Located just two hours south of Rio de Janeiro there’s absolutely no reason not to visit the tropical island paradise of Ilha Grande, Brazil. This large island is covered in tropical lush jungle crisscrossed by hiking paths and both golden and white sand beaches with the clearest water of every shade of blue and green. Ilha Grande might just be your place for a relaxing few days off travelling or an adventure destination you won’t forget in a hurry. There are few cars or motorbikes here, allowing you to really switch off, detox and enjoy the sounds of nature. The island is also home to Lopes Mendes beach, which has consistently been voted as one of the Top 5 Beaches in the World. There’s enough to do on Ilha Grande to keep you busy for at least three days, so block out your schedule, grab a sarong and a caipirinha and discover the secrets of this pristine island with this complete Ilha Grande things to do guide.
Whether you’re coming from Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo you’ll need to travel to Conceicao do Jacarei (closer to Rio) or Angra dos Reis (closer to Sao Paolo and Paraty). The best way to do this is by bus. Boats depart from the main piers of these towns between the times of 8 am and 6 pm roughly. There are more services departing from Conceicao, every 30 mins and the ride takes only 20 minutes. From Angra dos Reis, boats depart roughly every hour taking between 30 mins and 1.5 hrs depending on the boat. Boats also depart from Mangaratiba and while it’s even closer to Rio de Janeiro, there is only one daily service departing at 8 am. Upon arrival at each town, simply make your way down to the pier where all the boat company offices are located and enquire about the next service. If your lucky someone might even be trying to sell you a ticket as you get off the bus.
ILHA GRANDE TRAVEL GUIDE: WHAT TO SEE AND DO
#1 HIKE TO LOPES MENDEZ BEACH
Consistently voted as one of the world’s top 5 most beautiful beaches Lopes Mendez is a vast, long paradise of fine, floury, white sand fringed by lush green jungle and palms and gentle breaking waves. It’s a place you can spend the whole day, so pack a picnic or snacks- they don’t sell much on the beach itself apart from drinks, chips and a sandwich that had seen better days. Relax in the sun, walk or even go for a run down the beach- I assure you this is pure paradise and you’ll have to pinch yourself to convince yourself you’re not dreaming. You can get to Lopes Mendes two ways. By hiking or by boat. Boat taxis depart from the main pier in Villa Abraão, the main town and will take you to Praia Pousa. From there, you’ll have to continue on foot for the last 20 mins. You can also hike there from Villa Abraão, and I recommend you do so, at least the one way as it’s a beautiful trek not to mention great exercise for the day. The trek will take you to stunning Praia las Palmas before reaching Praia Pousa and on to Lopes Mendes. To find the hiking trail simply walk over the next beach from Villa Abrao to the east (Praia Julia) and you’ll see it as soon as you come to that beach.
#2 HIKE THE ABRAÃO CIRCUIT
The Abraão circuit is a short hiking trail that starts out from the main town, Villa Abraão. From the centre of town take the beachfront path towards the north and you’ll soon encounter a huge sign with all the trails mapped on it. Visit the impressive colonial aqueduct, Preta beach- one of the only black sand beaches on the island, the Lazareto ruins or continue on to Feiticeira waterfall and beach. Walked slowly you can visit all the places on the trail in only one day and is a great option if you’re looking for a bit more of an active day, not nothing too strenuous.
#3 VISIT FEITICEIRA WATERFALL AND BEACH
While part of the Abraão Circuit this beautiful waterfall and beach of the same name can be reached on a lovely, easy hike from Villa Abraao in just half a day. The easy, well-signposted trail leads you through the lush tropical jungle to Feiticeira waterfall, a gorgeous, powerful waterfall surrounded by rocks, plants and dense trees. Unfortunately, the waterfall and pools surrounding it are full of huge boulders and not great for swimming so make sure to continue further north to the Feiticeira beach. Relax on this golden sand beach, take a dip to cool off and refuel with an açai bowl from the beaches’ only snack stand.
#4 DO A BOAT TOUR
There are many beautiful beaches, coves and spots on Ilha Grande that are only accessible by boat and doing a boat tour allows you to see more of the island. Choose between visiting some paradise islands around Ilha grande, a half circuit around the island or a full circuit. Beached to look out for include Aventureiro and Meros. Don’t miss the spectacular Laguna Azul and Laguna Verde, and compare the astonishing colour differences of the water.
#5 RELAX ON THE BEACH
You are in paradise after all so why not head to the beach with a great book, order an acai bowl or even a caipirinha and enjoy the moment completely worry free.
#6 BEACH HOP
Fancy doing a bit of walking but nothing too strenuous? Heading out of Villa Abrao to the east you’ll find a few gorgeous golden sand beaches within easy reach of the main town, Praia Abraãozinho and Praia do Morcego. Take your pick and relax there for the day. These beaches are also the best options for watching the sunset close to Villa Abraao. Otherwise, you’ll have to catch a boat to the west or northern tip of the island.
