Best of Brazil – Ilhe Grande and Paraty

Stop dreaming about your bucket list and start living it.

Annette White

Chapter 4 of my South America Trip and stops 2 & 3 in Brazil! Brazil is such a vast country with so much to offer its hard to isolate highlights, but these are my latest stops! More to follow!

From Rio we’re taking a bus for about 3.5 hours, then a one hour boat ride to the island of Ilhe Grande. I didn’t particularly enjoy the boat ride it was a little rough so if you get motion sickness take tablets!

Some of the local street art

Ilhe Grande

The boat leaves from Angra dos Reis, and pulls into Ilhe Grande, a nice little island and beach town full of shops, tour agents and restaurants.

The whole area is sandy, if you have a bag on wheels you can pay guys to put them on trolleys and take them to your hotel for 10 Real return.

I stayed in hotel Bugjo a short walk from the front and Main Street. The rooms are small but bear in mind everything is a little more expensive as it’s an island.

Artist at work!

Most of the tour agencies and a number of restaurants are on the Main Street. There is a road that runs parallel which has most of the shops including the islands Haviana shop.

A little bit of island history

The island was originally home to a leprosy hospital. This building was later converted to a prison, for some of the worst criminals. They had many issues with the criminals escaping. Not good for the locals who’d moved to the island nor tourism. So in 1994 the prison closed.

Since then tourism has flourished, Ilhe Grande gets lots of South American visitors, in particular from Argentina.

Things to do

You can do a number of excursions. I got a boat to Lopes Mendes beach, which takes nearly one hour, then a 20 minute hike from where they drop you. Its 40 real return. Alternatively you can get a speedboat which takes about 20 minutes to the same hiking point.

Elevation for the hike is 50m, up then back down. Not advisable to do in flip flops, sandals are fine.

The beach is lovely, bear in mind they have no or limited facilities so bring plenty of water and some snacks.

If you like hiking you can hike up to see the sunrise but it involves a 1am start! Back by around 9am but worth it. Only advisable if you love hiking and have no knee problems!

A hike to the peak for sunrise!

There are a number of boat trips and diving available too, including snorkelling in the blue lagoon.

Food and drink

I recommend eating at Restaurante Lonier and Garoupas. The seafood platter is delicious and really good value. I’ve been told this is the best restaurant on the island and it was outstanding! You need to book if there’s a lot of you, earlier the same day is fine.

I also ate in Rei da Moqueca on the front. The food was very good here too. I had the traditional moqueca with fish. It’s like a fish stew with vegetables cooked in coconut milk, the fish will vary according to what they’ve caught that day, mine was full of delicious swordfish.

They are big so normally for two to share but if you only want a portion for one you can order this and it’s 60% of the menu price.

This is a great place to buy beer and alcohol, just as you get off the pier where the boat pulls in.

You can buy açai in numerous places on the island – in fact all over Brazil. The superfood Berry is blended with ice and tastes better than ice cream! It’s refreshing and healthy, usually served with granola and banana or fruit toppings, and optional condensed milk. And sometimes more chocolate or candy based toppings.

Paraty

From Ilhe Grande we got the boat back to Angra dos Reis, it was calmer in the morning. Then a 2 hour bus journey to Paraty.

I stayed at Refron, a short walk from the old town. It’s basic but with a good bathroom and good value laundry facilities.

Paraty is a lovely chilled out place with a nice vibe, plenty to do and lots going on. The town is really pretty with white buildings with coloured doors and windows. And the most colourful boats I’ve ever seen – they look like they belong in a dolls house!

The town has historical significance as it used to be part of the gold route. Today what is around a 4 hour drive from where one of the best goldmines used to be, back then would have been walked by slaves, usually from Africa, carrying the gold on their backs.

Later a new route to that goes more directly to Rio opened. Paraty hit economic crisis, but currently gets all its business from tourism. The construction is all historic and the town has a story as well as being rich in natural beauty. For a period in the 70s Paraty survives on producing cachaça and coffee. These now form part of the tourist sites as well as still used for production.

