Ilha Grande: 4 Days On Brazil’s Ultimate Island Paradise
Just a few hours from Rio, the idyllic island of Ilha Grande awaits. Picture yourself hiking through untouched jungle to reach picturesque beaches, swimming beneath cascading waterfalls and easing into the slow pace of island life. Thought so.
There are no cars here, so to get around you have two options: by foot or by boat. Most people (us included) stay in the portside town of Vila do Abraão – highly recommended as lugging your luggage elsewhere would be far from fun.
Here’s our guide to spending four days discovering the idyllic island.
It’s likely you’ll arrive around lunchtime, so head straight for waterfront Café Do Mar. Feel the waves gently lapping against your feet as you fill up on its famed barbecued meats and fresh seafood. You could spend a whole afternoon here, sipping caipirinhas and swimming in the turquoise sea. But to do so would mean missing out on everything else the “Big Island” has to offer.
Just west of the café, hidden behind the forested coastline, are three pristine coves. It’s about a 20-minute walk to the first one, and a hop skip and a jump along a jungle trail to the others. Because of their proximity to the main town, expect them to be on the busy side, but beautiful nonetheless with calm waters, golden sand and forest fringing the shore.
Come dinnertime, nab yourself a table on the deck at Las Sorrentinas – probably the most talked about restaurant on the island – and relax among colourful fairy lights and high-spirited travellers. There’s just one thing on the menu: Argentinian style pasta (think giant ravioli), with your choice of filling and sauce.
Get into the groove of Ilha Grande with a hike through its mountainous jungle interior. Hidden in the folds of the hillside (about 45 minutes from town), you’ll find Feiticeira Falls. Brace yourself for a dip in the icy cold water at its base, before embarking on the steep descent to Feiticeira Beach.
This small bay is a popular destination, with palms shading its sandy shoreline, gigantic rocks to laze on and stalls selling snacks and cocktails. Boats scatter across the calm water, making it easy to return to town by water taxi for those who don’t want to walk.
However, those who do want to walk can hit the hiking trail to visit nearby beaches – most of which are completely deserted. If you’re still walking at sunset, keep an ear out for the rumble of monkeys!
For dinner head to Biergarten – a buffet style restaurant where you pay by the weight of your plate.
Make today all about Lopes Mendes, the island’s most-loved beach. Unlike its northern counterparts, it faces onto the Atlantic Ocean and waves crash onto its 4km of pure white sand.
It’s a two-hour hike from Vila do Abraão, and while you could take a boat, the walk is well worth it. The undulating dirt track is steep and strewn with giant boulders and tree roots. Every now and then it descends to the coastline, which means there’s plenty of opportunities to cool off with a swim along the way.
When you reach the sweeping, squeaky white sand of Lopes Mendes, you’ll no doubt want to charge straight into the rolling waves – but be wary of strong currents.
Unless you fancy a long hike back, you should probably take a boat from Plaia Pouso – a 20-minute walk back the way you came. Expect to pay $9.30 (R$25) one-way for a speedboat, or $5.60 (R$15) for a bigger (and slower) one.
If you’re a seafood fan, seek out a waterfront restaurant for dinner and treat yourself to crepes on the foreshore for dessert.
Make the most of your last few hours in paradise with an early morning swim at Julia Beach, savouring the sound of the jungle, the lack of traffic and the gentle sea breeze.
Stock up on snacks at one of the mini-marts that line the main street, then head to the port for the boat back to the mainland.
When to go to Ilha Grande
If you like it hot and humid, head to Ilha Grande in the Brazilian summer (December through February), or for a more manageable climate (with daytime temperatures of around 26ºC), consider travelling in winter (June through August).
How to get to Ilha Grande
First, fly into Santiago before continuing on to Rio. From Rio, the best bet is to book with Easy Transfer. It costs $36 (R$95) one way including hotel pick up, bus to Concepção de Jacarei and boat to Vila do Abraão. It’s longer (and not much cheaper) to take public transport.
(Lead image: ckturistando / Unsplash)