If you’re heading to Rio de Janeiro soon and are looking for great getaways from the busy coastal city, look no further than the small island of Ilha Grande. Just a couple of hours away from Rio de Janeiro, Ilha Grande is one of Brazil’s best-kept secrets. Translating literally to big island, Ilha Grande is a beautiful island surrounded by crystal clear waters and some of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil.
Ilha Grande is very raw and undeveloped, and that is what gives it its charm. It was formerly a pirate haven, a leper colony, and a state prison, and these uses all deterred developers from coming in and building up nice amenities and resorts. Nowadays it is charming, peaceful, and unlike anywhere else in the area.
If you have a couple of spare days on your trip to Rio, Ilha Grande is the best place to spend them!
You can watch our Ilha Grande experience on our Youtube Channel.
The Best Things to Do in Ilha Grande
Ilha Grande is about as relaxing and tranquil as it gets. With no cars on the road and endless hiking trails, this island can truly be a getaway from it all, if that’s what you’re looking for. From taking a boat tour to the Lagoa Azul to exploring the island’s main town, there is a fair amount of things to do on this island.
Inherently, most of the best things to do in Ilha Grande have to do with nature, but the island has a pretty solid party scene, too! Here are my top things to do in Ilha Grande.
1. Relax at Lopes Mendes Beach
Lopes Mendes Beach is consistently ranked as one of the best beaches in all of Brazil, and after going, we understand why. While the island is loaded with pristine beaches, Lopes Mendes Beach easily tops them all. The sand is a wonderfully fine white, the water is crystal clear, the coastline stretches as far as the eye can see, and the vibe is serene.
It is certainly a day trip, as getting there requires a 45-minute boat trip from Vila de Abraao to Pouso and then a hike of about 30 minutes through the jungle. Every bit of the hassle is absolutely worth it, though.
While it feels remote, there are a few vendors selling snacks as well as lifeguards stationed along the beach. These vendors do not accept credit cards, so it is important to bring some cash if you expect to buy snacks or drinks. Despite the long hike, there’s a good chance that the beach will have plenty of other guests while you are there.
Just beware that the hike is a bit intense; the terrain is easy and walkable, but there are several steep inclines that might even leave runners gasping for air. We recommend packing food and plenty of water, as the only amenity nearby is the vendors on the beach, and there is no guarantee of what they’ll have or if they’ll even be there.
2. Hike One of the Many Trails
One of the best features of Ilha Grande is its hiking, and there are trails of all levels. The T-1 trail is an easy hike that just loops nearby Vila de Abraao and passes by an old prison that housed political prisoners. Meanwhile, hiking the island’s highest point of Pico de Papagayo requires training, equipment, and perhaps even a local guide.
The jungle on this island is incredible, and the greatest part is how many natural water features there are throughout the island, like the famous Feiticeira waterfall (Cachoeira da Feiticeira in Portuguese). On a hike, you can randomly stumble upon waterfalls, a natural pool, rivers, lakes, lagoons, and more.
If you’re really into hiking and have the time, many travelers decide to hike the entire way around the island, which can be done in about five days. We did not have the time nor desire to do that, but if it sounds appealing to you, give it a go!
3. Explore One of the Two Big Lagoons
Ilha Grande is one of the most beautiful places in Brazil, and there are natural wonders to explore all over the island. Yet, we highly recommend checking out either the Lagoa Azul or the Lagoa Verde. If your Portuguese or Spanish isn’t very sharp, these names translate to Blue Lagoon and Green Lagoon, and they’re named for the striking colors of their green and blue water.
Both can be reached by water taxi from the main village of Vila de Abraao, and both are absolutely worth it. In fact, there are many tour operators on the island that will pair a visit to one of the lagoons with visits to other tourist sites and beaches on the same day for less than $20. The water in these areas is simply amazing, and if you have enough time, these lagoons will likely be some of your favorite places in Ilha Grande.
4. Hang Out at Night in Vila de Abraao
First things first, peace and quiet are great. Ilha Grande is the perfect location to relax, and it is wonderful for recharging your batteries and mental health. Even still, everyone enjoys going out at night every now and then, and nobody can blame you for wanting to party!
