By Alison McGowan, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – If paradise exists in the form of unspoiled wild beaches, aquamarine waters and undulating green mountains, then Brazil has many; but none quite like the bay of Ilha Grande. Sitting along the coast of Rio de Janeiro state as part of Angra dos Reis, not only is Ilha Grande the largest oceanic island in Brazil, but it is also a pristine remainder of the Atlantic rainforest and cherished ecosystem.
Despite its proximity to the city of Rio de Janeiro, the island only became a tourist destination in the 1990s, once its infamous Candido Mendes prison closed down. Ironically, its preserved landscape is a direct result of the lack of human presence for so many years. Its local population is still small, at just 6,000 inhabitants.
The beauty of Ilha Grande is its unspoiled and undeveloped atmosphere, the wildness of the surroundings and the simplicity of village life. In the main town of Abraão, there is a distinct absence of motor vehicles, roads, banks and shopping centers.
However, hikes over to Lopes Mendes beach and Dois Rios and boat trips to Lagoa Azul provide wonderful ways to enjoy the island. There are also enough restaurants in Abraão to eat somewhere new for a week or two, should you be lucky enough to stay so long.
For accommodations, there are many pousadas (lodgings similar to guesthouses or B&Bs) in Ilha Grande, over 140 spread across the coast catering to the growing numbers of visitors the island now attracts. In the absence of hotels, the island offers unique hideaways like Pousada Aratinga Inn and Pousada Naturalia, nestled amidst the flora and fauna.
On the other side of the island from Abraão is Praia Vermelha a small, peaceful fishing village marooned at the foot of the mountains. There is only one boat a day, which runs back and forth from Angra dos Reis. With few people around and limited mobile phone reception or internet access, it is a haven for those wanting a retreat from the outside world.
Praia Vermelha is also home to the luxury ocean front pousada Vila PedraMar that offers a tour of the bay on a private jetty with flowing champagne and a chance to swim with the dolphins. Walks along the beaches of Itaguaçu, Aracitabinha, Praia Grande or Aventureiro, are also experiences that show off the bay’s true glory.
Getting to Ilha Grande is relatively straightforward. It is a three-hour bus journey from the Rio’s rodoviaria (bus station) to Angra dos Reis, then a ferry to Abraão leaves daily from Angra at 3:30PM, returning from Abraão to Angra at 10AM. The price is R$14 one way and R$25 round trip, and takes about one hour.
To get to Praia Vermelha you will have to get the afternoon ferry from Angra or ask the pousada for a private transfer over to the island. Whichever way you go and wherever you choose to stay, the journey to Ilha Grande is one of the most beautiful trips in the world- an excursion in itself.
For more information on where to stay in Ilha Grande visit Hidden Pousadas Brazil.