Have you heard about the magical island of Brazil called Ilhabela, which literally means “beautiful island”? I’ll tell you in this blog post why you should visit Ilhabela. Read my Ilhabela travel guide to find out what to do, where to go, where to stay, and the best time to visit.
Why should you add Ilhabela to your Brazilian bucket list?
Ilhabela is famous for its marvellous beaches, though this tropical island is more than pretty beaches. More than 40 beaches lay around the coastline of Ilhabela, and the hilly middle part of the island is covered with a jungle in more than 50 shades of green and amazing colourful flowers. On the trails of the jungle, you can access almost 10 waterfalls on different parts of the island.
I also have to mention the fantastic seafood we had there!
Ilhabela is a perfect weekend getaway destination from São Paulo or even from Rio de Janeiro. Spending a long weekend there is an ideal time. However, it won’t be enough to see and experience “everything”.
On the following map (My Maps by Google Maps) you can see the main beaches, waterfalls, restaurants and the schedule for our 3 (+1) days.
By clicking on the tab next to “Ilhabela travel guide”, you can see the actual points, and it’s also possible to turn off and on layers. Furthermore, you can also save this map (if you have My Maps account) by pressing the star next to the map title.
Best time to visit Ilhabela
Thanks to its location, the weather is warm all the time. The warmest season is the Brazilian summer, which is the rainy season too, so from January to March expect some rain. From October to December, it’s less rainy and it’s not that crowded.
In mid-January, we had 2 sunny and 2 rainy days. We weren’t that lucky with the weather, though the island wasn’t crowded this weekend. As I’ve heard January, Carnival season and New Year’s Eve can be busy.
During the warm summer months, this paradise is a home of small black flies called borrachudos. I haven’t seen any of them, just their bites on my legs. The bites weren’t painful, but they started to be very itchy after 2 days, and the spots are still visible after 2 weeks. So don’t forget your mosquito repellent at home or buy a special one on the island, you’ll have many occasions. Always use the repellent in the forest and around the waterfalls and don’t miss to spray your ankle and feet 😉
Where to stay in Ilhabela?
We spent 3 nights in Pousada Mirante da Praia Grande (pousada is a Brazilian-style bed & breakfast), which has a perfect location. It’s just a few minutes walk from Praia Grande and around 10-15 minutes drive from the ferry station. The staff was very friendly, at the reception they even spoke English. The accommodation offers free parking places for guests. The simple but tasty breakfast is also included in the price.
We wanted to have a great view, so we had to climb like 70 steps to the room, which was basic and clean. I liked the hard and comfy bed, though I was missing some hangers for my summer clothes. We went for the view and comfy bed, and we got that!
How to get to Ilhabela?
First, you have to reach the beach town of São Sebastião, where a ferry departs in every 30 minutes to Ilhabela. Till São Sebastião you can go by motorcycle, bus or car. By car, we needed a bit more than 4 hours from São Paulo to arrive at the ferry station due to traffic and constructions. When getting closer to the ferry station, just follow the “acesso a balsa” and “acesso comum” signs, if you didn’t buy your ticket beforehand.
It’s also possible to buy a ferry ticket in advance, though it might be hard to guess your arrival time with this crazy traffic and the tickets online are more expensive and the website of Ferry Crossings System requires to create an account.
We haven’t bought a scheduled ticket online, so on our way there (on Friday afternoon), we waited almost an hour for boarding. However, on our way back (Monday morning), the waiting time was around 15 minutes.
Ilhabela ferry prices on-site (only cash is accepted)
By car from São Sebastião to Ilhabela:
- Weekdays: BRL 19,00
- Weekend and holidays: BRL 28,50
On the way back to São Sebastião:
- Tourist fee for cars: BRL 9,05
For pedestrians: free
More information on the website of DERSA Ferry Crossings System.
What to do and where to go in Ilhabela, Brazil?
Relax on the beaches of Ilhabela
Praia de Castelhanos
Praia de Castelhanos is located on the eastern side of the island facing the Atlantic ocean and it’s only accessible by boat, 4×4, motorcycle, bicycle or on foot. The 4×4 vehicle of Landpoint Turismo brought us to the beach through the jungle of the Ilhabela State Park. That 15 km road was shaky but amazingly beautiful and we had many stops like a natural pool and viewpoints.
