A few kilometres from the coast of Brazil, in the state of Sao Paulo, Ilhabela is one of the most beautiful and largest islands in the country. Almost entirely covered by the Atlantic rainforest, it is sparsely populated and has golden beaches beloved by the Paulist inhabitants (but also by the cariocas of Rio de Janeiro) who come here on holiday or on weekends to relax. It is located on the Litoral Norte, just south of the Tropic of Capricorn.
The name is already an indication of something special: in Portuguese ilha bela means "wonderful island". Beaches, waterfalls, unspoiled jungle and walking trails for strolling: Ilhabela has something primordial and unspoiled about it, and the further you go from the west coast (the more sheltered and richer in tourist infrastructure), the more you experience exciting adventures and explorations.
Like many Atlantic islands, in fact, Ilhabela has two faces: the Western side, which looks onto the Brazilian continental coast, is the most populous and urbanised, with calm seaside urban beaches and comfortable facilities for relaxation and for water sports. The north, south and east sides, looking out onto the open ocean, are wilder and less explored: there are a few fishing communities (caicaras) and the dense jungle ends close to the sea, where the seabed is deeper and the waves higher.
Costa Cruises takes you to this paradise island during cruises in Latin America that include a stop over in Ilhabela. It's an opportunity for relaxing in the sun on Brazil's most beautiful beaches, as some of the praias of Ilhabelaare often referred to. Here are the 10 beaches not to miss.
Ilhabela's most beautiful beaches
- Barreiros Beach
- Viana Beach
- Sino Beach
- Jabaquara Beach
- Praia do Curral
- Bonete Beach
- Praia do Juliao
- Baia de Castelhanos
- Praia Grande
- Fome Beach
Like many northern beaches in Ilhabela, the beach of Barreiros is a very quiet place, frequented mainly by Brazilians who own a house on the island and come here during the summer holidays or on weekends. If you love simple environments, it is the place for you, and you can also see it with a Costa excursion.
The beach is located in a small gulf south of Viana along the main island road, the Avenida Luis Massa, and is therefore easily accessible by foot or car. It's a strip of flat sand, ideal for playing beach volleyball and beach soccer and perfect even for the games of younger children. There are high palm trees all around, characteristics of this part of Brazil. In Barreiros you come tor relax with your family, but sports lovers have fun too: the calm waters allow you to try your hand at kayaking, canoeing, SUP and snorkelling.
From the beach you can walk to the Barreiros Viewpoint, from where you can enjoy great views of the surroundings and the Ilhabela Yacht Club, the pier where cruise ships stop. Those who want to take a longer walk can opt for the promenade that descends towards Barreiro and Vila. In this area there was a bridge with railway tracks dedicated to small wagons carrying ice and fish in the 1960s.
Praia do Viana is the beach just north of Barreiros, on the western and most sheltered side of Ilhabela. Viana's beach is as small as it is charming, visited by tourists staying in the north of the Brazilian island, attracted by the harmony of its coastline and its clean, almost transparent waters.
Access to Praia do Viana is comfortable and easy, just follow the road that runs along the western side of the island. Once there, a small strip of clear sand spreads out, here and there strewn with rocks that form natural pools. Behind them are rows of coconut palms, which, in addition to beautifying the coast and giving a touch of tropical exoticism, create areas of shade where you can take refuge when the sun’s heat gets too much. It's great to see even from the sea, on your Costa excursion.
Like other beaches on the west side, Praia do Viana is also protected from currents and has a seabed with no sunken areas. This means a sea that is almost never rough, ideal for families with young and older children who want to spend a day at the beach without risk. There's no shortage of tourist facilities here, to enjoy the holiday, such as kiosks, bars and restaurants where you can refuel. With little effort you can take walks to the local villages like Siriba, or reach the Praia do Barreiros, which you'll probably find is even less populated.
The Praia Pedra do Sino, also known as Garapocaia Beach, is located at the northwest end of the island, 11 km north of the ferry landing point and 4.5 km from Viana beach.
It is a very quiet beach, with a calm sea, very suitable for families with children. The stretch of sand is 400 metres long and surrounded by large coconut palms, you will certainly photograph it during your Costa excursion! The coastline is protected from currents and winds and is shallow: little ones can play by the sea, while parents watch over them sitting on the tables under parasols. You can go on snorkelling experiences amongst the rocks, where the sea is transparent and teeming with fish.
Although small, Praia do Sino is equipped with good facilities for making beach days comfortable: there are kiosks, bars and restaurants and a parking lot very close to the beach.
Fun fact: the name of Praia de Pedra do Sino ("bell stone") comes from one of Ilhabela's most famous legends. It is said that when you knock on the stones, you hear a metal bell ringing. Those who come here can try it by accessing the rocks through the Bell Beach boardwalk.
