The bags are packed and strapped to our backs, let’s take the bus to Ilha Grande! Ilha Grande is, as the name suspects, a large island in Rio de Janeiro state, with plenty of beautiful beaches, hiking trails and waterfalls. Also the whole island is a tropical rainforest. Don’t miss this jewel.
Before we go we decided how we want to go to Ilha Grande. You don’t have that many options, but you need to pick one out of three towns to get on a boat. Every town has a variety of boats, leaving several times a day. They also have boats run by locals, who charge you a lot but offer a fast crossing and are available at times that the ferries aren’t. The towns are Angra dos Reis, Conceição de Jacarei and Mangaritiba. We decide to leave from Mangaratiba, because this is the closest town to Rio city. If you’re arriving from Sao Paulo, Angra would be the most logical choice. Conceição offers the shortest crossing, so here the boats are probably cheapest.
We take a large bus to Itaguaí, which should take us to a second bus that will take us to the harbor of Mangaratiba. Although the first bus never stops at the transition station… We thought that would be the last stop, but I guess it wasn’t. The bus driver drops us off somewhere along the road, in front of a small diner where a few people are hiding from the sun. According to the bus driver, our next bus should pass by here. So, let’s wait and hope for the best.
There are over 100 Volkswagen vans passing by, and almost every single one of them slows down and honks to ask if we want a ride. Since we have no idea where they are going, we don’t think it’s a good idea to accept this offer. After waiting for half an hour we start to wonder if maybe these vans are our only option… We notice how much we normally rely on our cell phones for these kind of things. Luckily we can just talk to people and find out the bus times the old fashioned way. You should try this sometimes, lol.
If we understand correctly, there should be a bus arriving soon. Although that’s the exact same thing the bus driver said half an hour ago, we think. But we trust the man and wait a little bit longer. No rush, like a true Brazilian.
Mangaratiba to Ilha Grande
After 45 minutes, the bus finally sets over the hill. What a relief! It’s not the luxurious bus we were expecting, but at least it has the right destination. So there we are, sitting on a very dirty floor, trying to stay put as the bus drives insanely fast through the hills. The environment is beautiful, very green and I see lots of waterfalls just alongside the road! The bus drops us off at the Mangaratiba harbour, where we are immediately harassed by lots of people who want to sell us boat tickets. An old guy and a teenager almost get in a fight over us, even though we told them that we don’t really need help. Eventually the old man gives up and the young starts to walk with us, like he is our guide. He brings us to an English speaking fellow, who offers us tickets for a slow boat for 25 Real, even though we just passed a sign saying 20…
When we reach the teenagers shop, again we see a sign saying 20, and we decide to take these tickets. We can wait in the shade, and we don’t really want to look for another company anyway. According to the internet, the cheapest boats are 15, so I think 20 is okay. After 25 minutes the boat arrives and the teenager brings us to the docks.
The crossing takes about an hour and is very pleasant. The water is calm and together with a British couple we are the only ones on board. The view from the ocean is fantastic! The only treacherous thing is the sun, that even burns when you are in the shade, because of the reflection in the water.
Arrived at Ilha Grande
Once we arrive at the island we go and look for our WorkAway host, Cecilia. This will be our very first WorkAway experience, so we are very excited.
We meet Cecilia at her shop in the center of the main town, Abraão, after which she takes us to her house. The house is not even that old, maybe 10 years, but it really requires some maintenance.
The house is entirely made of wood and built on high poles. Unfortunately wood is not the best material in a tropical climate. The stairs outside the house could really use some paint, which is our task for the next few days. Everything else about the house is beautiful. It’s divided in two houses; we are in the one on the left, which has been rented a lot and is not very well maintained. The other house looks the same on the outside, but on the inside it’s very different. This house is very well maintained, and you can tell that someone lived here who actually cared about the house.
Our first WorkAway day
We decide to get up at 6 in the morning, to get to work. Cecilia wants us to work about 3 hours a day, so if we start early we can start doing something fun at 9am, which is still early enough. No fun in doing long hikes in the burning heat of the midday sun.
At Ilha Grande there are, so they say, quite some hiking tracks to several beaches on the islands coastline. We take a look at the map and pick a beach close by, Praia Preta. From this beach you can take a tough one hour hike to a waterfall you can swim in. It hasn’t been raining that much on the island lately, so we are happily surprised to see plenty of water in the waterfall. From Preta you can also do a 15 minute loop, leading to a natural pool with natural slide!
Ilha Grande beaches
The largest beaches on Ilha Grande are all reachable by boat. You can book these excursions at any tour operator on the island, or go on your own and just take a taxi boat. Keep in mind that most of the times the taxi boats are faster, so often more expensive, sometimes double the price of the less frequent ferry boat.
Some of Ilha Grandes beaches are only reachable by boat, because it’s too far to walk. The island doesn’t allow free camping, and there’s barely any accommodation outside of Abraão. Also some parts of the island are inaccessible because it’s a protected nature reserve. Abraão basically is the only active town on the island, and all boats from the main land arrive here. Also all tourists are here, and therefore all bars, restaurants and shops.
