Beach splendor at Ihla Grande, just off the main town of Abraâo

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!

Getting There

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.

Hiking

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!

Aquatic Adventures

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!

Eating

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.

Lodging

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.

Our breakfast view at Pousada Caiçara

Coming Next: Paraty, Brazil – A Magical Colonial Town

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28 Comments

  1. More great shots, and story, S&J. Looks like the leg is all healed up? Keep it coming, it makes us anxious to travel again!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, BE! This was last October, so BA (before ankle). But it’s doing much better – thanks for asking!

  2. We’ll be heading there ourselves shortly! Thanks for supplying the transport options, it may be something for us to explore too 😊

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      It made things a lot easier, for sure! We know you’ll love Ihla. Wish we could meet you there 🙂

  3. We also loved Ilha Grande. We visited a few islands along Costa Verde and this was our favourite. It’s one of the places in Brazil we would return to. Your hike to Preta looks interesting, passing an old jail! We discovered Sorrentina’s on our last night, too bad because it was one of our best meals in Brazil! By the way, it looks like you posted this a few days ago, but I just got an email from WP today. Strange.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Ah yes, another pesky WordPress issue! I don’t know why the post was originally dated Feb 20, but I was able to change it. At least the record is correct now 🙂

  4. We are here in Abraão, Ilha Grande at the moment and we can relate to the inertia feeling. After a very busy time during the Rio Carnival we are loving the relaxing vibe of the island.
    Our favourite restaurant is also Lua e Mar, the food is delicious and staff are so friendly.
    We will be sad to leave this island.
    Thank you for this great and informative post.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Loved your photos from Ihla – you were more adventurous than we were! It’s definitely a good place to go into inert mode and recover from Carnival (loved your pics of that too!!). Do you know Ian and Nicky of Above Us Only Skies? They are also in the Rio area at the moment and enjoyed Carnival.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      It was a perfect place to chill and catch our breaths! Thanks, Henry 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      We discovered it’s nearly impossible to streamline a Brazil plan. There’s just so much to see and do! Already planning our return trip in July. Perhaps we could meet up!

  5. I’m so impressed with the colourful paints used with abandon on their walls. I love it! We, in Canada, are too restrained. Enjoyed your post as always, Muriel

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Muriel! Hope all is well in your beautiful Vancouver and you’re staying warm. 🙂

  6. Looks and sounds like a nice getaway and just what the doctor ordered, Susan! An island paradise sounds mighty attractive to me now as well. Travel can be exhausting!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Yup, sometimes you just have to take some chill time. Ihla was the perfect place for it! Hope you three can find a way to see it.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Mel! We do . . . and we’re grateful.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Suzanne, and welcome to our blog!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  7. I can see why Ilha Grande is a perfect place to wind down after exploring a big city like Rio. I love the combination of nice beaches, lush mountains and hills where you can hike, and a pretty village, among many other interesting things, in such a relatively compact place.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Bama! It’s a little piece of paradise, for sure. As you said, Ihla has it all!

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