Ilha Grande: Paradise on an island

How do you combine blue, green and white and make the most beautiful thing ever? Of course, by making the island of Ilha Grande!

We decided to head to Ilha Grande for our next stop. In the state of Rio de Janeiro, it is part of the area called “Costa Verde” meaning the “Green coast”. This name itself was enticing, add to that its reputation of being a “top honeymoon destination” we couldn’t wait to set our foot on this tropical paradise.

From the city of Rio de Janeiro it was a multi step journey. A 2-2.5 hour journey takes you to one of the jetties on the green coast – Angra des Rois, Jacarei or Mangaratiba. We decided to take the ferry from Jacarei since that was the closest to Ilha Grande.

As we crossed the pass to get on the other side of the mountains that run parallel to the Atlantic coast here, we were in a completely different world. From our bus, we could see the bright blue sky meet the deep blue waters of the Atlantic. Chunks of greens – the many islands along the coast dotted the horizon. Ilha Grande translates to the Grand Island and is the largest of these series of islands along the green coast.

Jacarei is a sleepy coastal village. Cosy little houses, coconut trees, fishermen’s boats swinging around – it all reminded us of the visits to Konkan, the western coast of India.

The 30 minute journey in a speed boat to Ilha Grande was something etched in our minds forever. As to boat moved forward, the waters became bluer. Our excitement levels were reaching a new high. The weather was perfect, the sun was out, the wind was in our face and the Grand Island was waiting to welcome us.

Life on the island is all about tourism

From the moment we got out at the Abarrao (Abraham) pier, all we could see was restaurants and shops advertising tours all around the island. There were boating tours, kayaking tours, scuba diving tours, trekking tours – you name an activity and it was there. With names like blue-green lagoon dives and west island beaches it was all very exotic and inviting.

Our hostel at Ilha Grande

We are both lifetime members of YHAI. This has opened up options for hostel all across the world that belong to the HI – Hostelling International group. We had heard they maintain extremely high standards. Holandes was the name of the HI hostel in Ilha Grande and an almost 100% rating from the previous visitors made us feel confident about booking a dormitory here for a couple of days.

The hostel was a 10 minute climb from the Abraham pier. This wasn’t the first time we were staying away from the main street. Our stay in Pahalgam had been in a forest, a good 3km (45 minute) climb up from the market street. The view of Pissutop each morning, as we had prepared for our Amarnath yatra, the peace and quiet had made the climb totally worth it. Holandes hostel also followed the same rule.

We entered the gates of the hostel, and felt we had entered a green sanctuary. This wasn’t a hostel – it was resort! The cherry on the cake was the dorm we were allocated. It was a 6 bed dormitory, with 4 beds on the 1st floor and 2 on the ground. They gave us these 2 beds; making our dormitory stay more like a private room.
That evening we set out for a quick walk on the beaches that are near the Abraham pier and got a quick glimpse of the main market of Ilha Grande. There were more shops selling the some more tours, others selling souvenirs. There was a school for the locals kids, a church and a “environment police” station. And a shop called Gandhi!

We have to say something about the breakfast that we got in this hostel – because it was something shocking. Breakfast is usually provided complimentary in the hostels and it is generally fairly modest. But there was nothing modest about the breakfast at Holandes hostel. It was a 5 star breakfast.

Coffee (obviously, we were in Brazil!), green teas, milk, ceareal, oats, museli, sliced bread with marmalade, ham cheese sandwich, atleast 3 types of fruits and fruit juices, variety of biscuits, nutties, chocolates, cream cheese, a different cake everyday and passion fruit mousse (another Brazilian specialty). All as-mush-as-you-want! The only downside to this hostel was the danger that any other place in the future was going to be pale in comparison!

Rain, rain and more rain at Ilha Grande

One thing that travel has taught us is to expect the unexpected. As we finished our king sized breakfast, the sun decided to disappear. And let the rain steal the show. And this want the drizzly rains that we had experienced so far. This was a torrential downpour! There was no way we could step out in these rains – but what a place we had to be stranded! We decided to catch up on some work in our green haven.

