We hadn’t intended to go on a Paraty jeep tour. Group ‘soft’ adventure days packaged for the masses are usually the last thing we’d put ourselves through. Yet there we were. Sitting in the back of a jeep, our legs sticking to the seats in the heat, wondering what on earth we’d let ourselves in for.
We’d already enjoyed several days in Paraty, exploring the old town, sleeping in a colonial mansion, and chartering a private speedboat to walk on secluded beaches and snorkel in secluded lagoons (one of the best adventures we’ve ever had on our travels!). With one final day to fill we decided to check out Paraty Tours, pretty much the only operator with an obvious physical presence in town, who as a consequence have a bit of a monopoly on tourism.
Paraty Jeep Tour with Paraty Tours
I have to say the chap we spoke to in the Paraty Tours office was lovely. Very helpful, with near perfect English and friendly too. A great salesman! Which is how we ended up booking on to one of their jeep tours. I desperately wanted to visit Cachoeira do Toboga, the waterfall where one of my favourite childhood films ‘The Emerald Forest‘ was filmed back in 1985. A jeep tour seemed the easiest way to achieve this!
The itinerary looked fun. We’d be visiting waterfalls, rum distilleries and having lunch at a rainforest restaurant, surely not a bad way to spend the day. We were promised an English speaking guide too, which would be brilliant given our rather limited grasp of Portuguese. Leaving our doubts about group tours firmly behind us, we set out determined to make the best of the trip.
Of course it didn’t all go to plan.
Paraty Forte Defensor Perpétuo
I still have no idea why we stopped at the fort on the Paraty jeep tour. It certainly wasn’t on the itinerary, was never mentioned by the guy in the office, and because of that, we’d made sure we’d walked up to it the previous day. More of a bungalow than a fortress, it was a rather disappointing end to a short but sweaty hike up the hill. One that we had no desire to repeat.
The other Paraty jeep tour passengers were just as bemused. They hadn’t been expecting it either.
At least this time though we’d have some background on the history from our guide, and we gathered eagerly around her to learn more about the fort. It was at this stage that we discovered she didn’t speak a word of English. Certainly not her fault, and not something we’d ever make a fuss about if we hadn’t been told we would have an English speaking guide.
Hubbie and I were the only foreigners, and spent the rest of the day struggling to work out what the hell was going on. We didn’t even know what order we were visiting the sights, and therefore weren’t sure whether to leave our swimming stuff on, or get changed at different points during the day. It was most confusing and it definitely impacted on our enjoyment of the trip.
Luckily on our jeep there was a lovely family visiting from Rio and they kindly translated as much as they could for us. Without them I think the day would have been a disaster.
Cachoeira Pedra Branca
Our first proper stop was Cachoeira Pedra Branca, a pretty impressive set of waterfalls hidden down a short (10 minute) and easy forest trail. There were several other groups there of course, so it wasn’t exactly paradise, but we were expecting that. If you can travel independently, I’d suggest visiting before 10am when you’re more likely to have the place to yourselves.
Hubbie and I left everyone cooling off in the pool at the bottom and scrambled up the rocks to the top. This was more like it! A little piece of paradise all to ourselves.
Engenho Pedra Branca
Next up on the Paraty jeep tour was one of the rum distilleries for which the local area is so famous. Cachaça is produced from sugarcane, and is the key ingredient for the delicious national cocktail known as a Caipirinha! This famous beverage is one of the iconic things associated with Brazil, and most visitors like to try one during their trip. We highly recommend it!
Now, we’ve visited a rum distillery before in Mauritius, and have to say it was leagues ahead of the ones we saw today in terms of visitor experience.
Sure, the Engenho Pedra Branca was cute and very much had that home-made, ‘organic’ kinda feeling, but there really wasn’t anything for us to see. Except a few barrels, and a shop where we could taste some of the cachaça. It was pretty potent stuff. I rather enjoyed the cinnamon flavour, whilst hubbie opted for the top dollar mega strong burn your eyebrows stuff. He didn’t finish it!
It was at this point that the guide and I realised we did in fact have a language in common – Spanish – and we were finally able to communicate about what we were seeing. She was really lovely, and very apologetic about the cock up, which was clearly beyond her control, and did her best for us throughout the day.
Villa Verde Restaurant
I’m always wary of restaurants whose main business is catering for group tours but Villa Verde was actually rather pleasant. After walking across a rope bridge and along a forest trail we came to an open air pavilion set in beautiful gardens full of exotic birds and lizards.
There were a few other groups there, but everyone was able to break off and sit at private tables. Thus we enjoyed our pumpkin ravioli in peace, communal dining not being our favourite pastime.
We went exploring the grounds whilst the others finished their lunch and found a delightful spot by the river that just oozed ‘jungle’.
Cachoeira do Toboga
And so to what I’d been waiting for all day. The Toboga waterfalls were a lot smaller in real life, but still pretty cool. After all, there aren’t many places where you can slide down a huge polished slab of rock in the middle of a rainforest. The locals do it standing up (definitely not advised!) whilst tourists go down on their backsides. It’s quite the place for afternoon entertainment as dozens of onlookers cheer the sliders down. Hubbie had a few goes and managed to retain his dignity. I took photos from the bottom and retained mine!
A little further up from the Cachoeira do Toboga is the Poco do Tarzan, a smaller pool and rope bridge leading to a popular cafe. It was even more crowded up here, with few places to enter the pool, so we only stayed long enough to sit under the waterfall for a refreshing blast before retracing our steps back down the hill.
Our final stop was another cachaça distillery, and a total waste of time. All we did was visit the shop, which was smaller than the previous one at Engenho Pedra Branca. Tasting was available here too, all the same flavours as before.
It had been uncomfortably hot all day and by this time all we wanted to do was get back to our pousada for a cold shower. Patience was wearing thin and we’d frankly had enough.
What we loved
Doing the Paraty jeep tour was certainly an easy way to visit the nearby sights, and although the Cachoeira do Toboga perhaps wasn’t quite as magical as I remembered it in the film, I’m really glad I made the effort to see it in real life. Our guide was genuinely friendly and helpful, and despite the language barrier I could tell she was passionate about her job. A real credit to Paraty Tours.
We also booked a private car transfer with Paraty Tours between Paraty and Rio and that was absolutely spot on! The driver was prompt, friendly and a courteous road user, and we felt totally safe. He also went out of his way to find our hotel in Rio which was extremely difficult to locate, so top marks for our chauffer!
What wasn’t so great
I’ve already mentioned the lack of communication regarding booking us an English speaking guide, and the unscheduled stop at the fort which wasn’t on the itinerary we’d signed up to. We were also supposed to stop at the Gold Trail mark to learn a bit about the gold mining history of the area. That didn’t happen, although I did spot the wooden sign flash by as we passed it on the way to the waterfalls. Another disappointment of the Paraty jeep tour.
Communication was appalling prior to our trip to Brazil. I tried several times to contact them by email (to book our transfer) but not once did I receive a response. So I asked our pousada to contact them on our behalf and finally received a reply. It was, unfortunately, the same experience throughout our entire trip. Communication isn’t a strong point in Brazil.
The jeep was also pretty uncomfortable, as we all had to sit sideways, and were flung around whenever the driver braked. The road was terrible too which didn’t help. Instead of repairing pot holes out here they make scarecrows and sit them in chairs by the damage, holding a white flag to warn of the danger. Ingenious perhaps, but not a long term solution.
Would we recommend the Paraty Jeep Tour? Not really, unless you’re short on time and want to see as many sights as possible in a day. Or if you can’t be bothered to arrange your own transport and just want an easy life, like we did. Despite being the main operator in town, and appearing slick in the office the tour just didn’t live up to expectation and left us feeling disappointed. We’re glad we saw the waterfalls, and were surprised at how much we enjoyed lunch, but another time we’d do a bit more planning and go independently.
Tours operate between 11am and 3pm, so if you’re travelling independently go outside these times to avoid the crowds.
The Paraty jeep tour (with Paraty Tours) leaves at 10.30am and lasts 6 hours.
Bring your own water! There is a small cup included but this is nowhere near enough to last you the day. It will be hot.
Go wearing your swimming stuff with a cover up rather than trying to change when you get there.
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Oh, how disappointing that you all didn’t have an English speaking guide! But those waterfalls… wow! And my husband would have been in heaven with those rum distilleries! 🙂
I’m sorry you were disappointed, but it’s always nice to read an honest review. Hey, at least now you have a story.
“The Emerald Forest” was one of my favorite movies too!! 🙂 Sorry this tour didn’t turn out like you hoped. When you said potholes and six hours of driving around and stopping my motion sickness sensors kicked into high gear. I think you are right and going it indepently is the way to go.
Yeay, someone else who has actually seen the film! Good wasn’t it! We met Charlie Boorman (the boy in the film) a couple of years ago, still a great guy!
I’m so glad you included tips because I never know when booking these group tours if/when there will be an opportunity to change into swimwear for water activities. This is important info! That should just be listed on the tour itinerary, but it rarely (or perhaps never) is. And, what a bummer that communication was so poor and you ended up on a tour without an English-speaking guide! That, for sure, is a big reason to not take this tour. Why would customers want to take a tour they can’t understand, right? I think I’d have the same frustrations as you did if I were in your shoes. Your review seems like a fair assessment, and I think I’d have to agree with you that, if I have the time, I would just explore these areas on my own because the rain forest and waterfalls look beautiful.
I know, right?! Knowing when to change was kinda key to enjoyment of the day, it’s just basics, would have been so simple to just put that on the itinerary.
I’ve just never been enamored with group tours, either, for basically the same reasons you list here. And also because my husband and I really like to “do our own thing” — explore and be on our own schedule. But so glad you got to see the waterfalls you wanted to see. Always point out the bright side, right?
Exactly! As Monty Python once said, always look on the bright side of life!