Ilha Grande is one of the most stunningly beautiful islands you can visit in Brazil. It is touted as 100 percent stress-free, with bountiful beaches, steamy rainforest, rolling mountains and colonial architecture.
The island was cut off from the outside world for a long time and has only recently been accessible to tourists. This means the island is pristine: the signs of mass tourism have not encroached on Ilha Grande, making it an adventure for the independent traveler.
It also has an eerie reputation â€¦ visitors have only been allowed since 1994, as before that it was a penal island. Rumour has it that political prisoners were held on Ilha Grande, and mysterious ruins from this period dot the jungle. Even further back, it was Brazilâ€™s quarantine station, a leper colony, and before that a pirate nest used by the infamous Jorge Grego.
The only hidden treasures today are wide beaches, excellent diving, abundant hummingbirds and monkeys, and the chance to kick back and enjoy the feeling of all stress dropping away.
The best place to stay is the beautiful town of AbraÃ£o. The charming, colourful houses, palm trees, a simple church, and pretty pousadas can be overwhelming. Many of the isolated islanders are descendants of original warders and prisoners. Life goes on in the streetâ€”kids chase each other, dogs bark, women stand at gates and men shuffle and watch the world go by â€¦ All this isolation has hidden some stunning attractions from the world.
Hiking trails dot the jungle-covered mountains and the beaches are so hidden that fishing boats are the only way to get to them. One of the best sandy spots is Praia Lopes Mendes, which requires half an hour on a fishing boat, followed by ten minutes trekking across the narrow neck of the island on a small trail.
Jungle closes in and the trail passes huge groves of natural bamboo. Ants cover the trail and colourful mushrooms grow on the boles of trees. After ten minutes of walking along the trail, youâ€™ll descend and eventually spill out onto Lopes Mendes beachâ€”wow!!
I dare you not to stop and stare. Your eyes gaze out at two miles of uninhabited beach. The curve of snow-white sand stretches in a wide arc and is book-ended by jungle peaks. Palm trees sway above, wild monkeys gambol, and the roaring surf rings in your ears as it crashes against boulders at the far end of the beach.
I consider myself fortunate to have seen it when I didâ€”in another ten years it may have been discovered by the tourist hordes and the time warp of Ilha Grande will have gone forever.