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Ilha Grande is a popular weekend getaway in Rio de Janeiro. Just an hour away from the city itself, the island has white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, and exciting forest trails, making it the perfect tropical retreat. Yet before you pack your bags and head over, here are ten things to know about visiting Ilha Grande.
The island has only recently had an ATM installed; prior to this, there was no way to take out money on the island. Despite having the cash point now, it is still best to take plenty of cash with you. The cash point can run empty fairly quickly, especially during the long, holiday weekends. Also, not all foreign cards work at this cash point or charge high fees for using it. Be aware that many restaurants and bars don’t accept cards, so having cash on you is essential. Ilha Grande is safe and you shouldn’t have any problem carrying money on your person while there.
While staying in the city of Rio de Janeiro, you will see several tour operators offering a complete Ilha Grande package at fairly high prices. While this is convenient for some travellers, the more budget-conscious traveller will be pleased to know that it is actually easy to get there alone. You simply need to take a bus from the main bus terminal in Rio de Janeiro – known as the Rodoviária Nova Rio – to Conceição or Angra dos Reis and take a boat over from there. The times and duration vary depending on which port you take the boat from. For a complete list of times and locations of departure, here is a comprehensive list.
One of the most charming features of Ilha Grande is that it is a car-free zone. All the cobbled streets and dust tracks are totally pedestrianised. So if you have a late night out, whether at a bar or star gazing on the beach, make sure you know your way back on foot as there will be no Uber or taxi to come and get you.
Usually, you can book a hostel or hotel on arrival yet during the peak summer months and the long weekends, things can get a little more crowded. Ilha Grande remains mostly unspoiled and has avoided large man-made developments. While this is good news for the preservation of the island, it means that visitors should book accommodation in advance if travelling during the summer or on holiday weekends to save the hassle of trawling around searching for the few rooms left on the island.
It’s rare to see litter on the beaches in Ilha Grande thanks to extraordinary local efforts to keep the island pristine and a natural environmental haven. When you go to the beaches, make sure you take any rubbish back with you to help preserve the cleanliness of the island.
The Candido Mendes prison is an abandoned maximum-security prison on Ilha Grande. It was once home to hundreds of Brazil’s most dangerous criminals until it was closed in 1962. All the inmates were relocated to other prisons around the country. However, one prisoner was released and continues to live inside the remains of the prison. Although nowadays it is mostly a shell of what it once was, it is still possible to hike there.
The fact that Ilha Grande has yet to succumb to the development of large hotels and other amenities means that it has been able to preserve its coastline. As a result, the island has some of Brazil’s most natural and beautiful beaches. Some of the most unforgettable beaches on the island include Palmas Cove, Dois Rios, and Aventura Beach. It is also home to Lopes Mendes, a beach that often sits at the top of any list of Brazil’s most incredible beaches.
Although the island has some shops and you can buy mosquito repellent there, it’s best to come prepared especially if you have a brand that works best for you. While some people may not even notice the mosquitoes there, others that are sensitive to their bites may suffer during the evenings, especially when sat outside one of the beach bars.
Ilha Grande is not a lone island and is surrounded by dozens of nearby, smaller uninhabited isles. Take a boat tour from the main hub of Ilha Grande known as Vila do Abraão and visit these tiny, tropical islands. The beaches there are wild and untouched with marine rich waters offering great snorkelling and diving opportunities.
Bringing trainers (or sneakers) with you is a good idea due to the fact the whole island is totally car-free, so some walking will be required. If you love hikes, there are plenty on Ilha Grande. Some of the most exciting include Pico do Papagaio is the highest peak on the island with incredible panoramic views. Another popular one and one that is less challenging than going to the top of Pico do Papagaio is the flat trail from Vila do Abraão to the famous beach, Lopes Mendes.