Ilhabela is an archipelago and a municipality in the North Coast of São Paulo.
Ilhabela is considered one of the natural paradises of the São Paulo coast, along with Ubatuba (Ilhabela means literally "beautiful island" in Portuguese). It is known for its forest-covered mountains, its amazing beaches, its savage trails - and difficult not to mention, also its vicious sand flies.
In pre-colonial times, the largest island of the archipelago, São Sebastião, was called Maembipe by Native Brazilians, who used the island for trade and prisoner exchange. The island was discovered in 1502 by the Portuguese, and although settlement began shortly thereafter, the village of the island was officially founded only in 1806, with the name of Vila Bela da Princesa ("Beautiful Village of the Princess"). The municipality would finally be named "Ilhabela" in 1945. In 1977, the majority of the archipelago's area was declared a state park and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
To get to Ilhabela it is necessary first to go to São Sebastião (the city on the coast, not the island), where a ferry boat, located at the end of Al. São Sebastião (downtown) departs. The bus from São Paulo is about R$70, and ride sharing about R$35-40. There are buses from São Paulo that stop at the ferry boat point, if you are not up to walk 1 km from the São Sebastião intercity bus terminal.
- 1 São Sebastião - Ilhabella Ferryboat terminal (Travessia São Sebastião - Ilhabella), Av. Antônio Januário do Nascimento, s/n - Centro, São Sebastião, toll-free: 0800 773 3711. Open 24 hr. From here you can catch a ferryboat to/from Ilhabela. Ferry boats depart every 30 min. between 06:00-00:00, and every 1 hour between 00:00-06:00. The duration of the crossing is 15 min. In high season, a queue of up to 1 hour for vehicles is not uncommon. Pedestrians and cyclists free; cars R$11-17; motorbikes R$6-9.
Since construction in Ilhabela is mostly restricted to the West coast of the São Sebastião island, there is really just one avenue and getting around, by bus or by car, should be simple. The coast has many slopes, making cycling not a very attractive option. Walking is fine, as there are plenty of sidewalks and other infrastructure for pedestrians, but the occasionally long distance between towns can be a problem.
Additionally, the municipality operates several bus services that run the length of the island (one-way R$4 without / $R2.50 with IC card). While not as comfortable as traveling by car, the bus provides a cheaper alternative for those looking to get around the island.
There are also a couple of non-pavimented roads that give access to remote points of the island, like the Castelhanos beach in the East coast. To reach the other side of the coast, you do not necessarily need a 4WD—the road is a proper but unpaved track. Note that only in the morning you are allowed to go west to east, and in the afternoon to go east to west on the Ilhabela-Castelhanos road, which is controlled by the national park staff at the entrance.
The rest of Ilhabela can only be reached by boat or by trails in the rainforest.
The beaches of the Northwest coast are easily accessible using the main avenue and the non-pavimented road in the north. Most have calm waters and are adequate for nautical sports. They occasionally suffer from pollution originated in the mainland.
- 1 Armação (Praia da Armação), Armação (12 km north of ferry). Suitable for windsurf and kitesurf. Contains a charming church, Capela Imaculada Conceição, and some kiosks and restaurants.
- 2 Pedra do Sino (Praia do Pedra do Sino), Garapocaia (between Siriúba and Poço). One of the most famous beaches of Ilhabela, it gets its name from its rock formations, which produce a bell-like sound when they hit each other. With shallow and calm waters, and white sands surrounded by coconut trees.
- 3 Ponta Azeda (Praia da Ponta Azeda) (accessible from Praia do Pinto). Small and with calm waters.
- 4 Siriúba (Praia do Siriuba), Av. Leonardo Reale, 2986 - Siriúba (8 km north of the ferry). Quiet beach surrounded by coconot trees, with calm waters.
- 5 Barreiros (Praia de Barreiros) (7,5 km north of ferry). Beautiful beach with 600 m extensions and calm waters. Before reaching the beach there is a nice view of the São Sebastião channel.
- 6 Itaquanduba (Praia de Itaquanduba). Small and quiet beach, with calm waters. Mostly frequented by locals.
- Pequeá. Close to downtown and good for sailing. With bars and restaurants.
The beaches of the Southeast Coast are difficult to access and mostly desert. Many have strong waves, being indicated for surfing.
- 7 Caveira (Praia da Caveira) (south of Serraria island). Diving point. Only accessible by boat.
- 8 Enchovas (Praia das Enxovas) (50 min. trail from Bonete). One of the most beautiful spots of the island. With thick and yellow sands, rocks and a river.
- 9 Indaiúba (Praia de Indaiauba) (near Enchovas/Bonete). With white sands and calm waters. Only accessible by boat.
- 10 Bonete (Praia do Bonete) (12 km trail from Ponta de Sepituba). Considered by the British Guardian to be newspaper one of the 10 most beautiful beaches of Brazil. With strong waves.
- Sailing and surfing. Ilhabela is called "the capital of sailing" for good reason, as the calm waters and strong winds between the main island and the continent are perfect for nautical sports such as sailing, kitesurf and windsurf.
- Scuba diving. There are a good number of places indicated for scuba diving.
- Boat rides. For those who want a more relaxed time, an option are the boat rides to remote beaches, fishing spots and the smaller islands.
- 1 Parque dos Castelhanos, toll-free: 0800 113560. Cars to Castelhanos: 08:00-14:00, from Castelhanos: 15:00-18:00 (15 km to the beach). The park gives access to the beach(es) on the other side of the island.
