Complete Guide to Ilha Grande, Brazil
Ilha Grande, Brazil
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 the tiny island completely packed full of tourists.
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 traveler many sleepless nights (like I had.)
Topics included in this blog are:
- General info about Ilha Grande
- Getting to Ilha Grande (the ferry to Ilha Grande)
- Where to stay
- Camping on Ilha Grande
- What to do on the island
Ilha Grande is a popular tourist destination for both international travelers as well as Brazilians. The thick jungle makes for some spectacular hiking and the beaches are absolutely gorgeous.
The funny thing is though, that while people from Rio and Sao Paulo use Ilha Grande as an island escape from the city, so many people go there that it can be just as hectic! During the busiest months, as especially around the holidays of Christmas and New Years, Ilha Grande becomes “the place to be” for locals from Rio and Sao Paulo,
The tiny island of Ilha Grande is no longer relaxing, but full of people and things to do! While this isn’t a bad thing as the island is vibrant and exciting, it does make planning your trip to Ilha Grande even more important!
Since Ilha Grande is an island, there are a few steps to get there.
1. Get a bus to the city called Angra dos Reis
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 on Ilha Grande.
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. It weaved throughout the entire bus station!
With some patience, we were able to book a bus to the city called Angra dos Reis, which is where the majority of ferries to the Ilha Grande depart from.
I would recommend booking the bus in advance as it sold out and many people showing up on the day of departure to buy tickets were turned away. During the less busy times of the year this may not be a problem, but better safe than sorry!
Rio to Angra dos Reis
The only bus company going from Rio to Angra dos Reis is called Costa Verde and their booking office in Rio is in the bus terminal called 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 50 Realis and will drop you off at a bus station in Angra dos Reis 2km from the ferry dock.
You can use the website busbud.com to search for times of buses to Angra dos Reis from anywhere in the country. Sao Paulo is also another popular departure point.
Paraty to Angra dos Reis
If you are coming from Paraty there is a local city bus that actually goes to Angra dos Reis for only a couple of dollars. The times and prices consistently change so just ask your hostel or a tourist information center about the departure location.
When we were there the ride cost about 12 Realis and you just pay the driver in cash when you get on.
It is a normal local bus so you need to be aware that you may end up standing and having to carry your bags if it is busy.
2. Get to the ferry dock
The bus to Angra will likely drop you off at the bus station, which is located about 2km from the ferry dock.
From the bus station, you can either walk or negotiate with a taxi driver. We just walked. Although it was hot outside, the walk was along a boardwalk next to the beach so it really wasn’t that bad.
3. Get a ferry to Ilha Grande
There are many boats that run to the island but some are much more expensive (and probably more luxurious). The general ferry to Ilha Grande from Angra runs twice a day at 9 am and 4 pm 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.
Being backpackers, we aren’t much for planners so we found out AFTER booking our bus tickets that there were no hostels available on the island at all!
We researched and researched trying to translate web pages from Portuguese to figure out where we were going to sleep on the island – and then the possibility of camping came up.
There are many campgrounds within the town of Abraao (the main town of Ilha Grande) and some also walking distance from town. Some of these campgrounds have websites but many do not.
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 (especially if you already have a tent and sleeping bag.)
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.)
What campground to stay at
We stayed at two different campgrounds during our time on Ilha Grande, both within the town and both were very different experiences so I would suggest looking around before choosing a campground.
Cantinho de Ilha
The first campground was the cheapest option and easiest as they had a staff member that spoke English. This campsite 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 socialize. The kitchen was always incredibly busy and the women’s bathroom was more like a family bathroom with dozens of children running around screaming.
I could see Cantinho de la Ilha 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 somewhere a little more 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
- Mattress Rental: 10R per single mattress per day
- Fan Rental with extension cord: 10R per day
Camping das Palmeiras
The next campsite we stayed at was just across the street and was called Camping das Palmeiras. It was better in terms of the facilities.
There were WAY fewer 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 Camping das Palmeiras 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 at Camping das Pameiras were as follows:
- Facilities use per person: 35R
- Tent rental per night: 35R
If you can’t get accommodation, or just want to try camping, I would suggest buying 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 set up under a tarp 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 then 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.
Beaches, beaches, and more beaches! There are a couple of day trips we did which I would recommend.
Lopes Mendes is a massive beautiful beach which is perfect for swimming and/or surfing. You can get here by boat for 30 R for an open-ended 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 Abraao (9:30 am until 12:30 pm) and then boats returning from 3:30 pm until 6:30 pm.
At Lopes Mendes, 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 boat drops you off 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.
One tip for swimming though is to ensure you swim in between the marked areas! When we were there, there was a very strong riptide that was marked off by flags but people kept swimming there anyway, The poor lifeguards were working very hard to rescue everyone from the riptide all day long!
Tour of the Northern area of the Island
Since Ilha Grande is such a big island, it is hard to get to all of the beaches. In order to see many different beaches, we decided to go on a speedboat tour which took us to 9 different beaches along the Northern coast of the island.
This was somewhat costly at 130R per person (that is the best [price we could negotiate during peak season.) However, it ended up being good value as it went all day and was a great way to see so many isolated beaches.
On the speedboat, we were given water and ice and could bring our own beers for the day. The boats only hold up to 8 people so it was a small group which allowed to visit many different places quickly.
Some of the highlights on the speedboat tour were Lagoa Verde, Lagoa Azul, Saco do Ceu Beach, and Praia do Amor. All of these spots are absolutely stunning! Crystal clear ocean water and great snorkeling opportunities. Our tour also provided snorkeling gear and noodles for floating around.
You can book a speedboat tour of the Northern Beaches from the town of Abraao once you arrive in Ilha Grande. Many different agencies sell the same tour as the boat drivers are just contracted out by the travel agencies. You can either book a boat all to yourself or join another group by just paying per person.
If the speedboat tour is too costly for you, there is a popular tour that goes to only 3 of these spots on a slower big boat which is 60 R.
Cachoeira da Feiticeira (Waterfall)
Starting from the town of Abraao there is about an hour hike (and mostly uphill) to go to a gorgeous waterfall, Cachoeira de Feiticeira.
The water is refreshing (actually pretty cold) and the area is all shaded which makes for a nice place to escape from the sun and heat for a while.
Along the trail, there is also a natural swimming pool and some pretty cool lookouts. Near the waterfall is also a beautiful beach (Praia de Feiticeira) which is normally pretty quiet and relaxing.
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.
Like I mentioned before, Ilha Grande means “Big Island” and that is what it is. The truth is that the lack of roads makes exploring the island a bit more difficult and costly so we obviously missed out on a lot of the different things to do there. We met a family who visits Ilha Grande every year and still finds something new and exciting to do each year! It is just that big!
Nonetheless, even just hanging around town and visiting the nearby attractions would make for a great trip. Ilha Grande is a special place even just to sit at the beach. Some of the best beaches I saw in South America were on Ilha Grande!
Other than beaches, you can enjoy restaurants, bars, and beachside coffee shops on the island.
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.
As always, if you have any questions or anything to add please comment below!