By Tricia L Chaves, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Ilha Grande (the Big Island), was a decades-long home of a prison before the structures were destroyed in the 1950s. Now, its remote location creates the ultimate natural respite from Rio‘s bustling intensity. This getaway is ideal for the traveler who wants to experience unspoiled nature, leaving modern technology ashore (though cellular service will work in parts of the island, reception is spotty).
The island is over 193 km² with 86 different beaches, and automobiles are prohibited on the island to preserve this ecological sanctuary.
Accessible by boat, your island escape to Ilha Grande’s departs from Mangaratiba or Angra dos Reis, both around two hours’ drive from the city of Rio de Janeiro. A ferry runs daily back and forth from either port to Vila do Abraão, a popular spot on the island for shopping and dining. Transit time on the shuttles varies from one to just under two hours, depending on water conditions.
Private boat charters with a captain or boat rentals for the experienced sailor are available at the port in Angra dos Reis and allow for the most flexibility in exploring the various points of interest on the island. Pousada Aguá Viva operates daily tours of Ilha Grande departing from Angra dos Reis. Seven different itineraries, ranging in price from R$20-80, visit up to four locations per tour, spending 40-60 minutes at each stop. Schooner tours departing from Vila do Abraão and Araçatiba are R$5-45 and visit Enseada de Palmas, Lopes Mendes, Saco do Céu, Enseada das Estrelas, Lagoa Azul, Freguesia de Santana, Lagoa Verde and Gruta do Acaiá.
Island activities include hiking, dining, shopping and exploring historical sites. Water enthusiasts will enjoy fishing, hiking, kayaking, waterskiing, surfing, snorkeling and scuba diving. Crystal-clear green-blue waters make admiring marine life an enjoyable experience from inside or out of the boat.
ATM machines and banks are nonexistent on Ilha Grande, and debit and credit cards are frequently not accepted. Be sure to travel with sufficient cash for your spending, and confirm payments ahead of time for boats and tourism services when possible. Should you wish to spend the night, or a few on Ilha Grande, accommodations include camping, hostels, houses and pousadas (small charming hotels) are scattered at various sites around the island. Booking early will ensure the best selection. Ask about any available boat tours or activity packages when booking your stay. Be sure to pack lightweight, light-colored clothing, sunscreen and a topical insect repellent to protect yourself from the sun and mosquitoes.
For overnight or extended stays on Ilha Grande, Ilha Grande.com offers some security suggestions, noting that you should park in paid garages near the ports vs. on the street, and advises against accepting hotel offers if approached in Vila do Abraão, as they may be operated illegally and hence, may be more risky. The site can be translated from Portuguese using Google Translate for a wealth of tourism information including port driving and parking directions, how to get there, lodging, dining and things to do.
Tricia Chaves lives in Rio de Janeiro and writes a blog at www.movetobrazil.blogspot.com with information for Gringos who want to learn more about traveling, living or investing in Brazil, and writes about her daily life in Rio at www.postcardsfrombrasil.blogspot.com.