Ilhabela is one of the stops along the “green coast route” (Costa Verde, in Portuguese), a route shared by the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, famous for its mountains covered in the remaining parts of the rainforest, as well as its long beaches and amazing tracks.
This island, located just across the city of São Sebastião, is more than just its beaches. Full of nature, great food, incredible sights and gorgeous beaches, the small city of Ilhabela (literally translated as “beautiful island”) has lots of great experiences to offer to its tourists.
As a frequent visitor of this island, I do admit that 2 days are not enough to explore all its beauty, but, for those looking for a weekend escape or a quick overview of the island, you can find below good suggestions to get to know a little bit of this incredible place.
How to get there
Getting there is pretty simple. If your driving along the Green Coast Road, you will find that one of its cities is São Sebastião. The city has signs indicating the ferry that takes you to Ilhabela. If you decide to take your car into the island, it costs around USD 8, but if your crossing by foot, it’s free.
If you’re coming from the city of São Paulo, you can take the bus at “Terminal Rodoviario Tiete” (TRT), where busses are leaving every 2 hours. Both busses to São Sebastião and Ilhabela cost around USD 20 and end up by the ferry, and from there, you can simply cross by foot. Once you’re on the other side, you can either get a cab or a bus.
Using the public transportation inside the island is very simple. Busses go South (Borrifos) or North (Armação) and all beaches are along this route. you can hop on any of these busses and hop out once you get to the beach you’d like to visit.
It’s also very easy and safe to ride a bike. And you can rent it on some shops like Maremar
Beaches you can visit around town
Now that you know how to go to places, it’s crucial to tell you which places to go. Bellow, I’m describing a few interesting beaches to go. These are my favorites, but of course, any place you go will be pretty interesting, safe and with great things to do.
One of the busiest beaches of the island is called Curral beach. There are some beach clubs along it, and some nice restaurants to have beers and some snacks.
A cool beach for sports lovers is the Perequê beach. people can enjoy paddling, as well as playing beach volley, kayak and sailing. One cool thing about this beach is that it’s pretty close to the city so, during summer, you can easily stumble into concerts and parties promoted by the city.
Viana is one of those tiny beaches with a great (but a little expensive) restaurant. Perfect to enjoy the sunsets and quite close to the center, where bars, stores and restaurants are.
Finally, if you’re into sports, you can visit Armação, a beach up north, where the wind blows strongly. You’ll find nice bars by the beach, as well as kitesurfers, windsurfers and schools to teach you some of these water sports.
If you are adventurous…
As I said before, there’s more than just beaches along Ilhabela’s coast. Its tracks and waterfalls are also a must go to if you’re into nature and adventures. Particularly, option number for a day trip is to go to Bonete beach. It’s is a rather long trip, that takes you to one of the most beautiful beaches of the island.
A view of the beach, from the tracks
To get there, you can hop on a bus to Borrifos, at the south tip of the island and, from there, walk the 13km tracks (that are very well preserved and easy to find). The tracks can be steep at some points, but pretty wide and comfortable to walk. Also, as you go by, there are some waterfalls along the way where you can stop and freshen up.
For that matter, I recommend you start this trip early and pack some snacks, to enjoy the way. It´s pretty and safe! It should take you 4 to 5 hours to complete the tracks and get to the beach. At the beach, you can find some restaurants, to have a snack or relax after the long walk.
To get back, you can either stay at the beach (camping or at a bed & breakfast) and walk back or get a boat, that will take you back to Borrifos, where you can hop on a bus back to the city. Just keep in mind that boats will only leave before the sunset, and they should cost USD 20 per person (but it depends, because if you’re the only one going back, the price will be a bit higher, since they work “on demand”. So be prepared, if you´re not planning to stay).
For this day trip, remember:
- Leave early
- bring some snacks and water bottles
- remember to take flipflops, sunscreen, bug spray, and towels
- wear running shoes or similar
- take cash!
Another (and more popular) option is to visit the beach of Castelhanos, located on the other side of the island. You can reach it crossing the national reserve park, and for that, you’ll need proper bikes or a proper car, or you can go by boat. If you don’t have a car, you’ll need to get in touch with agencies that can take you there, and Maremar can also help you with that.
The beach is famous for its untouched nature and its waves. Many go surfing and camping over there and, as there’s no urban area around, the atmosphere is of a desert beach. Of course, you´ll find a lot of tourists during the high season, but, as the number of people coming in is limited, you’ll never see it crowded. It’s a beautiful place to go and contemplate nature.
A good idea is to camp by the beach and watch the sunrise. Also, remember to try the tangerine leaf caipirinha, a drink that I’ve never seen anywhere else… and it´s surprisingly good!
So, just to remember:
- if you don’t have a car, check out agencies like Maremar to take you by jeep to the other side of the island
- remember to take towels, flipflops, bug spray, and sunscreen.
- take some food and some cash, cause you´ll want to try the caipirinhas made out of tangerine leaves.
Bars, restaurants and things to do at night
Finally, I leave you with some nightlife tips, so you can enjoy the “Vila
” (or the center of the city). The “Vila” is where the nightlife happens. Down there, You’ll find concerts and presentations (you can see the events on this link http://www.ilhabela.sp.gov.br/
), bars, restaurants, and stores.
if you’re on a budget, you’ll definitely enjoy these restaurants, with typical Brazilian food, well-served portions, and fair prices:
- Cheiro Verde (Vila)
- Pimenta de Cheiro (Vila)
- Manjericao (near Perequê beach)
for those who are willing to spend a little more, you’ll not be disappointed by:
- Ilha Sul (seafood – near Curral beach)
- Capitano (Italian – near Vila)
- Marakuthai (Indian – near Vila)
Regarding drinks, I highly recommend the “Barraca do Samba” just at the entrance of the Vila. It’s a typical Brazilian bar, with cheap beer, great music, and an amazing view. Anyone can tell you where to find it, and I assure you that this is one of the most Brazilian experiences to have!
Also, you can look for “Estaleiro”, a bar that opens at 11 p.m. and is where everyone gathers during weekends. It’s pretty cool, and they have live music.
Finally, do make sure you try the “rocha” ice cream, and wander around the streets. The city center is small and worth the visit.