The 1,5 km long sandy beach of Praia de Castelhanos is one of the most beautiful in Ilhabela. From the beach, a viewpoint and a waterfall can also be visited. The outlook is accessible with a short walk, and you can adore the beach from above. Visiting the 50-meter high waterfall, Cachoeira do Gato requires a 4 km long trip, which takes approximately 1,5 hours in total (including the return).
Praia do Bonete
The most famous beach of the island is listed on the “Top 10 beaches in Brazil” article by The Guardian. Praia do Bonete is situated on the southern part of the island and only accessible by boat or on foot. The boats depart from Praia Pereque and it takes around 40 minutes to get there. If you’re adventurous, hike 12 km (about 4 hours) in the jungle surrounded by waterfalls and nature.
Our original plan was to attend the boat tour of Landpoint Turismo to Praia Bonete, but the weather was a bit rainy on our 3rd day. So we’ll visit this beach on our next Ilhabela trip. Hopefully 😉
Photo from Ilhabela.com.br.
Praia do Pereque
Praia do Pereque is located in the centre, surrounded by palm trees, coconut trees, bars and restaurants (and many parking places). It’s the main scene for water sport activities like kite surfing, windsurfing, kayaking and SUP.
Photo from Ilhabela.com.br.
Praia do Julião
This beach on the west side of the island is smaller and more tranquil than the others. At its sides, big rocks can be found in the water, where many people were snorkelling and looking for fishes in the clean water.
You can also hide under the trees and rest in the shadow. Or enjoy the white sand and the view under the umbrellas of Restaurante Prainha Do Julião.
Praia Grande lays next to Praia do Julião and as its name shows, it’s one of the biggest beaches of Ilhabela. The slope of the beach is a bit steep and the waves are smaller.
This was the closest beach to our accommodation, so we spent our 1st afternoon on this fantastic beach, just relaxing, enjoying the waves and watching the sunset.
Praia Curral is south from Praia Grande, farther from the centre. We wanted to try out this beach too, but the free parking places were full and the other places close to the beach were overpriced, so we’ve chosen another beach.
Discover waterfalls and hike in the jungle
Cachoeira dos Três Tombos
Cachoeira 3 tombos is the only waterfall we could visit. It has 3 drops, all of them are beautiful and unique in their way. The 1st drop even has a big natural pool, where you can refresh yourself.
The trail in the tropical forest is not steep but can be slippery after rainy days. It’s easily accessible, you can leave the car at the entrance of the trail, and from there the route is only around 700 m long.
Cachoeira do Gato
This is the tallest waterfall of Ilhabela with its 50-meter height. You can also enjoy its natural cold pool.
Cachoeira do Gato can be visited during your Praia de Castelhanos trip. We planned to hike to this waterfall, though we find out at the beginning of the trail (which was 20 minutes away from the middle of the beach), that there’s a 2 km long trail to reach the waterfall, so the whole trip takes around 1,5 hour. And we didn’t have that much time, so we just turned back and enjoyed the beach.
Cachoeira da Água Branca
Cachoeira da Água Branca is close to the centre, also located in the Ilhabela State Park. Park your car at the guardhouse of Parque Municipal das Cachoeiras, equipped with toilets and showers. Here you can start the easy hike on the trail, which has waterfalls, pools, as well as an observation tower.
Cachoeira da Toca
During our Praia de Castelhanos trip, we stopped only at its 1st part to enjoy the natural pool. There’s a longer trail to reach the top of Cachoeira da Toca, on the way you can stop at more natural pools and waterfalls.
Take a photo at the Ilhabela viewpoint
A bit south from the ferry station, you’ll find a viewpoint called, Mirante do Piúva, where a huge “I love Ilhabela” sign is located. The terrace overlooks to the mainland of Brazil, the coast of Ilhabela and you’ll also see the nearby island of Isla das Cabras.
Parking places are located on the other side of the road, so you can have as much time as you need to take your photos.
Now you know the main things to do in Ilhabela. Visit the website of Ilhabela, Ilhabela.com.br, where you can find even more beaches, waterfalls and trails.
Interested in more Brazilian beaches and destinations?
So tell me, would you like to visit the beautiful island of Ilhabela? Leave a comment below.
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