São Luiz do Paraitinga is a town and municipality in the Vale do Paraíba region, in São Paulo state. Its historical center, containing hundreds of constructions from the XIX century, is a national heritage site. Located in the middle of Serra do Mar State Park, an Atlantic rainforest reserve, the municipality of São Luiz do Paraitinga is also a popular destination for trekking and rafting.
The village of São Luiz e Santo Antonio do Paraitinga was founded in 1769 by bandeirantes. It did not have any significant economical activity until the second half of the XIX century, when coffee farming started. In 1873, the village was recognized as a city and changed name to São Luiz do Paraitinga.
As much of the Paraíba Valley, São Luiz do Paraitinga never recovered from the decline of coffee farming and became a stagnant - but wonderfully preserved - historical city. Eventually, the city's Carnival and traditional (caipira) events turned it into a magnet for both party-goers and those interested in cultural tourism. In 2002, São Luiz do Paraitinga was declared a resort municipality by the São Paulo state government, gaining access to special funding for the development of touristic activities.
In 2010, the city was struck by a flooding of the Paraitinga river, which greatly damaged part of the city's historical heritage. As response, in the same year, the historic center of São Luiz do Paraitinga was declared a national heritage, allowing the city to use federal funding for its reconstruction process.
Access to São Luiz do Paraitinga is possible using Rodovia Osvaldo Cruz (SP-125) which links Taubaté to Ubatuba. From São Paulo or São José dos Campos, Taubaté can be reached using Rod. Presidente Dutra (SP-60/BR-116).
Intercity buses to São Luiz do Paraitinga depart from Taubaté and are operated by São José. Buses are not very frequent so it is better to reserve in advance. The bus trip takes about 1 hour and costs R$ 9,70 on weekends (as of June 2013).
The city center can be easily explored on foot. However, to explore the Serra do Mar State Park, it is necessary to use a car or to hire a tour agency, such as Paraitinga Turismo.
The city of São Luiz do Paraitinga contains 437 constructions declared as heritage. Some of the most remarkable are:
- Capela Nossa Senhora das Mercês, Ladeira das Mercês (Access from R. Cel. Domingos de Castro). Colonial-style chapel constructed in the end of the XVII century. The current building is a reconstruction as the original one was destroyed in the 2010 flooding.
- House of Dr. Oswaldo Cruz, R. Oswaldo Cruz (Close to Ladeira das Mercês). A rammed earth house, constructed 1834, where the famous Brazilian physician Oswaldo Cruz lived.
- Largo do Teatro, Rua Monsenhor Ignácio Gióia, Centro Histórico. A picturesque spot containing the Nossa Senhora do Rosário church and beautiful colonial-style houses.
- Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário. Gothic-style church constructed in the end of the XIX century.
- Praça Oswaldo Cruz, Centro Histórico. The main square of the city, where centenary religious festivities occur and containing several historical constructions, including:
- Igreja Matriz São Luiz de Toloza. The city's central church, originally constructed in the XIX century. The church was practically destroyed in the 2010 flooding, so the current building is under reconstruction.
- Municipal Market, Rua Monsenhor Inácio Giolia. The city's old municipal market, constructed in 1835, currently used for trade of local goods and some of the city's main festivals and cultural festivals.
- Parapitinga trail, Parque Estadual Serra do Mar - Núcleo Santa Virgínia. Medium-difficulty trail, with 5700 meters and taking about 4 hours round-trip. In the trail it is possible to observe three waterfalls and a view of the valley of the Parapitinga river.
- Pedra do Corcovado trail, Parque Estadual Serra do Mar - Núcleo Santa Virgínia. The Corcovado rock is the main attraction of Núcleo Santa Virgínia, providing a fantastic view of the sea. To access it, however, it is necessary to pass through a high difficulty trail that takes 8 hours round-trip.
- Trilha das Sete Cachoeiras (Seven Waterfalls Trail), Estrada do Pinga km 2,5 - Catucaba. sat, sun 10AM. As the name says, it is a trail that passes through 7 waterfalls, containing also a panoramc view. It is located in a private property (the pousada) Refúgio das Sete Cachoeiras, where the trail must be booked. It has medium difficulty and takes about 4 hours round-trip. R$ 60.
