After a whirlwind eight days in Rio de Janeiro, we headed south to Ilha Grande – an idyllic, highly protected island paradise just off the town of Angra dos Reis in Rio de Janeiro state. We were in need of a bit of downtime after our action-packed time in Rio, and Ihla fit the bill.
Considering its close proximity to the bustling mainland, Ihla Grande is surprisingly sleepy and unspoiled. That could be because the island was the site of a leper colony and a prison for more than a century, closed to tourism and development until 1993. Of course there’s plenty of tourism now, but Ihla still retains an otherworldly, undiscovered feel. There are no high-rise hotels or motorized vehicles on the island, and its gorgeous, secluded beaches and miles of jungle trails make it a haven for outdoor lovers. Ihla Grande is a little slice of Brazilian heaven.
Here’s how we spent four extremely chill days on Ihla Grande!
For all of our coastal explorations of Brazil south of Rio de Janeiro, we used a door-to-door transfer service provided by Paraty Tours. Their bus picked us up at our hotel in Rio’s Copacabana and carried us down to Angra dos Reís, about a four-hour trip counting a brief rest stop. From there, we took a ferry across to Ihla Grande, a splashy voyage of about an hour. Paraty Tours offered a surprisingly economical and super-convenient alternative to public transit; they even handled our ferry reservations and tickets.
By public bus, the trip from Rio takes about five hours (be sure and sit on the left side for fantastic views of the coast!). In addition to Angra dos Reís, the water taxis connect to Ihla Grande from the coastal towns of Mangaratiba and Conceição de Jacareí. Check the ferry schedule on the official website for Ilha Grande for the most up-to-date info.
Strolling Abraâo Town
The sleepy village of Abraâo is the main population center of Ihla Grande, with about 3,000 people. Folks have lived there since colonial times, but the town didn’t begin to grow until the late 1800s when the leper hospital was in operation (demolished in the 1950s). The hospital also served as an immigration center, screening passengers arriving by ship to Brazil and disinfecting ships. Tourism began to flourish in the 1990s with the closing of the nearby prison. Today, Abraâo hosts the ferry terminal and an assortment of lodging, restaurants, boat tour companies and dive outfits.
Ihla Grande is a hiker’s paradise, with many trails leading through the jungle and across the island to the more remote beaches on the other side. Here’s a good article that describes the most popular hikes on Ihla. Although we were in major inertia mode while we were there, we did spend a pleasant morning hiking beyond some of the beaches northwest of Abraâo, including Preta beach. We passed the remains of the old prison and then headed into the jungle, coming upon an old aqueduct and a nice swimming hole – perfect after our sweaty hike!
Although there are numerous dive companies to choose from, we did not dive on Ihla Grande after reports that the visibility wasn’t good. We did take a boat tour to five nearby islands with Dive & Cia, a nice and relaxing way to pass a day. We also chatted up the nice owner of Kayak & SUP on pretty Julia beach with every intention of doing some stand-up paddle boarding, but once again inertia had other plans. Next time!
Foodies that we are, the urge to check out the local restaurant scene is one thing that will always overcome our inertia. For such a secluded place, Ihla Grande has some surprisingly great restaurants. Our favorites included Lua e Mar for fabulous seafood as you dig your toes into the sand; Atelie Cafeteria by the ferry pier for drinks, snacks, and friendly staff; Steak ‘n Beach for excellence in both; and Sorrentina’s, known for wonderful handmade ravioli.
We enjoyed our stay at Pousada Caiçara, a quiet and cozy inn right on Abraâo beach and a stone’s throw away from the aforementioned eateries. Friendly staff, sumptuous breakfast (included) and views to die for.
Coming Next: Paraty, Brazil – A Magical Colonial Town