We just spent 6 days on the island of Ilha Grande during Brazil’s most busy holiday season (December to March) and somehow managed to survive. It was not easy getting information about Ilha Grande and if I could do it again I would do a few things differently. I am hoping by writing this blog I can save some other backpacker many sleepless nights.
Getting to Ilha Grande
We should have known by the tremendous line to purchase a bus ticket from Rio to Angra dos Reis that we were in for some craziness. We went to the bus station in Rio (the bus booking website was down) the day before we planned on leaving to purchase the tickets and the line was hours long. With some patience, we were able to book a bus for a city called Angra dos Reis, which is where the majority of Ferries to the island start. I would recommend booking the bus in advance as it was sold out and many people showing up on the day of departure to buy tickets were turned away. The only bus company going from Rio to Angra dos Reis is caled Costa Verde and their booking office is in the bus terminal in Rio (Rodoviaria Novo Rio), the terminal is huge so just ask security or information desks where the Costa Verde ticket booth is.
The bus was about 50R and willl drop you off at a bus station in Angra dos Reis about 2km from the ferry dock. You can cab or walk along the beach.
There are many boats that run to the island but some are much more expensive (and probably more luxurious). The general ferry runs twice a day at 9am and 4pm and takes about 1.5hrs. This ferry costs 14R, versus 50R we were quoted for other boats. The area of Ilha Grande that the ferry drops you off at is called Abraao and it is the main town on the island which is where you will want to stay as it has all of the shops and restaurants.
Where to Stay
Being backpackers, we aren’t much for planners so we found out AFTER booking our bus tickets that there was no hostel availability on the island at all! We researched and researched trying to translate web pages from Portuguese to figure out how we were going to stay on the island, and then the possibility of camping came up. There are many campgrounds within the town of Abraao and some also just outside town (but within walking distance.) Some of these campgrounds have websites but many do not. If you are a planner you can visit ilhagrande.org to contact the properties about availability.
Camping is a good option if you can stand the heat, get the right campsite, and have good gear as it is much cheaper than most of the accommodation on the island. That being said, there were reasonably priced hostels but you would likely have to book up to a week in advance to secure a bed.
We did not have any camping gear so we were limited to stay only at campgrounds which rented tents. The campgrounds all have kitchen facilities so cooking equipment is not necessary. They all have bathrooms and showers as well as WIFI (well they advertise they do but it was not necessarily true.)
We stayed at two different campgrounds during our time on Ilha Grande, both within the town and both very different experiences so I would suggest looking around before choosing a campground.
The first campground was the cheapest option and easiest as they had a staff member that spoke English. This was called Cantinho de Ilha. However, it was packed. And by packed I mean tents all lined in a row touching each other. There was no space for your bags, only small lockers, and no place to sit and socialise. The kitchen was always so busy and the women’s bathroom was more like a family bathroom with dozens of children running around. I could see this campsite being not too bad if it were not the busy season, but it was absolutely hectic during this time of year. We stayed only one night here before searching for something a little moe spacious.
The prices at Cantinho de Ilha were as follows:
Facility use : 30R per person per day
Tent Rental: 20R per tent (sleeps 2-3) per day
Matress Rental: 10R per single mattress per day
Fan Rental with extension cord: 10R per day
The next campsite we stayed at was just across the street and was called Camping das Palmeiras. It was better it terms of the facilities, there were WAY less people staying here. There was a kitchen that was usable, lots of chairs and tables, we had space around our tent, places to hang wet clothes, and the atmosphere was friendly. The downside to this one was the price for a leaky tent. The owner did not offer mattress or fan rentals so we were stuck in a muggy, damp, hot tent for a few nights. The nights where it did not rain were not so bad, but it rained almost every single night. We stayed here for four nights before leaving the island exhausted with next to no sleep.The prices were as follows:
Facilities use per person: 35R
Tent rental per night: 35R
What would I suggest?
If you can’t get accommodation or just want to try camping I would suggest to buy your own tent. In Rio you can get a brand new tent for 70R-100R. This way, you will save money if you are staying for a couple nights and know that the tent is not old and leaky. This also opens up your options of what campsites you can stay at.
Make sure your tent is setup under a tarp or that the campground has tarps for storms. It downpours and floods (also don’t set it up at the bottom of a hill) and no tent will completely withstand these storms.
Buy a blow up mattress in Rio and bring that with you. Sleeping on the ground wasn’t the worst but if you are concerned about comfort the mattresses on the island will not do the trick. A double air mattress goes for about 70R and you can often buy them second hand for much cheaper.
All of the gear you buy, you can reuse in various other places along the coast if you are continuing traveling – or you can sell it to another backpacker.
What to Do on Ilha Grande
Beaches, beaches, and more beaches! Don’t just hang out in the town, the beach is the worst there and is polluted. There are a couple of day trips we did which I would recommend:
1. Lopes Mendes: It is a massive beautiful beach which is perfect for swimming and/or surfing. You can get here by boat for 30R return trip. The boat tickets are the same price everywhere and can be bought at almost every tour office in town. There are boats leaving every hour from about 9:30am until 12:30pm and then boats returning from 3:30pm until 6:30pm. There are snack stalls, drinks for sale, and some sandwiches but that is it for facilities. You will also have to walk about 20min from where the boats leaves you to the beach so don’t bring too much stuff with you. There are surfboards available to rent, lessons available, and lifeguards so it is quite safe to swim here.
2. Tour of the Northern area of the Island: We did a day tour on a speed boats which took us to 9 different beaches along the Northern coast of the island. This was somewhat costly at 130R per person. Overall, it was good value as it went all day and was a great way to see so many isolated beaches. There is a popular tour that goes to only 3 of these spots on a slower big boat which is 60R and would be a good option if you are that budget conscious. The speed boat was awesome though, they provided water, ice, and we could bring our own beer and relax on the boat. A bit of luxury after camping every night was nice.
3. Cachoeira da Feiticeira (Waterfall) : It’s about an hour hike (and mostly uphill) but you get to a gorgeous waterfall at the end. The water is refreshing and the area is all shaded. There is also a natural swimming pool along the way and nice beaches close by too. If you aren’t up for the hike you can take the taxi boat to the Praia da Feiticeira beach and then walk just a few minutes to the waterfall. The hike back to town is not as bad as the way there as it is mostly downhill.
Other than that, you can enjoy restaurants, bars, and beach side coffee shops.
Although it was a bit of effort camping and getting information, the trip was wonderful and I would recommend it to anyone heading South of Rio.