Costa Verde – Ilhabela

As we looked across the São Sebastião Channel toward Ilhabela we couldn’t stop staring at the tall mountains that took over the island’s interior. They are a continuation of the mountain range that follows much of Costa Verde in Brazil, but looked much taller than those we had seen yet. Between the peaks and the ocean, there is just enough flat land to host the town and pristine beaches that were waiting to be explored.

After visiting Ilha Grande we traveled to an even larger island on Costa Verde. Ilhabela is almost twice as large as Ilha Grande. At 347 square km, it is the second largest island in Brazil. Ilha Grande is a mere 193 square km. Although Ilhabela actually refers to the archipelago, most people refer to this large island as by that name. It is formally called Ilha de São Sebastião.

The main city on the island is also called Ilhabela. Much different than the relaxed vacation vibe on Ilha Grande, this is a busy city with paved roads, traffic lights and local stores such as hardware and grocery stores. Of course there are tourist shops, restaurants and hotels, but it is a city designed both for the people who live there as well as for tourists.

Along the edge of the city we found the long Praia do Perequê. It may not be the nicest beach to laze on for the day, but we loved walking on the long boardwalk at its side. The pathway is shaded by tall palm trees making if a comfortable place to walk while enjoying the views toward the mainland.

A paved road follows the western coastline, traversing from the north to south of the island. This meant that it was easier for us to see other parts of the island on our own, without having to take a boat tour. This is the way we prefer to explore a new place.

Given that the island is so large, we had to make a decision to either visit the north or south half. We chose to visit the north to see the most beautiful cove on the island. At its tip lies Praia do Jabaquara. The view from above is lovely. Between the green rainforest and turquoise water we could see a pristine white-sand beach. It wasn’t as busy as some Brazilian beaches we visited and seemed to have a good mix of amenities and nature. There are restaurants and kiosks in one area, but also a lot of natural space. A small lagoon fills with water during high tide and provides a gentle bath for a soak.

On the way back to town we had a few nice views of the island’s green shoreline. The undulations between its many points and coves makes it very picturesque.

We stopped to see a few of the small beaches that dot the shore. To reach Praia do Pacuiba we walked from the road down a long stairway built of large rocks from the mountain’s walls. There were only a few people sitting on the lawn above the beach and its natural setting made us wonder why there weren’t more people.

Praia da Armação was a little tricky to find because we had to walk through a resort to find it. There’s a law In Brazil that all beaches are public and you can’t restrict access. The resort had to let us in, even though we were dressed in walking gear and not beachwear.  They almost didn’t know what to do with us, but eventually left us alone so we could explore ‘their’ beach. It is a small, quiet beach with an old Portuguese chapel on its edge.

Between Armação and the city, the coast is one long beach separated into coves by small rocky points. Right beside Armação is Praia Pinto, a small beach with easier access since the road is now at sea level. We were told we could continue to walk along the rocks to reach the next beach, but it turned out that it wasn’t as easy as we expected. We climbed up and over tall, slippery boulders around the point only to see more of the same further ahead. Eventually, after a lot of sweaty effort, we reached the lookout Pedra do Sino (Bell Stone). I’m sure the people standing on the lookout wondered where this sweaty pair had come from and why!

From there it was easy to reach Praia do Sino and finally Praia do Garapoccaia where we treated ourselves to a much needed beer. At one of the beaches, kayaks were available to rent. It took a long time to realize the sign ‘Quaiaques’ was for Kayaks.

In fact, as soon as we arrived in Brazil we realized that Portuguese is a very difficult language to learn. We thought our basic knowledge of Spanish would help, but it rarely did. Some Portuguese words are easy and are fairly similar to Spanish such as quejo (cheese), praia (beach) or mascara (mask) but most were not. Pronunciation was often a problem for us. We tried to learn a few words before we arrived and thought we knew how to say ‘bom dia’ (good morning) but we were way off in pronouncing it correctly as bo jee-ah. There are a lot of zh, gee, chi sounds in Brazilian Portuguese. The word for today is hoje pronounced oh-zhee. Abacate (avocado) is pronounced abacatchee; sete (seven) is pronounced se-tche. The number two was very difficult because it has a masculine dois and feminine duas and we didn’t know which one to use at any time and often resorted to showing two fingers. It took a long time to learn the days of the week Segunda-feira, terça-feira, quarta-feira, etc (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday). The funniest story though is when Maggie was trying to get into the bus terminal. The guard was looking at her ticket while speaking with another man. The guard said ‘now’ so Maggie tried to enter, but he stopped her. He said ‘now’ again, she tried to enter again and he stopped her. This went on and on until finally she got inside. Much later we figured out he was saying não (no) to the other man, but it sounded to us like the English word now. There were may some words weren’t difficult to pronounce or spell but were very unlike English or Spanish such as suco (juice), abacaxi (pineapple), or frango (chicken). Google Lens was very helpful and we highly recommend it. The icon is in the upper corner on the Google Chrome app.

