Ilhabela, Brazil’s largest off-coast island is only a 15-minute ferry boat ride from São Sebastião. Once you’re there, it’s utter relaxation all the way (provided you’re armed with mosquito repellent—85 percent of the volcanic island is covered in damp, virgin Atlantic forest and, as a result, extremely annoying bloodsuckers called borrachudos are usually out in full force).
With dozens of beaches, over 300 waterfalls and constant breezes (which makes the surrounding waters a sailor’s and windsurfer’s dream), the island is a magnet for every kind of nature enthusiast, ranging from hikers and deep-sea divers to indolent hammock-swinging Robinson Crusoe types.
It also draws a fair amount of fancy folk from São Paulo—many of whom have luxurious villas tucked away on beaches, along with private piers and helicopter pads.
This explains the high number of eco-chic hotels and gourmet restaurants as well as the somewhat high prices. Things get especially astronomical on holiday weekends and in January, not to mention crowded (with traffic jams on the island’s main coastal road). If you’re in search of peace and tranquility, avoid these times like the plague.
Getting to Ilhabela
Balsas (ferries) (tel. 12/3896-8286, free for passengers, R$16 for cars) make the 20-minute crossing from São Sebastião to Ilhabela every half hour 6 a.m.–midnight, and hourly thereafter. If you plan to rent a car on the mainland (which will give you great mobility on the island), be aware that traffic lineups are insane on weekends and in summer. Avoid the hassle and call in advance to reserve (tel. 0800/555-510). From Perequê, municipal buses leave regularly for Vila Ilhabela.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition