Introducing Ilha Grande & Vila do Abraão
The fabulous island retreat of Ilha Grande owes its pristine condition to its unusual history. First it was a pirates’ lair, then a leper colony and, finally, a penitentiary where political prisoners were held alongside some of Brazil’s most violent criminals. All that remains of those days are some half-buried stone foundations, but the island’s unsavory reputation kept developers at bay for a long time. Consequently, beautiful tropical beaches and virgin Atlantic rainforest (now protected as state parkland) abound on Ilha Grande, and there are still only a few settlements on the island.
Vila do Abraão, the island's biggest town, was itself a sleepy fishing village until the mid-1990s, when Ilha Grande’s infamous penitentiary was destroyed and tourism on the island started in earnest. Over the years, a veritable thicket of pousadas (guesthouses), restaurants and bars has popped up, but this palm-studded beachfront town, with its tidy yellow church, is still incredibly picturesque, and remains small by mainland Brazilian standards. Except for Abraão’s lone garbage truck, fire engine and police vehicle, cars are not allowed in town, so the only transport here is by foot or boat. The village comprises a few dirt roads, and everybody congregates down near the docks and beach at night. On weekends and during high season it can get a bit claustrophobic in Vila do Abraão, but you can easily escape the crowds by hiking a few steps out of town in any direction.