Praia de Jabaquara is located on the northern side of the island and is considered the most beautiful and remote beach that you can reach on paved roads, in fact there is anCosta excursion that also brings you here in jeeps. It is immersed in the vegetation, empty, much loved by Brazilians who often come in the evening to enjoy a caipirinha in front of the sunset. When you are tired of the lively western beaches of Ilhabela, it is the perfect place to take refuge.
The road to get here from the city or Ilhabela is about twenty kilometres long and twists and turns. You can rent a car or take a taxi, but avoid it when it rains because it can get really rough. Praia de Jabaquara can also be reached by boat from the various island jetties.
When you arrive, an idyllic panorama opens up before you, with a headland covered with the glittering vegetation of the rainforest that comes almost up to sea: to separate it from the water there is a strip of red-ochre sand gently descending into the blue. The beach is well preserved, with particularly striking corners such as the stream that plunges into the sea forming a freshwater pool. Don't forget a mosquito-proof product: local insects (borrachudos) are unforgiving and it is better to protect yourself than incur their annoying stings.
Praia do Curral
The beach of Praia do Curral is located in the southwestern area of Ilhabela, between Praia Grande and Sao Pedro. Unlike beaches like Bonete and Castelhanos, it's easy to reach and is packed with infrastructures. For this reason it is more frequented than the wilder shorelines and is considered a place of sociality and fun. With its many bars, clubs, chiringuitos and restaurants, it is the centre of the island's Brazilian festival. Here you come for bathing, for an aperitif with caipirinha and batidas at sunset, to eat bacalhao (cod) and fresh fish on tables on the sand and to dance until late into the night.
As well as being the perfect place to make new friends, Praia do Curral is one of the best places for sports. Canoeing, kayaking and SUP are the most practised activities here, thanks in part to the various shops that rent equipment and provide courses to learn. You can try it during your Costa excursion!
The beach is 500 metres long, an ochre-coloured sand crescent bound to the north and south by rocks. Around it, the vegetation of the forest is dominant, creating corners of shade to protect yourself from the heat. If you want to take a walk, you can go inland by following the path to the Cachoeira Veloso or the Cachoeria Paquetà, the waterfalls in the jungle.
Given its location (Curral looks on to Praia do Cabelo Grande, on the continental coast), the beach is sheltered and the sea is mostly calm, suitable for all swimmers, including children. It is equipped with parasols, showers and services, for a day of relaxation and comfort. Evening is one of the best moments to enjoy it: those who know Ilhabela arrive for the sunset, which here is particularly spectacular.
The beach of Bonete Beach, regularly appears in the rankings of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil. The reason is soon obvious: it is simply unforgettable. Remote, wild, with an environment that will make you feel a bit like Robinson Crusoe.
It's not one of the easiest beaches to get to on the island, but the trip to Bonete is also one of the wonders of the place. You get there by boat trip (you can rent, or embark on tours planned by local operators), or alternatively by trekking through the tropical jungle which can last up to four hours. You walk amidst the thick green of the hills that cover the island, finally entering Bonete's Enchanted Bay: the length of the walk will be rewarded by the beauty of this beach.
The advice is to walk there and return by boat: you will not regret it. It starts from Ponta da Septuba at the southernmost point of the island and you go up a path that leads you to magnificent waterfalls and lush plants. Along the way, there are also stretches of river to wade through (the water is shallow, don't worry), a real outdoor adventure. Before the end of the walk, a vantage point offers a view of the beach that will give you an irresistible desire to descend and dive into the blue sea.
Once on the shoreline, you can relax in the sun in a landscape that looks like heaven on earth. The waves are high and magnificent. It is no coincidence that Bonete Beach is much loved by surfers. Even for this reason it is good not to stray too far from the shore, because the surf is quite strong. When the sun gets too hot, Bonete offers shelter under the shade of the trees surrounding it.
Praia do Juliao
Just north of Praia Grande, there is Praia do Juliao. Despite being in the more popular and bustling area of the island, Praia do Juliao is one of Ilhabela's most beautiful and secluded beaches. It is quite hidden and little known and allows you to spend a few hours relaxing with few people around you (except on the weekend, when the Paulists swarm to relax on the island).
You can reach it from multiple points: from the north side, from the central side through a restaurant and from the south following the path that connects it to Praia Grande.
Praia do Juliao is different from others in the area: the sand is very fine and much clearer compared to that of the nearby shores, almost like being in the Caribbean. Some rock formations give rise to different natural pools, both on shore and at sea. That's why the beach is a great place both for children who can't stray too far from the shore, and for lovers of snorkelling.
Juliao isn't big, but there is some minimal infrastructure for tourists: there is a restaurant, some kiosks for an aperitif or snack and convenience store. Just behind are a few small houses, covered by the forest. One of these is an old distillery that produced one of the many brands of cachaça (it's now a restaurant).
300 metres from the shore are two small rocky islands populated by marine birds, that come here to nest: the islands are not accessible to protect the birds, but you can snorkel amongst the rocks, admiring a world of colourful fish.
