Paraty & Ilha Grande – February 22 – February 27, 2019
If you’re not loving the urban vibe of Rio, head a couple hours west to peaceful, beautiful, beaches. Below are a few tips of the gems I discovered on a recent trip to Brazil.
— Avoid the Green toad shuttle service. You do not need to book a shuttle online from home before arriving if you have a day or two notice once there (ie. When you arrive in Paraty you can book your shuttle to Ilha Grande for 2 days later)
— Many things closed on Sundays, the currency exchange in Paraty is only open Monday to Friday
— There is no free wifi everywhere, as a foreigner your only option for a sim is to go to the Vivo store on the main street in Paraty. The other providers require a Brazilian CPF number.
— It is very expensive to eat in the historical area. Prices decrease as you get further away.
— Skip Paraty if you want easy access to nice beaches but go there if you don’t mind a bit of hassle to find beautiful beaches without the crowds of Rio.
— Don’t trust the bus schedule by any means. Ever. Use Uber if you absolutely need to go somewhere at a specific time.
Ilha Grande tips:
— There are plenty of restaurants and accommodations on the island but that is all. There is no bank machine or other amenities. Show up prepared.
— The island is incredibly safe. To walk alone at night with a purse was such an amazing feeling (you will know what I mean after you visit Rio and Buenos Aires)
— Pack bug spray and get your yellow fever vaccine. I’m not kidding about this one. The mosquitos on this island are disease carrying savages.
— Consider hiking to some of beaches instead of just taking boats. There are some beautiful trails. Pack appropriate footwear to hike.
— The boat to Lopes Mendes beach does not go directly there. You will still need to hike 20 minutes from the drop off point (bring bug spray!)
— Don’t assume every beach you hike to will have boat taxis waiting to shuttle you back to Abraao. Larger beaches like Lopes Mendes will but be prepared to hike back or flag down a fishing or tourist boat for a ride back if no boat taxis are around.
— Power outages are frequent (daily) – as one person I met described “when it rains, when it is dry, when the island is too full, or when the island is too empty the power will go out”
— Before booking boat transfers to the beaches find out if you are on the fast boat or slow boat if it matters to you.
— Door to door shuttles to Rio are R$100 – R$110 and when you factor in the cost of the boat across, the bus to Rio and then an Uber from the bus station, this is a bargain. I hate shuttles but in this case, it might be worth doing.
Below are some details of how I spent my days, how I got to and from beaches, and navigated getting stranded a few times including hitchhiking once and joining a boat tour another time…
I got a taste of Brazil time from the second I landed in Rio.
I hate airport shuttles. They’re an overpriced, inconvenient mode of transportation marketed as a budget friendly option. For myself as a solo traveller, the shuttle from Rio airport to Paraty was almost half the price of Uber and advertised to be faster than taking the bus.
Rookie mistake. I know better. But I did it anyway and booked the Green Toad Bus shuttle. After waiting nearly 2 hours at the airport, the shuttle finally arrived. I could have been halfway to Paraty if I had taken an Uber as another disgruntled pair had offered to split with me, or I could have been well on my way for a fraction of the price on a public bus. Even walking the 150 miles in the 35 degree heat seemed like a better option than taking this shuttle. If you take one thing away from this blog… let it be that if there are 2 of you, an Uber will be approx. the same price and if you are travelling solo, you need to decide if saving money is a priority (take an Uber to the bus station) or saving time (take an Uber all the way to Paraty) is your priority.
All the negativity was awash once I completed a nearly 2 hour long Ashtanga yoga class in Paratay the following morning. Although when traveling solo I like to stay in hostels, I found a charming little yoga/vegan Airbnb in Paraty that caught my attention so I spent 3 lovely nights at Casa do Dharma. If you’re looking for a quieter time in Paraty, this is the spot.
After the yoga class I went to bus station intending to go to Sono beach but saw the bus to Trindade and jumped on that instead (R$5) as I had wanted to check this spot out too and didn’t know how long I’d be waiting for the bus to Laranjeiras.
It was a 50 minute bus ride from Paraty to Trindade.
I enjoyed exploring the beaches of Trinidade for the day. There is a little hike you can go on to a more secluded beach – less than 15 minutes. I suggest looking at the map of Trindade (on the window of several stores) when you arrive to get your bearings of where to go.
I decided to head back to Paraty around 3 pm. I saw a HUGE line up for the bus so figured I’d walk further ahead and get on before them. I joined another smaller line up of people with the same idea. After 90 minutes I gave up and decided to hitch hike. Yup. I hitch hiked in Brazil because I had no other choice. That bus wasn’t coming. First I stood behind a fierce woman who was also hitch hiking but she was giving people such fierce/dirty looks I figured I’d do better on my own.
I started down the street with thumb out, thinking about all the warnings I’d heard about safety in Brazil. I eventually found a parking lot and cornered a nice family with a 14 year old kid who spoke English (who wanted me to note is also very handsome!). They agreed to give me a ride back to Paraty. As we drove back we saw a huge accident with a flipped truck and hydro wires down. The bus was parked on the side of the road, unable to pass. Thankfully the little sedan I was in could get by and I was safely on my way back to Paraty. All those practice runs hitchhiking around BC at home paid off because otherwise I’d likely have been stuck in Trindade for hours more since it was evident that bus was going nowhere.
