So back in 2018, I was lucky enough to call Rio De Janeiro my home for about 5 months. I living in a favela and worked in a Kiosk on Leme/Copacabana beach with my boyfriend. When we didn’t work we spent time around the city, on the beaches and mountains or morros as they say in Portuguese. We also took a couple of days off from time to time to get to know areas around Rio. We headed to Ilha Grande on a weekend trip and loved it. This post lets you in on things to do in Ilha Grande, how to get there and hopefully answer any questions you may have. This is my guide to visit Ilha Grande on a backpacker budget!
Where is Ilha Grande
Ilha Grande is an island in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Ilha, meaning island in Portuguese and Grande meaning big. Ilha Grande is almost 200km2 thereof the name “big island”. Ilha Grande is located no further than 2 hours away from Rio de Janeiro by car, plus an additional 20-70 minutes boat ride depending on your choice.
Ilha Grande Climate
The climate on Ilha Grande is tropical. Because of heavy rain at times, it leads to trails being in bad condition from time to time. The rain season on Ilha Grande and the wettest months on the island is from January to April, and from September to December. January normally being the wettest month and June the driest, and coldest. Apart from Ilha Grandes weather being rainy at times, it’s usually warm and ranges from 15 to 25 degrees.
The island is big and has a big variety of animal wildlife as well. Always ask the locals what its’ recommended to do on your own or in what condition the different trails are in at the moment of your visit.
How to get to Ilha Grande from Rio de Janeiro
Getting from Rio to Ilha Grande can be done in a lot of different ways. From taking a tour from Rio in all price classes to taking a public bus from the terminal. No matter what alternative you choose, you’ll have to go by boat to Ilha Grande.
Direct buses to Ilha Grande ports range from 45-100 reales all depending on the bus company, bus connections, and port you choose to go from. More economic options to get to Ilha Grande would be by blablacar or hitchhiking.
What port to go from to Ilha Grande
There are three ports that have daily boats to Ilha Grande; Angra dos Reis, Conceição De Jacarei and Mangaratiba. Taking a ferry to Ilha Grande is the slower option in the port, as they also have speed boats to the island. Still, the Ilha Grande ferry options are many and the travel time varies. Here I’ll take you through the options we considered before deciding.
Ferry from Angra dos Reis to Ilha Grande
Angra dos Reis is the more economical, but also the slowest way to get to Ilha Grande. This is because the town is the furthest away from Rio. Angra dos Reis also have the slowest ferries and the longest distance to Ilha Grande. They have ferries to Ilha Grande for the price of 17 reales, one a day during the afternoon.
Ferry from Mangaratiba to Ilha Grande
Mangaratiba is closer to Rio, but boats leave just once a day, in the morning. The crossing from Mangaratiba to Ilha Grande takes about 1,5 hour.
Boat from Conceição de Jacarei to Ilha Grande
In between Angra dos Reis and Mangaratiba, about 2 hours from Rio, lies the little port town of Conceição De Jacarei. All the buses pass by here, as well as a bunch of blablacars. The boats leave for Ilha Grande every 30 minutes during the day and the crossing takes from 15 to 45 minutes. Even though tickets across from Conceição de Jacarei are slightly more expensive than the two other ports, this is the harbor we ended up going via.
How to get from Rio to Conceição De Jacarei
We decided to try to go to Ilha Grande the cheapest way possible. We ended up taking the metro, bus, and a blablacar. There are definitely quicker ways, as by taking a bus from the bus terminal in Rio as already mentioned, but if you feel adventurous read on!
Start early and take the metro to the last station Coelho Neto, from there take a bus to the terminal in Itaguai. You’ll have to ask around for the bus, but people are usually super friendly and more than happy to help. From there, find a vans/”combi” that drives to Conceição De Jacarei. We already had our van arranged through blablacar, but you can also try to show up as there are quite a few vans waiting around. The van will let you off by the main road in Conceição de Jacarei, from there simply walk the two minutes to the boats. And get across.
Conceição de Jacareí ferry to Ilha Grande
There are two main options to get across from Conceição De Jacarei to the main town on Ilha Grande, Vila do Abraão.
Taxi Boat to Ilha Grande: The fastest option is a taxi boat as they call it. The taxi boat from Conceição De Jacarei will take you across in 15 minutes. For the price of 80 real round trip.
