigate with a wheelchair.