Finding Paradise in Ilha Grande, Brazil

In this Guest post, Neil Robertson explores the remote island of Ilha Grande in Brazil, discovering breath-taking beaches, rainforest trails, the deserted ruins of a prison and takes a hike up to the island’s highest peak.

I think that every traveller has their own definition of paradise in mind. If you have ever been to Ilha Grande in Brazil, you might just agree with me when I say that I think I’ve found mine.

I visited the island after a hectic week in Rio de Janeiro, which was an incredible experience in itself but left me desperately yearning an escape from the clamour and din of such an immense metropolis. A three hour trip down the coast and I found exactly what I was looking for.

Looking down over Abraao, Ilha Grande in Brazil Photo: Neil Robertson

Looking down over Abraao, Ilha Grande in Brazil

Abraao, a quaint coastal village

A bus and a boat later and we arrived at Ilha Grande’s village of Abraao, the main hub (as in a handful of dirt tracks) of what is a surprisingly remote island. Although very much on the rapidly developing Brazilian tourist trail, a short walk of a few minutes in any direction will bring you into solitude and, outside of Abraao, I felt very much alone with nature on the island. Only around 5000 inhabitants and 20 small villages are spread over a huge area. The island is a protected national park and there are barriers to development, including the absence of any roads and cars (officially at least).

Abraao. The parrot shaped rock on the right is the Pico do Papagaeo Photo: Neil Robertson

Abraao. The parrot shaped rock on the right is the Pico do Papagaeo

The image of island tranquillity develops with the beaches, some of the very best I have ever seen. There are well over 100 white sand beaches on the island and almost all are fantastically quiet. Lopes Mendes is the most famous and is absolutely stunning, but through a combination of boat trips from Abraao and some rainforest hiking, you can find breath-taking beaches all to yourself. Depending on the time of year, you may even be joined by passing Southern Right Whales, I’m sure you would not mind their intrusion. Even at night, I remember drifting off to sleep and hearing the waves lapping outside, as much of the available accommodation is right by the shore.

Accommodation by the beach on Ilha Grande in Brazil Photo: Neil Robertson

Accommodation by the beach on Ilha Grande in Brazil

Take a guided trek to Pico de Papagio

The most memorable day of my stay on the island was spent hiking through the rainforest to the highest peak, Pico do Papagaio, a trek that took most of the day and required the assistance of Joao, a fantastic local guide. There are no paths, just jungle floor and you can no doubt imagine my face when Joao helpfully assures me that snakes are rarely seen, and very rarely are they killers.

Atop the Pico do Papagaeo Photo: Neil Robertson

Atop the Pico do Papagaeo, Ilha Grande, Brazil

Thanks for that Joao, that will do the phobia the world of good! Joao also passes on his scornful amusement when telling us how tourists regularly get lost on hikes (sometimes, terrifyingly, for several days on end), failing to gauge just how vast this green haven is. Imagine being lost in the rainforest, with only the circling snakes and blood-chilling cry of the howler monkeys to keep you company as the sun goes down…..

Monkey in the rainforest, Ilha Grande, Brazil Photo: Neil Robertson

Monkey in the rainforest, Ilha Grande, Brazil

A notorious history

One of my favourite things about travel is learning about the history of the places I visit. ‘Colourful’ would be the word to describe Ilha Grande’s past I think. Piracy, slave trafficking, smuggling, you name it, it has all passed through here over the centuries. The story I found most enthralling is the history of the notorious Ilha Grande prison. Originally built as a penal colony for the country’s political prisoners in the 1930s, it soon became home to the very worst of Brazil’s offenders. A Brazilian Alcatraz if you like. In a story fit for any Hollywood movie, one of the residents, a legendary drug baron referred to as Escadinha (“The Stepladder”) actually escaped by daring helicopter rescue on New Year’s Eve 1985. While wondering if anyone has the movie rights, you can still visit the prison ruins (it was finally closed in 1994 and yes, they literally blew it up to avoid any ambiguity) to this day on a walking day trip from Abraao.

One of the unmanned docking points around the island Photo: Neil Robertson

One of the unmanned docking points around Ilha Grande, Brazil

Fresh seafood and produce are delectable

Such exertions and learning about the island’s enthralling past works up an appetite and, with fishing so essential to the local economy, the fresh produce is a joy to behold. Most memorable is a melt-in-the-mouth salmon cooked in a passion fruit sauce, with a delectable fresh caipirinha on hand. Needless to say, as hard as I’ve tried in the kitchen since, I have not been able to replicate the experience.

Lopes Mendes beach Photo: Neil Robertson

Lopes Mendes beach on Ilha Grande, Brazil

Maybe it’s my being British that makes me feel so comfortable and familiar on an island, I don’t know, but there is something very special about being somewhat isolated from the rest of the world. Ilha Grande was an incredible experience. As a lover of hillwalking, nature (except snakes), remote but beautiful beaches, some thrilling historical tales and simply delicious seafood, this, for me, is paradise.

NeilMy thanks for this Guest article to Neil Robertson, an avid traveller who in recent years has lived and worked in Italy, China and Belgium. Loving nothing more than to experience different cultures and ways of life, Neil is always planning the next trip. Football, 80s rock and good food are never far from his mind wherever in the world he finds himself. Neil is now primarily based back in his hometown of Glasgow, Scotland and is a founder of Locomotion Travel.

More tales from remote locations:

A beach paradise at Cabo Polonio and Valizas in Uruguay
Swimming the turquoise blue at Porto Limnionas – Zakynthos
A snowy break at Laswern Fawr holiday in the Brecon Beacons, Wales

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home and the original article is here.

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  • Reply
    Leslee Haralson
    June 12, 2013 at 1:29 am

    Fabulous article and gorgeous pictures! Thank you for sharing this part of the world with the rest of us!
    Leslee Haralson´s last blog post ..Ready, Set, Zip!

  • Reply
    June 12, 2013 at 6:44 am

    It s a real paradise!
    Thank your these so beautiful pics!

  • Reply
    tour package to darjeeling
    June 17, 2013 at 11:48 am

    nice information about brazil.and i really like this place for couples.

  • Reply
    June 20, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Loving the shot of the monkey.

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      June 20, 2013 at 5:22 pm

      @Scott Yes, cute but wild. When I was in Ecuador I saw some monkeys in the rainforest that had been adopted for pets.

  • Reply
    Lois Pike
    June 21, 2013 at 8:38 am

    I love the place. It’s so warm and diverse. The monkey is really cute!haha

  • Reply
    July 1, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks for your comments on the article and glad you all agree, it is one of my favourite travel spots for sure! Yes the monkeys may look innocent, but what a noise they make, pretty chilling!

  • Reply
    September 25, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Visiting South America is a real pleasure…..as there we can peace of mind & soul…..
    Vincent´s last blog post ..home sub banner1

  • Reply
    Fabio Mendonça
    April 17, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Nice post. Ilha Grande is amazing!!! Two suggestions to have fun there is to do the trekking to the Feiticeira Waterfall and the Feiticeira Beach and also enjoy a nice dinner at “Saco do Céu”. To stay the best one is the Sagu Mini Resort. Big hugs from Rio.

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