Back to our tour of Ilhabela. We had seen the Pico do Baepi standing high above town for the past few days and thought we’d like to see the views from its slope. An easy hiking trail leads from town to a lookout platform part way up the mountain. The lookout is above an open meadow so there is an unobstructed view of the island’s shore and the coastline on the mainland.

Another trail leaves the viewpoint and heads through the jungle toward the summit. We were hoping to get views of the other side of the island, so continued our hike up the mountain. To get to the mountain’s peak you are supposed to hire a guide. A park official questioned us before we began our hike and we assured her we weren’t going to the summit. We hadn’t intended on going as high as we did, but the dense Atlantic Forest wouldn’t let even a shimmer of light shine through, never mind allowing a view. We kept going higher hoping to reach a viewpoint of the other side of the island. After almost 3 hours, gaining 1,010 m in 3 km we finally reached a rocky outcrop that gave us a slightly better view than we had below.  We could see toward the southern end of the island, but still not much on the other side.

We ended up being just below the summit and could see that from the summit, we still wouldn’t get a view. When we returned to the park official, over 4 hours later, she knew that we went higher than the first lookout and was quite angry, but we were honest that we didn’t go to the summit. The trail is steep and has quite a few slippery roots, but is not difficult to the point where we turned around. Beyond that it looks to be steeper and possibly exposed and that may be why a guide is required.

One thing about Ilhabela that is not endearing is amount of black flies (borrachudos). They are relentless. We brought Deep Woods Off from Canada and it helped to deter them, but unless you covered every square inch of your skin, they will find that one spot that you missed and leave a very itchy bite mark. During the day they are not a problem, but at dusk and dawn you may want to remain inside.

We did like Ilhabela, but there was no comparison between it and Ilha Grande. In our opinion they got the names mixed up for these two islands. Ilha Grande is smaller and prettier than Ilhabela, so the names should be reversed.

Getting to Ilhabela

The ferry travels between the city of São Sebastião on the mainland and Ilhabela town every half hour and takes roughly 20 minutes. Don’t depend on the ferries being on time though. One of the ferries we took was 45 minutes late and was quickly followed by the next two ferries. Getting to São Sebastião from São Paulo by bus is quite easy as there are several buses a day making the trip. From the eastern side of Costa Verde you will need to first take a bus to Caraguatatuba. From there you can catch another bus to São Sebastião (30 minutes). The Rodoviária (bus station) is a 15-minute walk to the ferry (Balsa). The public ferry is free to pedestrians and cyclists, but there is a fee for vehicles. When we were there, a long line of cars were waiting for the ferry. Sometimes the wait for vehicles can be over 2 hours.

Getting around in Ilhabela

If you visit Ilhabela without a car as we did, you will find their city buses to be dependable and safe. There are several different routes in the city and one between the city and Armação in the north and another to Borrifos in the south. The cost is roughly R$5 ($1 USD) per trip.

Where to stay on Ilhbela

There are many options for hotels and resorts along the entire west coast. Most are easily accessible by car. If you want a remote location, there are a few boat access-only resorts located on the eastern beaches. We stayed in the main town of Ilhabela. It’s a busy town but has several good restaurants and pubs and you can easily take day trips to other parts of the island.


On our way from Ilha Grande to Ilhabela we spent a couple of days in Ubatuba. Known for being the rainiest city in the area, we didn’t plan to spend much time. The city is very industrial but the views of Ubatuba Bay are unmatched. We loved walking along the main beach, Praia Itaguá, to watch how the look of the mountains changed as the sun moved across the sky.

There are of course many more beaches in town, but most were filled with beachgoers. They all have very nice surroundings, but were a little too busy for our liking.

To read about our other adventures in Brazil click here.

Coming Next – The Historic Port Town of Paraty

For pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at

To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.

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