Ilha Grande is definitely what you call an island retreat. Ideally not far from the mainland and only a four-hour or so journey from the bustling Rio de Janeiro. Ilha Grande is an island of no motor vehicles, lush Atlantic rainforest, white sandy beaches, cute monkeys and 60% of the island a protected state park, it really is some place. The main town, or the only town, is Abraão and the mainstay for many tourists, hostels, shops, restaurants that all line the shore line in this pretty stunning location. It takes only 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other so don’t worry about getting lost!
Before You Go!
There is a few things you might want to know before heading out to a tropical paradise, especially when you might fall in love with it and stay for way longer than expected!
- There are NO banks or ATM’s on the island and most hostels and pousadas only accept cash. Credit card machines are used by some places but usually with a fee. Don’t worry if you don’t have enough, the mainland is only at most R$10 and an 5-8 hour roundtrip.
- There IS small supermarkets on the island. You will have no problem with being short on food here, with plenty of restaurants and eateries to choose from too.
How to Get to Ilha Grande
- Organised Transfer – from Rio there is many companies that link Rio, Ilha Grande and Paraty. It is a door-to-door service and they all usually use small transfer boats out of the port of Concepção de Jacarei, offering single, return and full package tickets. I travelled one-way, Rio-Ilha Grande with www.easytransferbrazil.com.
- Rio – Ilha Grande – R$80 (one-way)
- Rio – Paraty – R$90 (one-way)
- Ilha Grande – Paraty – R$70 (one-way)
- Rio – Ilha Grande – Paraty – R$130 (one-way package ticket)
- Rio – Ilha Grande – Paraty – R$210 (return to Rio package ticket)
*Tip; when buying one-way the driver offers discount returns to get your business.
- From Mangaratiba is joint cheapest way to get to Ilha Grande and takes 80 minutes.
- CCR Barcas Ferry – R$4.80 (one-way) ♦ Departs Mangaratiba – 8am and 10pm weekdays / 8am weekends ♦ Departs Ilha Grande – 5.30pm everyday
- From Angra dos Reis the CCR ferry takes 80 minutes and catamarans take 50 minutes.
- CCR Barcas Ferry – R$4.80 (one-way) ♦ Departs Angra dos Reis – 3.30pm weekdays / 1.30pm weekends ♦ Departs Ilha Grande – 10am everyday
- Catamarans – R$30 – 8am to 5pm
- From Concepção de Jacarei is the quickest way to get across to Ilha Grande. It is located between Angra do Reis and Mangaratiba, having both speed boats, 50mins one-way, and schooners, 1hr 15mins one-way, that run throughout the day and into the evening.
- Schooners – 9am to*6pm – R$15 (one-way) *note: 9pm on Fridays
- Speed Boats – 10am to 5pm – R$25 (one-way)
- Buses from Rio begin at 4am leaving approximately hourly until 9pm to Mangaratiba, Concepção de Jacarei and Angra dos Reis.
- To Mangaratiba – from R$30 ♦ 2 hours
- To Concepçâo de Jacarei – from R$35♦ 2½ hours **!this is a request stop!**
- To Angra dos Reis – from R$43 ♦ 3 hours
Sites and Activities
- Beaches – Ilha Grande has some stunning beaches where lush green Atlantic rainforest sweeps down from the hilltops to gold and white sandy beaches, lapped by the refreshing Atlantic ocean. Lopes Mendes is Ilha Grande’s most popular and voted one of the best in Brazil.
- Boat Trips – there are numerous options to choose from, visiting the sandy bays and beautiful beaches including snorkelling;
- Speed Boat – you can circumnavigate with these jet propelled flashy numbers but on windy days expect a few bumps – whole day R$150pp in high season.
- Schooner – these slower and much less bumpier numbers are cheaper than the speed boat options but cannot reach further a-filed bay and beaches.
- Water Taxi – these range from tiny boats to big schooners that link the different bays and beaches with Abraão from R$5.
- Scuba Diving – unfortunately when I was there the visibility was very poor due to a recent storm but there is several operators and plenty of dive sites. I spoke to a company called Dive&CIA, they were really helpful and spoke English too. They were offering a 2-tank dive including full gear and a guide for R$150.
Walks and Treks
Ilha Grande is the place for trekking. There is numerous options and all through beautiful forest with stunning vistas over the ocean and beaches. The treks range from a couple of hours to multi-day treks. The longest is 10 days to circumnavigate the island. Treks that are more than the norm on the island are recommended to take a guide. Enquire at the Park Headquarters if your not sure. The most popular walks are;
- Abraão to Lopes Mendes – this is a must do trek and leave a whole day to do it if your thinking of walking both ways (you can take a water taxi one-way). It is a 2-2½ hour walk that can be a good work out in places, especially when the weather is really hot. It takes you through rainforest, super look outs and two beaches before you get to Lopes Mendes. Water taxis are available to and from the second beach, Pouso.
- Cachoeira da Feiticeira Waterfall – This is the most rewarding and relatively easy trek with not many people on the way too. There is a plunge pool near the beginning (wonder upstream for your own secluded bit of paradise) and then through different types of forest including some bamboo. Wildlife is abundant too, I saw Howler monkeys, a snake and an up-close encounter with a troop of awesome Tamarin monkeys. The waterfall is impressive too, cascading from a height of 15m. You can return the way you come or keep going on the trail to a secluded beach on the next bay, Enseada Estrellas. You can take a water-taxi back from here for R$5-6.
Drinks and Eats
There is so many options for food and drink in Abraäo to choose from. It is always nice sitting at one of the tables on beach for a meal but the further you go back from the beach the cheaper they get. There are parties weekly at the big hostel chain Che Lagarto and when you hang around later on into the night on the shore line there is usually someone going to a beach party a couple of coves down (make sure you take some beer!)
Ilha Grande appears to be a safe place to visit. There is no major crime here but as usual take care of your belongings and don’t carry anything you don’t need to when out in the evening. I have met many backpackers who have come through Ilha Grande and nobody had a negative experience, I felt safe and relaxed too.
There is many places to stay on the island but be aware of Brazilian public holidays, this place is a magnet for domestic tourism. Other times you should be fine finding a hostel or pousada. There is budget to flashy options available. The following are for international backpackers;
- Studio Beach Hostel – this is where I stayed, cheap and best location, on the shore. But not the best, the crazy, huge and tasty breakfast keeps this place hanging on in there – check out my review.
- Bier Garten Hostel – nothing but great stories about this place and I popped to see it but it was fully booked. They have a “by-the-kilo” buffet too including plenty of veggies.
- HI Holandes Hostel – set amongst green gardens and shadowing forest this place is perfect for that nature feel. We had a friend stay here and she really liked it but said when things went wrong they weren’t fixed too quick. Being set more on the fringe of the forest it is a bit of a dark walk back at night. But I never heard of any problems.
- Che Lagarto – right on the beach at one end of Abraão, this popular chain offers a more social atmosphere and organises parties at least once a week.