A few beaches are in walking distance, although the walks can be quite far. We visited the nearby beaches of Preta, Julia and Greco, and walked a few hours to get to Palmas, Lopes Mendes, Dois Rios and Caxadaço.
Julia and Greco
These are 2 small beaches not far from Abraão. Julia is a 10 minute walk and Greco a 25 minute walk. They are both nice beaches with one or two bars and/or small restaurants. Ideal for your arrival day or a day with a not-so-promising weather forecast. Keep track of the tides, because the way to Greco beach can easily be blocked, meaning you have walk through the water some parts of the way. Abraão beach is not suitable to swim, because of the pollution of all the boats that come and go here.
Lopes Mendes is a large, stretched beach on the south coast of the island. It’s a perfect beach for surfing, because of it’s beautiful, high waves. When the waves are not so high, it’s also perfect for swimming. Lifeguards are very strict here, which makes it safer, but also a little bit annoying. You should be able to go in up to your bellybutton, but we got whistled at a lot sooner. At this beach you can buy soda, beer and chips, but it’s all very expensive, so make sure to bring your own food and drinks.
From Abraão it’s a 2,5 hour walk to Lopes Mendes. You pass one mountain, then you get to Palmas beach, and then it’s another mountain until the boat drop off to Lopes Mendes. From there it’s an easy 20 minute walk, which is even doable in flip flops. If you’re lucky you can see some monkeys here. The long track is very popular, so don’t think it’s a nice and quiet walk.
Pay attention if you want to catch the last ferry back to Abraão, because this one leaves at 6 pm. If you miss it, you have to walk or take an expensive fast boat.
A ghost town on the other side of the island, but worth a visit. Dois Rios is a town with history. In the olden days there was a prison in this town, of which a ruin with a museum still remains. Entrance to the museum is free, and gives you an idea of the old prison through pictures, clothes and equipment. There’s also a little shop where they sell nice things made out of recycled plastic. Worth a visit for the creative ones amongst us, because it’s very inspirational. Unfortunately the ruin itself is barely accessible. Nice asset: in the second building they have the cleanest bathrooms I’ve ever seen in Brazil (and they are free), and there’s a water tap to refill your water bottle.
The beach of Dois Rios is a long beach just like Lopes Mendes and is situated in a bay. Therefore the waves are a lot less powerful. During our visit there were only 2 people which practically makes Dois Rios a private beach. The walk to Dois Rios goes right across the island and takes about 3 hours. Downside to it is that there aren’t really any boats going from Dois Rios back to Abraão unless you have made a reservation. If you are lucky there might be a taxi boat passing by but keep in mind that you will have to walk all the way back to Abraão if it doesn’t. You are being registered upon entering Dois Rios so people know when you plan on staying there for the night. I’m not sure what happens if you do, but I don’t think it will be appreciated.
This has become our favourite beach on the island. A remote beach that requires effort to get there. This makes this beach less visited by tourists and therefore wonderful. Sometimes there’s a boat full of people passing by, mainly to see if there are people there that need an overpriced taxi boat ride out. So it’s an option to take a boat back but you have to be lucky, better not count on it.
From Dois Rios it takes about 2 hours to get to Caxadaço. Along the way the path is blocked by a fallen tree but there is a detour marked with plastic bags tied to the trees. It’s a long walk from Abraão to Caxadaço but it surely is worth it. Make sure to climb the big rock that’s in the water and at your own risk, take a dive from up there.
The path from Dois Rios to Caxadaço can be found on the right, when heading from Dois Rios back to Abraão, after about 10 minutes. The start of the track is clearly marked with a sign.
From Caxadaço there’s a track that leads to Lopes Mendes, but this is no longer an official track, meaning that it’s no longer used by guides. It is still recognizable as a track but in some places nature has retaken the path. Which makes it difficult, or impossible at some points even, to recognize the track. We were strictly told not to take this track but of course we were stubborn and decided to give it a try. It is a hell of a lot shorter to get back to civilization! Especially if you take a boat back from Lopes Mendes, a great choice after such a long day of hiking. So for the daredevil with a compass and a decent map (or the maps.me app), you should give it a go. Make sure when using maps.me that your GPS is working perfectly.
We loved it!
Ilha Grande was a real treat for us. We have seen some beautiful nature and had a wonderful time with Cecilia. She even surprised us with a saying-goodbye-BBQ, with vegan options for Milou!
WorkAway is a nice alternative for Couchsurfing, although we do have a soft spot for Couchsurfing, because it gives you more freedom to plan your day and this is something that we are longing for. The biggest disadvantage of WorkAway is that you will work at times when the temperature is still nice and after your work it is often too hot to get out there and do something. But we will definitely try it again.
– Make sure to check the weather forecast before heading out to Ilha Grande. When the weather is cold and/or rainy there isn’t much you can do on the island.
– There are no ATM machines on Ilha Grande, so make sure to bring enough cash to the island. When paying with cash at the tour operators you often get a discount. It is possible to pay by card at the shops.