Slowboat/Ferry to Ilha Grande: We opted for the other slightly cheaper option, getting from Conceição De Jacarei to Ilha Grande by a ferry, or slow boat. We paid 50 reales roundtrip, but it took us 45 minutes. This anyway beats the transport from Angra dos Reis that takes about 1h40 min. Remember to schedule pick-up time and date when you buy your roundtrip ticket. A tip is also to get the company’s WhatsApp number so you can reschedule if plans change.
Getting to Ilha Grande on a backpacker budget
Here is the total of expenses we had to get to Ilha Grande from Rio De Janeiro. It’s definitely more affordable then taking a tour to Ilha Grande, even if it takes a little longer and is a bit more complicated. It is definitely doable, if you ask me, its the preferable way of visiting Ilha Grande backpacking as it’s more economical. …and adventurous?
Expenses for transport to Ilha Grande:
Metro 4.30 reales x 2
Bus 5.60 reales x 2
Van 10 reales x 2
Boat 50 reales round trip
Total 139.8 reales or about 41 dollars to get from Rio de Janeiro to Ilha Grande and back.
Expenses on hostel on Ilha Grande
Stayed at Camping da Cachoeira in a double room, with private bathroom. Its a super cozy place perfect if you want to go camping on Ilha Grande. Its a good 15 minutes walk from Abraão Town. The place has an outdoor kitchen and eating area and a river next to it where you can cill out and have a cooling dip! Would recommend it for all budget travelers.
Accommodation 3 nights: 3 x 65 reales
Total of 195 reales for transportation and hostel in Ilha Grande!
Things to Know Before Visiting Ilha Grande
- Ilha Grande is dominated by preserved nature and has very few roads. The main road is the one going on between Vila do Abraão and Dois Rios, this is perfect for a day trip by bike. Ask the locals of the roads state as it tends to be ruined my rainfalls at times.
- There are plenty of things to do on Ilha Grande and a lot of trails and beaches that can be done without a tour, guide or boat. Read on to get some suggestions!
- Bring some extra cash – There are a few ATMs in Ilha Grande, but as the island is pretty remote they might run out of cash or stop working at times. Still, there are plenty of places you can pay by card in Vila do Abraão.
- There are close to no cars and roads on Ilha Grande, there is a couple of old buses going from Vila do Abraão to Dois Rios on the other side of the island, but it’s only for locals, and primarily to get kids to school.
- There are lots of hostels and hotels on Ilha Grande. Even though its an island with a pretty modest amount of inhabitants, there are plenty of places to stay. You can find a lot of them on pages like booking.com, but if you don’t want to book in advance, you can always find something walking around the town of Abraão. Just be aware that there are quite a few options, and some are located up side-roads, close to rivers and nature.
What to do in Ilha Grande on a backpacker budget
So getting to Ilha Grande is easy enough. But what is there to do on Ilha Grande? The answer is, sooo much. But as you might get from the name, “grande” it’s a pretty big island. And to get around on the big island is time-consuming, expensive and some places can only be reached by boat. With that said, for a 4-5 days stay there is still a bunch of Ilha Grande activities you can do at little or no cost.
Here are some fun things to do in Ilha Grande, that doesn’t necessarily break your budget.
Ilha Grande Waterfall and Beach Hike
Hike through the forest about 1,5-2 hours to the waterfall, Cachoeira Da Feiticeira. On the way you’ll pass by parts of the old water supply system for the Island back in the 1800s. Get to the waterfall and relax in the fresh water or get a free massage underneath the waterfall if you’re up for it. The waterfall is about 15 meters tall and the name Feiticeira basically means witch or enchantress. After the waterfall, you can eighter head back the way you came or hike down to Praia da Feiticeira. The beach is really small and if you arrive late in the afternoon the beach will be even smaller due to the tides. But, it’s has a beautiful view and if you’re too tired to hike back you can catch a taxi boat here for 15-20 reales. If not you’ll have to hike back the 2 hours. It’s an easy hike and you can do it even if you choose to sleep in a little longer like we did.
Hike or rent a bike to go to Praia Dois Rios
Dois Rios is one of the other towns on the island and they have a huge beautiful beach there. The beach has a river on each end of it, hence the name “two rivers”. We didn’t get to do this activity as we were enjoying having time off work(read: slept in a lot). But judging from what the locals told us, and all the photos we saw while in town, it’s worth spending a day to go there. Renting a bike is about 35-45 reales for the day, depending on where you ask. The ride by bike is supposed to be a bit challenging as a part of the road is uphill, so if you’re not too fond of biking, maybe use your legs. Dois Rios is about 9 Km one way so it’s recommended to start about 9 or so in the morning. That way you’ll have time enough to enjoy the beautiful beach, surf the waves, as well as checking out the free prison museum in town.
