Living in a big city means life travels at 100 mph. There is so much to do, so many things to see. Every weekend sees you running around from place to place and everyone seems on the move all the time. This pace is not sustainable so every now and then you need to relax and tune out. The place to do that is the Ilha de Paquetá.
A quaint little island in Guanabara Bay, it is only a short boat ride from Rio but a world away from the hustle and bustle of the modern metropolis. The only sign of cutting-edge technology is a petroleum fuelling depot on the horizon. All too often this dreamy little island defers to the more popular getaways of Ilha Grande, Petropolis and Búzios. However, I think you’ll find it a great little place to escape the city.
History of Ilha de Paquetá
The name Paquetá comes from the Tupi language and means ‘many pacas’ which is a small type of rodent found in South and Central America. The island was used by the Tamoio indians as a hunting ground until the French ‘discovered’ it in 1555. Used as a centre of resistance against Portuguese occupation, the French and their Tamoio allies were eventually expelled and the island was used to produce vegetables, fruits, stone and timber for construction.
More recently it became a popular place for the rich and famous to own a house and escape the paparazzi. However, they have mostly moved on to hipper places like Búzios and now most of the island’s 4,500 inhabitants are older.
Bicycles and Chariots only
One of the best things about the island is that there are no cars! It’s a far cry from Rio where the road noise permeates every little nook and cranny. There are two exceptions; a police car and a rubbish truck but the main mode of transport is on two wheels. You will see this immediately as you get off the ferry. There you are greeted by one line of electric rickshaw taxis and another of horse drawn carts, affectionately known as chariots.
There are a couple of places along the main road where you can hire bikes. The price table in the photo below comes from the first bike-rental store on the left hand side of the main road as you walk from the boat pier. Most of the prices are similar so just choose the bikes you think look the best. This particular store also refurbishes bikes so their bikes are in pretty good shape. The condition of the quadricycles is a bit more suspect and they are very cumbersome to manoeuvre so I would stick to a normal bicycle. Just to give you an idea of how big the island is, it shouldn’t take you more than one hour to do a leisurely round.
If you want a more leisurely trip around the island then you can take one of the horse-drawn “chariots“. You get a guide who will give you a whistle-stop tour of the island.
The equivalent of a taxi on the island are electric rickshaws which are powered by members of a taxi cooperative. There are no taxi metres here but a trip from one side of the island to the other will set you back about R$7.
Casa da Moreninha
Ask any carioca to name one thing about the Ilha de Paquetá and they will probably mention Joaquim Manuel de Macedo’s novel A Moreninha, which was said to be set on the island. Now one of the main attractions is a pretty pink house that was used in the eponymous 1975 TV novela. The house itself is a beautifully preserved 18th century structure and just one of the many fine examples on the island. If cute little houses are your thing then you will enjoy wandering through the streets discovering all the little gems this island possesses.
Pedra dos Namorados
On the western side of the island is a big round rock in the shallows of the sea. On top you will notice lots of smaller rocks and pebbles. This is known as Pedra dos Namorados or “Lovers’ Rock”. The myth surrounding it is that you have three chances to throw a small rock onto the bigger rock with your back turned. If one stays on top then you will live happily ever after with your partner.
Cemitério dos Pássaros
Apparently the only bird cemetery in the world, it symbolises love for nature and birds. It is still used by locals to bury their pet birds. It’s a quaint little place with a few nice statues and worth wandering around for a bit.
Paquetá is one of only two places in Brazil where you can find the African Baobab tree (the other is in Passeio Público in Fortaleza). There are twenty in total on the island but the most famous one is located on Rua dos Tamoios and is called Maria Gorda (Fat Mary). Legend had it that you will be granted many years of good luck if you kiss the tree and look after it.
Casa de Artes
This cultural centre was inaugurated in 1999 and is composed of various exhibition rooms, a library and a café. It can be found in the Praça São Roque and is open from 10am to 5pm. Events include recitals, chorrinho, cinema, expositions and workshops.
Where to eat
There aren’t many restaurants on the island and most are near the pier. They are all much of a muchness and nothing special. You may find a few private houses with a small blackboard menu outside that serve food. The food is good and cheap so look out for them while you walk/bike around the island.
Where to stay
There are a few hostels on the island but if you are looking for luxury then you will be sorely disappointed. That’s not to say the accommodation is bad, it’s just simple.
There is not much information about each accommodation on the web but a standard room at the Hotel Farol on a weekend in low season is R$180. I would presume some of the other pousadas would be a bit cheaper. The Pousada Acordes ao Luar is really close to the pier and looks well kept.
Address: Praia das Gaivotas, 796/816
Telephone: (21) 3860-9042
Pousada Acordes ao Luar
Address: Praça Bom Jesus, 15
Telephone: (21) 3397-2024
Hotel Meu Cantinho
Address: Rua Dr. Lacerda, 63
Telephone: (21) 3397 0405
Address: Praia José Bonifácio, 59
Telephone: (21) 3397-0377
Hotel Palace de Paquetá
Address: Rua Adelaide Alambari, 314
Telephone: (21) 3397-0464/3397-0994
Address: Rua Domingos Olímpio, 23
Telephone: (21) 3397-0415
The only way to get to the island (there’s a hint) is by boat. There is a regular service that departs from Praça XV and from August 3rd more services were added to Paquetá. Now there are 16 slots on weekdays and 11 on weekends. A single journey costs R$4.50 and takes just over an hour. If you are lucky then you might even see dolphins in the bay. The journey also gives you a good look at the Ilha Fiscal as soon as you leave Praça XV.
More information on travelling by boat can be found on our Boat information page.