Ilha Grande meaning ‘big island’ is located just off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state. The perfect place for a post Olympic wind down and to catch some last minute rays before hopping on our plane home in two weeks – eek!
One of the reasons that I love this island so much is the fact that there are no motorised vehicles apart from a handfull of emergency service trucks so if you want to soak up the sun on one of the many amazing beaches you need to earn it by hiking there … Or be lazy and get a taxi boat.
The most famous beach on the island is without a doubt Lopez Mendes which Vogue once claimed to be in the top 10 beaches in the world. And if Vogue said that then it must be fact, right? Lopez Mendes is particularly striking because of its tropical vegetation and white sand curving around as far as the eye can see. We decided to hike here one day – it took three hours but the walk is really beautiful and you cross three lovely little beaches on the way.
Nothing says Brazil like booty.
Lopez Mendez may be the most sought after beach here but this boob and bumolicious Brazilian island is home to so many other beautiful beaches too. Due to the nature of the island, getting to the beaches is an adventure in itself. One minute you are in dense jungle listening to the sounds of howler monkeys and the next you pop out with a view of a perfect little deserted bay with pristine turquoise waters.
Or a murky pool full of excitable local kids…
Putting the prettiness of paradise aside for a moment, this island has a very interesting and unusual history which is definitely worth a mention. The original occupants of Ilha Grande were native people, who lived a simple lifestyle and hunted wildlife and fish for survival. Until the early sixteenth century that is, when the Portuguese discovered it. After this point ownership flitted between Portugal, Spain, France and Holland until it finally landed in Brazilian hands.
In the late sixteenth century, during the gold rush in Peru, Spain began sending huge amounts of gold back to Europe by ship. Ilha Grande acted as a pit stop where the sailors could replenish goods before continuing on to Spain. It didn’t take long however for pirates to catch onto this routine. Unfortunately for the Spanish, Ilha Grande’s many quiet coves and sheltered bays were the perfect hiding place for the pirates who would unexpectedly launch raids on the Spanish ships packed to the brim with gold. Eventually the gold rush ground to a halt but Ilha Grande was still used as a pit stop during the awful days of slave trading.
Much later, around the early nineteenth century, two hospitals were built on Ilha Grande. One was a quarantine unit for immigrants coming to Rio; at that time Europe was particularly riddled with infectious diseases such as the plague and tuberculosis. These immigrants would be held on Ilha Grande until they were fit and healthy enough to be allowed into Brazil. The second hospital was a leper colony. The latter can be seen in the image above. Later again in the twentieth century a large prison was built on the South side of the island … Who would have thought that an island that radiates tranquility could have such a dark history? For me, it makes it all the more endearing.
When we first approached the island by boat Luke knew that he wanted to climb to the highest point possible. It turns out that this point is known as ‘the parrots beak’ for obvious reasons. He set off early one morning to brave the dense rainforest and vertical landscape.
Meanwhile I lay here.
And welcomed him back with a well deserved drink.
Anybody fancy buying a house on a private island? ?
We had to tear ourselves away from this magical little place in the knowledge that we have just over one week left of our travels! I’ll let Luke’s face do the talking.