lhabela, pronounced "EE-lyah BEH-lah," means "Beautiful Island" in Portuguese. This archipelago, which includes its largest island of the same name, is situated in the Atlantic Ocean just 4 miles off the coast of the state of São Paulo. The tropical island, known for its calm beaches, waterfalls, and diving opportunities, makes an easy getaway from the busy lifestyle in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Much of the island is a state park, and some parts are underdeveloped and therefore accessible only by boat. Like much of Brazil's islands and coastal terrain, the island is covered in forests and mountains. The eastern side of the island has few inhabitants or accessible roads; because the eastern side faces the Atlantic Ocean, the waves here are stronger, attracting surfers.
The long western edge of the island Ilhabela has more than twenty calm beaches and the access point for the ferry boat from the mainland to the island. The island's best-known beach, Praia do Bonete, is located at the southern end, while most of the tourism development has occurred at the northern end of the island.
What to Do on Ilhabela
Ilhabela is best known for its beautiful beaches. Besides relaxing on the fine sandy beaches and enjoying the warm water, travelers can explore the island while hiking the hills that overlook the beaches. Kitesurfing, sailing, surfing, and windsurfing are popular sports activities here. SCUBA and free diving are also popular, partly due to the fact that the waters surrounding Ilhabela are home to the country's largest concentration of shipwrecks.
Praia do Bonete: One of the beaches that shouldn't be missed is Praia do Bonete on the southern end of the island. This beach was named one of the most beautiful beaches of Brazil by The Guardian. However, the beach is hard to access--you can arrive by boat or by walking a 12km trail.
The island is also home to many waterfalls which can be reached along the hiking trails. The Trilha da Água Branca is one such hiking trail, which leads to several waterfalls.
Where to Stay
This family-run pousada is conveniently located near the historic center and Praia do Perequê (Perequê Beach). The inn offers clean, comfortable, affordable accommodations for couples and families with up to 4 beds in one large room.
This refined, peaceful, family-friendly hotel has been a Trip Advisor's Traveler's Choice hotel several years in a row. The hotel was completely renovated in 2011 and now includes a hot tub, pool, indoor parking, massage facilities, and new apartments. The lush outdoor gardens have a sea view. It is located near a beach with good access to nearby hiking on the north side of the island.
The island's nicest hotel, this seaside luxury hotel was named the best beach hotel in South America by Condé Nast. Located on Praia do Curral, the hotel is just steps away from the beach. The hotel has 83 luxury suites with a king size bed and canopy, coffee maker, air conditioning, and flat-screen TV with cable, and some suites include a jacuzzi. The huge outdoor pool is heated. The hotel includes a spa, three restaurants, two saunas, and beauty salon. Room rates include a breakfast buffet. The hotel offers discount packages for booking early and staying several nights.
Useful to Know
Ilhabela is home to one annoying type of insect, borrachudos. At some beaches, these small, harmless yet pesky bugs will bite even when using insect repellent. However, be sure to bring good mosquito repellent when visiting Ilhabela.
The island receives a very large number of visitors during Brazil's vacation times, especially beginning just before Christmas through the month of January. Consider visiting in early December and other off-season times for fewer crowds and lower prices.
The ferry to Ilhabela can require a long wait, especially during high season, but you can purchase advance tickets.