A short jaunt from the Brazilian mainland, Ilha Grande is a world in which life goes that little bit slower and nature shines that little bit brighter. Explore what to do and how to visit Ilha Grande with this comprehensive guide to the tropical paradise in Brazil.
Abandoned aqueducts, sunken shipwrecks, and a “broken” palm tree are a few signature scenes on the remote island of Ilha Grande. The secluded island is a perfect day trip from Rio de Janeiro for locals and tourists alike looking for a relaxed and beachy vibe.
The story hasn’t always been so rosy. There’s a history of slave ships docking on the sandy shores of Ilha Grande before it was home to a leper colony and quarantine hospital for cholera patients. All that before hosting one of the most infamous prisons in Brazil during the mid to late 20th century.
Because the island was a prison and quarantine hospital for the better part of a century, the beaches and tropical rainforests here are as unspoiled as you’ll find anywhere in the world.
There’s also plenty of adventure and scenic views for travellers willing to set out on the hiking trails in the mountains at Pico de Papagaio or to secluded stretches of perfect sand and surf at Parnaioca Beach.
I absolutely love it here and want to give you an idea of the most popular attractions, but also a few spots that are mostly well-kept secrets.
Interested in learning more? I thought so. Let’s explore the best things to do in Ilha Grande.
Things to Do in Ilha Grande
Soak Up the Sun on Lopes Mendes Beach
Spending time on picture-perfect beaches is a must when you go to Ilha Grande, and you’re in luck because there are more than 100, each with something to offer.
But of all the famous stretches of white sands and cyan waters, Lopes Mendes is the most celebrated. It’s no surprise when you step onto the slice of paradise from the nearby trails.
The jungle forest, rolling hills, and large boulders surrounding the beach only add to the beauty of the clear blue waters on the island’s southeast side.
Go Snorkelling Off the Shores
There are too many great beaches to count on Ilha grande, so hiking around the island with your snorkelling gear is a must.
Whether you hit well-known spots like Lagoa Verde in the northwest or Lopes Mendes in the southeast, you’re bound to see loads of tropical fish and some surprise guests like seahorses, turtles, and rays.
You can rent your gear in Vila do Abraão, which is where most visitors land when taking a day trip or overnight stay.
December to February offers the warmest temperatures for snorkelling.
Photograph the Broken Coconut Palm on Aventureiro Beach
Near a few popular campsites on the island, like Camping do Luis, Aventureiro Beach is a lovely stretch of white sand that’s perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and underwater sightseeing.
But the “broken” coconut tree stretching over the large boulders offshore makes the cove stand out.
I’m not exactly sure why, but the tree stretches outwards over the sea until it abruptly turns vertical, providing the perfect frame for any beach selfies you want to take on the island.
Tides can change in a hurry here. It’s a well-known surf spot, and you won’t find lifeguards, so always practise safe swimming.
Climb to the Top of Pico de Papagaio
Travellers looking for the best outdoor activities in Ilha Grande will be happy to learn that there are some excellent hiking trails, and this 6-mile out-and-back pays dividends if you can handle the challenging route.
You’ll walk through the Atlantic Rainforest up nearly 914 metres (3,000 feet) to a stunning island vista. Ok, that’s an understatement. Staring down from the top of the large boulders above the rainforest canopy is the best viewpoint on the island.
The scenery from the summit is amazing, but you’ll also see wildlife like snakes, monkeys, and parrots, making the entire trail an exciting adventure.
Do this early in the morning to see the sunrise from the top. Just bring plenty of water and a good pair of hiking trainers.
Scuba Diving Near a Shipwreck
Brazil has some great scuba diving spots, and Ilha Grande has no shortage of them, thanks to its well-preserved beaches and coastline.
There are plenty of tours you can book in town.
If you’re staying in Vila do Abraão, you’ll want to schedule a trip with a local guide to check out Sitio Forte. You’ll find tropical fish and sea creatures galore, but there’s another reason people travel to dive here.
Ilha Grande is well-known for shipwrecks, and the Navio Pingüino is the most famous. What will you see below the surface? Explore the dive site to see a well-preserved shipwreck, which sank just offshore in the 1960s.
Take a Day Trip to Paraty
Travel itineraries often combine a trip to Paraty and Ilha Grande, and honestly, they should.