#7 HIKE UP TO PICO DO PAPAGAIO FOR SUNRISE
Pico do Papagaio is the island’s highest point and from which you can get some of the most jaw-dropping views of the island and surrounding area. The trek is a medium/difficult one and does involve some scrambling at the very top over the rocky summit. While it can be done on your own during the day, it is a little difficult to navigate so the best way to do this hike is with a guide for sunrise. It is without a doubt the best spot to see the sunrise and if you don’t mind getting up in the middle of the night to start the trek you’ll cherish this memory forever. It’s very difficult to navigate the path by yourself in the dark so make sure to take a guide with you.
#8 TAKE A STROLL THROUGH TOWN
This wouldn’t quite be a complete Ilha Grande travel guide without mentioning the main town. While not quite up to the same colonial standards as nearby Paraty, Ilha Grande does have a few lovely colonial buildings and the church on the main plaza is quite picturesque too. There are many cute little streets, plazas and the beachfront to explore not to mention the wide variety of cafes, stores and restaurants too.
#9 TAKE A WALK TO DOS RIOS
Dos Rios is Ilha Grande’s other larger settlement on the southern-eastern side. Walk there, along the only jungle road that links the villages together and enjoy the sounds of the pristine jungle, the gorgeous views and don’t forget to look out for local wildlife that often crosses the path. In Dos Rios, you can visit the old, colonial prison, have lunch and relax on the beach.
#10 WATCH THE SUNSET ON ABRAÃO BEACH WITH A CAIPIRINHA
While in Brazil trying a caipirinha is a must at least once and this is the perfect place to do it. Grab one at one of the many beachside restaurants or bars, take a seat at a table on the sand and watch the sun go down behind you casting that ethereal, low, orange light all over the bay.
WHERE TO STAY
Budget– Pousada D’Pillel- A great budget option in the centre of Villa Abraão. This pretty posada (Brazilian bed and breakfast) has a wonderful garden, delicious breakfast and simple but cosy rooms. Don’t worry if you forget a book, this posada has a mini library with many titles for you to choose from.
Midrange – Jungle Lodge- located nearby Abraaozinho beach, this beautiful jungle property offers spectacular views over the bay, hammocks on every corner and my favourite, a yoga deck for sunrise/sunset yoga and meditation. Stay here and you’ll never want to leave.
Splurge– O Sitio- located in the jungle but still steps from the beach, this beautifully designed and decorated property really is heaven on earth. Rooms are spacious, clean and comfortable and communal areas include a sitting area, terrace with decks suitable for yoga as well as beautiful gardens all around the property. It’s the perfect place to relax, unwind and enjoy this beautiful island.
Fancy saving money and using Airbnb? There are many fantastic Airbnb options on Ilha Grande for all budgets. If you haven’t yet tried Airbnb, make sure to use my link here to get up to $40 off your first booking!
WHERE TO EAT (PLANT-BASED AND HEALTHY)
Ilha Grande is known for its seafood and local fish dishes so, when it comes to plant-based options, there isn’t too much choice. There are however a few staples that saved the day. When in doubt, both in Ilha Grande and the rest of Brazil, always head to a buffet or per kilo restaurant which is a really popular option all over the country. These fill your plate and pay for the weight type restaurants always have great plant-based salad options.
Atelie Cafe This cafe/restaurant, located on the beach right by the old pier was definitely my favourite option on Ilha Grande. They have many plant-based options including, salads, home-made hummus, vegan tapiocas, hot and cold sandwiches, vegan burgers and fresh juices and coffee. All the food I tried was fresh, delicious and healthy- a must-visit when on Ilha Grande.
Biergarten Hostel Restaurant A pay-per-kilo restaurant Biergarten is open for both lunch and dinner and has a number of different dishes for you to choose from including salad items, brown rice, Brazilian black bean stew (feijoada), lentils, stir-fried veggies and more. Simply stack up your plate with what you fancy, weigh and pay.
WHERE TO MOVE
Hike – With so many different hiking trails of all sizes and difficulties, hiking is one of the best forms of exercise on Ilha Grande. Not only is hiking a great for your body, but it also allows you to get up close and personal with the island, it’s beautiful beaches and viewpoints. All the hiking paths are also brilliant for trail running if you fancy something more challenging.
Run along the beachfront While on the short side Villa Abraão’s beachfront is a great place for a run with a gorgeous view to match. You can also extend your run by running on the beach towards the eastern side of town but you will have to run on sand. The best time for a run on the beachfront is early in the morning before 8am before the paths get full of tourists making their way to and from the main pier.
Bodyweight workouts in your hotel room/on the beach Bodyweight workouts are a fantastic way to condition your body and stay in shape while travelling. In just 20 minutes you can work the whole body and get those feel-good endorphins running. Want to workout but don’t know where to start? Check out all my free, no-equipment, travel bodyweight workouts here.
Please leave your comments or questions about this things to do in Ilha Grande Guide below. I’d love to hear from you.
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