Ilha Grande is also called as Island Paradise and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with 99% of the island covered in natural Atlantic rainforest and spectacular beaches. The island has become a hot tourist destination because of its wonderful environment and several tracks that lead to fantastic unspoiled tropical beaches. Ilha Grande is one of the richest ecosystems of the world. The island is home to many endangered species like brown howler monkey, the maned sloth, red-ruffed fruit cow, the broad-snouted caiman and the red-browed amazon parrot.
Ilha Grande is located in the state of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and is largely undeveloped and present mostly in its natural state. The island is also famous because of an old prison which is now closed. The Candido Mendes was a top-security prison that kept some of the most dangerous criminals of Brazil. Due to the high-security prison, the island was closed for public access for almost a century. This also helped the ecosystem of the island to flourish in an ideal natural environment. The island waters have corals, topical fish, sharks, sea turtles, magellanic penguins, dolphins and much more.
Motorized vehicles are still banned on the island, but the tourism is being encouraged. The tourists are loving this place; there are more than 150 kilometers of hiking trails and around 100 unspoiled beaches. There are several travel companies that offer sight-seeing trips and tourist guides to Ilha Grande.
How to Reach Ilha Grande
You can easily reach Ilha Grande from Rio by a local bus or a public ferry. There are several tourism companies that also provide daily transfers from Rio to Ilha Grande and vice versa. There are three ports at the island, and you will find plenty of slow and fast ferries for the transfer.
Important Tips for your Trip to Ilha Grande
- Always take cash with you. Island has limited ATM and if there is any problem, you will be stuck badly without money. It is usual for the ATMs in the remote areas to run out of cash at any time. Many restaurants, café and bars also do not accept cards so you will need cash all the time.
- It is always convenient to hire a tour guide for your trip but if you are on budget, you can make this trip alone as well. The island is considered safe.
- If you are spending time on the island, know your routes and fitness level. There are no cars, no taxis or motorized vehicles. If you get tired of walking, you cannot call a taxi or Uber.
- It is recommended to book your accommodation in advance during the summer months and long weekends. The island is amazingly beautiful and kept in its natural condition which also means the accommodation options are also less.
- The island is a natural paradise and is extremely clean, make sure that you do not litter. It will break my heart and the hearts of locals who work very hard to keep everything clean.
- Take good shoes for hiking as the island does not has cars. Also take mosquito repellent if you do not want to walk with one hand busy in scratching your body.
11 Tourist Attractions in Ilha Grande
Lopes Mendes Beach
Lopes Mendes Beach is considered as one of the top ten beautiful beaches of Brazil. This is a must-visit beach if you are in Ilha Grande. This long and wide beach with lovely white sand has a row of tropical palm trees on one side and crystal-clear sea on the other side. You can take a boat to reach here but the best way is to go by hiking which is easy and flat. It will take 20 to 30 minutes for you to reach by foot through the beautiful forest. You can also stop by the stunning Mangue and Pouso beaches. Lopes Mendes is very popular for sunbathers and surfers who love the waves.
Candido Mendes Prison
Candido Mendes Prison is a maximum-security prison on Ilha Grande which is now abandoned. It was used to quarantine some of the most dangerous criminals of Brazil. The prison was closed in 1994 and the prisoners were shifted to other prisons in the country. You can reach here by hiking from vila de Dois Rios. There is one famous story about a notorious drug lord who escaped from this prison and was rescued by a helicopter.
Vila de Dois Rios at Ilha Grande
This is a beautiful village which has a few restaurants and many abandoned houses. There is a 16-kilometer hiking track which will take you to the village from Abraao. The track is wonderful and walks you through the forested path where you can also see some beautiful deserted beaches. The hike is easy and mostly flat from Abraao to Vila de Dois Rios and vice versa. You can mix up with the locals and enjoy some spooky ghost stories from them.
Diving at Ilha Grande
Ilha Grande is a paradise for divers who love the marine life. Ilha Grande is also considered as one of the best diving places in the world. You can also find some pirate ships under the crystal-clear water, which were sunk to the bottom and are still staying there. You can easily hire scuba diving equipment including guides and trainers who will also provide you with the information about the best spots to dive. The popular diving spots in Ilha Grande are Gruta do Acaia, Ilha das Palmas and the Ilha de Jorge Grego which is in front of Lopes Mendes Beach.
Aco do Ceu and Sea Food
It is very easy to guess that seafood is the the best food on the island surrounded by the tropical waters. If you are craving for fresh seafood, head to Aco de Ceu which is the perfect romantic place for relaxation and seafood. You can enjoy the jet skiing and relax on a yacht while your food is freshly prepared. One of the best experiences is to have your dinner here under the light of full moon which is going to be totally mesmerizing. You will also find many other sea food restaurants in Abraao.
Lagoa Azul at Ilha Grande
This wonderful crystal-clear water pool is located towards the north of the island and is best known for snorkeling. Lagoa Azul is also known as Blue Lagoon and you can only reach here by boat which is also a superb experience. Here you are going to be mesmerized when you get close and personal with a wide variety of colorful fish, sea turtle and squids.
Cachoeira de Feiticeira
Cachoeira de Feiticeira is the largest waterfall on the island and not far from Abraao. This 15-meter high splendid waterfall is surrounded by the lovely Atlantic forest. The trail to this waterfall starts from Abraao and is not as easy as other trails that we have talked about. But it is worth the effort. Once you reach up you will be thrilled by the views and the environment. You can also do rappelling near the waterfall or choose to do a refreshing swimming in the water below. Nearby Feiticeira beach will add more to your delight. The beach is also a pure joy with white sand and crystal-clear calm water.
Pico do Papagaio in Ilha Grande
Pico do Papagaio, also known as the Parrot’s Peak, is the second highest peak on Ilha Grande and is approximately one thousand meters high. There are very few mountains in Rio which are this high and with such spectacular views from the top. The hike is challenging and takes around 3 hours to reach up, but you will be mesmerized by the views from the top. You can see the entire island, beaches and sea from the top. To enjoy maximum, it is suggested to start your hike at night by 2 am while weather is cool, and you will reach up to witness the sunrise and scenery which you will never forget. But you will need a tour guide to do it at night.
Boat Tour around Ilha Grande
Boat tour around Ilha Grande is the best way of enjoying the beautiful untouched beaches of the spectacular island. There are plenty of boat touring options available at the island and you can choose as you like. The boat services also include private boats with food and drinks including snorkeling equipment.
Aventureiro Beach Ilha Grande
This is a very special beach and one of the many special reasons is that there are only 560 people allowed on this beach at a given time. So, if you want to see it, you need to reach here early morning and bring your food, snacks and water with you. This beach is the most picturesque beach on the island which is also a paradise for surfers. They love the waves and 500 meters of sparkling green water.
Mingle up with Locals
Locals on the island love to join together for drinks at the small bars across the island. Abraao being more populated with tourist has more crowded bars. Locals get chatty and you can mingle up here and hear interesting stories about the island. These bars have plenty of Brazilian music, singing, clapping and dancing from the locals.
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