Ilhabela - the Beautiful Island of Sao Paulo State
Ilhabela is the beautiful island of São Paulo State, a rugged, mountainous interior covered in verdant Atlantic Rainforest, and lined with sub-tropical beaches that lies only 3 hours but a whole world away from the big city. This proximity makes it the perfect short break from Sao Paulo, with crystal clear waters on the calm beaches facing the continent, and the wilder waves of the Atlantic side and waterfalls galore dropping from the steep mountainsides. The inhospitable terrain of the island, the rocky coastline and the sometimes wild seas made it the perfect place for pirates to hide as they attacked ships using the port of Santos. As with much of the Costa Verde, the corsairs who sailed the oceans in the early years of colonialism, often landed on Ilhabela, and there are rumours of treasure still buried on the island, including that of famous English buccaneer Thomas Cavendish.
Ilhabela has its own treasures as well. Relaxing on the island is easy with miles of calm beaches and wonderful views looking back to the Brazil mainland, but exploring it is much more fun. Boat trips around the perimeter stop off at beautiful beaches such as Castelhanos and Bonete, and in protected bays of green water at Praia do Fome and Saco do Eustaquio. 4x4 vehicles or mountain bikes take you over the coast to coast dirt road. There are also trails to visit some of the 300 waterfalls like the 70m high Cachoeira do Gato, and also the 1,000m plus peaks of mountains such as Mt Baepi. Surfing and kite-surfing are also popular around the waters of the island. The island has quiet areas to enjoy the scenery with views back to the Costa Verde coastline of the mainland, and also a lively area around Praia do Curral, with plenty of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Ilhabela can also be used as a base to explore the mainland beaches, with steep mountains dropping straight into the ocean, and small surf towns in the hollows such as Maresias and Juquehy. There are also more mountain trails and waterfalls to discover as part of the Serra do Mar State Park. Here and on the island you can find wildlife in the rainforest, with monkeys, anteaters and ocelots, as well as a large variety of birds and butterflies.
The clear waters around Ilhabela also make for good scuba diving, and the rugged coastline and channel between the island and the mainland on the journey to the port of Santos has led to many wrecks littering the ocean floor, many of them available for qualified divers to explore such as the Velasquez and Principe das Asturias ships, with Ilha das Cabras and Saco do Sombrio being favourite dive sites. The rocky coastline provides ideal conditions to dive and also snorkel with colourful fish, large groupers, sea-turtles and small sharks. In just three hours you can leave the metropolis of Sao Paulo and be relaxing in the sub-tropical paradise of Ilhabela.
Suitable Destination For: Ecotourism; Escape and relaxation; Activities on land and in the water.
Best Time to Visit: Ilhabela is sub-tropical and is cooler during the winter months of June, July and August. Brazil high season of Christmas to Carnaval is very busy, as is the holiday month of July and also public holiday weekends throughout the year.
Essential Sights & Activities: Ilhabela itself is a highlight, with fabulous scenery and views all over the island. The mainland side has beaches the whole length, while the Atlantic side has wilder beaches in Castelhanos and Bonete that are beautiful and more difficult to access. With so many waterfalls, then visiting some is essential, as is a boat trip of some kind to see more of the island.