Baia de Castelhanos
Among the most beautiful beaches in Ilhabela we must mention Baia de Castelhanos, on the eastern side of the island. Like Bonete Beach, this is a magnificent corner of wild nature, strong colours and sensations. There are two ways for reach it: car and boat. A popular option for tourists is to rent a 4x4 for an off-road trip. The journey of about an hour crosses the nature reserve of Ilhabela State Park, a world made of waterfalls, streams that open into natural pools and the dense emerald colour Atlantic forest, populated by a wealth of fauna (especially various species of birds).
The beach is a tropical Eden: the line of the coast line has a double-curve shape, where the golden sand meets the sea, which ranges in colour from turquoise to deep blue. If you look at it from above, from the vantage points of Mirante do Corao or Mirante do Gato, its is even more impressive: the waves that follow the trend of the curves draw white half-circles that add more colour to the panorama.
There are no waves as high as those on other beaches in Ilhabela and the bottom slopes away quite regularly and gently: for this reason, Castelhanos is one of the most suitable for bathing in peace. The atmosphere is relaxed, ideal for a day in the sun. When the heat of the tropics gets too hot, you can take refuge just behind the strip of sand, where the forest trees rise up to cover the rolling hills of the bay.
Here you can also eat in the restaurants overlooking the sea: Paulists love them very much for the sense of intimacy they offer, as well as for the stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. Beware of borrachudos, the small mosquitoes that populate the area: bring a mosquito-proof product and you will be left in peace.
Praia Grande de Ilhabela it is located on the west side of the island, between the towns of Feticeira and Ribeirao. It is 6.5 km from the ferry landing for the coast and is in the middle of the beaches of Juliao and Curral. And like Praia do Curral, it is one of the most beloved beaches for the opportunities of socialising that it offers, for music, kiosks and nightlife.
As the name suggests, Praia Grande is one of Ilhabela's largest beaches. It is 600 metres long and wide enough to accommodate comfortable tourist facilities for visitors: there are all useful services for bathers, such as parasols to rent, showers and public parking lots. On the left side are the kiosks serving dishes, snacks and drinks at the tables set in the sand.
Like most beaches on the south side of Ilhabela, Praia Grande has a consistent ochre-colour sand, on which it is a pleasure to walk. The sea, with its bright blue colour, has a regular and safe bed for those who want to bathe, including children. A river from the inland forest flows into the beach: on the waterway there is a small pier for boats, which you can rent for a trip along the coasts of the island. If you want to try your hand at fishing, the fisherman's meeting place is right here.
Praia Grande also offers sports facilities like a football field, a basketball court and for beach volleyball. On the water, however, you can try sports such as kayaking and SUP. On this beach there is no shortage of fun: it is no coincidence that it is a very popular place amongst locals and over time it has become a meeting point for residents of the southern part of the island, even for its promenade where you can walk and meet with your friends.
One of the landmarks is the Chapel of St. Benedict, right on the sea promenade, built with the stones from the islet in front of the beach.
In the northeast of Ilhabela, between the beaches of Jabaquara and Poco is Praia da Fome, known by few and frequented even less, perfect for relaxation and for snorkelling. Here the conditions for looking at the seabed are perfect: the sand of the shore is clear, the waters are transparent, the seabed is rich in flora and fauna. Those who want to spend a lazy day can lie on the beach enjoying the sun and rest in the shade of the trees behind. Around, just a few fishermen's houses.
The name of Praia da Fome (i.e. "hunger") comes from the slave era, according to which slaves, born in Africa and brought to Brazil by Portuguese settlers, landed here hungry after the long and precarious journey and were fed by force, to increase their weight and then be sold at the highest possible price.
It is not easy to reach Fome, because the nearest carriageway is the one that stops at Jabaquara beach: you get there via a path which departs from Jabaquara and takes about 40 minutes, or by boatp trip (some agencies organise them from the beach of Pereque). The boats pass near the beach, but few stop for the day, leaving it substantially deserted. That is why those who know Fome come back often: it is one of the best places on the island to take a break from "civilization" on the west side of Ilhabela. The feeling of being out of this world, away from the crowds and the stress, is the priceless aspect of this stretch of coastline.
Discover Ilhabela with Costa Cruises
Brazil is an increasingly beloved destination for the richness of its nature and culture. Here you will find some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and amongst them are the praia of Ilhabela. From Bonete Beach to the impervious Baia de Castelhanos, passing through the small Juliao and the more populated and life-rich western coastlines, the island is an oasis of relaxation and fun. In a small space, there are forests that are thousands of years old, streams that give life to waterfalls and natural pools, crystal clear waters, and soft sand on which it is a pleasure to walk.
A few kilometres off the coast of Sao Paulo, and also close to Rio de Janeiro, Ilhabela is a strategic place for Brazilians and for travellers who visit this part of the country. A peaceful corner where you can regenerate immersed in nature. Costa cruises in Latin America stop here: do not miss the opportunity to discover one of the pearls of Brazil, visiting its magical beaches.