I was very sceptical about Ilha Grande. It’s three hours from Rio, which is home to over six million people, many of whom have a decent income. That spells disaster for a tropical paradise in my books. I just couldn’t see how it could live up to the ‘fabulous island retreat’, which the guidebook labelled it as.
It was then with great surprise that the minibus dropped me off at a small fishing village. Now as it turns out there are a number of ways to get to the island, some far bigger and uglier, but in my blissful ignorance I started to wonder if the guidebook might actually be correct. A thirty minute speedboat journey later and I arrived at what only can be described as a ‘fabulous island retreat’.
Ilha Grande used to be a leper colony and then a penitentiary housing many of Brazil’s most dangerous inmates. Now it is a sleepy village, filled with tastefully done pousadas (guesthouses) and a scattering of restaurants. There are no motorised vehicles on the island. The only way to get around is by foot, bike or boat.
My hostel was situated just outside the village, at the edge of the jungle, which covers the majority of the island. I found a hammock and did not move, until I joined Sophie and Erica from the hostel to a Capoeira show. Well, I thought it was show, but it turned out to be a training session. I hid at back with someone else who had also misunderstood what they had agreed to. I was not sold on it, but the history behind it was interesting.
The next day, I decided that it was time for the beach. The question was which one? Ilha Grande is home to over 100 beaches spread right across the island. Well there was only one place to start and that was Lopes Mendes, which Vogue put in their top ten beaches in the world. The walk to the beach was around two and a half hours through the jungle. Monkeys played in the canopy and lizards sunbathed on the rocks. Yep, it was a nice jungle. With every clearing came another beach and the recurring question from people on the trail of ‘is this is?’ When Lopes Mendes finally revealed herself, it was worth the wait.
To the credit of the locals, they’ve done a great job protecting the island from anything that might spoil it. For example on the beach a couple of small stands sell drinks and one guy has surfboards to rent, but that is it. All boats are banned. It’s pretty perfect really, other than the squeaky sand. That was annoying.
The following day, I joined Sophie and climbed up to the Pico do Papagaio. Locals say it looks like a parrot. I think it looks more like a dog.
The climb was pretty boring. There were no views, just a gruelling sweat filled walk straight up, followed by a short scramble to the top of the precarious rock formation. When up there, however, the view was great. It reminded me a lot of being in Kampot Cambodia. There’s something really fantastic about looking down over a jungle and listening to all the sounds below.
I left Ilha Grande the next morning. I could have stayed there longer, but it had come a little early in my trip. Three months later and I’m sure I’ll be game for sitting for days on end on the beach, but for now I want to keep moving and what better way to do that then an epic journey to Iguacu Falls!