If you only have 1 or 2 weeks in Rio but you want to get out of the city for a few days and experience a different side of Brazil, Ilha Grande could be the perfect adventure for you.
Getting there from Rio is easy (depending on how you decide to do it), and it takes slightly over half a day. I chose the lazy option, which I would recommend even though it isn’t the cheapest choice. It’s called Easy Transfer (easytransferbrazil.com) and it’s basically a minibus that picks you up from your hostel and puts you on a boat across to Ilha Grande. It costs 100R which is about £20.
The drive takes 3 hours and they stop once for food/toilets, and then the boat takes 45 minutes. The boat drops you on the main jetty in Abraao which is the town in Ilha Grande and most hostels are nearby. The boat journey is nice and breezy and of course there are some great views:
Hostels are very easy to come by in Abraao, but I’d say it’s still best to go on the Booking.com app a few days before you go there to reserve a bed, so you’ll be able to compare them and choose one that’s best for you. I’d recommend staying three nights to give yourself two whole days on the island.
I stayed at Flor Da Ilha hostel which is literally less than a minute’s walk from the main jetty, so super convenient. It’s built on top of a building so you can chill on the rooftop terrace, and it’s owned by a man who’s actually from Ilha Grande so he has all the information you could possibly need, and you’re supporting a local business by staying there. I’m sure lots of the other hostels are pretty cool too.
Looking out onto the beach from the terrace at Flor Da Ilha first thing in the morning was always nice:
The streets in the town mainly consist of restaurants, little supermarkets and tour shops, and the tour shops mainly seem to sell boat tours to the little islands and beaches nearby, with options of a day or half day trip. I guess these boat tours are a popular option because they allow you to see lots of things in one day.
Personally I didn’t want to do this, as it was a bit expensive and I was by myself, plus I prefer having to have a bit of an adventure to reach a beach or wherever I’m going. If you feel the same, then I’d recommend the two adventures I had on my two days in Ilha Grande.
The first adventure was walking the trail to Praia Abraaozinho, a pretty beach. The good thing about this is that you really can’t go wrong (it has sign posts), and it starts from the centre of town. Also, it takes less than an hour and it’s one of the more popular trails on the island so (if my experience is anything to go by) you’ll pass some people on the trail so you won’t feel too alone in the forest.
To get on the trail, if you’re in town by the jetty or beach, walk along the beach to your right (your right if you’re looking at the sea) and keep walking until you start seeing signs to Abraaozinho. Some of the signs are official and very obvious, but some are smaller and painted on trees, so make sure you look everywhere for them (examples below).
The trail isn’t very difficult and it’s definitely suitable for everyone including children. After about 45 minutes, you reach a ‘paradise’ kind of beach surrounded by greenery, with one bar/restaurant.
The restaurant is pretty expensive by Brazilian standards, but I gave in and drank some caipirinhas (Brazilian cocktails) from there which were about 25R (£5) each. They were definitely worth it! Go for the strawberry one if you’re struggling to pick. The bonus point of there being a restaurant there is that it means there are also toilets there.
The trees that run along the edge of the beach provide lots of shady areas to sit or lie down, so you could easily spend quite a long time there if you bring a book or music etc., and the water is great for swimming in. When I went, the beach wasn’t crowded, but I don’t know if this changes in high season.
If you don’t want to do the hike back, you can take a water taxi right from the beach back to the main town for 15R (£3) and it only takes about 5 minutes. I had already made friends with the water taxi man on the beach, so he let me cuddle his puppy on the journey back! The puppy’s name is Marley and you might see him if you’re at this beach, although he might be a bit bigger when you go there.
The second adventure I can recommend is the hike to an amazing waterfall called Cachoeira Da Feiticeita (‘cachoeira’ means waterfall in Portuguese). This hike is definitely more difficult than the beach one, and you DEFINITELY will want to bring water.
It goes quite high up through the forest, so I’d advise doing it with someone else. Personally I had no one to go with, so I just waited near the beginning of the trail and asked people if I could join them. It worked out nicely because I went with a Brazilian couple and we had a lot of laughs on the way up. Don’t be scared to ask people to join them! You can always wait until you see someone who you think looks approachable.
Anyway, to find the trail, you need to walk along the coast to the left if you’re standing looking at the jetty in town. After about 10 minutes, you’ll reach a kind of archway…
Go under the archway and keep walking until you see this sign, and then follow the waterfall arrow (obviously)…
You could wait here to find your hiking buddy, but I did this part by myself.
Once you’ve followed this path for about 15 minutes, you’ll find a rockpool…
At this point I was completely baffled because the path didn’t seem to continue and I couldn’t see any more sign posts. Thankfully I saw a man sitting up on the rock who told me where to go. You basically need to walk through the water and climb up the rock and then the path continues on the other side of the rock.
Once you get onto the next part of the path, you’ll come to these arches after a few minutes…
I waited by the arches to find a hiking buddy because it looked like the trail was going to properly start after this.
I’m sure the state of the trail depends a lot on the previous days weather, but on the day I went, there were certain parts where my flip flops got stuck in the mud and I had to be quite careful to avoid falling over or dropping my phone.
You can’t really get lost because it’s mostly one path, and there’s always a sign if it changes into two paths, but the difficult aspects are the unevenness of the ground and the fact that it’s quite steep for long periods of time.
Along the way, there are a few pretty viewpoints that are quite useful for when you’re losing hope of ever reaching the waterfall!
In total I think the hike took me two hours, but if I was fitter and didn’t have to stop to get my breath back so many times, it would have been faster. Of course the best moment was when we finally reached the waterfall (the second best moment was when we heard the sound of the waterfall from around the corner)…
The lighting was really poor so the photos don’t show how it really looked, but it had a decent sized pool for swimming and the water was super powerful (I regretted wearing strapless bikini). The rocks going into the pool are quite slippery and the water pushes you around a lot, so I’d say this probably isn’t the best waterfall for children.
One of the coolest things about this hike is that you don’t actually need to walk all the way back to the town after. There’s another path that takes you to a little beach (follow the signs to ‘praia’). It’s only half an hour to get there, and it really looks like paradise.
It has a few people selling coconuts, caipirinhas and snacks, but it’s really peaceful and it’s the perfect place to lie down after you’ve used all your energy on the hike.
If you don’t want to walk back to town, you can take a boat from the beach which will leave you back at the jetty in town. You have to buy a boat ticket from the guys in the marquee thing on the corner of the beach, and it costs 20R (£4.20) which will probably seem like the best investment of your life if your legs are as tired as mine were.
Overall, Ilha Grande is a great place for relaxing and nature, and you’ll probably spend most of your time there in a swimsuit. Don’t forget to find a good sunset spot one evening to admire the sky doing its thing too.
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