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Ilha Grande & Vila do Abraão

The fabulous island retreat of Ilha Grande owes its pristine condition to its unusual history. For centuries, the island’s unsavory reputation – first as a pirate's lair, then as a leper colony and penitentiary – kept developers at bay. Consequently, beautiful tropical beaches and virgin Atlantic rainforest (now protected as state parkland) abound, and the island still has only a handful of settlements.

Vila do Abraão, Ilha Grande's main town, was just a sleepy fishing village until the mid-1990s, when the infamous prison was destroyed and tourism began in earnest. Despite the influx of outsiders, Abraão, with its palm-studded beachfront and tidy orange church, remains small by mainland standards, and the prevailing rhythm is agreeably slow, thanks in large part to the absence of motorized vehicles. By day, life is all about exploring the island's dozens of trails and beaches, while evening brings half the town down to socialize by the waterfront.

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