To wind down for the last few days of our 2016 travels we stayed at Ilha Grande, a tropical island paradise a couple of hours drive south of Rio.
There are over 100 miles of hiking trails through the lush Atlantic rainforest and many beaches to explore. There are small sandy coves and lagoons (which are ideal for snorkelling) on one side and the Atlantic Ocean for surfing on the other.
In addition Ilha Grande has no cars, no banks and no large hotels or mass tourism… only peace and quiet and relaxation… just the ticket…
There is only one town on the island called Abraão which is where most of the accommodation can be found. We stayed in the excellent Pousada Ancoradouro which we discovered on Booking.com. The pousada (a Brazilian bed & breakfast) is located directly on the beach in a quiet spot at the end of Abraão.
For the five days we were spent on Ilha Grande the weather wasn’t the best… after the first sunny morning the rest of the time was mostly cloudy, rainy and stormy! There are many boat tours and boat taxis willing to take you around the island to the beaches however as boat tours and snorkelling in dull cloudy and rainy conditions were not very appealing we spent most days exploring the island on foot!
Trek to Lopes Mendes
With its turquoise sea and fine sandy beach Lopes Mendes is said to be one of the top beaches in Brazil. You can get to Lopes Mendes by either a taxi boat + a short rainforest trek or by an 8 km trek from Abraão. Further details of our full trek can be found in a separate post.
Coastal trek to Praia da Crena and Praia do Abraaozinho
Another day, from Abraão we headed north along Julia Beach and followed the coastal path towards Praia da Crena. We simply walked along the coast just to see how far we could get.
The scenic trail had the sea on the left and the rain forest on the right. The trail was lined with tropical plants, the types we would see inside houses and conservatories in the UK.
It took around 20 minutes to get to Praia da Crena but we continued past and decided to stop at Praia do Abraaozinho (above). However with the cloudy weather and some forestation ‘bits’, i.e. twigs and small leaves floating in the sea we were not keen on this beach. Maybe we were spoiled by the gorgeous beaches from the Lopes Mendes trek the day before… and any beach always looks better in the sun!
We walked back to Praia da Crena (above) which we both preferred… protected inside a cove with its gentle ripples we had a swim in the calm water then had a delicious Caipriniha in the beach bar. Eventually! The service was unbelievably slow but they were well worth the wait. As Brazil’s national cocktail all caipriniha’s on the island were fabulous but this was probably the best.
Walking back to Abraão was quite an adventure! The tide had risen and some of the smaller beaches were now underwater! There was one section where we had to climb down and wade through the sea for about 75 meters, ensuring our gear didn’t get wet while trying not to slip on the rocks underneath!
The above photos were taken as we walked around the small narrow Abraão backstreets.
Abraão circuit trek
We headed left (in the other direction) from Abraão for our third trek. It had been raining all morning so once the rain eased off a little and with dark thundery clouds still looking threatening we decided to have a short walk to the other side of the village.
Once we got to the end of Abraão beach we came across a sign post for the ‘Abraão circuit’ a 2 km circular walk containing ruins, beaches, a natural pool and an old viaduct. This seemed fairly well sign posted as we followed the trail to Preta Beach with its large boulders.
From the beach we soon found the Lazareto ruins (above), the remains of an isolation hospital. We peered inside into the darkness of these ruins which felt a bit creepy with its eery silence and vines growing all around.
Next we found the natural pool and viaduct (above). A notice at the viaduct explains that it was built in 1893 using stones and whale’s oil. A small dam was built above the aqueduct which still supplies water to Abraão to this day.
It was at the viaduct where we took a wrong turn… we missed the sign which informed us that Praia Da Feiticeira was 3 km away… we veered off the short and easy 2 km circular trail and ended up climbing a steep clay track, slippery with rain and leaves… this seemed to go on and on and up and up through the rainforest for quite some distance. When we checked the ‘Map my hike’ app we discovered we were now halfway towards Praia Da Feiticeira, a beach around the coast…
We continued climbing for a short distance before we decided to turn back… we estimated it would have taken another hour or so to reach the next beach and while you can usually get a boat taxi back we couldn’t be sure there would be one. And we were not wearing suitable footwear… And had no insect repellent or snacks. We didn’t fancy getting to Praia Da Feiticeira and having to trek back to Abraão in the dark. And in possible torrential rain.
We slipped and slided back down the clay pathway and back to the viaduct (which was where we noticed the 3 km sign…) and made our way back to our pousada. By now it was raining again but we were welcomed with coffee and cakes by the friendly owners.
Abraão food and drink
We were fortunate that the top three TripAdvisor recommended restaurants were all within less than 200 m of the Posada Ancouradouro… result! After some pretty dodgy food of late we decided to blow the budget a little and try each of these out…
As mentioned the caiprinihia is Brazil’s national cocktail. The classic caiprinihia is made with a spirit called cachaca (which is similar to rum), freshly cut lime quarters, sugar and ice. We found a few variations in many of the bars and restaurants. Above are lemon and ginger caiprinihias as sampled in the Lua e Mar, the first (and most expensive) restaurant we tried. In this beachfront restaurant we shared an amazing Brazilian seafood dish made with huge sizzling shrimps.
The next evening we tried Cafe do Mar, almost next door to the Lua e Mar so also on the beach front. We were fortunate to be there for one of their BBQ nights. You choose from a selection of fresh fish, seafood, meat or vegetables which are then cooked on the barbie especially for you.
Our favourite restaurant was Las Sorrentinas located along a sandy track off the beach. A sorrentino is an Argentinian stuffed pasta which is similar to a ravioli. We tried sorrentinos stuffed with Roquefort, walnuts and mozzarella topped with a home made pesto sauce. All of the sorrentinos are home made and the cost of this meal for both of us was half the price of the other two restaurants mentioned above.
Bromeliad flowers (related to the pineapple) were growing in the garden of the pousada. They contained tiny ponds each of which provides a miniature environment for insects and small creatures such as frogs.
Summer in Brazil is December to February but the weather was thundery and rainy for most of the five days we spent in Ilha Grande (similar to Laura’s visit to Natal, Brazil in April 2008). There are very few specific destinations in the world that we would return to but Ilha Grande is possibly one of them.
Even in the rain Ilha Grande is a beautiful place. We enjoyed listening to the sounds of the rainforest rather than the sounds of traffic. We loved the freshly caught seafood and good quality restaurants. We revelled in the trekking and had the weather been sunny we would have been keen to do some snorkelling. Ilha Grande was the perfect place to finish our South America journey.
Getting to and from Ilha Grande
We had booked a transfer from Rio to Ilha Grande with Easy Transfers. This was around £23 each and included a pick up from the Rio hotel, the 2-3 hour drive and the 45 minute boat ride across to the island. To begin with Easy Transfer were great to deal with, picked us up on time and responded quickly to a couple of emails.
The transfer back however wasn’t so great… we were supposed to be dropped off at our hotel back in Rio but the driver refused to take us there and dumped us at the airport! This meant we had to spend another £20 on a taxi from the airport to the hotel… So we now have mixed feelings about so-called Easy Transfer and would review other similar transfer companies another time.