I have to admit I felt a little naughty as the boat pulled into Vila do Abraão. I’m a recent graduate with X amount of student debt, and here I was about to step onto Brazil’s answer to the Caribbean islands.
I was trying to think of an exaggerated adjective to describe Ilha Grande but the simplicity of beautiful seems the most apt.
To compare the island to the Caribbean would actually do it a disservice. Ilha Grande hasn’t rebranded itself with luxury holiday resorts, but maintains its identity with homely, family run beach houses and hostels that line the seafront.
The island is as far from any kind of reality you’re likely to find. Covered by Atlantic forest, there are no banks on the mainland and the docking town of Vila do Abraão consists of no more than a couple of streets and a few restaurants.
Dotted around its perimeter are a series of idyllic beaches, but because Ilha Grande is essentially something out of The Jungle Book, the only way to reach the sandy paradises is via boat taxi or hiking.
Indeed, on my first day I decided to hike to Praia das Palmas, expecting it to be a leisurely nature trail I could blitz in my flip flops. However, about an hour into the trek I came to the tragic realisation that Ilha Grande probably translates to ‘Big Island’.
Navigating my way through the jungle I felt a bit like Indiana Jones, and as a monkey darted out in front of me I realised how Joe Mazello must have felt running from pterodactyls in Jurassic Park.
Hiking from one beach to another turned out to be no walk in the park, as the winding trails lead you all the way up to the peaks of the island, providing stunning views of neighbouring mountains and, more cruelly, your starting point.
The reward at the end, however, makes the money you contemplate spending on a taxi boat seem negligible. The beaches are serene and secluded (you might even be lucky enough to have one to yourself), while it was a nice touch not to be offered ‘caiprinha caiprinha’ or ‘good shit sniff sniff’ every 47 seconds as may or may not have happened in Rio.
Anyway, come the second day the weather Gods had clearly decided that I’d been having it too good, so the heavens and the heavens heavens unleashed a thunderstorm that would have made Lucifer proud.
Taking the storms as a sign, I decided to save a few pennies and headed back to the mainland and down the coast to the colonial seaside town of Paraty.
With the rain showing no sign of mercy, I was fortunate that my hostel owner had a penchant for Fifa and beer which meant the next couple of days didn’t entirely go to waste.
Once the sun finally reemerged, it uncovered a rustic dream town where the cobblestones are so uneven that twisted ankles are more common than chihuahuas in Chelsea.
Brazilians flock here on weekends and national holidays and it’s easy to see why. While the sunlight lulls the town into a tranquil daydream, the moonlight sparks open air restaurants and bars into life, providing the perfect setting for an ice cold cerveja on the street listening to the beats of live samba music.
The towns charms extend well beyond its atmospheric centre. Just a short bus trip away is the mellow surfer town of Trinidade and picturesque waterfalls where you can allow yourself a return to childhood by sliding down these natural beauties and into the awaiting plunge pool.
So, as you can imagine, two perfect stopovers after a frenetic time in Rio, you’d be hard pressed to find a pair of places more authentic than Ilha Grande and Paraty.
Whether it’s chilling on the beach or wandering through the towns, it’s been refreshing to find a couple of destinations that have maintained their historic identity despite the temptation to yield to the ever-growing influx of tourism.
Next stop, the so called NYC of South America, São Paulo. Until then.