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As far as tropical paradises go, it doesn’t get much better than Isla Grande in Brasil. Turquoise waters, endless coastline, white sand beaches, no cars, and restaurants where you can sip on passionfruit caipirinha while the waves wash over your feet. Welcome to Isla Grande.
Getting to Isla Grande, Brasil
Isla Grande, meaning big island, is in the state of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. There are regular boats running back and forth from the mainland, so you can arrive in this paradise from the capital city of Rio de Janeiro in just a few hours. Vila do Abraão is the main port/town on Ilha Grande, so that’s where you’ll want to head.
Rio de Janeiro to Ilha Grande
To get to Ilha Grande you’ll have to take a bus from the city of Rio de Janeiro to a town where you can board a boat to Vila do Abraão in Ilha Grande. There are a few options. Boats leave from Mangaratiba (closest to Rio), Conceição de Jacareí (the closest point to Ilha Grande and with the most boat departures) or Angra dos Reis (closest to São Paulo).
Boats only leave once a day from Mangaratiba and Andra dos Reis so I recommend getting a bus to Conceição de Jacareí instead which has regular bus departures throughout the day. For exact times check here. A boat should cost about 25 BRL ($6 USD).
It is also possible to arrange door to door transfers from your accommodation in Rio De Janeiro to Ilha Grande. I did this through GreenToad Bus. The service is great but it’s more expensive at $35 USD per one-way transfer.
Paraty to Ilha Grande
You can also get to Ilha Grande from the charming colonial town of Paraty. This town makes a great place to head after Ilha Grande afterward if you’re continuing to travel through Brazil. You can reserve boat/bus transfers to Paraty in Vila do Abraão. They leave three times a day and cost 95 BRL ($25 USD). The boat takes about 20 minutes and the bus ride is about two hours.
Once you arrive in the small town of Vila do Abraão, everything is accessible by walking. The island is car-free, but all the accommodations and restaurants are within a 10-minute walk or less from the pier. You can also pay locals to carry your bags in a wheelbarrow to your accommodation if you don’t want to walk with them.
How long to spend in Isla Grande, Brasil
It’s possible to visit Isla Grande as a day tour from Rio De Janiero, Brasil but I wouldn’t recommend it, as that would be a rushed experienced. I spent four days on Ilha Grande and felt like I could have stayed for another week(s). It’s paradise. The perfect place to relax and unwind from the world. Even if you’re the type of person that likes to stay active, there’s enough to do on the island to keep you busy for at least a few days.
Hostels in Ilha Grande
There a number of great hostels to stay in Ilha Grande. A hostel dorm bed costs about $11-$18/night, but during Carnaval season the rates skyrocket. I paid $40/night for a dorm bed in a hostel in Ilha Grande during Carnaval season.
Hostel Refugio – This is where I stayed in Ilha Grande. It’s a 5-minute walk from the main town and the last minute of that walk is up a steep hill. Aside from the hill, I loved this place. It’s one of the cleanest hostels I’ve ever stayed in. After staying in a less than stellar hostel in Rio during Carnaval I was ecstatic about the showers which get super hot and have great water pressure. The hostel also includes a nice complimentary breakfast and working AC. It’s not a party hostel, but everyone we met here had a great vibe and there is a nice outdoor area to lounge in and talk to other guests. Hostel Refugio is a great option if you want a clean and quiet place to sleep in Ilha Grande.
Aquario Pousadae Hostel – This hostel is right on the beach, just a 5-minute walk from the main pier. The hostel is connected to Aquario Discoteca, the islands main night club, so don’t expect a quiet stay. Aquario is a good option if you want to party while visiting Ilha Grande. The hostel is next to Che Legarto, another popular social hostel on the island. I stayed at the Che Legarto in Paraty and it was great.
A cheaper option for those that love to be in nature is to camp on the island. You can rent a pre-pitched tent with a mattress inside and still have access to regular facilities like a shower. And you will want this on the island, it’s super hot.
For those that want more luxury, there are a number of guesthouses and hotels to stay in Ilha Grande. You won’t find any five-star brand name resorts on the island, but that’s all part of the charm. Check out Pousada So Natureza which offers an infinity pool to cool off from the heat.
