Ilha Grande is an island off the coast of Brazil, right next to the city of Angra dos Reis. In the past, it was both a leper colony and home to one of the highest security prisons in Brazil. These days, it’s home to the many, many tourists visiting from Rio de Janeiro to enjoy trails, swimming, and sunbathing over the weekend.
Gustavo and I booked our trip to Ilha Grande the week we were about to leave. If possible, booking a little bit “last minute” — by my standards, at least — allows you to check the weather before leaving to make sure you aren’t stuck on the island on a weekend when it’s raining the entire time. Aside from boat trips, beaches, and trails, there’s really nothing else to do, so picking a weekend with sunny weather is a bit of a must.
We got to the island from Rio by taking the Costa Verde bus from the central bus station to Jacarei. The bus ride is about two and a half to three hours. If you’re like me and need a pit stop for a trip that long, don’t worry. They stop a little bit more than halfway at a rest stop for snacks and, well, the other things you do at rest stops. When you arrive in Jacarei, they will drop you in front of the Costa Verde office where you can buy a ticket for the boat trip from the city to the island. As long as the weather is fair, they generally offer boats every hour throughout the day.
The boat dropped us off in Abraão, the main part of the island. In Abraão, you can find all of the boat tours, restaurants, and little shops. We stayed about a five to ten minute walk away, via the beach, at Pousada do Canto. Pro tip: try to pack light and in either a duffle bag or backpack. Because much of the island is only accessible via beach, a roller bag adds a bit of a challenge.
Our first day there, it was raining a bit so we decided to decompress in the hotel for a little bit before heading out to dinner at Pé na Areia. We started with the calamari (lula á dorê) and split the moqueca, a traditional dish that’s a bit like a shrimp stew. It comes bubbling out to the table, accompanied by rice, farofa, and a fish sauce. It was very, very good.
The next day, we got up early to do some yoga on the beach and to grab breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast was small, but adequate. They had a delicious chocolate cake only on the first day, as well as the usual pão de queijo, toast, cheese, bacon, eggs, and fresh fruit. We set up a half-island (meia volta) boat tour through our hotel, but because it started raining in the morning, the first boat canceled. We rebooked with another boat and were on the ocean by noon.
The first stop was at Lagoa Verde, followed by Lagoa Azul, both beaches furthest from the center of the island. For our trip in the beginning of December, the water was chilly, but not very cold. (I basically need it to be a jacuzzi in order to feel comfortable swimming, but that’s me.) Lagoa Verde was a cute oasis in between a smaller island off the coast and the sea, with a bunch of large stones to walk and explore on. At Lagoa Azul, we were able to place our order for lunch via boat sent over by one of the restaurants.
Lunch was on a more crowded beach with a variety of small seafood restaurants and stalls selling açai and ice cream. By noon, the sun was floating high and mighty above us and we both got extremely sunburned. 30 SPF is nothing against the Brazilian sun.
After lunch, we visited Saco do Céu and Praia do Dentista, two small beaches with sand that you could lay out on. Ideal for me, since I was sun-burnt but also too cold to go into the water. We got back around 5pm, napped for two hours, and then went to dinner at a little churrasco place on the beach near our hotel. During dinner, I snuck a few bits of my food to one of the many stray and/or semi-domestic dogs on the beach. I was enamored by all of the dogs, but also sad to see how many there were. It’s hard to tell if they were pets allowed to wander freely or strays. All of them, however, were very sweet and happy for a little bit of (healthy!) table food.
We had debated on another boat trip for Sunday, but I’m not a huge fan of outings where you can’t really control where you go and when you come back. To me, especially on the ocean, those days end up feeling very, very long and tiring. As a result, we decided to do one of the shorter hikes on the island to explore the forest and check out some of the other beaches. We walked all the way to the historic aqueduct and continued hiking towards the Cachoeira da Feiticeira. Halfway there, the trail got pretty slippery from the rain the day before, so we decided to call it quits and head back towards the beach. Later, we found a helpful map from a restaurant that showed the trail we were on — it was a secondary trail, rather than an official one, so that’s why it got so small and steep!
On our way back to town, we stopped at Atelie Cafeteria, which was my favorite place that we ate on the island. It has the vibe of a cute, independent cafe in the United States, the coffee options of a European café, and delicious, affordable food. I had a quinoa burger that I could barely finish and Gustavo got a regular burger that, according to him, was very, very good. We actually tried to go back on our last day, but they opened later than our boat left so we weren’t able to get another meal in!
Later, we spent some time in the pool. One of the nice things about Pousada do Canto is that, even though it’s right on the beach, it still has a pool. After a quick rinse, we went to the Creperia Tropicana, a delicious crepe restaurant in the center of town. They had a delicious passionfruit caipivodka and the crepes were perfect. I had one with spinach, ricotta, and dried tomato, while Gustavo got one with shrimp and catupiry. We also split a four cheese crepe — we were hungry! — and the brigadeiro desert crepe which was amazing.
On Monday, we planned to walk to Abraãozinho, a small beach to the east of Abraão. Unfortunately, the secondary trail we were following appeared to have a house that was recently built in the middle of it so we weren’t able to get through. A few people who passed us walked through the water to get to the other side, but because we had bags and sneakers, we decided to head back to Praia da Julia instead. Praia da Julia had a ton of sun, a small kiosk where we grabbed a few beers, and a paddleboarding station. We spent a good hour there before heading back to the hotel to pack and grab lunch before hopping on our boat home. The lunch was one of the slowest ever — it took an hour and a half for a shared plate! — but fortunately we gave ourselves enough time to get to the dock.
The trip back was long and tiring. The only boat we were able to get back to the mainland was at 2pm, but our bus didn’t leave until 4:30pm. We stood around the nearby AM/PM for a while to grab some ice cream and wait in the air conditioning. By the time we got home, we were both exhausted, but extremely happy with our relaxing weekend. Next time, I’d like to go back and plan some more hikes — because it’s an island, we focused a lot on wanting to see the beaches, but in the middle of our trip realized how much we enjoyed the hikes!