Tropical island on The Emerald Coast? Sure, we could handle that! Welcome to Ilha Grande!
Ilha Grande (large island) is located three hours south of the behemoth city of Rio de Janeiro, it’s also easily accessible by private transfer (including ferry boat). It was the perfect paradise after spending a week in the bustling, albeit grimy streets of the city – more on that soon!
For centuries, this small slice of heaven was a base for transient pirates before eventually becoming a penitentiary. Nowadays the island’s sole purpose is tourism alone. During our stay on the island, we seldom saw other travellers. If it weren’t for some chatty Norwegian’s at breakfast we’d have thought we were the only other internationals on the isle.
Unfortunately for us, our time in Ilha Grande was a cloudy one. Which meant the landscape became a little subdued, even the palm trees seemed a little droopy.
The first thing we did on arrival was find lunch! We wound up finding ourselves at Pato Crepes for a snack (it was just okay) and a traditional Brazilian coffee (it hit the spot).
Checking into our pousada (inn) in the main port town of Abraão we were convinced we’d found the right kind of place when we read their house rules. Declaring that it was against the law to make noise after 10pm – we could get on board with that!
Determined not to let the weather stop us from exploring, we were keen to make the most of our three nights on the island, whilst enjoying A Vida Lenta (the slow life) at the same time. Our first day was a bit of a lay day. Which meant we split the rest of our time doing two of the best things to do on Ilha Grande; hiking and enjoying the islands (not so best kept) secrets by boat.
Hiking on Ilha Grande
The island has sixteen trekking routes, all clearly marked on our map. There’s even a sunrise hike, departing at 1am to get to the highest peak Pico do Papagaio (T13) at 959m. We dodged the early start and opted to hike the T10 and T11 routes through bamboo arches and thick forest over to Palmas beach, Pouso beach and eventually Lopes Mendes beach (a total of two and a half hours) .
Given the recent rainfall, it was a seriously slippery task. Where mud spread from each edge of the trail and nearby vines are stained brown from the constant grabbing of walkers, using them for stability. Which reminds me, I highly recommend you wear trainers and not flip flops! Unless of course you enjoy testing the elasticity of your ankle joints.
On arrival to Palmas beach, the sand is of similar coarse and colour as brown sugar, taking our shoes off to walk to the other end of the beach felt like a serious exfoliation. Another twenty minutes or so, we arrived at the most famous beach on the island: Lopes Mendes. Here the sand was as fine and white as icing sugar. The type of sand that squeaks with each step, you can’t help but scuff your feet to try and perfect the sound.
You can eat at Pouso beach, but if all you need is water, beer or snacks you can get them both there and Lopes Mendes. We had the ‘lunch of the day’ at Pouso beach for 25R ($8.50 AUD) each. It consisted of fried fresh fish, rice, beans, salad and farofa (toasted cassava flour). Feeling relaxed by the island vibe already. We opted not to trudge back through the forest and caught a taxi boat back to the main port for 25R each.
Taking a boat trip on Ilha Grande
On our second day, even though the weather forecast was showing us full sun, we woke to more cloud. Not to worry! We ended up booking a six hour boat trip around the island regardless (the things we put up with!). It ended up costing 100R ($35 AUD) for the six hour trip, where we stopped at Lagoa Verde (Green Lagoon), Lagoa Azul (Blue Lagoon), lunch at an undisclosed location (cost extra) and then lastly at Praia Feiticeira (Happy Beach). Despite the weather not being on our side, it was a seriously relaxing day. Made better when told we could BYO booze and use the communal eskie.
Where to eat?
Sadly, I can’t recommend anywhere ‘good’ to eat on the island, we didn’t try anywhere local either – the reason being – we were seriously fatigued of fish, beans and rice from our time up in the North. However! I can recommend Coruja Empanadas for a delicious snack with great happy hour deals along with the Atelie Cafeteria for a seriously good espresso. I highly recommend avoiding pizza.
In hindsight, I wished we’d stayed another day on the island. Three definitely wasn’t enough (although I do blame the cloudy sky). Not only did the weather improve the day we left, it would have been nice to spend another day and a half relaxing around the bohemian town. I would have liked taking on another hike (T14 looks great!!) and worked up the courage to order fish again.
And that’s a wrap! Visiting Ilha Grande is a seriously easy side trip from Rio de Janeiro and a well oiled (tourist) machine once you’ve arrived. Live music can be found all over the island, like much of Brazil we’ve visited, you can simply keep walking past bar after bar until you find the genre you’re after. Be sure to find; samba, jazz and bossa nova throughout.
Thanks for reading, as always Avaycay-ers! Join me next week as we travel further south again to a place with serious colonial charm: Paraty.
Until then xo