Things to do in Isla Grande, Brasil
Spend the day relaxing on Lopes Mendez Beach
Lopes Mendez Beach is one of the most popular beaches to visit on Ilha Grande. Famous for its long, white sandy beach and crystal-clear waters. To get to Lopes Mendez you can either hike two hours from Vila do Abraão or take a speedboat from Vila do Abraão to Pouso, where you then have to hike 20 minutes through the forest before arriving at Lopes Mendez beach.
You can arrange a boat to Lopes Mendez Beach from the main pier in Vila do Abraão. It should cost about 30 BRL return ($8 USD). The last boat comes back to Abraão at 5:30 pm. There aren’t any stores on Lopes Mendez, just some locals selling beer and caipirinhas, so it’s a good idea to bring your own snacks if you’re headed out for the day. The waves around Lopes Mendez beach are pretty rough so it’s not the best place to go swimming, but it is a good destination for surfing!
Hiking in Ilha Grande
As the island is car-free, one of the best ways to see other parts of the island is to take a hike.
Praia Abraãozinho – this is one of the easier hikes on the island, just 1km away from the main town over a relatively flat surface. The tide changes quickly so prepare to get your feet wet if you’re walking during high tide, but it’s still not an issue to get over the water. Although there are beaches accessible in Vila do Abraao, this beach will feel more secluded.
Praia de Palmas / Praia de Manguas – This hike is the same route you take towards Lopes Mendes, starting at the east end of the beach in Vila do Abraão. You follow the path from the village and eventually the trail will split and you take the second trail to Praia De Palmas/ Praia de Manguas. Although not as popular as nearby Lopes Mendez, you will find fewer people on these beaches and the same beauty. It is possible to get a boat back from Praia de Manguas to Vila de Abraao via boat afterwards if you’re tired.
Pico do Papagaio – This is one of the most challenging but rewarding hikes on the island. The Pico do Papagaio hike is 11km in total and takes you up almost 1000m in altitude where you will be rewarded with amazing views of the island. The best way to do this hike is to start at night, around 2 am. It sounds crazy, but the island gets so hot during the day that it’s more enjoyable to hike at nighttime. Even during the night I sweat like crazy, I can’t imagine doing this hike during the day. More importantly, by hiking at night you will get to the top for sunrise.
Watching the night sky turn to dusk over the island was one of those unforgettable travel moments. I recommend taking a guide if you plan to hike Pico do Papagaio at night as the trail can be tricky at parts and requires rope at the end. Plus the guides encourage the group and help keep the right pace so you don’t exaust yourself. You can book a guided tour of Pico do Papagaio from any agency in Vila de Abraao, it costs about 115 BRL ($30 USD) including photos.
Boat tours in Ilha Grande
If you’re not up for hiking in the heat (no judgement, it’s brutal) doing a boat tour is another great option for getting to see other parts of the island. From any tour agency in town you can book a day boat tour which will take you to 3-5 stops around the island. These range anywhere from 60 to 170 BRL depending on the length of the tour and how many stops you take.
We went for the cheapest option, a 60 BRL tour which took us to three spots including Laguna Azul, a beautiful part of the island where you can swim in calm, turquoise waters. It was a slow boat which had about 100 people in total on it, but the day was fun as they served drinks on the boat and it had a lively atmosphere. They gave us about an hour of freetime at each spot. For less then $20, it was a great way to spend the day.
Diving in Ihla Grande
It is possible to go diving in Ilha Grande and there are a few dive shops in town to choose from. I went with Dive & Cia which was a great experience. The tour is about 6 hours long and we dived at two different sites. It’s about an hour boat ride to the dive sites from town.
The diving in Isla Grande isn’t mind-blowing, but I enjoyed it and the cost is affordable as far as diving goes. It was 250 BRL ($65 USD) for two dives, including all equipment. The dives were in shallow water, but we saw a variety of fish, seahorses, and sea turtles. If you aren’t certified to dive, Ilha Grande is also a great place to go snorkeling given the clear water.
There are a number of other water sports you can do on the island such as stand up paddleboarding (SUP), kayaking, jet skiing, and if you have the skills you even rent your own boat to explore the island. Otherwise, just soak up the sun and enjoy the beautiful Caribbean waters.
Where to eat in Isla Grande, Brasil
For a small town, there are a number of delicious restaurants to choose from in the Vila do Abraao. Surrounded by a marine-rich ocean, the seafood on the island is excellent. The only complaint I had about the restaurants is that the service is very slow. But hey it’s island time, right?
