Ilha Grande – which literally translates to Big Island – is a tropical island just off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state and is about 160 kilometres from Copacabana. It is an island defined by its white beaches, clear blue waters and as a car-free zone. In short, it is a slice of Brazilian paradise and ideal for a weekend getaway from Rio de Janeiro. It can be done in a day but you will be pushed for time if you want to do everything. I stayed for one night and two days and that was ok – but I think one more night would have been perfect. Yet exam revision called me back to Rio (the joys!), hence why I didn’t stay longer. But the time I spent there was wonderful and I managed to pack in plenty of great activities and see some unforgettable sights. Here is my complete guide to Ilha Grande.

How to get there

The easiest way of getting there is a bus from Rio de Janeiro and then the ferry over to the island. There are several routes so here are all your options.

First of all, the main port on Ilha Grande is Vila do Abraão so that’s where you’ll be heading. To get there, you have to take a boat from either Mangaratiba (which is closest to Rio), Conceição de Jacareí (the closest point to Ilha Grande and with the most boat departures) or Angra dos Reis (which is the closest to São Paulo). I took the one from Conceição de Jacareí as it has plenty of boat departures at all hours so we didn’t need to wait long to board.

Ilha Grande Rio de Janeiro

Getting a boat from Mangaratiba will take between 1 hour and 20 minutes to 1 hour and 40 minutes to reach the island. They depart just once a day at 8 am except on Fridays when there is one extra departure at 10 pm. The boats are huge with a capacity of between 500 and 1,000 people and visitors can take up to 10 bikes with them (why you would need so many bikes, I’m not sure!) free of charge. The boat back to Mangaratiba from Abraão leaves once a day at 5.30 pm. The cost of a ticket is R$16.60.

Getting a boat from Angra dos Reis will take between 1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach the island. Like Mangaratiba, they depart just once a day at 3.30 pm on Mondays to Fridays and at 1.30 pm on weekends and holidays. The boats that leave Angra dos Reis are big with a capacity of between 500 and 1,000 passengers and they have the same rules about bikes as the boats that leave from Mangaratiba. The boat back to Angra dos Reis from Abraão leaves once a day at 10 am. The cost of a ticket is R$16.60.

Unlike Mangaratiba, Angra dos Reis also has smaller and fastest schooners available which run on a much more frequent timetable. The journey to the island takes between 30 minutes to 1 hour and 40 minutes and the boats have a capacity of between 30 to 120 people. They run every day at every hour from 7 am to 6 pm and go to Abraão. To go back from Abraão to Angra dos Reis, the boats run every day at nearly every hour from 6:30 am to 6 pm. The price for a one-way ticket is between R$25 and R$50.

Getting the boat from Conceição de Jacareí to Abraão. This is my favourite choice as it’s quicker and much more convenient. The trip to the island takes between 15 and 20 minutes (which basically means more beach time on the island!) and the boats have a capacity of between 30 and 60 passengers. The run regularly between 8.30 am and 6.15 pm (with an extra trip at 9 pm on a Friday) to go to the island and run between 7.30 am and 5.30 pm (with an extra trip at 8 pm on Friday) to back to Conceição de Jacareí. Each trip costs between R$20 and R$30.

You can get your tickets from the port so no worries about booking in advance. To get more information about the exact timetable, take a look here.

The next question is then – how do I get to Mangaratiba/Conceição/Angra?

The easiest way is to take a bus from the Rodoviaria in Rio de Janeiro. Take the comfy Costa Verde bus (you can either book it in advance or simply book it at the Rodoviaria before you board. That’s what I did) which costs R$40.50 to Mangaratiba and R$58 to Conceição and Angra. There are plenty of guided tours that offer a full package – hotel pickup, bus there and boat trip over – with prices starting from R$100. Ask at your hotel to see if they have services available for this.

Ilha Grande Rio de Janeiro

Tips for the island

  • Take cash! There are no cash points on the island and not every restaurant, shop or bar accept card yet. So you may need to pay in cash. I think it is improving now as the flow of tourists is always increasing year by year, but I remember being grateful that I had taken out cash beforehand – normally I pay for everything by card so I was lucky to have some fortunate hindsight!
  • There are no roads on the island. It is a motor-free zone, which is one of the many charms of Ilha Grande. Yet this is something worth remembering if you’re carrying heavy luggage – you may consider renting out one of those push carts when you arrive to help you take your back to your accommodation.
  • There are plenty of hikes on the island, some with challenging climbs, others simply flat trails leading through the forest. Take good shoes – trainers are absolutely fine – and remember to set off each day with plenty of water! The tropical weather can be fierce and you should try to always stay hydrated.
  • You can walk all the way around the island! Yet it’s not called Big Island for nothing, you know; it can take between 4 and 5 days to make it all the way round. If you have your heart set on doing it though, it’s best to start at Abraão and walk in an anti-clockwise direction. Note: at the other end of the island, accommodation is quite scarce so you will need to plan this before (that or find a friendly local who doesn’t mind providing a bed for the night!). Camping is not permitted outside the designated places in an attempt to protect the island’s environment so take care to follow these rules.
Ilha Grande Rio de Janeiro

Things to do

Let’s start with the beaches

Ilha Grande does beaches splendidly. One of the best ones is Lopes Mendes with its long, white sandy beach, crystal clear shallow waters and a fringe of tropical palm trees. It is the definition of paradise. The water is good for surfing although you have to paddle quite far out as the water remains shallow for a while. To get there, take a speedboat from Abraão to Pouso and try to do this on a calm day – when I did it the waves were big and I was convinced that I was going to be catapulted out of the boat! From Pouso, it’s a pleasant 20-minute hike through the forest before arriving at the Lopes Mendes beach. Provisions are in short supply there, although you can buy water, beers, caipirinhas and basic snacks there. It’s a good idea to bring some of your own snacks with you too.