Things to do

There are a number of excursions I did the Paraty Caipirinha boat tour and the jeep excursion boat with Paraty tours. More details below. There’s also a few others including a visit to some nice beaches, and horse riding – though not advisable here as they don’t use riding hats.

Caipirinha Paraty Boat Tour

The boat trip was beautiful, so much fun, good value and well organised. We had great weather so it was a really lovely day out. It’s advertised as a snorkel tour but the snorkelling is average at best. The scenery is beautiful though, with gorgeous beaches and 4 enjoyable stops for swimming. There’s a small boat taking people over to the beaches if you don’t want to swim.

The cost is around 85 real, though I pre-booked in the UK with Gadventures and paid slightly more, which included a free caipirinha and snorkel equipment. A bargain at less than £20!

You get given a number when you board, and can order your lunch and any drinks against your number then pay the bill before you leave. It’s well organised and there’s a reasonable choice for lunch and drinks. With free fruit after lunch.

A thoroughly enjoyable day out, good value and excellent scenery.

Jeep Tour

A fun day out touring waterfalls, a cachaça distillery and a tapioca production plant in jeeps. Unfortunately a little rainy and cooler so whilst there was opportunity to swim in the pools, and slide down the rock of one the falls I didn’t participate, just enjoyed the scenery. The water is cold so would have been enjoyable on a hot day!

There is some walking involved between waterfalls and it can be rocky, muddy and slippery so it’s advisable to wear decent footwear. The views make it worthwhile.

We visited a Cachaça distillery, interesting to learn about the process of the main ingredient of the must have drink in town! And they let you try as much as you like of all the different types, flavours and infusions!

My favourite is the Gabriela infused with cinnamon and cloves. Perfect for a passion fruit caipirinha!

We stopped at a restaurant called Villa verde for lunch whose specialty is pasta dishes. Prices are a little on the high end (relatively speaking) but the food was good and there was plenty of it! You had to cross a canopy style bridge to get there, in theory only 5 people can cross the bridge at once! Though there was definitely more then that when I crossed with a motorbike waiting to cross back the other way!

We headed to another waterfall with more opportunity for swimming and also a slide down the rock within one of the waterfalls! The locals surf down it but not advisable if you’re not a local! It’s very impressive! A number of people had a go at sliding down it though!

Waterfall surfing!

Finally we visited a Tapioca plant. They demonstrated how they clean the Yucca. Then the process of going through the mill, pressing the water out to make it into flour.

They used to trade it for what they needed from other local producers but now it’s a standard business and how the family earn a living.

Again this trip is good value for 100 real (about £20, a little less with the current exchange rate).

Food and drink

Thai Brazil comes highly recommended, it’s a fusion mix between Thai and Brazilian. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to this one as I was unwell, but my group went and all enjoyed it.

Opposite the hotel is a nice restaurant on the beach called Dito and Frito. It’s really good value, good food and a great location. They play music most evenings too.

If you’re after a local burger place I recommend Elespecialista. It’s very reasonably priced and mainly locals eat in there.

The local drink here is Jorge Amado, it contains Gabriela caxaça (which is infused with cinnamon and cloves), passion fruit, lemon and ice. Really delicious and definitely recommended during your stay!

Again there are many açai places around Paraty so you really are spoilt for choice!

The Practical Stuff

For Ilhe Grande, best to ensure you have enough cash in local currency with you. You can exchange on Ilhe Grande but the exchange is poor. And sometimes you can use cards in some places, but if the connection goes (which can be often), you’ll need cash.

In the old town in Paraty there are cobbles which can be slippy, especially if it rains. Make sure you consider this when choosing footwear.

Paraty has everything you’ll need such as ATM’s and money exchange. Its generally a little bit pricey for food as it’s a gastro town, and earned a licence to operate as one a few years ago, but there’s still some good value and interesting options.

Onwards to Iguazu Falls!

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