Venture just a few hours from Sao Paulo and you’ll find the paradise of Ilhabela, Brazil, a hidden gem well worthy of a stop on a South America cruise for its dramatic rainforests, top-notch beaches, and notoriously Brazilian energy. Ilhabela literally means “beautiful island,” and living up to the name comes easy to this region. There are nearly 40 beaches in the area, so your biggest task while on a cruise to Ilhabela will simply be deciding which ones to prioritize. Other than that, pure relaxation awaits in this tropical haven.
Ilhabela is the largest island in Brazil, and it attracts a variety of international visitors for its premier snorkeling, swimming, diving, and sailing. While many of the top things to do on Ilhabela cruises will center around nature and its many beaches, it’s also a town that stays out late and welcomes a new day in style. Ilhabela offers an unforgettable experience for travelers, whether you stay close to port, venture to a secluded beach, or go scuba diving among shipwrecks.
Swim, sunbathe, sail, or do absolutely nothing at Praia do Julião, which is frequently named one of the best and most relaxing beaches in Ilhabela. Plus, it’s close to a restaurant called Prainha do Julião Bar & Restaurant, so when you get hungry, you can walk over and grab a quick bite.
Surfing is a popular thing to do at Praia dos Castelhanos, which is a little less frequented by tourists than Praia do Julião. It’s also the site of Cat’s Waterfall, which can be reached after a quick jaunt along a trail. The lookout points make for a great Instagram op.
For a challenging and active hike, look no further than Ilhabela State Park, which offers trails and hikes of all types. You’ll see cascading waterfalls, dense foliage, and some of the best views of the archipelago from the summit of various lookout points.
Ilhabela and the neighboring coast is home to many wrecked ships, making this a diver’s paradise. Suit up in your scuba gear and go diving among the wreckage for an unforgettable afternoon in Ilhabela.
The coast of Ilhabela happens to be one of the most popular sites in the world for whale watching. Keep your eyes peeled for these incredible species while you’re sailing or riding the ferry.
There are a variety of jungle hikes available for every skill and activity level near Ilhabela. You could easily spend days trekking through the dramatic landscape. Be sure to bring insect repellent anytime you explore the jungle here.
Ilhabela cruises offer a chance to experience Brazilian cuisine at its finest, whether that’s upscale dining or tasty street eats. For an affordable fast food experience, check out Churros Lorac, which is rumoured to have some of the best churros on the island. Then there’s Portofino, located within the Hotel Porto Pacuíba, for an ambient fine dining experience. At Portofino, fresh flavors and a Mediterranean spin are infused in mains like risotto with shrimp or octopus and shrimp ceviche. For a casual lunch, Hamzburger Artesanal offers artisanal burgers, crispy fries, cold beer, and comfort foods at accessible prices.
Native groups lived in what is now known as Ilhabela for thousands of years prior to Portuguese colonization in the 1500s. The island changed names several times over the course of hundreds of years before it was dubbed Ilhabela, or “beautiful island,” in 1944. When the coffee and sugar trade didn’t take off here, the island had to find a new way to make a name for itself. Tourism grew significantly in the decades following, and today Brazil’s largest island attracts plenty of sailors, visitors, and beachgoers every year.
From Ilhabela cruises, you will be tendered via boat to the center of Ilhabela, and you can typically walk or arrange a taxi pickup from there. You’ll hear Portuguese spoken as the main language as you arrive in port.
It’s fairly convenient to get around the island on foot, and bike rentals are another popular mode of transit for tourists. Taxis are available as well. If you want to venture on a half-day trip or beyond the main beaches, renting a car or arranging a tour is your best bet.
There’s not much in the way of luxury retail in Ilhabela, which contrasts with other Brazilian destinations. However, there are shops and boutiques in the center of town which hawk local wares. Bars and restaurants are concentrated in this area as well.
The official currency is the Brazilian Real (R$). ATMs are available in the center of town. When you are at a market or before getting into a taxi on Ilhabela cruises, be sure to agree on a price, since haggling is common here. Oftentimes, a service charge is already included in your restaurant bill, so be sure to check before you tip. Tipping taxi drivers isn’t the norm except for rounding up to the nearest Real.