One hundred and ninety two square km of the most outstanding beauty, well beyond your wildest dreams.
I'm not exaggerating one bit.
It's one of the most beautiful tropical islands I've ever visited in my life.
The bay of Angra dos Reis has 365 islands in total, one for each day of the year, as they like to advertise it.
You can't visit them all though, some are very small, others are privately owned by famous characters: surgeons, politicians and millionaires of all sorts, but you can see them from the boat and get a good hint of what is like to live in paradise.
It's considered to be the best place for navigation in Brazil, with calm, protected, crystalline waters, ideal also for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving all year round.
In the midst of this idyllic scenario, Ilha Grande (Big Island) stands out as the largest of the lot. See it on the map.
Named as such by native Tamboios and Tupinambás indians - who inhabited the region and called it Ipaum (ilha) Guaçú (grande) - way before the Portuguese Empire landed in the New World.
During XVIII century it was the hideout of Dutch, French and British buccaneers intercepting Portuguese vessels doing the journey from Paraty to Rio de Janeiro. It was also the place for them to stock up with fresh water, fruits and firewood.
Later came the slave traders, who also found refuge in its calm inlets - until 1850 - when the Brazilian navy started patrolling the region under pressure by the British Government.
The first leprosarium (Lazareto| in the country was built here in 1871, later to be transformed in penitentiary until it was transferred to Dois Rios penal colony, finally closed down in 1994.
You will get the chance to visit the Lazareto ruins, the Aqueducto (aqueduct) built in 1893 and still in use, plus Praia Preta (black beach) by doing the Circuito do Abraão trek (T1). A nice and easy walk.
Towards the end of the century and beginning of 1900s, coffee and sugar cane plantations were the main activities taking place there.
All this gradually disappeared in the course of the following years, vegetation took over once again and claimed its place, while locals switched to fishing as means of survival.
In the 70s Ilha Grande became environmentally protected under the name of Tamoios, comprising three distinct areas...
To help preserve this unique ecosystem, a number of regulations were implemented, among others the prohibition to pull out/cut trees and flowers, feed wildlife, light fires, hunting and fishing activities - net fishing and submarine - unless five km away from the coast, and also camping without proper licence.
In other words, you are invited to enjoy nature, not to predate it under any circumstances.
No transportation by car either, only bicycles are permitted to move around. The very few vehicles are the ones used by local authorities to perform their tasks.
The island's main town - Abraão - is an enchanting little village super safe and friendly day or night.
It's also a drug-free environment so don't even consider to bring anything of that sort to Ilha Grande, including wearing T-shirts advertising or encouraging its use.
Ilha Grande is nature at its purest, 90% of it covered by exuberant Atlantic rainforest, with mountains, waterfalls, superb trails and over one hundred beaches to choose from, some of them so wild and inaccessible that can only be reached by boat.
Trekking is the best way to discover this marvelous place. In fact, there are 16 Trilhas (trails) perfectly marked, with different levels of difficulty and potential danger of getting lost, such as Abraão - Pico do Papagaio (T13). Being the 2nd highest point in the island - after Pico da Pedra D'Água, at 1031 m.a.s.l. - you are better off in hiring a local guide and be fit to attempt it.
As a rule of thumb, start your treks early and make sure you are back in the village by 3 or 4pm. Night falls early in the rainforest and you don't want to miss signals due to poor light, particularly if you are on your own. Always carry plenty of water and insect repellent.
In some cases - such as if you trek to Lopes Mendes - you can save some legs on the way back by returning by boat from Pouso for a few Reais.
Many visitors choose to do it the easy way: Abraao-Pouso/Pouso-Abraao by boat and only do the short trek on the T11 Pouso-Lopes Mendes and back. Please note that it still requires some level of fitness, in other words, not apt to all ages.
Branching off the T11, you will see a sign to Santo Antonio, another beautiful and deserted beach just twenty minutes away. I was there on my own that morning.
To warm up, get to Praia do Abraaozinho, half an hour trek on the T10 to Pouso.
A lovely little beach with calm waters, ideal for swimming plus the option to enjoy some seafood and a cold beer right on the water edge.
Whatever you do, don't miss Lopes Mendes, one of the most beautiful beaches of Brazil, also voted as one of the best ten beaches in the world by Vogue magazine.
Because it's facing open waters, its waves are good for surfing, together with nearby Santo António.
Another tour I strongly recommend you to do is the full day excursion around Ilha Grande on a fast boat - weather permitting - as it can get tough on the South part of the island at times.
You'll get the chance to visit Dois Rios, Praia do Aventureiros and Praia dos Meros, remote beaches hard to reach otherwise.
But the list of things to do in Ilha Grande doesn't finish here. There's more to it.
Just to hang around Vila do Abraao in the evenings or eating at one of the many restaurants by the ocean while listening to some Brazilian music in a quiet and friendly atmosphere it's a superb experience, only a few hours away from the cidade maravilhosa of Rio de Janeiro.
As soon as you land at Rio's Intl. Airport Antonio Carlos Jobim just walk outside and take the blue bus "Premium" to Novo Rio bus terminal (1/2 hour journey depending on traffic and BRL 7.50 bus fare). Alternatively, a taxi would cost you around BRL 60.00.
By the way - at the time of this writing - the exchange rate is as follows: 1 BRL= 0.568182 USD/0.431828 EUR.
At Novo Rio, buy a ticket to Angra dos Reis with Costa Verde bus company (3 hours journey and BRL 40.00 bus fare). This service departs just about every hour until 9pm.
Once in Angra bus terminal, walk (20 min) or take a taxi to the wharf (around BRL 20.00) known as Cais da Lapa, where the ferry departs every day at 3.30pm Mon through Fri. It's a 1.5 hours journey to Vila do Abraao ("capital" of Ilha Grande) at the price of BRL 6.50 per person. Over the week-ends there is a different departure time and the price is BRL 14.00 instead.
Alternatively, there is also a faster and more expensive catamaran service (BRL 25.00) to Abraao. It takes 50 minutes and departs daily from Santa Luzia pier at 8am, 11am and 4pm.
Finally, if you are travelling with a partner or in a group, there is also the option to get a shuttle bus (private transfer) service that will pick you up either from the airport or hostel/hotel in Rio and take you to Angra dos Reis. For info, pricing and bookings check with IlhaGrande Adventure.
You won't find ATM machines in the island so make sure you carry the amount of BRL (Reais) you think you are going to need. Don't rely on credit cards as they aren't widely accepted, only to pay for some excursions (escuna/fast boat rides) and the occasional restaurant.
Abraao has many pousadas and hostels to choose from, book budget accommodation in the island. I spent one week in a lovely place called Pousada Paloma.
If travelling with family or looking for more options in terms of comfort and services provided, find and compare best hotel rates in Abraao.