It wasn’t looking all that great for our introduction to Ilha Grande on Brazil’s impossibly beautiful Costa Verde. Our departure from Rio was a showery one, and the further south we went, the wetter it got.
I guess mountainous coastline covered in dense rainforest isn’t kept green without a little rain, right?
Once the boat set off from the mainland at Conceição de Jacareí we were a little hopeful when patches of blue sky started appearing. And then the boat made a beeline for the main town on the island, Vila do Abraão, as we all watched it quickly vanish in a white haze of wind and pelting rain.
Mother nature was giving us the finger, big time.
Down went the blinds on our boat, waves started crashing onto the deck and everyone huddled away from the insane weather that was thrust upon us.
Get me off this thing!
On a normal day, docking at Vila do Abraão would be a glorious experience. A long, narrow wooden jetty stretches over turquoise water by a golden beach flanked by lush, mountainous jungle. Set alongside the beach is a sparsely populated sleepy village of multi-coloured dwellings tucked amongst the verdant greenery.
Let’s call it paradise, shall we?
So, what do you do when you arrive in paradise in the pouring rain?
Well that’s easy to answer. You find the nearest resto-bar and start sloshing with some caipirinhas, like the ones at Master Comida Mineira.
Thanks to the shitty weather, most of the town’s visitors kept dry in their pousadas and hostels, so places like this humble restaurant were a little eager to see a few backsides on their chairs.
The menu at Master is predominantly local with a generous touch of seafood. There’s moqueca, fish parmigiana, sweet and savoury crêpes and plate of the day – all very well priced.
We tucked into seafood spaghetti (40) and crêpe (20) filled with carne do sol (sun-cured beef), onion and cream cheese.
For a little break from local food, we dropped into Kebab Lounge to chill out in the covered patio, listen to funky beats and got kicking with a cerveca or two.
There’s a cooking station strategically placed at the front of the restaurant, with a chef tossing a wok or grilling fresh whole fish for all to see. Nice way to draw the crowd, for sure.
The frango (chicken) kebab (28) is a serious flavour bomb, all juicy and crunchy and perfect washed down with a chilled cerveca. Skewers of churrasco Thai bbq beef & chicken (43) may be very shy on the Thai seasonings, but it wasn’t shy on good flavours, like the the kebab. A bed of rice, some stir-fried vegetables – it’s all really good.
Special mention on the house-made chilli oil that sits in bottles, with straws extruded. This stuff packs a real wallop. The bottle is packed with fresh chillies of all shapes and colours, and that oil just sits and infuses its life away. Simply grab the straw, lower it in the oil, hold your finger over the top and decant it straight over your meal.
Now here’s a concept that ought to be adopted in every city and town. It was pouring with rain the first time we spotted this trailer; sitting beneath a street light with nobody manning it. Then, as soon as we got closer to it a guy appeared out of nowhere, lifting its lid to tempt us with its contents.
Cakes, cakes and more cakes. The more we looked, the more we spotted – and the more we wanted to try. The prices are cheap and the portions are beyond substantial.
Now that’s one way to brighten up a dreary night of tropical downpour!
The great thing about Ilha Grande is the amount of walking trails – over 100 km of them – across the island. It’s perfect for nature lovers and it truly is a hikers paradise. A lot of the shops about the village have maps of the trails; even the trusty maps.me app has them for convenient offline use. And no, I didn’t get paid to say that!
Thanks to the rain stopping for a while, a trek was well and truly in order. We chose the shortest one which is close to the village and takes about an hour to complete, plus it’s easily done in Brazil’s national footwear – Havaianas.
Circuito de Abraão.
The trail starts at the north end of town and trails through some magnificent Mata Atlântica (Atlantic rainforest) where you can spot plenty of birds or even a monkey, if you’re lucky.
Thanks to the islands history of being a prison and leper colony, there are a few ruins hidden away in the jungle. It’s difficult to miss the 140 metre-long aqueduct, built to transport water to the Lazareto – a quarantine hospital built in 1871 for sick passengers that arrived in Brazil from other countries.