Hike or take a boat to Praia Lopes Mendes
This I honestly one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve been on. Beautiful turquoise water, and 3km beach, with white powder sand that actually squeaks when you walk on due to the sands fine texture.
I also loved that the beach has lots of shade underneath the trees on the back edge of the beach. This is perfect for me and my pale skin!
If you’re a surfer you might be lucky enough to catch some waves here too, as it’s supposed to be one of Ilha Grandes best surf spots. They rent surfboards for 30-40 reales an hour if you don’t have a board.
Praia Lopes Mendes
Praia do Pouso where the ferry and boats arrive and you have to start the short hike to get to Praia Mendes Lopes
There are two ways to get to Mendes Lopes beach. You can eighter take a boat from Abraão to Praia Pouso, from here its a 30 minutes hike. There are two types of boats, a slow one that costs 25 round trip and leaves town 4 times a day, taking about 1 hour. The other option is taking a taxi boat that will take you there in 15 minutes but is more expensive. Depending on who you talk to they’ll charge 35-45 per person for the taxi boat.
An alternative is also to hike, it’s about a 6 km trail and it’ll take you past various other beaches as it goes along the coast of the island.
Spend a day chilling and walking between the beaches close to the town of Abraão.
There are several beaches just 10-30 minutes out of town. Spend one-day hiking between them, stop to have a beer in one of the beach bars on the way (although some are more pricey than others). Praia Preta is a beautiful black beach just minutes from the town. Praia da Julia and Praya da Bica are just 20 minutes hike on the other side of town. In front of the city itself, there’s a big beach as well. The Island also has various rivers to check out if you want something more secluded, as there will usually be other people on the beaches, depending on the season you’re going.
Other activities in Ilha Grande
There are of course way more activities to do on Ilha Grande. There are even more beaches relatively close to town where you can spend the day if you don’t feel like hiking or catching a boat.
Various boat tours that take you to beaches that can only be reached by boats. There are also small islands and a natural reserve where you can only enter with a guide. You can also go scuba dive or get certified on Ilha Grande. And if you’re up for it, you can hike to the second highest peak of the Island to see the sunset(on my list for next time I go!).
What to bring to Ilha Grande
Dry Bag – These bags are so practical when you’re backpacking. I always save my electronics and valuables in this when I’m hiking or spending time in boats. That way I don’t have to worry about a sudden rainfall or water splash from the ocean.
A part of good hiking shoes – This definitely depends on how much you plan to hike and do some trail walking on Ilha Grande. If you just want to do some modest hiking I’m sure a pair of normal trainers will work, With that said, a par of good, lightweight hiking shoes are perfect for Ilha Grandes trails. I’m all for comfy footwear, not just when I travel. A pair of Salomon trail/running shoes are high up on my list these days.
Waterbottle – While traveling Brazil it could be a good idea to get one of the Life Straw bottles. The come with a filter so you can refill your bottle and save some cash, and the environment for a few plastic bottles. Also, check out this slightly more affordable foldable bottle! It doesn’t have a filter, but it folds together, and also rooms about 750 ml which after my opinion is the perfect amount!
Towel – A must when backpacking as many hostels charge you additional costs for towels. I think these travel towels are great as they come as one big towel(perfect for hostel showers), and one small one, that would be perfect to have in your backpack for hikes or to wash your face at night.
Bikini – Something I was wearing 99 of my time on Ilha Grande. It’s humid, hot and rivers, ocean and waterfalls there. Basically gotta be ready for a swim whenever.
Sunscreen – The climate is so hot and humid which means that you won’t be covering up a lot, you will need protection, and it should be water resistant. This sunscreen is biodegradable, eco-friendly, and waterproof, so this should cover all your sunscreen needs while on the island, and in general.
Mosquito spray – This insect spray is, like the sunscreen, eco-friendly and made for sensitive skin types. It shouldn’t be necessary to mention this, but with the humidity on the island, arrive prepared! If you aren’t happy with the spray they offer a 30-day money back guarantee too.
Hope this guide was helpful, let me know if you have any questions. If one of your questions is “Is Ilha Grande worth visiting?”. I can say that you should prioritize to visit if you have a few extra days in Rio de Janeiro!
If you’re traveling on a budget, make sure to check out my guide to Couchsurfing!