Ilhabela (Beautiful Island) the largest island in Brazil is located 4 miles off the coast of São Paulo state which is (205km/ 127mi) from Sao Paulo city and 340km/210mi from Rio. There are a number of smaller islands that make up all of Ilhabela.
How to get to Ilhabela: First off, the traffic is horrible so try to leave really early in the am, it took us 8 hours to get to Ilhabela so prepare for it: bring snacks, waters, make some mix cds (there is no service in the mountains). I don’t mean to scare you just providing full disclosure. The drive is actually really nice, you drive up through the mountains, pass by waterfalls and beaches on your way to the ferry, which is in São Sebastião. The ferry is only 15mins, I recommend buying your ferry tickets ahead of time; as there is a shorter line you can get in (and similar to the airports you can take it whenever you arrive, it isn’t dependent on your ticket time). You could end up waiting over an hour just to get on the ferry so keep that in mind. Cars cost R$11 on weekdays and R$16 on weekends, R$5 for motorcycles on weekdays/R$8 weekends, and it is free for pedestrians so you can go for the day if you like, just follow the signs ‘Fica da Bolsa’. Buy your tickets HERE
The island is incredibly well developed, clean, safe, active and beautiful. Hotels, bars, restaurants can only be found on one side of the island, all other beaches/ areas you would like to visit you must go by boat or truck. There is a bike/running path that is always full day and night, people kayaking, sailing, standup paddling, wake boarding or cruising around on their boats in the ocean (which is delightfully warm in a refreshing way!) in a nut shell, you will never be board:) Since you can’t access many of the beaches on your own there are a lot of tour companies with stands on the beaches; stop by one of the stands or have your hotel organize it for you.
Overall the island itself is very impressive not your average Brazilian island: roads are paved, there are gas stations, banks, great restaurants, night clubs and day clubs with known djs coming for summer stage .The summer is extremely hot, to the point where you are dripping sweat most of the da, it was 102 degrees at 11am! What to pack: For the ladies pack dresses, skirts, heels (if you want but I didn’t wear mine once). For the guys: board shorts, flip flops and a few collard or button down for at night.
Random, Ilhabela is also very pet friendly, there were a number of dog stores and you see a good amount on the beaches, so if you cant find a dog sitter, don’t have a breakdown, with the traffic I’m sure you will be able to squeeze in a few bathroom breaks for your furry friend.
Beaches: The beaches are beautiful, many of them lined with restaurants/ kiosks. During the summer it can be very difficult to park at the beaches (there aren’t that many parking lots, people tend to park on the side of the road) we tried to go to a few of the beaches the hotel recommended and there was no parking in sight! Once you find a beach, you will be pleasantly surprised by all of the beach restaurants; we enjoyed the food at every beach we visited and the safety. This was the first time in Brazil when we felt completely safe, could leave your stuff on a beach chair and no one would take it, it was nice. FYI Beaches close on the early side (6pm), even though sunset is at 8pm in summer.
Bugs: We were warned about the bugs being horrible but that didn’t do it justice, the bugs are evil killing machines! I was reapplying bug spray more than reapplied sunscreen, and that didn’t help! They bite you in a rush so you end up with clusters of bites and worse they swell up. They actually take a whole bite out of you so don’t be surprised if you have lasting memories (scars) from your trip so bring a lot of bug spray and reapply often!!
Vila (town center): Located north of the ferry, there are lots of restaurants, stores (good shopping), bars, arcades, and 2 clubs; it’s quite lively and fun to hang out in at night. Great to go with the family as there are various activities for kids. Traffic to Vila can be pretty bad so at night so if you can walk it, do it.
Check back for where to stay, boat trips, waterfalls, restaurants and more!!