All that remains of Lazareto today is some below-ground cells, columns and foundations that are all inaccessible to visitors. All you see is an archway. Not too far away is Praia Preta, named for the black sand that can be found along this stretch of beach that wraps up the trek and leads back to Abraão. Nice place to cool off in the ocean or fresh water stream that cuts through the marbled sand.
It doesn’t take long to stiff out the only coffee shop in Abraão – a small wooden building built over the beach in the centre of town. Whether it’s raining outside, or not, Ateliê Cafeteria is the perfect place to hang around with a coffee, tea or beer and whatever food they may have going.
Whilst it may not be anywhere near the actual farol (lighthouse) on Ilha Grande, this local eatery simply takes its name from the old landmark and serves up rustic fare that’s heavy on the seafood.
Once again we were the only diners in the house, aside from the owner and his friend, so the feeling of being watched was always at the back of our minds. With the whole restaurant to ourselves, we could enjoy the blackboard specials that drew us in from the street, as well as watch some trashy Brazilian dancing with the stars program on the television.
Peixe frito (fried fish 25.9) and filé de frango (chicken fillet 19) served up Brazilian style with all of the usuals – rice, salad, farofa and beans.
Waking up on our second morning in Abraão was a little exciting, to say the least. There was a blue sky outside! The first thing I did after breakfast was run outside and snap away with the camera because I just knew it wouldn’t last.
So this is what Ilha Grande looks like when the sun shines.
Rather than sloth around in the sleepy village, we decided to take another trek into the jungle – this time from Vila do Abraão to Praia de Lopes Mendes – a 6.1 km walk that takes about 3 hours.
Hiking to Lopes Mendes Beach.
The first section crosses several hills, provides some pretty smashing views and dives deep into rainforest before emerging onto Praia de Palmas after about an hour of walking. This stretch of beach is home to a handful of residents, a chapel, some accommodation and a restaurant.
Continue on and you re-enter jungle that’s dotted with large boulders and many flowering bromeliads and creepers, and once again the trail emerges onto a rickety wooden walkway and a stretch of beach that beckons for you to dive in.
Not a great deal to see here on Praia do Pouso other than what appears to be a derelict hotel, a lodge and campsite and a few houses.
Over the final hill, you finally reach Praia de Lopes Mendes – a long stretch of white sand and clear water that’s ideal for a dip. The weather seemed to be closing in at this stage, so we made our way back to Praia de Palmas for a couple of hours to relax by the beach and grab a bite to eat.
A well-earned bottle of cerveca as we sat on a beach chair watching the tide come in. This little resto-bar sits right on the sand beneath huge trees – so it was fish & chips (20) and calabresa & chips (20) for us – but if that doesn’t cut it, there’s always seafood risotto, spaghetti, grilled seafood or moqueca up for grabs.
Rather than walk back to Abraão from Palmas, the lovely lady at the restaurant booked us onto the last boat that picked up from the beach. We were a bit surprised to see that this boat wasn’t the regular one that does the rounds. Instead, it’s a tiny open-topped dinghy that seats no more than 10 people.
The weather changed dramatically once we were on the boat, with strong winds whipping up a 2-3 metre swell – the rain pelting down so hard we could barely keep our eyes open as the boat skipped across waves that completely drenched everyone onboard as it violently smacked up and down for almost half an hour.
Talk about a white knuckle moment!
Barely anything was open on that final, very wet night on Ilha Grande. These guys were looking at closing, but stayed open long enough for us to enjoy a caipirinha, or two, plus a couple of dishes from their huge menu.
A rather enormous chicken risotto (28) equally enormous churrasco misto (39) that’s presented on a sizzling iron platter. Pork, chorizo, chicken, steak and fries – an absolute feast that wrapped up our (mostly) wet few days on Ilha Grande.
How we got from Rio to Ilha Grande.
We used easytransferbrazil.com which is a shuttle service that picks you up from your hotel and drops you at Conceição de Jacareí. Here you get onto one of their boats which take you to Vila do Abraão on Ilha Grande.
The cost per person for pick-up in Rio, transfer to the boat wharf and the boat trip is R$145. This also includes a return boat trip from Abraão to Conceição de Jacareí, then a shuttle all the way down to Paraty.