I have been meaning to write about Ilha Grande in a long time; not only because it's my favorite place on earth, but also because it makes a great getaway destination if you are planning a trip to Rio de Janeiro.
Ilha Grande is a trip to the past, to a paradisiac place not yet taken over by the large resort and cruise industries , where the original Atlantic Forest remains quite preserved, where cars are prohibited (except for service/emergency vehicles) and where the local population can still stop to breath fresh air, play on the beach and appreciate the beautiful scenery before getting back home from work or school.
Ilha Grande is a State Park situated in the state of Rio de Janeiro; ecotourism is the main economic activity in the region and thanks to different preservation programs, about 84% of the island's ecosystem remains protected. As a matter of fact, a site of around 35 square kilometers, located on the Southern and Eastern ends of the island, extending from the Meros to the Parnaioca beaches, and inwards, is part of RBPS, a biologic reservation, dedicated to scientific studies, where no public access is allowed. In addition to that, the larger "Paraty and Ilha Grande region" is also listed as an UNESCO mixed (Culture and Biodiversity) World Heritage site since 2019.
Native Indians, African Slaves, Pirates and Japanese!
Ilha Grande's history dates back a couple of years after Brazil was discovered by the Portuguese in 1500. The island was originally inhabited by the native Indians of the Tamoios tribe, and then invaded by different nations, as well as corsairs and pirates from England, Holland, France and Argentina. Sir Thomas Cavendish was the most notorious corsair in the island and the Spanish Juan Lorenzo became later famous for the construction of a mortar and brick hideout for him and his treasure in 1629. That building is known as the Bat Mansion (Quinta do Morcego), and it is believed to be the oldest brick and mortar building in the island and third oldest in Brazil. The island was also an infamous entry point for traffic of African slaves, until slavery was abolished in 1888.
Ilha Grande was the home of a hospital, a leper colony, a common prison (1932 - 1963), and a high security prison (closed in 1994); as a consequence it has been pretty much closed to visitors and tourists during many years.
During the first half of the XX century a great number of Japanese migrated to the island to fish and process sardines; then when sardines became scarce they became owners of small hostels and B&Bs in the island. To celebrate this, the Japanese community hosts a festival every July in the island to share its culture with typical arts and food.
Ecotourism and Adventures
Did I mention that Ilha Grande offers over 100 km of trails? As a matter of fact there are 16 official trails that will allow the avid adventurer to hike around the island, along sandy and rocky beaches, going up and down hills, crossing creeks and rivers, and experiencing the diversity and beauty of the Atlantic Forest.
Most of beaches and communities are accessed through these 16 trails, with exception of those located in the RBPS. Because of that the connection between the Aventureiro and the Parnaioca beaches (T09 and T16) requires boat.
While some of the trails require great physical preparation there is a trail for everyone. Due to precarious signs and trail conditions at some of these stretches, hiring a local guide may be a good way to make your trip uneventful.
Although I do not recall reading about Ilha Grande as a Scuba Diving paradise, I wanted to share that Ilha Grande has one of the largest shipwreck collections in the world; there are 6 registered wrecks and another 16 wrecks being studied. Most of the wrecks are from the XVI and XIX centuries, comprised mainly of empire and pirate ships; besides the shipwrecks there is also a helicopter wreck, and other wreck-unrelated diving sites. Water temperatures are usually within an inviting 22 C-28 C and visibility around 10-20 meters.
Ilha Grande can also be a perfect place to relax. You can take boat rides to innumerous beaches, bays, coves, and just enjoy the moment. You can snorkel, stay on the boat, experience the village life and the local shops and restaurants, have great meals on or by the water, or have a drink or two while the waves break and the boats move in and out the shore.
Must See Attractions:
Ilha Grande is a place to take it easy and to enjoy with time, not in a hurry. Every spot is magic in its own way. There are calm waters and surf beaches; there are secluded beaches and coves and more popular ones, there are places with easy access and others that will require some effort and time. Either way, I ill share my list of top attractions to help in your further research of places to go.
Saco do Céu
Lopes Mendes Beach
Except for emergency and governmental vehicles, no cars are allowed in the island; meaning, the access to the island depends mainly on passenger boats of different kinds.
The major access points to Ilha Grande in the continent are the cities of Angra dos Reis (about 170 km from Rio), Conceição de Jacareí (about 140 km from Rio) and Mangaratiba (about 110 km from Rio). Depending on the location, you can take the large ferry boat, or powerboats to Vila do Abrahão, the primary entry port of the island, where the majority of accommodations and restaurants are concentrated.
My recommendation to you; however, is to book your trip with us, at "Peach - Fishing and Adventures" and let Captain Lima be your guide and host you and your group on board of his 27.5' motorboat, departing from the Itacuruça Yacht Club. Find more here!
Stay tuned for more tips on Ilha Grande and more info on our trips to this paradise.
Questions? Let me know!