Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ilha Grande: A Tropical Paradise

Ahhh…Ilha Grande, the perfect place to chill out and relax.
When we initially planned our Brazil trip, we entertained the idea of visiting the Amazon and Salvador on the Bahia coast, but after our exhausting whirlwind tour of the Middle East last December, we wanted to keep the itinerary for Brazil simple: Rio and the beach, and no air or long-haul travel if possible. Between glitzy Buzios, ("St. Tropez of Brazil") which became wildly popular ever since Brigitte Bardot visited in the 60s, and Ilha Grande, a beautiful car-free tropical island just three hours south of Rio, we chose Ilha Grande for its laid-back appeal and natural surroundings. 

Approaching Vila do Abraao:
On Ash Wednesday we said goodbye to Rod and boa viagem to our other two friends who were traveling to Iguacu Falls and Buenos Aires, and made our way down the Costa Verde to our next destination: Ilha Grande. After a two hour bus ride from Rio, we approached the island by a ferry boat (1 hr) from Angra dos Reis to Vila do Abraao, the island's main village. The weather was absolutely amazing -- warm, sunny, and glorious blue skies! The island had a great low-key vibe filled with a mix of backpackers, young couples, surfers, divers, and local Brazilians. All shops and restaurants are locally owned and operated. You won't see massive development, McDonalds, or Starbucks here as the entire island is protected and are subject to strict development regulations. Ilha Grande is a pristine island of verdant rainforest, gorgeous beaches, and a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna with only a few hiking trials connecting small coastal villages around the island.
Flora and Fauna on Ilha Grande:
We stayed in one of Vila do Abraao's many pousadas (B&B) called Tagomago, a cozy 6 room pousada located on the quiet end of Abraao Cove. We booked a upper floor room with a private balcony and a hammock with a fantastic view of the sea and lush green landscape. Every morning we would wake up before 8am to the sound of birds chirping, have breakfast of fresh tropical fruit on the deck, and off for our daily activity by 9am. Ilha Grande is perfect for nature lovers and those looking for an active holiday. In fact, Vila do Abraao is fairly dead between the hours of 10am and 4pm as everyone is either hiking, surfing, snorkeling, boating, or sunbathing. Things pick up again in the evenings when all the restaurants and bars are open. The main square is quite vibrant with live entertainment and alfresco bars spilling into the plaza. Our favourite beach bar is Cafe do Mar -- great music, friendly staff, fantastic location on the beach, and very strong caiprinhas.


We went on three different hikes during our six day stay in Ilha Grande, as well as a boat tour around the island:

Abraao to Lopez Mendes: The first hike we went on, which was our favourite hike, started at Trail #10 at the very end of Abraao Cove, and took us through the mid-Atlantic Forest via a little jungle trail (read: wet and muddy) passing through two beaches: Praia Bravas and Praia Mangues/Pouso before reaching our ultimate destination Lopez Mendes. Wow, what a beautiful beach! Wide-sweeping beach with warm, crystal-blue, shallow waters, big waves, and fine powder white sand. The sun was shining brilliantly as well -- it was a fantastic day to soak up the rays! The hike took about 2hr 15min, but you can return by boat to Abraao for R10 from Praia Mangues. Definitely a highlight of our time in Ilha Grande -- simply beautiful!
Hiking to Lopez Mendes:

Abraao to Dois Rios: The second hike (Trail #14) took us to the opposite end of the island to the village of Dios Rios in about 1hr 45min. This hike was easier than Trail #10 as you walk along the island's only paved dirt road. Dios Rios is a secluded beach in a beautiful natural surrounding. Seriously, there were only a handful of people on the beach, a flock of black birds, and just the sound of waves crashing onto the shore. Another magnificent white sandy beach and beautiful scenery. Dios Rios once had a small prison, now partially demolished. Camping is not allowed and you need to leave the village by 5pm, but since your only mode of transportation is by foot, it is best to leave well before sundown. 
 Dios Rios:

Abraao to Cacheira da Feiticeira: Our last hike (Trail #1 then to the waterfall) was short and sweet. Heading west pass Vila do Abraao, this little circular hike takes you through several natural pools, gorgeous vistas, aqueduct, and a waterfall. Though small, Cacheira da Feiticeira is worth seeing if time permits. The hike took 1.5 hours round trip.
 Hike to Cacheira da Feiticeira:

We also took a speed boat around the northwestern part of the island which had at least 20 small coves that was perfect for snorkeling. We made half a dozen stops: the Blue Lagoon, Green Lagoon, Aracatiba, Saco do Ceu, and Praia Feiticeria. The first three stops were superb for snorkeling - tons of small little black and yellow fish and colourful corals. Saco do Ceu and Praia Feiticeria were small beaches formed by mangrove trees with calm waters. It was a fun day out cruising around the island and I highly recommend it.
(Top to Bottom): Blue Lagoon, Green Lagoon, Saco do Ceu:

Other days we just lied on the beach, strolled through the streets of Vila do Abraao (it's not very big), or sat in our hammock sipping cold beers. Ilha Grande is superb...a tropical paradise and the perfect way to end our trip. Obrigada for the memories Brazil! We hope to see you again for the 2014 World Cup...

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