- 2 Waterfalls (Áqua Branca Trail). The Parque dos Castelhanos offers some refreshing waterfalls to take a dip right at its entrance. There is also a great bird observation tower. 4 km, 1 hr.
Trekking and mountain biking
Besides the full south, east, west jungle Bonete Trail, the island offers many shorter hikes, e.g. Pico do Baepi. Also, inside the island, trekking and mountain biking shall give plenty of adventure for those who seek it.
- 3 Bonete Jungle Trail (Trilha do Bonete, 44 km) (Take a bus along the western coast to the most southern point, from here it is 44 km by Bonete, Castelhanos and back to Cambaquara. You might be able to skip the last 16 km across the hills by taking one of the many 4WD that bring tourists back to Cambaquara in the afternoon.). If you need a break from the constant Brazilian hassle and concern for your life, this is where you need to head. You can see monkeys, all kinds of birds, lush jungle forests, beautiful beaches, picturesque waterfalls, and take a dip in on of the many river pools. You should do the full trail, because you really do not want to take the bus twice. There are some camping site along the trail, both backcountry as well as serviced ones.
South parking / bus stop to Bonete: 2-3 hr. Bonete to Praia de Indaiúba (private): 2 hr. Praia de Indaiúba to Castelhanos: 2 hr. Castelhanos to Cambaquara: 3-4 hr.
Watch out, the trails are often very slippery (everything that looks green). Some claim that it is good to use a repellent against the sand flies, but instead of all those chemicals you are better off just using long clothes. The beaches are not really enjoyable due to the sand flies anyhow. Praia das Enchovas is deserted and rocky, no place to put up a tent.
Download coordinates: GPX, KML.
- 4 Pico do Baepi. The highest mountain on Ilhabela with great views.
- 1 [dead link] Cheiro Verde, Rua da Padroeira 109, ☏ . A reasonably priced option, specialized in seafood-based Brazilian dishes like moqueca and bobó de camarão.
- 2 [formerly dead link] Cura, Av. Princesa Isabel, 337 - Perequê, ☏ . Self-service restaurant with 60 options of warm dishes. Pay per kg.
- 3 [dead link] Max Paladar, Av. São João, 243 - Perequê, ☏ . Traditional self-service restaurant in a rustic environment. Claims to serve 90% of the food with 0% trans fat.
- 4 Praia do Bonete Ilha Bela, Bonete.
- 5 [dead link] Nautica NEMA, Bonete, ☏ .
- 6 Quiosque do Alemão, Praia de Castelhanos - Castelhanos, ☏ . Daily 09:00-17:00.
- 1 Me Gusta, Avenida Pedro Paula De Moraes, 690; Jardins, ☏ .
Camping, serviced and backcountry, is possible on the eastern side of the island. To find appropriate sites, checkout OpenStreetMap, which is used by many mobile Apps like OsmAnd (complex with many add-ons) and MAPS.ME (easy but limited). If you additionally find good spots to put up a tent, help other hikers by marking the place on OpenStreetMap.
- 1 Camping Leo, Castelhanos, Ilhabela - State of São Paulo, 11630-000, ☏ . Basic campground. No electricity. Close to the beach. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Camping-do-Leo-1139666829424633/
- 2 Chalés do Paolo Ilhabela, R. Florentino G Viêira Neto, 80 - Barra Velha, ☏ . Rua Florentino Garcia Viera Nerto, 80 - Barra Velha,
- 3 [dead link] Hostel Trópico de Capricórnio, Rua da Cocaia 741, ☏ . Inexpensive and laid-back hostel, about 1.5 km from the Ilhabela ferry station. From R$25.
- 4 Mirailha Pousada e Chalés, R. Pedro Luciano, 99 - Barra Velha, ☏ . Travessa Pedro Garcia, 99, Barra Velha,
- 5 [formerly dead link] Sambaqui Hostel, Praia do Bonete (Located to the south of the island, it is necessary to follow a trail of 12 km of length starting from the Ponta de Sepituba passing through the State Park of Ilhabela and crossing three waterfalls - a walk that lasts from 4 to 5 hours. Another way to get to this beach is by sea, sailing with the locals themselves, skirting the Ponta de Sepituba, at the southern end of the island.), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sambaquihostel
- Hotel Costa Azul, ☏ . Saco do Indaiá
- Hotel Ilha Flat Hotel, ☏ , . Perequê
- Hotel Mercedes, Av. Leonardo Reali, 2222, ☏ . Praia do Viana,
- [formerly dead link] Hotel Pousada do Capitão, ☏ . Av.Almirante Tamandaré, 272,
- Real Villa Bella, Av. Força expedicionária Brasileira, 234, ☏ . Vila,
- Hotel Maison Joly, Rua Antonio Lisboa Alves 278, na Vila, ☏ , .
Ilhabela is, without doubt, a natural paradise, which can also mean hell for humans. The rainforest in the archipelago is well known for the borrachudos, a sand-fly-like insect whose bites will give you an excruciatingly itchy experience. Use a good quality repellent all the time, in every exposed part of your body including the bottom of your feet, in case you are wearing sandals or flip-flops. Or just wear long clothes to cover your body, instead of using all those chemicals.
Beach pollution problems have started to appear in the west coast of Ilhabela, and at some times of the year, some beaches may not be suitable for swimming. The water quality is weekly monitored by the state water agency (CETESB), so if you see a red flag of CETESB in the beach, don't go swimming (information also available online [formerly dead link]).
Some bus stations in the center provide free WiFi. But just walking around will reveal other open and free WiFi spots.