Surprisingly few people know about Ilha Grande. A tropical island about the size of Jersey, it is made up of 90% rainforest, 129 beaches, one village and zero roads. It is also one of the most beautiful places on earth, and thanks to 87% of the island being protected reserve, it should stay that way. If you are in the Rio region and you want a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, you simply have to go. Here’s how:
Getting to the island isn’t particularly tricky, but it is a bit time consuming. The vast majority of people come from Rio, and we were no exception. There are companies which arrange everything for you with shuttles and boats but honestly, they mug you off and it isn’t tricky to do yourself. Step one is to get a bus to Angra dos Reis, which runs from Rio’s Novo Rio bus station, or rodoviaria. They run lots of times per day but you probably want to get an early morning one as it takes just shy of three hours. This costs BR$57 per person. Step two is to get from Angra’s bus station to the ferry. It is either a 20 minute walk or a 5 minute, roughly BR$13 taxi (on the meter, fixed price costs more) – take your pick. Step three is the boat, and you again have options, fast, medium or slow. The fast ones take about 40 minutes and run around every hour, costing BR$50. The slower ones cost half this or less, but take around 1 hour 30 minutes and run much less frequently.
Ilha Grande is lucky in that there are no cars on the island. Consequently if you want to get anywhere, you either hike or you get a boat. Water taxis run from the seafront in Abraao to all the main beaches on the island and they’re fairly reasonable, between BR$15-30 per person depending on how fast you want to get there. However, if you do decide to boat rather than hike to some beaches, Lopes Mendes and Dois Rios in particular, you miss out on some beautiful rainforest scenery, although you do save your legs some considerable effort.
Well I hate to be the one to piss on your chips, but Accommodation on Ilha Grande is not cheap. We paid nearly £45 a night, admittedly in the middle of high season, for an AirBnb private room with a shared bathroom and no air conditioning (A/C is pretty non-existent on the island). This was fairly reasonable for the island. There are loads of pousadas, or hostels, knocking around the island, but not all of them have a web presence. Out of high season you are probably ok just to rock up on the island, but in January and February a booking is very strongly advised. Speaking of Airbnb, it has been a lifesaver on our trips – if you’ve never used it sign up using this link and get £25 off your first booking. In fact, even if you have used it set up a new account with a different email address and get more free stuff, Airbnb make enough money don’t they?
There are pretty much two things to to on the island: go to the beach or hike. Sometimes you can combine the two and hike to the beach. I would thoroughly recommend the hike to Lopes Mendes beach, it truly is one of the most glorious stretches of sand anywhere in the world, and the 2-2.5 hour trek through the jungle really makes you feel like you’ve earned it. Make sure you take plenty of water, some lunch and some decent shoes if it’s been raining, it is not a trek for flip flops.
Food & Drink
Ilha Grande isn’t blessed with culinary excellence, sadly. You can eat for cheap but it’s a bit of a case of you get what you pay for. You can also eat expensively, and not get what you pay for. However, we found a few gems (and will gladly take any recommendations in the comments because we are definitely going back):
- Meros – I normally don’t trust places with more than one speciality, but this little place did pizza, Mexican and crepes and all were lovely and very reasonable at BR$ for a decent 12 inch pizza.
- Jardim – opposite Meros and a little hipster-looking, this place served burgers, salads and juice and that is about it. The squid and mango (yes, really) salad was amazing, and the meat burger was of absolute top quality. Heartily recommended.
- Sorvetes Ally – possibly our favourite joint on the island for one very good reason – the do absolutely incredible acai bowls. We’re not going to mince our words here – acai is the fucking bomb diggity. You can get a big bowl, with banana and granola toppings for only BR$14. We shared one for breakfast every morning. They also serve coxinhas and similar street food for only BR$4 – the cheapest we’ve seen anywhere.
Ilha Grande is amazing but it isn’t cheap and it isn’t exactly luxurious. As said above the room prices are pretty steep, and the island hasn’t really got its infrastructure sorted. Rubbish collection is a growing issue, partly because of the influx of cruise ship tourists to the island who visit just for the day and concentrate in Abraao. The other issue is the lack of a consistent power supply. It drops out frequently during storms and it’s kind of annoying, especially when it means you are stumbling around in the dark. I should add that some Pousadas have their own generators, so pick wisely.