Ilha Grande – 3 day get away to a tropical brazilian island
. If you haven’t heard of Ilha Grande yet this is your chance to discover a new beautiful tropical island located only 2h away from Rio de Janeiro!
What is it that makes Ilha Grande so unique? It offers the perfect get away from all the hustle and bustle of Rio de Janeiro City and … there are no cars on the entire island! This is why Ilha Grande is great for hiking, boat tours, relaxing, being in the nature and enjoying the countless beaches. It definitely is a real paradise for nature and hiking lovers. The island is 193km² and has more than 100 beautiful beaches.
We experienced Ilha Grande as an island with an relaxing and very laid-back atmosphere as well as super clean. Very sad to have to say it like that but it doesn’t happen very often anymore that you find beaches with pretty much no (plastic) garbage laying around. The residents of Ilha Grande are very persistent with cleaning and taking care of their beautiful home.
If you don’t have enough time but would still like to see Ilha Grande you can go on a day trip from Rio de Janeiro.
Travel Requirements – Things you need to know before going to Ilha Grande
Health – Ilha Grande is a tropical destination and in particularly rural areas of Brazil, yellow fever, dengue fever and malaria are present. A vaccination against yellow fever is not mandatory, but it is strongly recommended! We got vaccinated, packed malaria pills (just in case) and bought a spray against tropical mosquitoes. Be sure to take enough anti-mosquito spray with you and use it!!! We forgot it once and the flies basically ate us all up during the early evening … the bites are super itchy and it took a while until they disappeared again.
Safety- Brazil is a country where you should not forget about safety and especially your own safety. Therefore, before planning your trip you should inform yourself about the current situation with the authorities! We had no security problems during our time on Ilha Grande. Our pousada was a bit out of the way and we had to go a little path way through the jungle to get there. It was pretty dark at night and I probably would have not liked to walk there alone. However, we never had a strange encounter. We had no problems and I have not heard any safety issues on the island during our time there.
Visa – Some residents of different countries require a visa to enter Brazil! For Germans (as of April 2019) entry into Brazil is free and no visa is required. Nevertheless, please check before booking a flight if a visa is needed.
Language – We had a lot of trouble communicating on Ilha Grande because most people only speak Portuguese and no English nor Spanish. We always managed it somehow, or were lucky that other guests could translate.
Location – How to get to Ilha Grande?
Ilha Grande is located only 2 hours away from Rio de Janeiro. There are a couple different ways to get to Ilha Grande however when I did my research I rarely found any transfer services with good reviews. Therefore I can only share my experience and don’t want to recommend any company that I didn’t use myself. Due to many bad reviews on companies online I got in contact with our accommodation to arrange the transfer from Rio International Airport (GIG) to Ilha Grande.
To be honest I don’t even really know the name of the company that picked us up from the Airport except “Ilha Grande Transfer”, but that seemed to be the case for everyone wanting to go to Ilha Grande. Our accommodation said that it will cost R$22 per person in a shared van. We waited for almost 2 hours for our transfer to pick us up, just like many other travelers. Once we finally got picked up (before everyone else though!!) it even was a private transfer! Of course having to wait for two hours and not knowing if there even will be someone showing up to pick us up after such a long flight from Germany is annoying and exhausting. But I’ve read online that these things are super common in Brazil and all my travels have showed me that as well and that in the end there is always someone showing up and it somehow works out. Also we didn’t pay in advance anyways so it was all good. The price included the car ride from the airport to Conceição de Jacareí (close to Angra dos Reis) where we had to get on a little speedboat to go to Vila do Abrão on Ilha Grande.
When we left Ilha Grande after 3 days we wanted to go directly to Rio de Janeiro. I asked the nice lady from our accommodation and she arranged the whole transfer for us again for the same price. We hopped on a boat, went back to the same town on mainland brazil and there was already our driver waiting for us. She had our names written on a piece of paper and we shared our van with a couple from Argentina. Once we arrived in Rio she dropped us off at our hotel in Coppacobana. This time I believe it was organized by this company: https://vilanovatour.com.br/
All in all I can say that I would definitely do it exactly the same way again when we return to Brazil as it went pretty well I would say – even without being able to really communicate with the drivers etc. as they only spoke Portuguese and neither English nor Spanish.
Accomodation – Where to stay on Ilha Grande?
Most people that visit Ilha Grande stay in the main town called Vila do Abrão. That is the same town where most of the boats go to from Brazil mainland and where you can find tons of options for food, trips, shops and accommodations. There are a view accommodations around the island but since Ilha Grande is car-free you will have to go there by boat. Also it might be quite difficult or maybe not even possible at all to go some place else for e.g. dinner if you don’t want to eat at the same restaurant the whole time you are there. That is why I would recommend staying somewhere in Vila do Abrão.