The nightlife in Ilha Grande is great as long as you’re in the village of Abraão, as there isn’t much going on anywhere else on the island. If you have a free night in Vila de Abraao and you’re looking to let loose, all you need to do is go for a short walk to the center of town and follow the crowd.
There are plenty of awesome spots to check out, and the locals always tend to know best! If you’re really feeling like a party, start a bit earlier. There are great happy hour specials throughout the town, and the only thing better than a Caipirinha is two Caipirinhas!
5. Trek Across the Island to Vila de Dois Rios
I mentioned earlier that many travelers are inclined to hike the entire way around the island. While this may be fun for some, many people aren’t up for five days of continual walking. If you are up for a long hike, but not necessarily five straight days of long hikes, consider walking to the second biggest town in Ilha Grande, which is Vila de Dois Rios.
While you are there, a popular place to check out is Dois Rios Beach which is known for its calm waters.
The hike is also relatively flat and easy, and there are countless stunning natural sights along the way. If you opt to do this, just be sure to find accommodation in Vila de Dois Rios for the night, as you definitely won’t be coming back on the same day – especially during the rainy season.
6. Go Diving or Snorkeling
While I am not a certified diver (yet), I have heard so many great things about diving in Ilha Grande. With waters that are so crystal clear, scuba diving in Ilha Grande is pretty epic. There is a dive shop right in the center of Villa Abraão, and they run diving trips to all of the best places in Ilha Grande.
Ilha Grande is a shockingly affordable place to visit, and diving trips around the island are often much cheaper than you might expect. Prices vary depending on the time of year, and the best place to inquire about the best spots to dive and their corresponding prices is at the dive shop in the center of Vila de Abraao.
If diving is not your thing, a good option would be snorkeling! You still get to go out into the ocean on a boat and see beautiful marine life but don’t need any kind of certification. Many snorkeling tours also include stops at some of the beautiful white sand beaches scattered around the island, too.
7. Admire Ilha Grande Island’s Exotic Wildlife
Being isolated from major commercial investment has left a lot of Ilha Grande’s natural habitats largely undisturbed, and this has made it a total haven for many different species of wildlife. From howler monkeys to penguins and other exotic birds, Ilha Grande is packed to the brim with exciting creatures that you can encounter just about anywhere on the island.
Naturally, these animals prefer to stay away from people as much as possible. For this reason, the best way to run into them is on remote hiking trails further away from the island’s main towns and hotels. If you opt to stay in a hotel in a more remote part of the island, like near Praia Vermelha, there is a much greater chance that you will run into some of these fascinating animals.
How to Get to Ilha Grande
If you’re heading to Ilha Grande, your best bet is to fly first into Rio de Janeiro and then head toward the ferry ports. If you want to get to Ilha Grande from São Paulo, Your best bet is still to first fly into Rio and then transit to the port towns. The Ilha Grande ferry port towns are about two hours from Rio de Janeiro, and there are two main ways that I recommend getting there: bus or BlaBlacar, both followed by a ferry to the island.
Once you get to any of the port towns, walk toward the ferry where all the passengers are waiting. If you’re going to Mangaratiba or Angra dos Reis, confirm online beforehand what the schedule is so that you’re not left waiting for too long for a ferry. If you head to Conceicao de Jacarei, like I recommend, you shouldn’t need to wait long at all and the travel time will be between 30 and 40 minutes.
Conceicao de Jacarei offers the fastest and most frequent ferries, and you can opt to either take the regular ferry or the fast boat to get to the island. While the schedule changes somewhat frequently, Mangaratiba and Angra dos Reis send a handful of ferries per day while Conceicao de Jacarei runs them every 30 minutes to an hour. I recommend buying a return trip ticket before you depart for the island, as the tickets are not tied to a specific date and time.
How to Get Around Ilha Grande
BY FOOT | WATER TAXI
Famously, Ilha Grande is a carless island. With the exception of some police and delivery vehicles, there are no motor vehicles allowed on the entire island. This creates a very peaceful and relaxing vibe all throughout the island. However, it makes getting around the island a bit challenging, as there isn’t even a local bus system connecting one major town to another.
