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- 19 May 2022, 3 nights
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Ilha Grande, which translates literally to 'Big Island', is known for its tropical setting, car-free ethos and turquoise seas. With wild jungle bordering laid-back seaside villages and colourful boats parked in golden sands, it's idyllic whether you're looking for adventure or relaxation. Under three hours from Rio de Janeiro, this island's an easy destination to add to a South America backpacking trip.
True to Brazilian style, Ilha Grande hostels are often brightly coloured – think art on the walls and spacious gardens to relax in. Pick from Ilha Grande accommodation with open-air bars for soaking up the sun with a lime-infused caipirinha, Brazil's national cocktail, in hand. At an Ilha Grande hostel facing the water, you'll wake up and fall asleep listening to the gently lapping waves.
Vila do Abraão is the largest settlement on Ilha Grande – you'll land here when you arrive by boat from the mainland. Even so, it's a small town, with the northern edge taking you no more than a 15-minute walk from the beach. There aren't many roads on the island, but one of the few that there are leads from Vila do Abraão to the unspoilt village of Dois Rios, on the south coast. On the western side of the island, you'll find Praia de Araçatiba, lined with gently waving palms, with boats anchored in the bay.
Most travellers head to Ilha Grande to soak up the most of the slower pace of life. Spend chilled mornings basking in sun's rays out on the coast or exploring jungle trails. If you fancy exploring, one popular thing to do is to take the energetic trek through the rainforest – or take a boat ride – to picture-perfect, white-sand Lopes Mendes beach. You can also hike to Cachoeira de Feiticeira waterfall or to Cândido Mendes – an abandoned high-security prison that shut down in 1994 – for a glimpse into the island's past.
You can get to Ilha Grande by speedboat or ferry from Mangaratiba, Conceição de Jacareí or Angra dos Reis. Buses to these ports run from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, as well as Paraty. An easy option is to book a combined bus and boat package from a local tour company, where you'll be taken from your accommodation in Rio straight through to Vila do Abraão. When on the island, taxi boats and your own two feet will be your main modes of transport.