This coastal region, which specializes in sun, surf, and seafood, is well worth visiting if you're ever near Rio de Janeiro.
At 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon this week, it was impossible for life to get any better. I sat on a chair in the shade, my toes buried in soft sand, a stunning view of crashing waves and verdant mountains plunging in turquoise sea before my eyes. My stomach was filled to the brim with a meal I’ll never forget.
It was a seafood feast, cooked to perfection and served in a tiny restaurant on the literal edge of the Atlantic – grilled fish slathered in a spicy mustard sauce, squid stuffed with banana, manioc and shrimp, and a simmering pot of fish cooked in coconut oil and vegetables, served with rice, slices of sweet pineapple, and salad. The meal was accompanied by tall glasses of icy cold, freshly pressed fruit juices and finished with hot, sugary black coffee.It’s clear my family and I are no longer in Canada, where it’s far more likely we’d be shoveling snow than worrying about sunburns on this 100-degree (38 Celsius) afternoon in December. No, this is Brazil, and we’ve just discovered the gorgeous Costa Verde.
This coastal region is located just south of Rio de Janeiro. Take the superhighway out of the city and, within an hour, the wild tangle of urban sprawl, shopping complexes and hillside favelas, the choking traffic, and the smog fall away. You’ll find yourself on the picturesque two-lane BR 101, also known as the Rio-Santos highway. The highway is well-maintained, with an impressive number of roadside stops and very clean gas station bathrooms – something I take note of while travelling with small children, but is often hard to find here in Brazil.
The road winds and twists over jungle-covered mountains and offers tantalizing views of the warm water and silver-white beaches nestled in small bays and coves. From up high, you can see many little islands and peninsulas, all lush and green, and the sea dotted with fishing boats and the occasional freighter in the distance. From lower down, you can see the waves crashing onto the sand, a few surfers in action, and the lively little fishing villages that cater to tourists, although not in that tacky or repetitive way that so many Brazilian beach towns do.
Two and half hours of jaw-dropping views later, the road leads to Paraty, the former capital of the Portuguese empire when its royal family fled Europe for Brazil in the face of Napoleon’s impending invasion. Its historic centre features cobblestone streets, old white buildings with colourful trim, and a vibrant music, art, and literary scene that comes to life at night.
Several miles down the road and on the other side of a mountain, there is an exquisite place called Trindade. It features a string of beaches that are accessibly only on foot, along worn footpaths through the jungle. It was on one of these beaches, in a tiny restaurant called Casa Caiçara, that my family and I ate that incredible lunch.
The Costa Verde is well worth a visit, especially if you love places that are a bit off the beaten track. It’s a region that does not feel over-touristy, nor will you see many tourists, and the prices are very reasonable. Our rustic pousada in Paraty, which had beds for all 5 of us in a single large room and included a breakfast buffet, cost BR$220 (approximately USD $86 / CAD $96), and this is the beginning of the high season.