After the hustle and bustle of Rio De Janeiro, we thought we deserved some time to relax. It was our honeymoon, after all. So we headed to the island of Ilha Grande.
Ilha Grande is a lush, green little island, about 100 miles south of Rio de Janeiro. Largely rainforest and deserted beaches, Ilha Grande has avoided becoming overdeveloped, thanks in part to its previous uses as a leper colony and a high-security prison.
We took a minibus transfer from Rio to the tiny port town of Conceição de Jacareí, where we caught a ferry across to the island. On arrival, we were picked up by another, smaller, boat, to take use to our home for the next few days, a little boutique hotel called Asalem.
Asalem is a cluster of little chalets lodged into the side of the jungle, but we could barely see any sign of it for the trees as we approached on our tiny little spluttering boat. As we chugged nearer, the lodges came into view, camouflaged against the rainforest. We clambered from the boat and checked in, and were soon presented with a couple of welcome caipirinhas. The drink, a mix of cachaça, sugar and lime, is somehow exactly what you fancy at any time of the day in Brazil, even more so when you have just arrived on a remote desert island.
We were staying in Asalem’s honeymoon eco lodge, with a view over the sea, shaded by the fronds of lofty palm trees. Each morning we had breakfast overlooking the bay, eating tropical fruit and slices of cake, the standard Brazilian breakfast. Alongside us, the owners of Asalem put out fruit for the birds each morning on a little bird table, so we often all ate breakfast together.
Asalem is a great base if you want to explore the island. And we would normally have set out to do exactly that, but we remembered just before booking an all-day trek, that we were meant to be relaxing. So instead we wandered through the forest for 20 minutes until we came to Abraãozinho Beach. Here we sat under the shade of some trees, reading books and watching the world go by, interrupted only by ants the size of small mammals falling from the branches above.
Obviously, I soon lost interest in relaxing, so persuaded Nicola to go snorkelling for a bit, as we had heard that sea turtles and seahorses had previously been spotted in the cove. After a fruitless snorkel with barely any wildlife, Nicola got startled by a fish – “he swam straight into me, he wasn’t looking where he was going” – and we went back to Asalem to dry out.
The only village in Ilha Grande is a place called Abraão. Despite no cars, cash machines or major attractions other than the island itself, it’s a surprisingly touristy place, with plenty of bars and restaurants. In the last few years, Abraão seems to have somehow found itself on the backpacking circuit of Eastern Brazil. When we landed at the harbour, the bars were packed to the rafters with locals watching Brazilian league football, and white plastic garden chairs spilled out onto the street, people squinting to see the TV on the far wall of the shaded bar. We had another caipirinha or two, watching curiously as the bars erupted or fell silent with the flow of the game.
The following day we went kayaking around the island. Well, part of the island. And barely even that. We basically paddled around one peninsula until Asalem was out of site, before parking up on a deserted beach. We then sat there for a few hours, and I made a sandcastle while Nicola read her book. All very relaxing, but not the most interesting thing to write about, in all honesty.
Being an island, almost all of the food in Ilha Grande is imported. Except two things which are abundant: fish and bananas. For dinner at Asalem on our first evening we had the special, which was unsurprisingly, ‘Peixe com banana’, cooked in a broth with rice. It was delicious.
Another evening we walked along the beach to eat at Lua De Mar, a restaurant that’s on the beach itself. They simply wait for low tide, then set up tables on the sand. A series of bare bulbs are rigged up in the trees to give enough light to read the menu and see what you’re eating. We thought it was a good time try another local speciality, ‘moqueca’ which, it turns out, is just another name for fish and banana.
On our final evening ion Ilha Grande, we ventured away from the coast along a dirt track to a small restaurant called Las Sorrentinas, which cooked Argentine-style ravioli of the same name. It was the first we’d heard of it, and I’m assuming it originates from Italy, but it was delicious, and made a nice change from fish and banana.
After dinner we went back towards the sea, where a mini festival was starting to come to life at the far end of the beach. There was a stage with a reggae band playing, a few food stalls and groups of people milling around. We decided that it looked a little too like an opening scene from Death in Paradise, so made our escape before we became embroiled in the whole hour-long episode.
By the time we had taken the little boat back to Asalem, the party had really started, and we could hear distant bass and fireworks across the bay all night. Ilha Grande might be a remote little island, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know how to party.
We took the boat back to the mainland the next morning, and were soon on our way to the next stop on our honeymoon; the Iguaçu Falls.