Ilha Grande, or ‘big island’, is an enchanting island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days there a few weeks ago, and let me tell you, it was the perfect getaway from the bustling metropolis that is Rio de Janeiro. the pristine beaches, relaxed atmosphere, absence of cars, and lack of decent wifi make it an ideal destination for those who really want to disconnect (pun intended).
Ilha Grande is a city that must be included, even if it’s only for a few days, on your itinerary when visiting Brazil.
Getting to Ilha Grande: two options, only one of them a good one!
I strongly advise that you head to Ilha Grande from Rio de Janeiro, as this will greatly reduce your travel time. You have two options from there to get the Ilha Grande:
- The easy way: Using a transfer service like EasyTransfer. For less than 100 BRL (less than 30$ US), they will come pick you up at your hotel, drive you to Jacarei (about a 2h bus ride), where you will take a 15 minute speedboat to Ilha Grande. Less than 3h door-to-door total travel time – sweeeet!
- The cheap way: We went with this option on the way in, and decided to go with the easy way on the way back, because this option was really not worth the money saved. But if you are not in a hurry and want to save a few dollars, here is the way to do it. You need to get to the Novo Rio bus station, which should take you about an hour from Copacabana or Ipanema, the two main tourist neighbourhoods of Rio (cost: about 3 BRL). After that, you need to hop on a Costa Verde bus to Angra dos Reis (54 BRL; about 3h), and from there take the CCR Barcas government ferry (there is only one departure per day at 3:30 PM on weekdays and 1:30 PM on week-ends, but check the up-to-date schedules here) from the Angra dos Reis port (15 BRL; 1h30 travel time). So your total cost is about 72 BRL, but the fastest travel time with this option is 6 hours. If you’ve read my post on ‘hourly-wage-equivalence’, you know that this option does not pass the test for most people.
How to make the most out of a couple of days there
Accommodation: Your hotel should be definitely be on the beach of Vila do Abraao. Without going through all the options, Pousada Caiçara offers a solid value; the hotel is directly on the beach (see the view hereunder), has very nice rooms (with a hammock!), a delicious breakfast that’s included, and is located right next to the coolest restaurant on the island, Cafe do Mar. Put about 80$ US per night on your budget.
- The beach: You came here to relax, didn’t you ?! Well, do it! The beach at Vila do Abraao is beautiful and relaxing, so soak up the sun, and have lunch with your feet in the sand at one of the couple of restaurants – you deserve it!
- A hike before some more beach time! The hike to Lopes Mendes beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Brazil, is really worth doing. The 2,5 hour, 6km hike that will take you through the lush forest filled with beautiful bamboo trees, is a little challenging, but easily doable by anyone in decent shape. Along the way, you’ll get to see some amazing views, most notably when you reach the highest point of the trail (try to go as high as possible; you’ll be glad you did!). Also, you’ll pass some beaches that are themselves spectacular (Mangues beach, notably), where you can stop for a well-deserved ‘suco’ (juice’) or ‘cerveja’ (beer). Once you get to Lopes Mendes, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful beach with large waves. You can either hike to come back (another 2.5 hours) or take a taxi boat from Mangues beach, that should cost you 25 BRL (do not pay 35 BRL).
- Hike or book a daytour to visit northern Ilha Grande: Feiticeira, Lagoa azul (Blue lagoon) and Lagoa verde (Green lagoon) are beautiful locations on the northern tip of the island. It is possible to hike to get there (Feiticera being the closest), but if you want to visit all these destinations, book an inexpensive boat tour (about 80 BRL, or about 20$ US). The waterfall in Feiticeira is quite nice, but the snorkeling in the lagoons is average at best (after going to the Galapagos Islands, I’m difficult to impress!)
- Have a relaxing supper and a few beers at Cafe do Mar: Nightlife is pretty much non-existent on Ilha Grande, but Cafe do Mar is as close as it’ll get. A cozy place on the beach, you can have a few refreshments while telling your travel partner how lucky you are to have experienced such a beautiful place!
- Hike, hike, and hike some more! If you have 4-5 days on the island and want to challenge yourself, you could hike around the entire island! Here is a map of the trails, but make sure to plan ahead; some places are very remote (with as little as 8 residents in some areas!), and camping is illegal. If not, the experienced hiker can try to reach the peak of Pico do Papagaio (Parrot’s peak) from Abraao (6km trail ascending nearly 1km!). It is the hardest, but probably the most rewarding hike on the island. Here is a good post giving you more details on this adventure.
Your best value budget
For a 3 day, 2 night stay, here is a detailed budget (prices are per person based on double occupancy):
- Getting there and back from Rio, the easy way: 190 BRL (53$ US)
- Accommodation at a beachfront hotel (breakfast and snacks included): 290 BRL (80$ US)
- Touristy stuff (boat tour of northern Ilha Grande): 80 BRL (22$ US)
- Food + a special supper and drinks at Cafe do Mar: 120 BRL (33$ US)
- Total cost: Less than 700 BRL, or 190$ US.
As you see, thanks to the depreciated Brazilian Real, the timing is great (click here to view my post on how to determine the best timing to visit a country) to visit this enchanting island.
I hope this post convinces you to make the detour on your next trip to Brazil.
Share your experience in the comment section below, I’d love to hear your thoughts!