São Luiz do Paraitinga offers a practically year-round agenda of traditional caipira cultural events.
- Festival de Marchinhas. Happening in second half of January, it is a festival and a competition of locally composed Marchinhas (a traditional Brazilian music genre).
- Carnaval de Marchinhas. Happening in the first half of February, it is the city's largest and most famous event. The crowds fill up the streets of the Historic Center and of the Catuçaba district, with Marchinhas being the dominant music.
- Holy week. The city's traditional Easter celebrations happen in the second week of April, from Friday to Sunday. The celebrations include an open-air passion play, a night procession around the city's historic center, the Malhação de Judas party and the crowning of Our Lady of Aparecida.
- Festa do divino. First half of May. The city's most important religious event and one of the oldest caipira traditions of the state. It consists of diverse religious celebrations, musical and dance performances, typical food (including the pastel de farinha and the afogado), and plays with the city's pair of giant dolls, João Paulino and Maria Angú. The afogado is freely distributed during the celebrations. The money to organize the event is collected by the festeiro ("partygoer") who wanders the municipality for the entire previous year asking for donations.
- Corpus Christ. Second half of May. During this day, the citizens decorate their houses using flowers, sawdust, coloured lime and cheap materials, culminating into a religious procession.
- Arraiá do Chi Pul Pul. First half of June. S.
- Winter Season. The whole month of July.
- Caipira Cuisine Party. First half of August.
- Elpídio dos Santos. Second half of September.
- Festa do Saci. First half of October.
- Christmas celebrations. The whole month of December.
São Luiz do Paraitinga is a city that takes pride on authenticity, so you won't find shops and markets selling general tourist trinkets. There are a only few handicraft shops, spread in the Historical Center. Check also the fairs at the Municipal Market.
São Luiz do Paraitinga's trademark dish is the afogado (stewed beef with cassava flour). It be tasted at the Municipal Market and at the city's various festivities. A popular snack is the pastel with corn flour.
- Restaurante Sol Nascente, Largo das Mercês, 21 - Centro, ☎ . Combines Japanese with Caipira food.
- Cantinho dos Amigos, R. Cel. Domingues de Castro, 121 - Centro, ☎ . Caipira food and pizza.
- Destilaria Mato Dentro, Rodovia Oswaldo Cruz, Km 35 - São Luiz do Paraitinga, ☎ . Producer of the "Mato Dentro" handmade cachaça, that won several national awards.
- Fazenda Catuçaba, Bairro do Pinga, Catuçaba district (40 min. by car from city center), ☎ . Farm resort hotel popular among foreigner visitors. It is composed of a large farmhouse from 1850 and private villas. Food is organic and grown within the farm. The resort offers several activities, like trails, horse rides, and rafting, that must be reserved at least 1 day before.
- Hostel Blue Sleep, Via de Acesso João Roman, 455 (Near city center), ☎ . Check-in: 02PM, check-out: 11AM. Hostel with both shared and private rooms.
- Pousada Ápice, Rua Antônio Benildo Vaz de Campos, 213 (400 m from city center), ☎ . Simple pousada next to the Paraitinga river, with sauna and swimming pool.
- Pousada Araucária, Rua Renato Aguiar, 500 (600 m from city center). Check-in: 12PM, check-out: 12PM. Pousada surrounded by nature, with swimming pool
- Pousada Vila Verde, Rua Benfica, 63 - Benfica (Near city center). Pousada with comfortable rooms and decorated as a historical house.
- Pousada Villa Parahytinga, Rua Cel Domingues de Castro, 54 - Centro, ☎ . Check-in: 12PM, check-out: 12PM. Pousada located in a historical construction, using locally made furniture.
- Pousada Quinta das Amoreiras, Estrada do Alvarenga, 0.5 km (3 km from city center). Not far from the city center, this rural pousada may good a good option if you want to feel the cozyness of a private villa in a rural environment, but don't want to be just in the middle of nowhere.
São Luiz do Paraitinga is very safe for tourists. As you will quickly realize by yourself, however, most of the population of the city is relatively poor, so avoid displaying signs of wealth and don't mess up with the locals' affairs.