|Praia do Perequê (Perequê Beach).|
That's what the Portuguese word, Ilhabela, literally means. And true enough, this archipelago located in the state of São Paulo very much deserves that name with its beaches, dense forests, and--from what I hear--excellent wreck dive sites.
In fact, this archipelago is so rich that almost 85% of the island has been turned into a park and Unesco-protected biosphere.*
How to get there
The most convenient way to go there would be by car. In our case, our jump off point was São Paulo City. Ilhabela is 205 km from the city* and it usually takes three hours to get there sans getting lost. But like any other exciting road trip, we did get lost (haha) and ended up driving for about five hours.
|The road to Ilhabela.|
I did a little research online and found this site containing detailed instructions on how to drive going there. According to my cousin, this is the fastest route.
But they wanted to show us a nicer view so we took the road by the sea.
TIP: Brazil is not an English-speaking country so asking for directions can prove to be quite challenging. Before embarking on a road trip to Ilhabela (or any location in Brazil for that matter), make sure you've done your research on how to get there and have a map on hand.
You can also buy a local sim and turn on your mobile data so you can use Google Navigation or Waze to help with the directions.
Somewhere along the way, we took a wrong turn and ended up in the municipality of Guarujá, which actually wasn't so bad because we had this view.
|Praia das Asturias (Asturias Beach).|
|Stopover. (L-R) My cousin Karen, my sister Ainna, my niece Danielle, yours truly, and my cousin Melisa.|
And then voilà, you're finally in Ilhabela.
The moment our wheels touched the island streets and we rolled our windows down, I fell in love with Ilhabela. Upon disembarking the ferry, you will see stores lined up selling colorful beach paraphernalia and local trinkets.
Samba was also playing left and right easily immersing you into the island life.
The sun was almost setting when we arrived. So after checking into our rooms, we did a quick change and went to the beachside.
|Praia Grande (Grande Beach).|
|Cold beachside. It was windy and the air was chilly but we didn't mind. The beach was too beautiful to take notice of the cold :)|
|My brother-in-law, the other shutterbug.|
There are 41 beaches (yes, 41!) in the archipelago.* So during our two-day stay, we only got to explore, really explore, two of them. (Some of them, like the Praia Grande and Praia do Perequê, we just checked out in passing.)
Below is a map of Ilhabela (which I got from one of the brochures).
I've placed little blue arrows beside the names of the beaches we went to.
P R A I A D O S C A S T E L H A N O S
Praia dos Casthelanos means "beach of the Castilians". The beach was named such because of its history of being conquered by the Castilians centuries ago.
Going there, we had to take a 4x4 vehicle and the ride was around two hours because the beach was atop one of the mountains in the archipelago.
Coming from the Philippines, the beach is not uncommon to me. What I loved about Praia dos Casthelanos, though, is how raw everything is--no resorts (just tables, beach chairs, umbrellas, and a small bar by the road) and no cell phone signal.
People would either just spend the whole day sunbathing....
...or in their case, drinking and dancing!
On the way back, we were fortunate enough that this jolly lady who's a 5th generation local of Praia dos Castelhanos hitched a ride with us and told us about the interesting history of their place.
She also said that the mayor of Ilhabela has been planning to build a resort at their beach and a bridge connecting the city of São Sebastião to Ilhabela. Something which they are opposed to. And I totally get why.
Why "fix" something that's already beautiful in the first place?
P R A I A D O B O N E T E
Praia do Bonete or Bonete Beach is even more isolated than Praia dos Castelhanos. Going there was faster. Took us only 40 minutes to one hour via speedboat. But since Castelhanos was located in a cove of sorts, it's separated from the other beaches.
There was also only one bar on the island and I absolutely loved, LOVED how rasta everything was! They were even playing reggae the whole time.
There's a small community on the island but we hardly saw the locals (except for the ones manning the bar).
|A typical chappel in Ilhabela.|
The waves in Praia do Bonete are good for surfing too. But we already had our minds set on doing...ABSOLUTELY NOTHING and practically just sunbaking so that's what we did :p
|Beach bums. (L) Me playing with my niece (Read: My niece throwing sand at me haha); (R) Sunbaking with my cousin.|
The town proper
After a day at the beach, the perfet way to cap the night would be dinner and drinks at the town proper. You could still see a lot of Portuguese influence around particularly on the establishments.
|A church at the Ilhabela town proper.|
This is also the avenue in Ilhabela where they hold the parade during the Carnaval.
- Before going to Ilhabela, list down the activities that you want to do first. Like I mentioned, there are 41 beaches in the archipelago, each catering to different activities. So if you have limited time, you have to prioritize which beach would cater to your wants (E.g. sailing, diving, paddle boarding, or just simply relaxing).
- PUT ON INSECT REPELLANT ALL THE TIME. Apparently, there is a breed of mosquitos called the borrachudos particularly found on the beaches of Ilhabela. They can be pretty nasty which we found out when they started feeding on our legs, arms, and back. Unlike ordinary mosquitoes, their bites sting and will leave marks on your skin that can last for months! (I still have mine!) And these borrachudos mean business--even if you slather insect repellant lotion all over your body, they will look for the unprotected areas and do their bloodsucking there.
It was our cousins who booked everything for us and we stayed at this really charming bed and breakfast called Pousada Por Do Sol.
The service was good and everything was so cozy. The rooms were clean and spacious enough. I also like the fact that the design of the whole place didn't stray away from the island vibe. (Check out rates and reviews here.)
We were only in Ilhabela for two days (not counting the travel time to and from) but I've already soaked up so much island culture. If I'm lucky, I'll get to visit this place again, see other beaches, do some diving, and explore the rest of this "beautiful island".