Ilha Grande is a stunning island retreat accessible by fast or slow boat, only around an hour from the city of Rio. Its pristine condition is owed to its unusual history. For almost a century it was closed by the Brazilian government to free movement or settlement because, after being a pirates’ lair, it went on to house a leper colony and then a top-security prison. Cândido Mendes high-security prison housed some of the most violent & dangerous prisoners within the Brazilian penal system. It was eventually closed in 1994 and later destroyed.
All that remains of those days are some half-buried stone foundations that you can hike to and check out for yourself, but the island’s unsavoury reputation kept developers at bay for a long time. Consequently, you'll find beautiful tropical beaches and rainforest all around Ilha Grande, and there are still only a few settlements on the island.
The island, which is 193 km2 (75 sq mi) in area, is known for its scenic beauty, unspoilt tropical beaches, luxuriant vegetation and rugged landscape. Much of the island is subject to stringent development restrictions.
The island's biggest town, Vila do Abraão, was itself a sleepy fishing village until the destruction of the infamous prison, and then tourism on the island began to grow. Over the years, a raft of pousadas (guesthouses), hostels, restaurants and bars have popped up, but this palm-studded beachfront town, is still incredibly picturesque, and remains relatively small, keeping it's island charm and beauty.
Other than Abraão’s lone garbage truck, fire engine and police vehicle, cars are not allowed in town, so the only transport here is by foot or boat. Be advised you also won't find a cash point on the island - it's not something the locals are keen to have. The village comprises of a few dirt roads, with the area around the docks normally being the liveliest place to be.
A trekkers paradise, the island is full of treks in every direction, trails will lead you up and down nature-packed rainforest to stunning beaches. The most famous beach on Ilha Grande is Lopes Mendes, it's around a 2 hour trek from Abraão.
If you're travelling in the state of Rio, between Paraty, the amazing island of Ilha Grande or the ctiy of Rio, you can use regular bus companies, but the savings you'll make are very minimal and it'll take you longer, as well as be more complicated. For these reasons we recommend using the budget friendly company Easy Transfer. OK they might not look exactly like the image above, but they're safe, reliable and do a door to door service to take all the hassle out of the journey. Check out their website for all the details of getting to each place. They go to all the main tourist places such as Paraty as well.