After our trek in Chapada Diamantina we were exhausted, dirty, bruised and covered in bug bites and poison ivy (which Puma assured us didn’t exist in Brazil). Everything we carried smelled of fire, water, and sweat. We were roughed up and, just weeks into our trip, contemplated ditching our vagabonding ways for a few nights in order to recover.
Enter Lina and her fiancé Rafa, friends of Alie’s from Penn and our Brazil saviors. Lina and Rafa live in Rio and invited us to Rafa’s parents’ beach home in Angra, 2 hours south of Rio. We don’t think they knew exactly what they were getting themselves into by inviting us into their home, but we came bearing gifts of flowers and soap (coincidentally masking our smell…) and immediately threw our things in the laundry (and ourselves in the shower). Once again, we were beyond spoiled by South American hospitality as Lina and Rafa proved to be more than gracious hosts during our stay.
Angra is a beautiful, beachside village nestled amongst the backdrop of tall, forested mountains. For 2 days we soaked in the sun and sites with Lina and Rafa while:
- Boating to and around Ilha Grande, the region’s largest island, where we ordered delicious local drinks and snacks from boat vendors, cooled off in the ocean water, paddle-boarded and walked to the beautiful Lopes Mendes beach (and fed monkeys along the way).
- Eating countless mangos, bananas, papayas, guavas, passion fruit, and coconuts straight from the trees.
- Embarking on a nighttime walk-turned-drive-turned-safari when we stumbled upon a herd of bear/moose/rat/beaver-like animals called capivara (apparently the world’s largest rodents).
After 2 days of luxury in Angra, Lina and Rafa dropped us off on Ilha Grande (via a private ferry nonetheless), a backpackers haven with relaxing beaches and hiking trails through jungle-filled mountains. During our 3 days in Ilha Grande, we:
- Roamed the hostel-filled village of Abrão. Aside from a multitude of pousadas and tour agencies, the town also hosts a nearby trail (the Abrão Circuit) and a nice, yet crowded, beach (Praia Preta), which we enjoyed.
- Hiked 2.5 hours from Abrão to the beach at Dois Rios. After a surprisingly strenuous trek uphill (during which we were surrounded by ominous sounding howler monkeys) we arrived at a beautiful oasis. Despite its size, the beach was relatively empty, and we spent the day relaxing in the shade before heading back for the 2.5 hour return trip.
- Awoke at 2 AM to continue our tradition of nighttime hiking, setting off with a group (note to parents: with a tour guide for extra safety!) on a 3 hour climb up Pico de Papagaio, the tallest point on the island. Exhausted from the steep climb, we arrived at the peak at 5:30 AM and were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise.
While Angra proved to be the relaxing oasis we needed post-Chapada Diamantina (thanks to Lina and Rafa!), Ilha Grande proved a bit more exhausting than we imagined given our overly ambitious hiking decisions. Nonetheless, we fully enjoyed our time on the island mixing beautiful hikes with even more beautiful beaches.
Things To Do:
- There are numerous trails throughout Ilha Grande, most of which lead you to hidden beaches that were surprisingly not too crowded despite the January high season. We recommend the hike to Dois Rios, though keep an eye out for the trails as we ended up taking the dirt road most of the way after missing the few trails. The most popular hike is to nearby Lopes Mendes beach.
- Boat tours are abundant on the island, and can take you to beaches on the opposite side of Ilha Grande, in addition to offering activities such as snorkeling at destinations like Lagoa Azul.
- Hiking up Pico de Papagaio is well worth the lost sleep and effort. A few hostel-mates braved the trail during the day without a guide, but highlighted that they lost the trail a few times and were flat out exhausted from the high temperatures. We thoroughly enjoyed our nighttime trek, and Martin proved to be an exceptional guide. Keep in mind, there are a lot of bugs at night, and we did have to spend a significant portion of the way up swatting away mosquitos that were attracted to our headlamps and walking through a chorus of secedas.
Days Stayed/Recommended: We enjoyed 2 days in Angra and 3 in Ilha Grande. This is definitely a vacation spot and, again, depends on your ability and desire to relax on the beach! We could certainly go back.
Accommodations: Pousadas and hostels were surprisingly expensive, ranging from R$200-350 per night, depending on the comfort level. We walked the town’s streets searching for a good option and settled on Holandes Hostel, which was reasonably priced especially given it offered more than enough comfort (we opted for a private mini-cabin), a social guest kitchen and a hoard of friendly backpackers.
Local Food: Tons of fresh and delicious fruit. Rafa claims several trees at their house grew after someone one day spit out seeds and… poof!… a mango tree grew here and a watermelon plant grew there… only in Brazil!