Big Islands and Big Boats: Brazil’s Costa Verde

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Brazil has a love affair with prefab swimming pools.

The highway from Rio to Angra dos Reis is lined with hundreds of showrooms selling different shapes of gigantic water container, ready to be laid out and filled up. Some of these are huge, and they’re all stored on their side towering over the road like a giant misshapen terracotta army. Except blue.

Angra dos Reis is where we caught our boat to the splendid Ilha Grande. And Grande it certainly is – a Full Fat Grande with Double Jungle and White Chocolate Beaches. The island is so big that some say it takes a full three days to trek across it. They also say that, if you do, you will see the mysterious Wannaka Tuwaka who will tell you the exact point in time and space that your life will end. Needless to say, we didn’t do this particular trek. Some things man just wasn’t meant to know.

Also, three days of trekking is a lot – we generally like the beaches and the lazing around that accompanies the beaches. We did do a few treks but when I say treks, I mean short walks. I have friends who trek, and they would scoff from their lofty heights (which they reached on a four day mountaineering excursion wearing nothing but a loin cloth) at the measly strolls we did. We thought some of them were pretty hard though, and the luscious beaches we reached when we finished these mammoth hikes were a wonderful and welcome reward.

Lopes Mendes in particular deserves a mention. Although it’s one of the island’s most popular beaches, it’s really really long and covered with beautiful white sand so it’s not hard to find a space all of your own.

The main town on Ilha Grande – Abraao – is no small beachside hamlet. There are countless restaurants, shops, travel agents and hotels but, thankfully, cars are banned which makes wandering around a not unpleasant experience, if we ignored the cruise ships that arrived every single day. Actually, ignoring the ships was pretty easy – they tended to drop anchor quite far out in the bay. It was ignoring the thousands of people that generally accompany said ships that was the tricky part.

Abraao, Ilha Grande


Fortunately, our pousada – Pousada Oasis (R$160 per night for a double) – was located down the beach away from the hordes that descended upon the town daily.

Watching the little taxi boats from the comfort of our two hammocks strung outside our room, I wondered what the appeal of a cruise really is. It seemed shore leave consisted of queuing, being packed into a taxi boat, unloading, being packed into a local boat to go on an island tour, unloading, being packed onto one of the beaches located in tiny coves around the island, sunbathing, being packed into the same local boat to get back to town, queuing, and finally being packed into the taxi boat to return to the Mothership.

Maybe that’s just me.

I’d still be interested to see what the inside of a cruise ship actually looks like, mind, and I did come up with a plan to sneak aboard for a look around. Unfortunately, I left my chloroform in my other backpack. Yes, it was an oversight but since I’ve been with Erin, I haven’t needed it as much.


Probably the best thing about being near Abraao was the food. Being vegetarian in Brazil is no easy thing and we thought that we might struggle on the island until we discovered the wonderful Bier Garten. It’s a Por Kilo place – which, if you don’t know, is a kind of self service restaurant that’s prevalent throughout Brazil: you heap up your plate then you pay for the weight of it. It’s usually pretty good for vegetarians and the Bier Garten in particular was absolutely stunning. Some real nice dishes which caused the price of my plate to go up every time we went there (and we went there a lot).

And as if paying for your main meal by weight wasn’t awesome enough, the Brazilians also do it for ice cream. And it’s good ice cream. And there are many flavours. And toppings and sauces. There’s something infinitely rewarding about building up your own cone-based masterpiece made up of as many different flavours as you can cram on there and then covering that bad boy in thick chocolate sauce and sprinkles.


I needed some ice cream therapy after a particularly disastrous beach visit where I was climbing and I slipped and stuck my foot into one of nature’s creature shredders – wet rocks covered in barnacles. There was blood and pain, and for a brief moment I considered whether, at almost thirty years old, I should stop clambering around on big ass boulders.

I quickly dismissed THAT thought (must have been the shock).

I did stay away from rocks for a few days afterwards, though, and instead we took out the snorkelling gear that we’d lugged 6,000 miles to see what we could see. Not much, to be honest. One big red starfish was about it.

Until we got to Abraãozinho Beach.

We have a minor obsession with turtles. They were the first and last major underwater creatures we saw while diving on our last voyage, which gave the trip a kind of nautically poetic feel – like shelled and flippered bookends on our bookshelf of adventure – so to see them in our first week of snorkelling on this trip was really special. They are absolutely beautiful creatures.


Then we had to leave because there are no ATMs on the island and we had burned through all of our cash. It was probably just as well – we thought we’d brought enough for 2 weeks but we got through it in a week. Brazil is expensive anyway, and Ilha Grande with the tourist premium was even worse. We were sad to leave this awesome island, but our bank balance certainly wasn’t – it danced a happy jig on the ferry ride back.

Back on the mainland, we hopped on another bus past a huge warehouse full of yachts and headed up the coast to Paraty, a lovely little coastal town full of cobbled streets and old colonial buildings. We spent a relaxing two days exploring, drinking coffee and chatting to Paolo, who blagged his boss at the economics journal he works for to get him press passes for the recent Metallica show in Sao Paulo which included access to the Snake Pit and the band’s press conference. What an awesome boss.

Then it was back to Rio for football, dancing and violence. But that’s a whole other story.

See here for more Ilha Grande and Paraty photos.

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