Do you dream of cocktails at sunset? White sand under your toes and the sound of waves crashing on the beach? A stress-free location away from chaos where no cars are allowed and your biggest worry will be ‘Açaí or Coconut for lunch?’… Well then, boy, do I have the island for you!
Ilha Grande is a fabulous tropical island located only a few hours bus + boat trip away from Rio de Janeiro on Brazil’s stunning southeast coastline. It’s a natural paradise with 99% of the island being covered in natural Atlantic Rainforest and only one small town and a series of paths criss-crossing the dense vegetation leading to deserted beaches. Yes, it sound like heaven, and thats because it probably is. Most people who travel here end up extending their stay but it’s hard to know before hand if you will like it, and how long you will need, so I have put together a quick Ilha Grande Things to Do guide to help you fall in love with this beautiful place.
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Ilha Grande Things to Do #1: Go for a walk! The island is covered in trails that each lead to somewhere new and amazing! On your first day I recommend to pick one and just get exploring. There is something new and different around every corner!
Ilha Grande Things to Do #2: Grab some delicious Açaí and cleanse your inside with this anti-oxidant kick. This super-berry is so delicious you wont believe its good for you – But it is! Locals swear the best source on the island is just to the right when you come off the main pier, the little ice-cream shop. Become familiar with its location, its addictive and you will want to keep coming back for more!
Ilha Grande Things to Do #3: Make friends with the locals. Dogs here seem to be both well looked after and inexplicably without an owner – take good care of them and they may well adopt you for a day. We had plenty join us on hikes and for quite time at the beach. This little guy didn’t mind being buried and we found him again later that night sleeping on the dance floor of the island’s only bar! Not something you see every day!
Ilha Grande Things to Do #4: Grab your beach towel and sun lotion for a day of sun and relaxation. You may never get as naturally tanned as the gorgeous Brazilians, but you can try! Be careful however as the sun is extra strong in these parts – If you’re pale like me you will find solace in the rows of trees which overhang the back of every beach, perfect for people watching!
Sightseeing in Ilha Grande Brazil #5: Get out on the water. It doesn’t matter where you go, salt air is the cure to all life’s problems. We opted for a half island snorkelling trip (easily organised at any number of shops in the town who offered Ilha Grande boat trips) and loved the sights and wind blowing through our hair. An immediate pick-me-up and a perfect way to spend the day! And if you are certified why not try some Ilha Grande diving!
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Ilha Grande Things to Do #6: Relax, take a day for yourself, let your inner child out and just enjoy the environment around you… Don’t be so busy! A swing can provide hours of entertainment no matter how old you are. Trust me!
Sightseeing in Ilha Grande Brazil #7: Try your hand at surfing – It’s the done thing. I have never been one for this great balancing act but the waves are perfect here and plenty of people are willing to hire you a board. Get out and give it a go, you might be a natural!
What to do in Ilha Grande Brazil #8: Say hi to the native wildlife! There is plenty around as the Atlantic Rainforest has some of the world’s highest biodiversity. Monkey and hummingbirds are common, but rumour has it sloths also lurk on some of the lesser taken trails. Keep a keen eye out and you never know what you might spot!
Ilha Grande Things to Do #9: Enjoy a drink! Any time of day will do and there is plenty of poison to pick! Beer is popular with the younger crowd and of course the ubiquitous Caipirinha! My personal choice would always have to be a Mojito though – nothing like a hot day, some shade and a hint of mint!
Ilha Grande Things to Do #10: Go on a fishing trip! Definitely not that common a request around town but someone will be eager to provide! We loved the fresh fish straight from the ocean to the grill, beers on ice, and the relaxed music. Doesn’t get much better than that!
What to do in Ilha Grande Brazil #11: SWIM!! Yes, you had to know this was coming! There are countless beaches scattered around the island. Some easy to get to, some …not so much! There is a perfect beach for everyone and you have plenty of time to find the fit for you. The water is warm so what are you waiting for!
Ilha Grande Things to Do #12: Travelling coconut salesman..Ice cold and fresh from the tree! Yes please! Trust me, no matter where you are on the island you will never be far from one of these delicious, refreshing treats!
What to do in Ilha Grande Brazil #13: Watch the sunset! There really is nothing else quite like it – Every night was a different piece of artwork never to be repeated…if you look extra close and from the right angle you might even see the ‘green flash!’
Sightseeing in Ilha Grande Brazil #14: Socialize! It should go without saying but take the time to talk to the people you meet at restaurants, on boats, beaches or trails. Memories are so much better when you can share them with new friends and long chats on the beach over a Mojito are the best thing!
Ilha Grande Things to Do #15: Take in the solitude! You’re on a largely deserted island with no car’s or noise. Take some time to yourself, find your own private piece of paradise and contemplate the deeper meaning of life…or just take a nap!
I know it may seen confusing but it is actually very simple and easy to get from Rio to Ilha Grande! If you are already in in Rio you can actually get here just on a local bus and public ferry, but there are also plenty of daily transfer companies based in Rio if you don’t mind paying a higher price. There are three ports for Ilha Grande (Mangaratiba/Jacarei/Angra dos Reis) and all can be reached by taking Costa Verde buses (R$37.50 – $54) from the main bus terminal (Rodoviaria) in Rio – A early departure is recommended to avoid getting stuck (so consider a uber for safety!). I recommend trying checking in advance the boat schedules but we found it easier to go to Angra dos Reis and catch the daily slow Ilha grande ferry with CCR Barcas at 3.30 pm for R$15 though there are many frequent, faster boats at both Jacare and Angra dos Reis for R$30. Its all very easy and you will be meet by someone as you hope off the bus – If in doubt just as a local on the bus or group up with other tourists to head from Rio to Ilha Grande together!
There is also the option through hostels and tour companies of a door-to-island Rio de Janeiro to Ilha Grande package for a van and boat transfer starting at R$100 from touristy places in Rio. We heard very mixed reviews of this and found the bus and boat option from Rio to Ilha Grande to be the best and most flexible! You can also get from Sao Paulo to Ilha Grande by catching the daily bus to Angra dos Reis with Reunidas Paulista and still be in time to catch the Ilha grande ferry. Make sure you have you hotel in Ilha Grande booked in advance and try to get them to meet you at the dock if you have lots of luggage as there is no cars but most places are very walkable!
Now you're all set and prepared to explore our big wide world, why not sort out everything else out all in one go? If necessary for your travel plans make sure you have brought proper travel insurance, protected your privacy by getting a secure VPN, compared all the top hotel booking sites to find just what you're after, reserved an unbeatable rental car price and - of course - booked the best flight deals!
Many budget travelers (including me) indulge in worldwide airport lounge access, so we can experience luxury while still slumming it in economy. Naturally, we would never leave home without a more a more general travel guide since we couldn’t possibly cover everything here!
Just add an adventurous attitude and plenty of smiles - they go a long way - and that about covers it all! Now go out, find your own path and don't forget to share your best inspiration stories with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram...I'd love to hear from you!