South America > Brazil > Southeast (Brazil) > São Paulo (state) > North Coast (São Paulo) > Ilhabela
Ilhabela is an archipelago and a municipality in the North Coast of São Paulo. It is considered one of the natural paradises of the São Paulo coast, along with Ubatuba (Ilhabela means literally "beautiful island" in Portuguese). The place is known for its forest-covered mountains, its amazing beaches, its savage trails - and difficult not to mention, also its vicious mosquitos.
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. 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.
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. Pedestrians can get into the boat for free. For cars, the fee is R$ 11 (R$ 16,40 on weekends), and half the price for motorbikes. On high season, a queue of up to 1 hour for vehicles is expected.
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. 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. A 4x4 vehicle or mountain bike, as well as a prepared driver or cyclist, are necessary for some of them.
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.
- Armação (12 km north of ferry). Suitable for windsurf and kitesurf. Contains a charming church, Capela Imaculada Conceição, and some kiosks and restaurants.
- Pedra do Sino (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.
- Ponta Azeda (accessible from Praia do Pinto). Small and with calm waters.
- Siriúba (8 km north of the ferry). Quiet beach surrounded by coconot trees, with calm waters.
- 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.
- 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.
- Caveira (south of Serraria island). Diving point. Only accessible by boat.
- Enchovas (50 min. trail from Bonete). One of the most beautiful spots of the island. With thick and yellow sands, rocks and a river.
- Indaiúba (near Enchovas/Bonete). With white sands and calm waters. Only accessible by boat.
- Bonete (12 km trail from Ponta de Sepituba). Considered by the British Guardian newspaper one of the 10 most beautiful beaches of Brazil. With strong waves.
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. There are also a good number of places indicated for surfing and scuba diving. Inside the island, trekking and mountain biking shall give plenty of adventure for those who seek it. For those who want a more relaxed time, an option are the boat rides to remote beaches, fishing spots and the smaller islands.
- Cheiro Verde, Rua da Padroeira 109 - Centro, ☏ . A reasonably priced option, specialized in seafood-based Brazilian dishes like moqueca and bobó de camarão.
- Cura, Av. Princesa Isabel, 337 - Perequê, ☏ . Self-service restaurant with 60 options of warm dishes. Pay per kg.
- 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.
- Me Gusta, ☏ .
- Mirailha Pousada e Chalés, ☏ . Travessa Pedro Garcia, 99, Barra Velha,
- Chalés do Paolo Ilhabela, ☏ . Rua Florentino Garcia Viera Nerto, 80 - Barra Velha,
- Hotel Costa Azul, ☏ . Saco do Indaiá
- Hotel Ilha Flat Hotel, ☏ , . Perequê
- Hotel Ilhabela, ☏ . Av. Pedro de Paula Moraes, 151,
- Pousada Lacosta, Av. Riachuelo, 5, ☏ . 531, between Julião and Grande beaches,
- Pousada Forte Rocha, Av. Engenho Velho, 366, ☏ . Feiticeira,
- Hotel Mercedes, Av. Leonardo Reali, 2222, ☏ . Praia do Viana,
- Hotel Pousada do Capitão, ☏ . Av.Almirante Tamandaré, 272,
- Real Villa Bella, Av. Força expedicionária Brasileira, 234, ☏ . Vila,
- Pousada Solar Singuitta, ☏ . Rua Doutor Mário Covas Junior, 14.500 A,
- Pousada Isola Bella, ☏ , . Next to Praia do Curral, tel.
- Hotel Maison Joly, Rua Antonio Lisboa Alves 278, na Vila - 11300-000 tel. +55 12 3896-1201, +55 12 3896-2364, 
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 mosquito-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. One particularly recommended repellent is the Exposis Extrême, that prevents about 90% of the bites and significantly alleviates the pain and itchiness of the other 10%. It is about 40% more expensive than other repellents, but it is definitely worth it, especially for those doing trekking.
Beach pollution problems have unfortunately 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).