Claudia Laroye paddles through Brazil’s only tropical fjord

I was having a hard time moving quickly in Paraty. The streets of the 17th-century Brazilian colonial town had been laid with uneven cobblestones that made movement slow. I was grateful for my walking shoes, but it was really the white washed buildings adorned with brilliantly painted doors of turquoise and canary yellow that had slowed my gait and captured my gaze as I made my way to the city’s port area.

Paraty (prounounced para-chee), is nestled along Brazil’s Costa Verde, or Green Coast, between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The town was once a busy colonial trading port for gold and coffee, but is now a vibrant cultural and artistic hub. After a day exploring the car-free historic city centre and sipping artisanal caipirinhas, even the tranquil city of Paraty was too busy for me and I decided to go in search of an even quieter life in Saco do Mamanguá, the tropical fjord beyond the town’s borders.

The Mamanguá is a long, narrow inlet, surrounded by steep mountain cliffs that are covered in dense, emerald green rainforest. Set within a state park, the Mamanguá region can only by reached by boat. Its remoteness has kept the region unspoiled and it's a rewarding off-grid destination for those seeking to discover the heart of Brazil’s Green Coast.

Paraty

I boarded a small fishing boat that slowly made its way across Paraty Bay, passing uninhabited coastal islands in the South Atlantic Ocean. As we entered the fjord, the waters were calm and the clouds hung low and covered us like a blanket. The boat docked at the tiny beachfront hamlet of Cruzeiro, where we enjoyed an al fresco lunch of freshly caught fish, traditional rice and beans, and farofa - toasted cassava. The inlet’s waters gently lapped the white sand beach as we swapped flip-flops for hiking shoes ready to make start the 1.4 km trail to the top of Pão De Açucar, a sugarloaf-shaped mountain that overlooks the entrance to the fjord.

The narrow path wound up the mountain through dense, protected rainforest that was alive with the songs of more than 75 species of tropical birds. Our guide Clara Simoni remarked that she kept a recording of birdsong on her smartphone: “I love to bring the jungle back with me to the city.”

I stopped to listen to the birdsong and catch my breath in the forest’s humid air. The steep 400m climb was worth every one of my laboured steps, as were the views that awaited at the top of the mountain. The waters of the fjord sparkled a bright turquoise blue that was complemented by the deep green of the dense rainforest.

Paraty

A strong wind picked up as we descended back to the beach for the short boat ride across the inlet. It began raining gently as we stopped at a small pousada that sits on the edge of the jungle. Here guests can fall asleep to the sounds of the waves, rain and crickets chirping in the rainforest.

This jungle hideaway provided the perfect base to explore the Mamanguá by boat, or as we planned to do, in a canoe. The fjord waters and the air were calm as my partner and I settled into our canoes and paddling rhythm. My text book J-stroke motion kept us in line with the shore, heading towards an unmapped river mouth and the mangrove forest at the most southern end of the inlet.

The trees were larger here, their canopies covering the narrow river as if the jungle were closing in on my canoe.

The entrance to the mangrove was narrow, and I spotted large red crabs darting on the banks of the grey decomposing forest floor. After 30 minutes of slowly paddling up the shallow river, the forest turned dense and lush. The trees were larger here, their canopies covering the narrow river as if the jungle were closing in on my canoe.

Paraty Brazil

Simoni tied our canoe to the shore, and we walked through the forest to a secluded waterfall with a natural swimming pool. It provided the perfect spot for a much-needed dip. I slipped into the cool, fresh water from the rocks, while friends made a splashy, if more bumpy, entrance via the pool’s natural waterslide of boulders. It dawned on me that we might have found the lush alien world of Avatar’s Pandora in Brazil, though I hadn’t yet seen any Na’vi. Save for my travelling companions, I felt completely alone in the middle of an unspoiled jungle paradise.

While this river had led us to the waterfall, other small rivers feeding the Mamanguá lead to remote fishing villages that can’t be found on any map, but are accessible by canoe. After our refreshing waterfall adventure, we paddled past blue arrows fixed to poles on the shoreline. The arrows guided us to a tiny village of just three or four houses with a communal kitchen, where we were welcomed by the same warm hospitality that exists everywhere in Brazil.

Village matrons served us a feast of fried fish, rice and beans, fresh salad, fruit, homemade cacao candies and coffee that could match any served in Paraty or Sao Paolo. My delight in enjoying such a delicious meal was matched by the awe of how it had been prepared in such splendid isolation. Going off grid on Brazil’s Green Coast region certainly didn’t mean going without wonderful food or warm company in surprising places.

If Brazil isn’t just a place but a feeling, then going off grid and connecting with the beauty of Mamanguá and Brazil’s Green Coast was a vibe to slowly savour, celebrate, and enjoy long after my return home.

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