The beautiful Portuguese colonial town boasts gorgeous architecture like the early 18th century Capela de Santa Rita. Walk down the cobbled streets between the white-washed buildings, and you’ll discover there’s plenty to do day or night.
Ready for outdoor adventure? Paraty Bay is perfect for kayaking and swimming, and you can rent gear nearby.
At night, grab some drinks and a bite to eat at one of the many local and international restaurants.
Cervejaria Caborê is a fun spot to try small-batch beers and a snack before heading out to popular spots like Istanbul Paraty for their doner kebab or LaDolceVita Pizzeria e Trattoria Paraty for seafood risotto and pizza.
Explore the Praia do Sul Biological Reserve
Ilha Grande is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with some of Brazil’s most pristine rainforests and beaches.
Praia do Sul Biological Reserve is a protected area home to virtually untouched nature and offers some of your best chances to observe wildlife on the island.
There are over 8,500 acres of mangrove and rainforests along some of the least travelled beaches on the island. Make it a point to visit, if you can, for birdwatching and hiking.
Tackle The Grande Circuit Trail
On an island that doesn’t allow motorised vehicles, you know that getting around via hiking trails will reveal some of the best-kept secrets. But what about a trek around the entire island? You bet.
The Grande Circuit Trail is unofficially the island’s signature trek. If you look at a hiking map, you’ll see a series of “T” hikes – 16 to be exact. Combine them, and you have the Grande Circuit Trek.
You’ll start in Abraão on T1 and work your way around the island counterclockwise, going through coastal and jungle trails.
Where should you stay? I’d plan to spend nights near Praia da Baleia, Araçatiba, Praia do Leste, and Lopes Mendes.
You’ll cover around 88 km (55 miles) over 5 days, where you’ll see the Atlantic Rainforest, secluded beaches, and stunning waterfalls along the way.
You can’t set up camp anywhere you want on the island. So, map out where you want to stay at designated campsites, hostels, and hotels. Book in advance, as many are limited.
If you head east from the broken palm tree, you’ll discover another of my favourite stretches of coastline on the island, Parnaioca Beach.
There are more famous shores on Ilha Grande, but this stacks up with the best. The long stretch of white sand features dense tropical rainforest behind it and sits inside a large cove.
When the weather is right, this is also one of the best places to snorkel. Be sure to bring your gear if you hike or take a boat ride.
Hike to the Historic Aqueduct
In the late 19th century, an aqueduct was built to supply the quarantine hospital (and later prison) on the island.
What remains is actually quite gorgeous, and you can walk beside the towering arches along the 125-metre (410-foot) stone structure. It’s an impressive landmark that makes for some really cool photos, and you can get to it from Vila do Abraão in about 20 minutes.
Best way to get there? Pair it with the Cachoeira da Feiticeira to Praia da Feiticeira Trail, which takes you through the forest to a 15-metre (49-foot) waterfall on a short detour from the 9.6 km (6-mile) hiking trail.
Best Places to Eat and Drink in Ilha Grande
Ilha Grande is a small and relatively calm island with a history of farming and agriculture.
As a result, you’ll see seafood and meat in delicious stews and BBQ, alongside fresh fruit and vegetables. Dishes have European, Asian, African, and Brazilian influences, which is no surprise given the history of colonization and slave trade.
What to try when you’re here? Moqueca. A culmination of the abundant shellfish and Afro-Brazilian culture in this part of Brazil, this recipe serves up one of the best versions of the seafood stew with coconut milk, shellfish, peppers, onions, and rice.
Lua e Mar
Lua e Mar sits in the popular tourist section of the island, Abraão. But that doesn’t mean it’s a tourist trap by any means.
In fact, the moqueca is considered by many to be one of the best in Brazil. Order the version with unripe bananas, which they make to perfection at this well-known spot.
Restaurante Coqueiro Verde
If you find yourself in the idyllic cove just west of Abraão at the beautiful beach of Praia Saco do Ceu, Restaurante Coqueiro Verde is the most popular choice for lunch or dinner.
Try the fresh seafood and pasta dishes on the beautiful patio overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Steak ‘n Beach
The restaurant doesn’t need much of an introduction. The name kind of says it all.