As the time for the ferries approached, people came in drenched and really shaken from the tumultuous ride they had had on their boats to get to Ilha Grande. We secretly thanked our stars for choosing a beautiful sunny day to get here!

As everybody stayed cocooned indoors, it was an opportunity to get to know each other. A German guy, Denis, took the lead and started with the round of introductions. It was a great ice breaker, and soon, it was a mini UN on the dining table. Travellers from all across the globe – a solo traveler from Canada, 2 childhood friends from Australia, students from France, a guy exploring business opportunities from the US, a couple from Austria and us – from India, sat together exchanging travel notes, sharing experiences, making jokes and overall having a great time.

On a dark rainy day, on a tropical island meant for trekking and spending time on its sunny beaches – everybody enjoying themselves – is a valuable lesson traveling with an open mind teaches you. It’s not about what and where – but about who and how!

Post noon, the sky cleared out a bit. We were still apprehensive, but Denis, who had already spent a few days on the island, convinced us to step out for a short trek out with him and a few others. The trek started on the beach and led its way into the forest. The mud and the rocks were yellow, from the sand, and wet from the rain. The leaves were drenched in water and the forest smelled fresh. After around a hour and a half we reached a vantage point. A small steep climb gave us a view of the surrounding forests, all culminating into the beach and then the Atlantic ocean.

By the time we got back to the hostel, the sun had set and there was a sharp chill in the air. Our short trek had made us quite hungry. We cooked up a hearty meal of tomato soup, okra and chicken masala. We are carrying one packet of Indian spices with us. As the smell of our meal wafted through the dining area, everyone fell in love with the aroma. It was then decided that we would make dinner the next day for all of them!

Trekking on Ilha Grande

The next day was beautiful and beautiful sunny, perfect for a 25 km trek, to a point called Dois Reis. Dois Reis is actually a shut down dilapidated prison. Many decades ago Ilha Grande was where they sent the most dangerous criminals of Brazil. The isolation of Ilha Grande made it a “perfect” place for those who were supposed to be extremely dangerous. However in one season of severe rains, much of these prisons got washed out and the prisoners were all let loose. That’s when they stopped using this island as a prison.

The trail was actually a gradual walk, most of it along the only route for vehicles on the island. One of the reason for the pristine atmosphere on Ilha Grande is a ban on motor vehicles. The only vehicles are a couple of jeeps operated by a research institute that now operates at Dois Reis. We were walking through a clearing in the forest most of the way.

Along the way we saw an interesting spot called “Prisoner’s Swimming Pool”. The prisoners would get on the island at the Abraham pier and start walking towards Dois Reis. This little natural pool, formed in the midst of rocks and a huge bamboo forest was where they freshened up and relaxed. Not a bad way of treating your “most dangerous criminals”, we would say!

These treks reminded us quite a bit of the monsoon treks in the Sahyadris. The same lush green forest, waterfalls littered here and there, moist forest floor and the sun playing hide and seek with the clouds.

Only difference was, instead of a mountain peak or a fort, here the trek would end in a beach. It was a strange but an amazing experience for us, to trek through a forest and end up at a beach!

Cooking up a feast in the hostel at Ilha Grande

We had started the trek at around 10 AM and we reached back almost after sunset. Everyone was tired, but an Indian dinner had to be cooked. Chicken curry and rice was the plan everybody agreed to. This was the first time we would cook for so many people, that too in the hostel kitchen (which though equipped, is meant only for basic cooking!), for people with remarkably varying tolerance levels for spices! But all were enthusiastic about having a mega meal together and we set out to the task.

A surprise greeted us at the hostel – the entire island was out of electricity. Nobody had a clue about when power would be restored. But that’s no problem for a bunch of hungry trekkers waiting for some Indian food!

Everybody got into top action mode. Candles were set up on the tables and by the stove top. Onions were being chopped, ginger and garlic peeled, rice was set to cook as we tried getting the right flavour for marinating such a large quantity of chicken. Someone played the guitar. Wine started pouring in. The cooking went way smoother than expected.