Basically, you need to walk everywhere, and anywhere that is too far to walk will require a water taxi or a charter boat. As there are few paved trails and pathways on the island, it is always faster to take a water taxi to get around the island than it is to walk.
If you remember, I mentioned before that the walk to Vila de Dois Rios is about 10 miles, and the water taxi would be typically under two hours. Renting a bike is probably not the most appealing option, in my opinion, as the island is very hilly and I think a bike on the trails would wind up being more inconvenient than walking – especially during the hot summer months.
The Best Time to Visit Ilha Grande
Ilha Grande is a pretty perfect place to visit for most of the year. Its national parks and gorgeous beaches experience great weather conditions almost all year long. As South America is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are opposite from most other top destinations in the world. Summer in Ilha Grande runs from November to February, and this is when the weather is at its warmest and the crowds are at their fullest.
We visited in May, which is the beginning of the coldest season of the year, and the weather was still great. We were able to experience Ilha Grande’s beautiful tropical beaches even during one of its coldest months.
How Many Days Do You Need in Ilha Grande Brazil?
In most cases, a couple of days is all the time you need in Ilha Grande. If you hire a travel agent to build a custom itinerary, they will probably recommend a tour duration of anywhere between one and three days. While Ilha Grande is a very popular holiday destination, there isn’t an excessive amount of things to do there, and most can be done in just a few days.
If you plan to hike around the island or trek to the Pico de Papagayo, you will likely need more time. We could have happily spent up to a week in Ilha Grande, but I recommend limiting your stay to just a few days if you want to also see other parts of Brazil during your trip.
Is Ilha Grande Safe to Visit?
Brazil has a bit of a reputation for danger and violent crime, and many tourists and travelers hesitate to visit such a remote island. With the potential for spotty cell signal and limited ferry availability, it makes sense to wonder about safety in Ilha Grande! On top of that, there is always a risk that bad things happen when you hike in the jungle and visit virgin beaches. For these reasons, I want to comment on the safety of the island as well as our own experience.
Crime in Ilha Grande
While not everyone’s experiences are the same, we felt extremely safe in Ilha Grande. As far as crime is concerned, we would even go as far as saying that the island felt safer than anywhere else we went in Brazil, including Sao Paulo.
While taking precautions is necessary anywhere you travel, you should know that Ilha Grande is safe, and you have very little to worry about. The locals are very friendly, and tourists almost never have an issue with any kind of criminal activity.
Natural Danger in Ilha Grande
The one danger that you may face while in Ilha Grande is that of natural disasters and accidents. There is very little infrastructure in Ilha Grande, and while there are ambulances, they have limited access to hiking routes. For this reason, hiking accidents are often very dangerous here, and getting out of the jungle can be very challenging.
On top of that, visiting some of the raw, virgin beaches during high tide can be very dangerous. While many travelers want to see the sunrise over one of Ilha Grande’s gorgeous beaches, swimming during high tide can be incredibly dangerous.
Is Ilha Grande Worth Visiting?
Ilha Grande certainly sounds alluring, but it is a long trip from Rio de Janeiro. This leaves many travelers asking the question, “Is Ilha Grande worth visiting?” I would certainly say yes, depending on what you want to do there.
If you are just looking for beautiful beaches dotted with palm trees, you can stay much closer to Rio de Janeiro. You don’t need to travel all the way to Ilha Grande for those! However, if you are seeking the charming vibes that this carless Atlantic island offers, or the great diving found right off of its coast, I highly recommend making the trip. From checking out howler monkeys in a state park to cruising around the Blue Lagoon, Ilha Grande offers a unique slew of things to do that can’t be done anywhere else near Rio de Janeiro.
Our Final Ilha Grande Tips
Ilha Grande is an incredible getaway and you’re bound to have a great time while visiting. With that being said, we’d like to offer you some final tips to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.
That’s all we have for you about planing the perfect trip to Ilha Grande! Hopefully this Ilha Grande travel guide helps you while you’re visiting the island. If you have any questions, drop us a comment!