Atelie Cafeteria – This adorable beachfront restaurant was my go-to for coffee in the morning. They offer great frozen frappes for the morning, and fresh Capirihnas made out of any fruit you want when it’s time to drink. They have a lot of choice for vegetarians/vegans which is nice to see because the food options in Isla Grande/Brasil in general are meat-centric.
Steak & Beach -The name says it all. This is a great beachfront restaurant choice if you’re looking for classic Brazilian food. It’s hard to walk by this restaurant and not want to stop in given the aromatic smells coming from it. They also have great caipirinhas and views to wash it down with.
Restaurante Pe Na Areia – Another beachfront choice, this restaurant offers classic Brazilian steakhouse food and some excellent seafood options. The name translates to foot in the sand, which fits because your feet will be in the sand while you eat. Just make sure to watch where you put your sandals if you take them off. I actually lost mine when the tide was high and I wasn’t paying attention. The restaurant has adorable rainbow umbrellas at each table making for a great insta photo op.
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A meal at a nice restaurant with drinks cost me on average $20-30 USD. Beers are about $2 and Capirihnas $3-5. You can get cheaper local food at fast food places for just a couple of dollars.
Nightlife in Ilha Grande
Although small, the vila of Abraao has a lively nightlife scene. The typical routine on the island is to go home and shower after sunset, then get ready for the evening. This meant we ate dinner late each night, around 9/10pm. This works out well as the main club, Acuario Discoteca, doesn’t get started until about 12/12:30 am. It goes late, until about 5 am. This is the most popular place to go at night after the restaurants closed, but you can also find late night beach parties happening if the club is not your scene.
Tips for visiting Isla Grande, Brasil
- There are NO ATM’s on Isla Grande so make sure you bring all the cash you need for your time there. Thankfully credit cards are widely accepted on the island, and most places don’t charge an additional fee for using them.
- If you visit the island during a busy time (i.e. Carnaval), book your transportation in/out in advance. We didn’t do this and tried to get an easy transfer to Paraty for the next day and none were available, so we had to pay double for a private transfer. It’s also a good idea to book your accommodation in advance as they fill up fast.
- Check out this guide for more tips on planning a trip a Brazil.
Packing list for Ilha Grande
- Reef Suncreen – The sun is so hot in Ilha Grande. My friend got a terrible sunburn in less than hour from not using sunscreen. It’s so important to use sunscreen and protect your skin, but since you’ll likely swim in fragile ecosystems it’s important to use a sunscreen labeled as reef safe.
- Sarong – great for lying on the beach and protecting you from the sun. You can also buy these in town if you don’t have one.
- Sun hat, Sunglasses & Sandals (These can all be bought in town)
- Towel – A towel for after swimming. I recommend the microfiber towles as they pack super light!
- Moisturizer/after sun
- Insect repellant (especially if you plan to hike in the jungle)
- Refillable water bottle – Avoid plastic around oceans! I love hydro flask because they keep your drinks cool for 24 hours.
- Reusable Straw – Straws are great for drinking caipirinhas but the plastic ones are terrible for the environment. Take a reusable straw on your trip to cut back on your environmental footprint!
- Dry bag – Essential for keeping your electronics dry while on boats.
- Kindle – Ihla Grande is the perfect place to kick back and relax with a good book. Safe on space and bring a kindle with books downloaded beforehand. Plus the new Kindle is waterproof so you don’t need to worry about getting it wet at the beach!
- Clothing – This depends on how long you are there. I recommend bringing light clothing as the temperatures are hot, especially during the summer (November – May). During the colder months, you may want to bring layers as it can be cooler at night. Bring sweat proof clothes if you plan to do any hiking, and a rain jacket if you visit during the rainy season.
Don’t forget to buy travel insurance before your trip. In case of an injury means you end up with expensive medical bills, or even have to cancel your trip mid-way. I recommend World Nomads as travel insurance for visiting Brazil. It even covers theft of personal items, which can be an issue in Rio during Carnaval.
I loved every day I spent on Ilha Grande. It was the perfect tropical paradise to take a break from winter and get some much needed Vitamin D. If you’re planning a visit to Brasil, I recommend making Isla Grande part of your itinerary.
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