Travel Consultant, Tom Maker, recently spent a month living in Rio de Janeiro and some of his favorite weekend getaways were to Paraty, Ilha Grande & Buzios. In part 2 of this 4 part blog series, Tom takes us to Ilha Grande, an exotic island in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro.
Ilha Grande in Brazil is known as “the big island,” it covers 193 square kilometers of relatively untouched, pristine coastline. It is paradise for those seeking raw, unspoiled nature, stunning beaches, and endless jungle trails. From the moment you board your ferry from the picturesque mainland, you feel that you are heading to a destination worlds away from the high-rises and street vendors of Rio de Janeiro.
Vila Abraão – Ilha Grande Brazil
The main city on the island is Vila Abraão. Upon arrival, Vila Abraão will welcome you with cheerful people and charming pousadas. You will see local vendors selling handicrafts, outdoor restaurants serving freshly caught seafood and cold beers that are sure to tempt any traveler. Not to mention, the gorgeous backdrop of the lush jungle with the surrounding green waters.
This charming town only exists as an entrance and basecamp to the vast natural splendor of the island. Ilha Grande is one of the best and least disturbed examples of Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest, with thick jungles of varying plants and a plethora of wildlife. Fun fact, Ilha Grande has no cars on the island. Everything in Vila Abraão is within walking distance. Locals move goods around with hand pulled carts along the dirt streets or beaches.
Ilha Grande is located 160 km south of Rio de Janeiro, on the coast of the Rio de Janeiro State. It is only accessible by boat, but road connections easily combine with ferry departures.
Public Bus & Ferry
It is possible to take the public bus from Rio de Janiero’s Novo Rio bus terminal, in the city center. Look for the ‘Costa Verde’ bus company. These reliable and modern busses leave to the towns of either Anga dos Reis, or Conceição de Jacarei, where you can catch the ferry to Ilha Grande. The difficulty with this option is matching the boat departure with the bus schedule. There are public ferries and transfer companies which take travelers between the mainland and the big island. While there are plenty of boat departures, I wouldn’t recommend this way. The information listed is very confusing and would frustrate any traveler. Instead, take a group transfer which is much more accessible and reasonably priced.
There are several transfer companies which specialize in taking travelers to Rio de Janeiro and Ilha Grande on daily departures. Companies such as Paraty Tours or Easy Transfer run departures to Paraty that pick you up in Rio and include the boat connection to the Island. Transfer companies are a well-priced alternative to the bus. SouthAmerica.travel regularly organizes these services for our clients who wish to travel comfortably.
We can always arrange for a private transfer with an English speaking guide to get you to Ilha Grande! The duration of this transfer is around 2.5 – 3 hours.
Lopes Mendes is the most famous beach on the island and voted one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil. You will see why once you lay your feet in the white sand and swim in the sparkling blue water. Enhancing your privacy, most people stay at one end of the beach, allowing you to reserve a stretch of warm sand to yourself. Local surfers in search of the best waves on the Island typically spend their day at Lopes Mendes Beach. Surfboards, snacks, and cold beers are for sale at the makeshift kiosks.
The easiest way to get to Lopes Mendes is by taxi boat from Vila Abraão. From the pier, there are plenty of taxi-boat companies that can whisk travelers to the beach. The boat ride is about half an hour and leaves you at Mangues Beach. From there, you go on a short hike through the jungle to reach Lopes Mendes. Try to spot some wildlife along the way!
The second way to get to Lopes Mendes is hiking from Vila Abraão through the jungle. This 6km, 3-hour hike was my route of choice. The initial climb is tough, but you’re rewarded with spectacular views over the island and the sea. Following the decline, the last third of the hike is past quaint beaches and lower jungle paths. Since the hike is quite strenuous, I recommend hiking one way and taking a taxi boat back to town once your day has ended.
Fifteen minutes away from Vila Abraão, this shallow bay with crystal blue waters is ideal for snorkeling. Floatation devices provided allow people to float in the water while observing colorful fish. Many companies offer tours to the Blue Lagoon, which is often part of the ‘half Vuelta’ or ‘half circuit’ tour, explained below.
If you want to experience as much as possible on the island, take the ‘Full Vuelta’ (Full Circuit) or ‘Half Vuelta’ (Half Circuit) Tour. Almost every tour company on the island offers these. The Full Vuelta takes you to 4-5 beaches on the opposite side of the island and incorporates a tasty lunch. The Half Vuelta takes you to the beaches and lagoons on the same side of the island as Vila Abraão. Both are fabulous day tours.
Where to Stay – Ilha Grande Brazil
The best place to stay on Ilha Grande is Pousada Naturalia, located just outside the town of Vila Abraão. The Pousada is in a quiet and peaceful area, with ocean views from every room. Take your pick of lounging on your private balcony or relaxing in a hammock. The rooms at Pousada Naturalia are simple, yet spacious and equipped with all the amenities you may need.
Many travelers make a trip to Paraty from Ilha Grande because the two destinations are so close to each other. Ilha Grande is 100 km away by road and only 50 km away by water. The transfer services I mentioned earlier offer connections to Paraty from Ilha Grande, with the ferry and group transfer included. Visiting Paraty is an excellent way to experience two different parts of Brazil so close to Rio!
For more info on Paraty, check out my blog, A Weekend in Paraty.