Ilha Grande, Brazil Travel Guide
Ilha Grande (The Big Ilsand in English) is around 180 km (112 miles) off the coast of Brazil, and is 3 1/2 – 4 hours from Rio de Janeiro (see How To Get There section below).
It is a popular excursion with tourists visiting Rio de Janeiro and Brazilians alike, for its pristine beaches and varied wildlife.
Bring your walking shoes on your visit… there are no cars (or taxis!) on the island and it is a protected nature reserve. The majority of land is located within the boundaries of Ilha Grande State Park. Bring plenty of cash. There is no bank or ATM but credit cards are accepted everywhere.
The tropical forests and vegetation of Ilha Grande provide habitat for many endangered and threatened species such as: red-ruffed fruitcrow (Pyroderus scutatus), brown howler monkey (Alouatta fusca), maned sloth (Bradypus torquatus), red-browed Amazon parrot (Amazona rhodocorytha), and the broad-snouted caiman (Caiman latirostris).
During the months of May and June you may see Magellanic Penguins who have migrated to Brazil from more Southern locations such as Punta Tombo, Argentina.
Top 5 Things To Do in Ilha Grande
- Take a hike. Though often classified as a beach destination, Ilha Grande is a hiker’s paradise. Mountainous jungle covers the island’s 120 square miles, which is crisscrossed by 100 miles of hiking trails. Most paths are easily navigated thanks to free trail maps handed out at local tourist offices.
- Browse-through local shops. The only town on the island is Vila do Abraao, which is a charming collection of pousadas, craft shops, and restaurants connected by sandy dirt roads. Though it isn’t cheap, prices here are lower compared to neighboring beach cities of Rio to the north and Paraty to the south.
- Be a beach bum. Ilha Grande unsurprisingly offers several wonderful beach bathing locations to choose from. Although the harbor in town is clean and sandy, many prefer to walk 10 minutes to Praia Preta. More information on beaches with descriptions of each can be found here
- Travel around the island. Some of the best beaches are located in hidden coves accessible only by boat or a several hour hike. Plenty of companies offer affordable boat transportation to the most popular beaches with departures several times a day, primarily from Vila do Abraao.
- Become a jailbird (figuratively speaking…). The island houses two now defunct prisons: Colonia Penal Candido Mendes and Lazareto. The latter is about 15 minutes from the center of town, while the other requires a lengthy hike but is located on the lovely Beach Dois Rios.
A popular, non-demanding half-day activity is the Circuito Abraao. This 1 mile loop begins on the western edge of town. It passes two beaches, the ruins of Lazareto, and a stone aqueduct that according to its sign still carries water. You’ll also pass a fresh water swimming hole and lookout point. The trail is wide and shaded, making it a nice retreat from the strong southern sun.
Though the hike is short, it can easily be extended into a full-day excursion if you plan on swimming or tanning along the beach. The sand here is a mix of white and black, and there is usually a vendor selling cold beer and snacks.
How To Get To Ilha Grande from Rio de Janeiro
From Rio de Janeiro take a Costa Verde bus to Angra dos Reis or Mangaratiba, an approximate 3 hour journey. These two coastal towns have ports that operate ferries and boats to Ilha Grande. Ferries tend to leave every several hours and the journey takes a little more than an hour. Catamarans get you there in 40 minutes or so.
Name: Pousada Recreio Da Praia Book Now
Address: Rua Da Praia
Website: http://www.recreiodapraia.com.br/ Located on Abraão Beach beach with a pool, garden patios, LCD T.V.s, minibars, WiFi and telephones.
Name: El Misti
Address: Rua Alice Kury da silva 8
Website: http://elmistihostelilhagrande.com A Brazilian hostel chain, El Misti offers both dorm rooms and private rooms. Prices include breakfast, use of the kitchen, and wireless Internet. Rooms are simple but air conditioned.
Name: Camping Sombra dos Coqueiros
Address: Rua da Praia
Website: www.campingsombradoscoqueirais.com.br/ Ilha Grande is scattered with several campgrounds, most offering open sandy areas where you can pitch your tent and set up camp. Camping Sombra dos Coqueiros offers its guests use of shower houses and also rent camping equipment.
Name: Restaurante Pé na Areia
Address: Rua da Praia
Website: Located on the main street that hugs the coast, Pé na Areia specializes in seafood and cocktails. Many of their tables are located outside on the sand, covered by umbrellas by day and lit by candlelight at night.
Name: Kebab Lounge
Address: Corner of Rua de Santana
Website: None. Thai food-plus… a charming change to seafood and steaks commonly found along Brazil’s coast. Kebab Lounge serves three main dishes: kebabs, Thai woks with pasta, and a variety of salads.
Name: The Bier Garten
Address: Av. Getúlio Vargas
Website: None. The cheapest way to eat in Brazil is always at a per kilo restaurant, and it is no different on Ilha Grande. This charming restaurant offers a tasty variety of self-serve meat and veggie dishes – you pay according to how much you serve yourself.
Photographs by Laura Elise, all rights reserved.