Ilhabela is a small archipelago we recently conquered in our travels a couple hundred kilometers from São Paulo, and roughly twice as far from Rio de Janeiro. But besides its convenient location we’d heard it was a gorgeous island with a few dozen pristine beaches, calming waves, and possibly murderous tennis ball-sized mosquitoes.
Getting there was easier than we had hoped; leaving from the main bus terminal here in town to São Sebastião (about a R$60) it takes about 4-hr, through some windy nausea-provoking mountains, but with a gorgeous view of the coast. From that mainland town we caught a 15 minute ferry ride across the 2 km bay to the island center – you literally get off downtown. Despite it being such a tourist destination, some time in the past the island managed to fend off hotel companies and instead chose pousadas as the main method of housing tourists; kind of like English inns. Not too sure about the hostel situation, we booked a room on Airbnb, which turned out to basically be a hostel anyway. Still…all that mattered to Marelise was that they had a complimentary breakfast which drastically impacts how her mornings start.
Well anyway, we got there in the early afternoon, grabbed some por kilo (self-service) lunch, and hopped on a small city bus a little north to our pousada straight down the main road Av. Alm. Tamandaré. We spent the rest of the daylight we had left walking down Itaquanduba beach, and then along the boardwalk downtown. Just an hour outside São Paulo it’s immediately noticeable how much fresher and fragrant the air is. Out on a tropical island its an ambrosia compared to the city, it instantly reminded me of Costa Rica where I lived for a few months when I was younger, where similarly the smell of the ocean follows you everywhere on the breeze. Our break from civilization finally felt tangible, shrugging off our stress and future workload we frittered the rest of our night ambling around, pulling our books out every so often to fill our heads with someone else’s colorful thoughts.
We woke the following morning rather early as the combination of sunlight and humidity made our room stuffy like the backseat of a minivan during a heatstroke, where your siblings are hogging the miniature AC vents (what tells you I’ve been in that situation before?). Surprisingly I wasn’t sucked dry but the vampiric insectoids, possibly they were hibernating until high tourist season or slathering myself in insect repellent until my lips were numb may have done the trick. After the customary dinky electric heated shower we stocked up on the complimentary breakfast and headed out. The hostel (Hostel Saco de Capela itself is cozy enough – it’s tucked between a little road and a pizzaria, with green foliage everywhere and even a pool table under a little gazebo roof. We were told that we would be sharing our room with a couple of other people (there were 6 beds in the room), but no-one ever showed up.
From downtown we had to quickly switch city buses to continue heading SW down the island, making our way to a beach the pousada owner recommended called Praia Julião. It’s an idylic secluded, little beach. Only about 15 other people, warm sandy waters, aquamarine hues in the distance and a nice vista of the opposite shore. It was the perfect stretch of beach to retreat to and we didn’t want to spend more time busing around, so we set up camp. Doing as tourists do we swam around, snacked, gave each other sunscreen lotion massages, took catnaps and read the daylight away until we were salty, happy, and exhausted.
Unfortunately we had to head back to the mainland by sunset, and then on to home, but at least we accomplished what we had set out to do, even if our escape was just two days long. If we get a chance to head back, there’s so much more to the island we didn’t have time for. Dozens of hiking trails up to mountain waterfalls, or free-diving and scuba spots around the 6 shipwrecks open to the the public. Apparently the best area of the island is the difficult to access east coat. You can either boat around or take a 4×4 across, to the isolated east side or praia Castelhanos which is supposedly one of the best beaches in Brazil, *sigh* pr’haps next time.