But a nice cocktail menu featuring tropical classics from around the world and caipirinhas pair perfectly with the delicious churrasco (BBQ meat) dishes on a sandy setting overlooking the bay.
Bonito Bar e Restaurante
Local seafood grilled to order, fresh cocktails, friendly service, and a beautiful beach setting are all reasons to visit this low-key spot just outside of the main tourist area.
Know Before You Go: Practical Tips to Plan Your Ilha Grande Trip
Typical Cost of Travelling in Ilha Grande
The majority of the travel cost will involve getting to Ilha Grande. You’ll need to fly into Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo and spend at least one night before and after Ilha Grande.
Transportation expenses will likely range from £965 – £1125 to x ($1,200 – $1,400) for the flight, lodging, bus ride, and ferry.
Once you’re on the island, budget around £80 – £120 ($100 – $150) per day between lodging and meals.
How Long to Visit in Ilha Grande?
Plan to spend at least 2 nights in Ilha Grande. If you want to hike the Grand Circuit, I’d spend 5 nights total.
Best Time to Visit Ilha Grande
October and March are my favourite times to visit. The weather should still be warm, and you’ll sneak in right before and after tourist season.
Where to Stay in Ilha Grande
Vila do Abraão is by far the most popular place to stay on the island, and I’d suggest it for anyone visiting for the first time. It’s easy to find a ferry back from the public pier, and you’ll have the best options for accommodations nearby.
But a few other resort areas near beaches, like Praia Vermehla and Praia de Palmas, offer nice accommodations away from the busy port village.
Looking for the best place to stay in Ilha Grande? Pousada Casablanca is one of my favourites.
You’ll enjoy comfy rooms and suites at a low price, with walk-in showers and optional balconies in the suite. The location just steps from the beach is close enough to take a short walk down after you enjoy a Brazilian breakfast of cured meats, cheeses, bread, and fresh fruit.
La Coquille offers unfussy accommodations with everything you need. WiFi, AC, and breakfast are all included in the cost, and you’ll be near one of the best beaches on the island at Praia Grande de Araçatiba.
Pousada Tagomago is an eco-friendly hotel just a short walk from the restaurants, beaches, and port of Vila do Abraão. Any of the 6 rooms and suites are clean and stylish, though I’d opt for a sea view room with a hammock because… it’s a balcony with a hammock in Ilha Grande, after all.
Pousada e Mergulho Dolce Vita
Pousada e Mergulho Dolce Vita is a relaxed Ilha Grande hotel on the beach that offers guests a tropical beach setting with comfy beds, plenty of space to spread out, and a restaurant that serves cocktails, bar bites, and free breakfast.
How to Get to Ilha Grande?
Most visitors head from Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, or Paraty to Ilha Grande. You can do either of these by taking a bus or taxi to a ferry in Conceicao de Jacarei or Angra Dos Reis.
The ferry ride is short from either stop. If you’re travelling from São Paulo, it’s best to stay a night or 2 in Paraty before continuing on to Angra Dos Reis and, finally, Ilha Grande. The total commute time with bus rides and ferry is around 9 hours.
From Rio, you’ll want to take a bus to Conceicao de Jacarei before taking an approximately 30-minute ferry.
There are a couple of options for getting there by bus and ferry. You can also book GYG tours from Rio and other destinations.
1 Day in Paradise
Aqueduct – Boat Tour – Restaurante Coqueiro Verde
If you want to pack in some of the best of what Ilha Grande offers, you’ll want to hike to aqueduct ruins, take a private boat tour with lunch to secluded beaches like Praia do Parnaioca and then have dinner at Restaurante Coqueiro Verde.
Vila do Abraão – Praia do Sul Biological Reserve – Praio do Aventureiro – Praio do Parnaioca – Boat Tour – Day Trip to Paraty
Start off by exploring the nightlife and food scene in Vila do Abraão at favourites like Steak ‘n Beach before hitting up the island’s best beaches and snorkelling or scuba diving from a boat offshore. Don’t forget to hike up Pico de Papagaio for a sunrise one of the mornings.
Grande Circuit Adventure
Grande Circuit Trail – Vila do Abraão
You’ll see some of the most gorgeous beaches and rainforest trails when you take a 5-day trek around the island. Begin and end your journey in Vila do Abraão exploring the great beach bars and restaurants.
Things to Do in Ilha Grande: Map
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