I spent the evening wandering the charming historical town. I contemplated the puppet show (R$50, wednesdays and saturdays at 9 pm) and in retrospect, I kind of regret not doing this because when else would I see a Brazilian puppet show?
The next day I journeyed to Sono beach. Unclear internet information made this a bit of an adventure. I have shared correct info here.
The following day I headed to Ilha Grande. Scared off of shuttles from my previous experience, I figured I could do this on my own. I noticed there was a 9:40, 10:00 and 10:20 bus to Angra scheduled and then nothing until 12:30.
I arrived at the bus station at 9:40 as the bus was promptly driving away. Since when does ANYTHING in Brazil actually run on time?
I got comfortable and waited for the 10 am bus. It didn’t come.
I figured I’d take the 10:20 bus. It didn’t come either.
A bus to Angra finally arrived and departed at 10:35 am. The cost was R$16
2 hours and 15 min later we arrived in Angra.
I walked down to the ferry terminal and found out the cheaper ferry didnt leave until 3:15 pm but I could take an expensive boat immediately that would get me there in 30 minutes. Done. R$50 got me a seat on a crowded passenger boat of people who had booked door to door shuttles from Paraty. Remember what I just said about shuttles being the worst??? It may not be a bad option to book one for your Paraty to Ilha Grande trip, although I stand by my advice to avoid Green Toad. There are several tourist stands in the historical district selling shuttles. They do require at least 1 or 2 days’ notice.
Since I arrived on Ilha Grande after 2 pm, I didn’t have a lot of time to venture out on a big hike or beach trip so I went to the nearest beach, Praia Preta. This black sand beach is part of a 2 km loop including ruins but a storm rolled in and as soon as I saw the thunder and lightening I headed back to town where many shops and restaurants were closing, and the loud sound of generators turning on indicated those who would stay open. Apparently power outages on the island are quite common. I used this opportunity to wander around the town area and book my direct shuttle to Rio for 2 days later. For R$110 I got door to door service. Considering I paid R$50 for the boat alone, I figured it was worth it to spend this rather than trying to figure out the bus system to Rio after dark (I booked the latest shuttle at 5:30 pm, allowing me a full day on the island before heading to Rio).
The next morning I set out to hike to the waterfall and to Saco do Ceu (sack of heaven)
After I got to the waterfall (approx. 70 minutes from it poured rain. Torrential downpour with thunder and lightening. After the waterfall I hiked to Praia Feiticeiera, a popular spot for tour boats. Since it was still early, I was the only one there (and a taxi boat driver)
*to get to this beach turn right at the fork in the path.
I hiked back to the fork in the path to continue on. I met two other travelers at the next beach and we stood under the cover a little cafe debating if we should hike back, continue on, or take a boat back for R$100. Since the rain cleared a little, we hiked on to Saco do Ceu which turned out to be less of a nice beach (which is what I had expected) and more of a small town wrapped around a lagoon. There were still no boat taxis in sight so we kept walking. We came across a tour group having lunch and my new friend who happened to be Brazilian and fluent was able to negotiate us a spot on the tour for the afternoon including a ride back to Abraao. We had time to enjoy a traditional Brazilian lunch which as a vegan I had been avoiding. I tried the Moqueca de banana. Amazing. Try it if you can!
The tour took us to a couple of beach spots before returning us to Abaaro. Had I not met this friend who negotiated a spot on this tour I’m not entirely sure how I would have got back.
I spent my night staying inside from the pouring rain, scratching my mosquito bites and going down a very dark Google hole of the high rates of yellow fever on Ilha Grande. Get the vaccine and save yourself the drama.
The next morning I wanted to visit the epic Lopes Mendes beach. My original plan was to hike one way there and boat back. With my new information on yellow fever I opted to take the boat both ways.
The slow boat to Lopes Mendes is R$15 and takes approx. 50 minutes.
The fast boat is R$25 and takes 15-20 minutes.
Initially I was told I had to buy a return trip. With multiple boat operators I knew someone would sell me a one way ticket so I could take the slow boat one way and fast boat the other way. I was right and purchased my one way ticket.
The boat dropped me off at Praia do Pousa and I did the 20 minute hike to Lopes Mendes.
When I returned to Praia do Pousa to try and book a boat back I was told there was no 3 pm fast or slow boat back but he could sell me a ticket for a 4 pm fast boat. I walked away and met a couple people booked on a 3 pm, confident their boat driver would take my money.
I was then approached and told there was a 3 pm slow boat but no fast boat. I declined. Finally the man selling boat tickets approached me to let me know there was a spot on the 3 pm fast boat.
I had a bit of time before my shuttle to Rio so grabbed a fantastic vegan lunch before jumping on the boat.
My door to door shuttle that was to get me to Rio in 2 hours had me arrive in 4 hours after driving all over Rio (have I mentioned I hate shuttles!)
So much for door to door… since I was staying in a favela in Rio, the shuttle driver dropped me with all my bags at the edge of the favela at 9:30 pm. Yup. That happened.
More about my stay in the favela in Rio here.