Brazil’s threatened slice of paradise
Development completely disappears once you stroll beyond the boundaries of Abraão -- and stroll you must as no private cars are allowed on the island and the limited public transport is for island residents only. Dirt paths skirt through rainforest and along the shoreline, leading to Ilha Grande's postcard-perfect beaches, past colonial ruins and up to the steep mountain slope of 982m-high Pico do Papagaio, which affords 360-degree views over the island.
One of the best activities is to explore the island’sintriguing past. A 7km hike from Vila do Abraãoto to the south side of the island leads to the ruins of the Cândido Mendes penitentiary and the ghostly settlement of Dois Rios, a handful of dwellings where the prison guards formerly resided and where trees now grow through the middle of abandoned houses. The path leading 6km east from Abraão winds through jungle, past tiny inlets and bays before reaching the stunning beauty of Praia do Lopes Mendes, whose dazzling white sands consistently earn it a ranking among Brazil's top 10 beaches. A shorter jaunt is the 1.7km Circuito do Abraão, which leads from Vila do Abraão to the moss-covered ruins of Ilha Grande's first prison, Lazareto, passing a 19th-century aqueduct next to a picturesque swimming hole where local children splash about on their way home from school. Beyond the aqueduct , a trail leads to Cachoeira da Feiticeira, a refreshing 15m waterfall, before continuing to the beach of Saco do Ceu, whose calm lake-like waters make a marvellous setting for a swim.
While there are plenty of memorable walks on the island, you can also sign up for an outing with the sustainably-minded O Verde. Run by Argentine expat Gigi Courau, O Verde offers guided hikes, kayaking and snorkelling trips and visits to local island communities. For trips to beaches further away, book a boat trip with one of a handful of operators based at Abraão, such as Sudoeste SW. You can also negotiate a pick-up and drop-off with one of the local fishermen, who know some of the most idyllic spots. And if you would like to explore the riches beneath the sea, sign up for a dive with Elite Dive Center to see the abundant marine life and a number of shipwrecks -- some of which date back to the 16th Century.
There is much to explore on the island, and it is still easy to find a quiet stretch of shoreline backed by virgin rainforest and relax for a spell. In the future however, this slice of paradise may not be so easy to come by.