Ilhabela means 'beautiful island', and it's an apt name for a place with lots of sandy beaches, tropical forests and colonial-style buildings. Most of this idyllic isle is protected by a national park, preserving its volcanic landscape. It's a real adventurer's paradise, with crystal-clear sea where you can try water sports (it's particularly popular with surfers), as well as secluded beaches and waterfalls to explore. Relaxed bars with local musicians make Ilhabela an ideal place to soak up the laid-back Brazilian atmosphere too.
You can stay in a bright yellow colonial-style Ilhabela hostel with a swimming pool and sociable games for mixing with other travellers. There's also a sporty hostel with slacklines and bouldering walls and a beach-chic option decorated with pictures by a famous local photographer. Ilhabela hostels are surrounded by lush rainforest, and some have sea or mountain views. Almost all of them have free Wi-Fi, as well as hammocks where you can chill and feel the tropical breeze.
There are several areas to explore on the island of Ilhabela. The buzzing town of Vila is the historic centre and has lots of cafés, restaurants and shops (including some ice cream stores that are well worth a visit). This is the best area for drinks when night falls, as many of the bars put on live music. In terms of beach areas, the north side of the island is more sheltered, while the east has stronger surf. Praia do Engenho D'Água (1.5km from Vila) is one of the quieter options, and it has a pier for a sunset stroll.
With more than 40 beaches to choose from in Ilhabela, you can go surfing, strolling or snorkelling as the mood takes you. To explore further afield, take a boat trip to more remote beaches and waterfalls or a trek up Pico do Baepi, one of the island's most prominent mountain peaks. As it's surrounded by ocean, Ilhabela is a dream spot for seafood. You'll find award-winning restaurants and beachside shacks, with fresh shrimp, calamari and octopus on the menu.
The closest flight hub to Ilhabela is São Paulo Airport. From there, take a bus to São Sebastião (around 3.5 hours). Then you can hop on the 15-minute ferry to Ilhabela, which runs at least once an hour. The ferry is free for pedestrians, but cars and motorbikes are charged. If you're travelling with a Brazilian credit card, you can use the online booking system; otherwise just turn up. You can hire a bike on the island to get around.