Travel by ferry to beautiful Ilha Grande. This is the largest of many rugged, forested little islets studding the bays. In the 16th and 17th centuries it was a pirate’s lair, and later a leper colony was established there. Finally, it was home to a notorious prison, which accommodated not only political prisoners but also violent criminals. The penitentiary was closed in 1994 but developers were restrained by the island’s reputation, and now much of the inland territory is preserved in an ecological reserve.
The island was adopted by the backpacker set but now that there are low-key barefoot pousadas a variety of visitors makes the journey over. There’s nothing much to do apart from enjoy some of the continent’s most beautiful beaches and coves, accessible by track or boat.
There are few tracks connecting tiny settlements and no motorised vehicles are allowed. The Atlantic rainforest remains largely untouched, although several walking trails have been established, so you can appreciate prolific wildlife, including hummingbirds. The only town, Vila do Abraão, consists of a few houses and dirt roads. The island can get very crowded at holiday times.