In the dim candle light, on a small island of the Atlantic ocean, 11 hungry trekkers from 6 different countries gorged Indian chicken curry and rice! It was a great achievement for us, and a memory that will always bring a smile to our faces.

Boat ride around Ilha Grande beaches

After two continuous trekking days, we decided to take it easy the next day. We decided to go on a boat tour. This gave us a completely different perspective of the island. Until now, we had been looking at the ocean and the beaches through the forest. This time, we were looking at the forest through the ocean.

Our first halt was the blue green lagoon. Everybody got into the water. We decided it was time for us to take the plunge.

Grabbing a rubber float from the boat, we got onto the ladder and slowly, with butterflies in the stomach, let go of the boat! It was such a liberating feeling! The water was surprisingly warm. And clean. We could see the colourful fish swim under us with our naked eyes. Ever since we got to Brazil, we had been only been imagining what it would feel like to be in those waters.

We can now proudly say, that our first swim outside of the swimming pool happened in the Atlantic ocean by the island Ilha Grande! That’s a record we are quite proud of!

Once again, a two day plan had stretched to five. It was time to say good-bye to our little paradise.

The day we had landed on this island, we had felt we could spend our lives here. A strange feeling overtook us as we got into the ferry, this time to Angra do Rois. The island that we were leaving behind, would we ever see it again? How should we store all this beauty in our minds forever?

But life takes its own turns and springs up surprises. Who knows, maybe someday a surprise visit to the paradise called Ilha Grande might spring up again?

Like this story? Have any questions about traveling to Ilha Grande or Brazil? Let us know in the Comments section below.

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You will enjoy these stories from our travels in Brazil:

Sao Paulo, Brazil and the beginning

“Which way to the airport express?” Blank stares, shrugs and then the response ” Aah, Inglés!” Lots of sign language, pointing directions, followed by a thumbs up, a smile and us replying ” Obrigada!” Invariably, there is a dismissive wave of the hand saying, ” Na Da!” Thus began our trip to Brazil.

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Sandeepa and Chetan. Married. Indians. Exploring Travel as Lifestyle. Featured by National Geographic, Yahoo. We hope that through our travel stories we inspire others to make their dream into a reality.

20 thoughts on “Ilha Grande: Paradise on an island

  1. Debnath Roy

    Sandeepa and Chetan, travelling through your eyes enriches my life like nothing else!! Thank you.

  2. Suvrutt Gurjar

    A very interesting description of “Ilha Grande” and beautiful pictures. All the pictures have abundance of green nature and pristine blue waters. The description of many nationalities requesting for and enjoying Indian food in a remote corner of Brazil was equally fascinating. Also the description of unexpected rain conveys the “would be” travellers that be prepared for changes in nature’s mood all the time while traveling.

  3. Chetan pathak

    Hi Chetan,
    I got interested in your articles from mah. Times each Sunday.the youth hostel word actually caught my attention as I have also been to a couple of treks with the yhai in Himalayas n in sahyadri.
    Keep writing…
    Happy journey

    1. Chetan Karkhanis

      Being a member of YHAI comes very handy especially wen traveling on a budget or backpacking. It is part of the global Hosteling Internation chain which has quality hostels globally.

  4. Tina Leggio

    Once again, great pictures. You make every place you visit seem so exciting. It’s nice that you were able to connect so well with your fellow travelers. The simple act of sharing a meal can really bring people closer together.

    1. Chetan Karkhanis

      We have saying in India – the way to a person’s heart is through the stomach! The group at Ilha Grande was great! Thank you for staying connected with us. Your comments are very inspiring as always.

  5. ravindra gandhi

    fantastic… read in maharashtra times…….with pics its more beautiful…. just like visiting myself… superb writing …

  6. siddhesh kshirsagar

    Reallybits awosum….the way u guys travelling nd icing information regarding destinations are trule amazing.

    All the best for ur upcoming journies. Travel safe.

    God bless u both…:) 🙂 🙂 😉

    1. prafull999

      sandeepa and chetan: great description of your travel with interesting shots. your writing style is superb takes me there on the journey. Keep travelling and keep blogging as well.
      Happy journey. send us beautiful photos as well.
      thanks.

      prafull999.