Arguably the best beach is Parnaioca beach yet it is much less-visited. Why? It can only be accessed either by boat or a 3-hour hike from the Dois Rios near Abraão. It’s worth it though – few people make the effort to go there so you’ll be rewarded with a secluded beach with very little crowds.

Other great beaches worth checking out include Aventureiro beach (look out for the famous L-shaped palm tree there), Santo Antonio beach (a tiny beach with turquoise waters) and Caxadaço beach (another tiny beach surrounded by dense forest).

Other things to do in Ilha Grande

  • Visit the abandoned Candido Mendes prison. This prison was once used to lock up some of Brazil’s most dangerous criminals until it was closed in 1994. It includes stories of escapes such as when Escadinho, a Brazilian drug lord, was broken out with a helicopter. It can be reached by following the trail from the Vila de Dois Rios.
  • Go diving. Ilha Grande is great for dive-lovers and there are several schools to rent equipment from. Expect to see tropical fish, coral reefs and even the occasional turtle. I didn’t dive there but I’ve heard that some of the best spots are Ilha de Jorge Grego, the island in front of Lopes Mendes beach, Gruta do Acaia and Ilha das Palmas. However, I did go snorkelling and I would highly recommend Lagoa Azul in the far north of Ilha Grande. The water is so blue with amazing visibility and I saw plenty of colourful shoals of fish.
  • Hike Pico de Papagaio. Standing at 980 metres tall, this is the second largest peak on the island and takes about two to three hours to reach the top. It’s a challenging trek but the views over the entire island are worth it.
  • Visit the waterfall. The Cachoeira de Feiticeira waterfall is not far from the main port, Abraão. The waterfall stands at 15 metres high and you can take a shower under it (you will love that during the summer time!) and swim in the pool in front.
  • Go on a boat tour! There are loads of boat tours available. Here are some of my favourites:
    “>- This one is great for those that want to go to Ilha Grande but only have a day. The tour is 12 hours and takes you from Rio de Janeiro to the island and back to Rio after. The trip includes a tour around the island in a boat with a stop-off point at some of the most beautiful beaches and lagoons for swimming, snorkelling and an onboard lunch. “>Click here to find out more about this tour.
    “>- This one is very similar to the one above (so ideal for those on a shorter time frame) but it also includes a trip around Angra dos Reis, a beautiful coastal town on the mainland made up with dozens of little tropical islands. “>Click here to find out more about this tour.
    The tours are done by guides who speak English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Ilha Grande Rio de Janeiro

Places to eat and drink

Being an island surrounded by marine-rich waters, it’s hardly surprising that Ilha Grande does amazing seafood. For a fancy seafront dinner, head to O Pescador, which does Mediterranean-style fish dishes as well as great pasta and meat dinner options. The fish fillet with passion-fruit sauce is wonderful at Dom Mario, a seafood restaurant in Abraão. Another great seafood restaurant is Restaurante Lua e Mar. With its candlelit tables edging out onto the sand, it’s the perfect spot for a romantic date-night.

Where to stay

When I went, I literally left everything last minute and arrived on the first day of a national holiday. Needless to say, on this beautifully sunny weekend, half of Rio’s population and I had decided to come and spend some time at Ilha Grande. I arrived without any accommodation and everywhere was completely booked or out of my pitiful budget. After trekking around, we actually ended up chatting to a friendly local who let us stay there for a discounted price. It was pure luck and the fact the lady was an avid dog and cat lover was even better – the place was full of puppies and kittens at every corner! However, it’s best to book in advance, especially when travelling there on a weekend or during a holiday. Here are some of the most popular spots on the island.

Che Lagarto is a famous chain of hostels throughout South America and this one is a popular spot for backpackers. It’s a great place to meet people and is nicely located right next to the beach. Check here for prices and availability.

Pousada Beira Mar is clean, comfortable and simple. It’s next to the beach too and has rooms with hammocks. Make room in the morning for the breakfast buffet.

Pousada Naturalia is located just a little bit up on a small hill which provides wonderful ocean views. The multilingual staff are super friendly and breakfast is served fresh every day. It is one of the best pousadas (bed & breakfast) on the island. Check here for prices and availability.

Asalem is a more luxury (and more expensive) place to stay but its secluded location and forest surroundings are charming and the attention to details is impeccable. The hotel overlooks the Crena beach and guests may find themselves in close proximity to wildlife such as monkeys, hummingbirds and brightly-coloured butterflies. The sea nearby is known to have starfish and turtles. The 6 water-front suites give Asalem an exclusive feel. Check here for prices and availability.

Photos by:

First image: by Helio Araujo on Flickr
Third image: by normalsanik on Flickr
Fourth and feature image: Valdiney Pimenta on WikiCommons
Fifth image: by Nathon Chor on WikiCommons
All the others are by Felipe Campos. You can check out his work on Flickr or on his Instgram account.

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Ilha Grande Rio de Janeiro

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