Ilha Grande's Got One of the Top 10 Beaches in the World (Plus The Biggest Starfish)

To get to Ilha Grande you have to drive to one of the three ports, Angra Dos Rios, Mangaratiba or Conceicao de Jacarei.

We took a van share from Paraty to Conceicao de Jacarei, then lay in the sun on the boats top deck for the two hour ride over. 

The boat dropped us off at the dock (there’s only one). We were loaded with packs, a pantry, and two lamps we’d bought on a night out in Paraty.

Welcome to Ilha Grande (Big Island) ( Rio State, Brazil )

Welcome to Ilha Grande (Big Island) (Rio State, Brazil)

Ilha Grande’s a carless island, small enough to navigate by foot. Our accomodation was up by old cemetery road. Not a signposted road, more of a dusty strip of earth with a handful of crooked tombstones on one side.

Definitely wasn’t on google maps. 

One of the top things to do in Ilha Grande is the sunrise hike to Pico do Papagaio ( Ilha Grande, Rio State, Brazil)

One of the top things to do in Ilha Grande is the sunrise hike to Pico do Papagaio (Ilha Grande, Rio State, Brazil)

We called our Airbnb host, who sent an old lady to come collect the gringos from the corner. We were following her towards the back of the town, when a man trundling a wheelbarrow turned the corner up ahead.

He must of been her husband, because she barked at him in Portuguese until he piled all our luggage into the wheelbarrow, then pushed it the rest of the way uphill. 

After dropping our gear, we headed out to scope the town. If you go to Ilha Grande you’ll see that there’s about five restaurants right by the dock, all with customary white plastic chairs sunk in the sand.

If you keep walking past those main tourist restaurants, you’ll wind up crossing a small wooden bridge.

Just to the right of that bridge, a place called Cafe do Mar’s serves up tapioca crepes and freshly squeezed juice all day. The tapioca’s got so many fillings it’s more like a omelette than a crepe. A chewy omelette. Almost a burrito really.

Just try it. 

It was late afternoon when we met Patti, one of Ilha Grandes hot tour guides. I’m not sure what’s in the tapicoa, but everyone’s hot in Brazil.

View from Cafe do Mar ( Ilha Grande, Rio State, Brazil )

View from Cafe do Mar (Ilha Grande, Rio State, Brazil)

Ilha Grande's surround by a ring of beaches, so you can bounce to a new one every day. With Pattis' help, we narrowed down the best beaches to visit with the few days we had on the island.

Getting there's easy, the hardest part's picking which ones to go to. 

Surfing was our top priority. On Patti’s recommendation, we headed out to Lopes Mendes early the next morning.

We bought our boat ticket an hour before hand (the boats come on the hour for most of the morning), grabbed coffee, then headed to the dock around half an hour before departure. 

I always fall asleep on boats (as well as buses, trains and cars), and heading over to Lopes Mendes sent me straight into a rhythmic lull.

Lopes Mendes Beach, voted one of the top  10 most beautiful beaches in the world  by Vogue Magazine (Ilha Grande, Rio State, Brazil

Lopes Mendes Beach, voted one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world by Vogue Magazine (Ilha Grande, Rio State, Brazil

I woke up as the boat was pulling into the dock of a sandy shore, backdropped by thick green palm trees.

At the end of this jetty, near the dock close to Lopes Mendes, is a seaside restaurant serving fresh fish and cocktails - Yum. ( Ilha Grande, Rio State, Brazil )

At the end of this jetty, near the dock close to Lopes Mendes, is a seaside restaurant serving fresh fish and cocktails - Yum. (Ilha Grande, Rio State, Brazil)

About halfway down the shore, a small jetty with a restaurant at the end was moving in the lazy water. If you go to Lopez Mendes, go to that restaurant at the end of the jetty. It had the best fish I ate on the entire trip. Plus, as if Brazil couldn’t get any better, all the cocktails were made with fresh fruit. 

We jumped off the boat, onto warm damp sand, then began walking up the path that cut through the dense jungle.

At the end of the hike, the trees opened out onto a long, wide open stretch of golden sand. The ocean was curling in generous waves onto the empty shore.

In Florianopolis, we had scrambled to find a spare square of sand.

In Ilha Grande, we walked the length of the beach until we chose a spot just right. 

We spent half the day there, reading, eating our packed lunch, waiting for the pop up surf school to, well, pop up.

By the time 3 o’clock rolled around we’d managed to top up our tans while admiring the skills of the (hot) surfers out in the water.

 

Break out your (tiniest) bikini, it's time to tan (Ilha Grande, Rio State, Brazil)

Break out your (tiniest) bikini, it's time to tan (Ilha Grande, Rio State, Brazil)

With that background who could resist? (Ilha Grande, Rio State, Brazil

With that background who could resist? (Ilha Grande, Rio State, Brazil

There may of been (another) yoga shoot in there somewhere.

How could we not? Even with all the boats dropping people off all day, there was still space to handstand. 

I read an entire book our five days in Ilha Grande. We attempted surfing one more day, but the surf school never showed.

Not that we minded. Truth be told, we were like two (slightly rugged) mermaids worshipping at the alter of the sun. 

Is that not the biggest starfish you've ever seen? (Ilha Grande, Rio State, Brazil)

Is that not the biggest starfish you've ever seen? (Ilha Grande, Rio State, Brazil)

On our third day we headed out on the water with Elite Dive Center. On the way out, we watched a pod of hundreds of dolphins ride the ocean waves next to the boat. 

Their fins cut the water like a blade slices a piece of cake-y.

Yes, cake-y. 

As well as pronouncing all the letters in a word, Brazilians love having cake for breakfast. Somehow, calling it cake-y makes it harder to resist.

On our first dive at Laje do Matariz, I saw a doorstopper of a starfish with short, fat limbs stabbing outwards from a chunky middle bigger than my head.

The second dive was at Ponta do Bananal. We saw more starfish monstrosities sitting on the ocean floor. They were big enough that Ja-dee could see them while she was snorkelling above us.

It’s a marvel, the things you see underwater.

There’s creatures that inspire all kinds of creations. 

Like costumes for Carnaval, for instance.

I'm sure you've already guessed where we were headed next.