Sep 4, 2012 1:04:10 PM
The island-lover’s guide to Brazil
Swaying palm trees, powdery white sands and aquamarine seas: Brazil‘s enchanting tropical islands do a mighty fine imitation of paradise lost.
And if swaying in a hammock while sipping a caipirinha doesn’t appeal, these ilhas offer adventure aplenty – from surfing and wildlife watching to diving in pristine coral reefs and scrambling up rainforest-covered peaks.
Fernando de Noronha
Some 350km east of Natal, off Brazil’s northeast coast, this archipelago has picture-perfect beaches and eco-friendly resorts. Noronha boasts Brazil’s best diving – truly world class with warm seas, abundant marine life and excellent visibility (up to 40m). You can also go horseback riding, take dolphin-spotting boat trips or simply soak up rays on a gorgeous beach against a backdrop of the island’s dramatic rock formations.
Although prices are higher here, the payoff is that you won’t have to share that bit of paradise with the teeming masses. Visitor numbers are limited, keeping the islands blissfully uncrowded year-round. Gol (www.voegol.com.br) and Trip Airlines (www.voetrip.com.br) have daily flights between the island and Recife, with onward connections to São Paulo. (Trip also flies from Natal.)
Morro de São Paulo
A two-hour catamaran ride from Salvador, this laid-back island village is a perfect place to unwind after a few days in the spirited Afro-Brazilian capital of Bahia. There are no cars on the island, just sandy lanes, seafront pousadas (guesthouses), candle-lit restaurants and a handful of open-air nightspots.
The beachfronts here are calm and ideal for swimming, and by night adroit barmen whip up fresh fruit caipirinhas right on the sands. Don’t miss a boat trip around the island, which stops at offshore reefs, the historic village of Cairu, and a floating restaurant famed for its oysters.
In the state of Rio de Janeiro, Ilha Grande is one of Brazil’s finest island getaways. Tropical rainforest covers more than 80% of the island, and on early morning walks along the island trails you can hear the call of howler monkeys.
You’ll also find idyllic waterfalls, scenic overlooks (including a challenging climb up the 982m Pico do Papagaio) and scores of beaches (more than 100 in fact). Praia do Lopes Mendes ranks among Brazil’s prettiest beaches, accessible by a short boat ride or a 6km trek through the forest. To reach Ilha Grande, take a ferry from Angra dos Reis, which is a 2.5-hour journey from Rio.
Ilhabela, which means ‘beautiful island’ in Portuguese, certainly lives up to its name. This Unesco-protected biosphere has volcanic peaks and tropical jungle containing hundreds of waterfalls and abundant wildlife (including toucans and capuchin monkeys).
It also has some well-preserved colonial ruins with a few buildings dating from the 16th century. Scattered shipwrecks make for some memorable diving, and scenic walks lead to undeveloped beaches on the island’s east coast. As the preferred island getaway for Paulistas (São Paulo residents), the island draws sizeable crowds if you come during the summer (December to March). You can reach the island by ferry from São Sebastião, a four-hour drive from São Paulo.
Ilha de Santa Catarina
In the south of Brazil, this large island has a little of everything: wild beaches, picturesque lakes, luxuriant rainforest and even a bit of nightlife for those seeking a less reclusive getaway. Connected to the mainland by bridge, Santa Catarina is easy to reach, with the lively city of Florianopolis serving as the island’s gateway.
From here, you can explore the pine-forest backed beaches of the east coast (with excellent surf), take in the old-fashioned Azorean fishing village community of Santo Antônio de Lisboa on the west coast or head south for white-sand beaches backed by mountainous Mata Atlântica (Atlantic rainforest). Direct flights connect Florianópolis with São Paulo and Rio.
Enchanted by Brazil’s islands? Uncover the ecotourist paradise of Ilha Grande at BBC Travel.