We booked our whole Brazil adventure quite spontantous as I found an amazing deal on Expedia! So when we decided to visit Ilha Grande it was about one month before we arrived there and quite a lot of accommodations were already sold out. Later on we found out that there was a music festival taking place that exact same weekend – maybe that was the reason for the rare options…. We opted for a nice litte pousada with brekkie which looked nice on the pictures, had great recommendations and was affordable. That’s why we landed at Pousada Cachoeira which I booked on booking.com. Our room there was quite big, had an AC and was clean and comfortable. It wasn’t very luxurious as we only paid 107€ for 2 people for 3 nights. We enjoyed our stay, had an absolutely incredible breakfast each morning and Carina from the reception was super friendly, helpful with all transport or trip concerns and spoke excellent English. The only thing we didn’t like that much was that it was not directly in the center and you had to walk about 10 mins to reach all the shops and restaurants. It was fine for us but still the walk up there felt sometimes quite long with the tropical heat…
Expenses – How expensive is Ilha Grande?
We experienced Brazil in general as not extremely cheap and rather European prices especially regarding food and trips etc. When we went out for dinner we usually paid around 10-12€ per person for food and drinks. Except of course if you drink Caipirinhas – these are incredibly cheap ;). For accommodation on Ilha Grande we paid around 18€ per person per night in a basic accommodation with breakfast which was fine but nothing compared to e.g. South East Asia.
Depending on how many trips you wanna go on during your time there it could also get quite costly. We did one full day trip with a small speedboat which was around 35-40€ per person. There are big boats going to beaches like Lopez Mendez which are quite cheap – I think they were around 2,50€ each way. The transportation to and from Ilha Grande cost us 50€ each.
We didn’t experience Ilha Grande to be more expensive than Rio de Janeiro even though it’s an island. What is super important to know though is to bring enough !!CASH!! There are no ATM’s on the island and most things (such as trips, transport and sometimes accommodation) are cheaper when you pay them cash instead of with the creditcard. All restaurants we went to accepted creditcards.
Highlights – What to do on Ilha Grande?
Ilha Grande is mainly a beach destination so when I say there is a lot of things you can do on Ilha Grande I basically mean there are many many beaches to explore and to choose from. As mentioned before it is important to remember that Ilha Grande does not have any cars/buses etc.! So get prepared for loads of boat rides and hikes in beautiful surroundings – I hope you don’t get seasick quickly :).
There are many diving schools located in Vila do Abrão so one thing you can do for sure on Ilha Grande is scuba diving or snorkeling. Since I’m not a certified scuba diver and also not super comfortable underwater this wasn’t an option for me but I still wanted to mention it since somebody might be interested in it.
Beaches on Ilha Grande
Praia Lopez Mendez: One of the most popular beaches on Ilha Grande is definitely Praia Lopez Mendez and it is absolutely stunning. The beach is huge so it will be easy to find a place to lay down or play some beach soccer/volleyball. There are two ways to reach Praia Lopez Mendez either you hike all the way from Vila do Abrão which takes about 3,5h one way or you can take a ferry (around 50 Minutes for ca. 2,50€ one way) that will drop you of at Mangues and then you will have to walk 20 Minutes until you reach Praia Lopez Mendez.
Another beach that can be reached by a one-day hike is Praia Dois Rois. It takes about 3 hours from Vila do Abrão. We did not visit this beach because of the limited time.
Praia Preta – This small beach is located very close to the city center of Vila do Abrão. After about 20 minutes by foot you reach this secluded beach. In addition, the beach is also part of a small circuit, which is perfect to gain a first impression of the island on your first day. The beach offers white and black sand as well as beautiful rock formations and easy access to the sea. There is even shade under the bushes. On the circuit you can find another beach, an old viaduct and a small waterfall, where you can swim in fresh water.
Praia Caxadaco – A fairly small but spectacular beach with unique rock formations next to the small tropical beach. Although this beach is too far to hike it is usually included in boat trips around the island. You can walk around the huge rock (see picture below) and even jump off the cliffs.
Praia Aventureiro – Definitely one of the most famous beaches of Ilha Grande, because here you can find the famous L-shaped palm tree. The beach itself is quite large and even has a small hostel / restaurant. But be aware that this beach is no longer a secret and many boats go to this beach. Nevertheless, we have been able to enjoy our time there very much.
Of course, there are many more beaches on Ilha Grande that we visited, but these were the ones we liked the most. Here are a few more Ilha Grande beach impressions:
Another thing to do on Ilha Grande is a hike to Pico de Papagaio. It is the highest point on Ilha Grande (995 m) and apparently offers a breathtaking view over the island! The hike takes about 5 hours in total and even tours are offered for a sunrise mission. Unfortunately, we could not do the hike due to the limited time.
Food – Where to eat on Ilha Grande?
Ilha Grande has plenty of restaurants and you can find pizza, pasta, fries and grilled fish pretty much everywhere in Vila do Abrão.
Açai-Bowls – are very popular in South America. Açai is a berry served as a smoothie in a bowl usually topped with fresh fruit and cereal.
Pastel de queijo – A deep-fried dough filled with cheese. We loved it!
Our favorite restaurant on Ilha Grande was Atelie Cafeteria .
Atelie Cafeteria offers unique, delicious dishes from around the world. From wraps to burgers to quiche and tapas dishes with hummus and olives. Here, vegetarians and vegans get their money’s worth! We liked it so much that we just tried another restaurant. There are also super tasty and especially cheap Caipirinhas and at low tide you can sit right on the beach. I would definitely recommend this restaurant for a romantic dinner on the beach.
Have you been to Ilha Grande? What were your favorite places? Where did you like to eat? Do you have more insider tips? Do you want to know something else? Please leave a comment :).