The largest of the many beautiful islands in the Bay of Angra, Ilha Grande boasts more than 100 pristine white-sand beaches, many of which—like the stunning praias of Lopes Mendes, Cachadaço, Saco do Céu, Aventureiro, and Parnaioca—are considered among the most beautiful in all of Brazil.
A 90-minute boat ride away from Angra, Ilha Grande’s 192 square kilometers (74 square miles) of Atlantic forest are entirely preserved, and no motorized vehicles are allowed on the island. There are, however, abundant walking trails, a wide range of accommodation possibilities, and, of course, beach after beach after beach.
Before becoming one of Brazilians’ preferred back-to-Eden retreats from civilization, Ilha Grande went through phases as a pirate hangout and a leper colony. Until recently, it also housed two penitentiaries reserved for some of Brazil’s most hardened and violent criminals (some of whom, from time to time, escaped, thus scaring the daylights out of the island’s community of fisherfolk). Although the second prison was demolished in 1994—opening the door to tourism—the not-yet-overgrown ruins of the original jail still cast a slightly haunting spell.
Ferries and launches from Angra dos Reis all dock at the main village of Vila do Abraão, a picturesque and palmy beachfront settlement clustered around a gleaming white colonial church and backed by mountains. Although there’s not much of anything to do here, Vila Abraão provides the main base for exploration—on foot or by boat—of the island’s natural attractions.
Getting to Ilha Grande
Barcas S.A. (tel. 24/3365-6426, R$7 Mon.–Fri., R$15 Sat.–Sun.) offers daily ferry service during the week to Ilha Grande. Boats leave from Angra (departing at 3:30 p.m. during the week and at 1:30 p.m. on weekends) and from the nearby town of Mangatariba (8 a.m. daily). Return boats from Vila Abraão leave daily for Angra at 10 a.m. and for Mangatariba at 5:30 p.m. If you miss the ferry, you can wait around for a motorized launch to fill up and leave from Angra’s pier (this is more likely to happen quickly during the summer).
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition