Ilhabela, Brazil

A popular vacation destination between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo has the perfect name: Ilhabela means Beautiful Island. The city of Ilhabela is encircled by a rainforest declared as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. The coastline has 40 splendid beaches.

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1 Beautiful Island of Ilhabela, Brazil

There is an outstanding reason why thirty cruise ships annually include Ilhabela on their Brazilian itineraries: it is beautiful. In fact, the English translation of this Portuguese word is the Beautiful Island. The country’s largest archipelago is located along the South Atlantic Ocean in the Vale do Ribeira region. It is positioned 130 miles north of São Paulo and 210 miles south of Rio de Janeiro. This makes Ilhabela a popular vacation destination for residents of Brazil’s two largest cities.

Canal de São Sebastião - Ilhabela - SP, Brazil
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2 São Sebastião Channel in Ilhabela, Brazil

The official name of Ilhabela is Ilha de São Sebastião, meaning Saint Sebastian Island. It is only reachable by boat. Most Brazilian tourists take a short, four-mile ferry ride across a channel from the city of São Sebastião on the mainland. Alternatively, if you sail in from the north, you will be treated to a view of Pico São Sebastião, the highest peak at 4,521 feet. Regardless of your approach, you will be impressed by the greenery of the Atlantic Forest. Since 1977, 83% of the island’s 214 square miles has been protected as Ilhabela State Park.

Canal de São Sebastião - Ilhabela - SP, Brazil
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3 Boardwalk View in Ilhabela, Brazil

The city of Ilhabela has a population of about 33,00 people. They are spread out for miles along the island’s west coast. Your ferry or tender will dock in the Historic Center (Centro Histórico). The locals call it Vila meaning Village. The waterfront street named Rua Dr. Carvalho is gorgeous. Especially picturesque is the boardwalk beginning at Praça das Bandeiras (Flags Square).

R. Dr. Carvalho, 10 - Centro, Ilhabela - SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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4 Walking Tour of Ilhabela, Brazil

Centro Ilhabela is very compact and easy to navigate. Most sites are contained within a three-by-three block radius. Begin your exploration along a street and a wedge-shaped park both named Coronel Julião de Moura Negrão. Their namesake was the chief captain of the village beginning in 1766 and the commander of Ponta das Canas Fort. He was also a wealthy owner of a sugarcane plantation.

Praça Cel. Julião, 29 - Centro, Ilhabela - SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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5 Church of Our Lady of Help in Ilhabela, Brazil

Early Portuguese settlers used slave labor to construct a chapel here in the early 18th century. The Catholic place of worship was dedicated to Nossa Senhora D’Ajuda and Bom Sucesso. This means Our Lady of Help and Good Success. This historic epicenter of Vila was extensively renovated by architect Alfredo Oliani in the mid-20th century. Our Lady of Ajuda and Bom Sucesso is the patron saint of Ilhabela. During the annual feast day on February 2, there is a religious procession through the city. This tradition has been repeated for over 200 years. The Crucifixion sculpture was created by Gilmar Pinna in 2008.

Praça Prof. Alfredo Oliani, 53 - Centro, Ilhabela - SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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6 Former Jail and Courthouse in Ilhabela, Brazil

Adjacent to the Church of Our Lady of Help is Antiga Cadeia e Forum de Ilhabela. This was the former jail and courthouse when it opened in 1805. The historic site also served as the Town Hall. In 2013, it became the Visitors Center of Ilhabela State Park. Inside is an engaging blend of exhibits about the park, its abundant trails, the 30 plus waterfalls plus the fauna and flora of the Atlantic Forest. You will also learn about the island’s history and admire archeological artifacts.

Praça Coronel Júlio de Moura Negrão - Centro, Ilhabela - SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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7 Rua da Padroeira in Ilhabela, Brazil

One of two main streets running north and south is Rua da Padroeira. This begins your exploration of shops and restaurants. If you will be spending part of your vacation in Ilhabela State Park, a great place to stop first is Mundo Terra. The retailer is a premier provider of clothing and gear for hiking, camping, biking and diving.

Rua Da Padroeira, 37 - Centro, Ilhabela - SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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8 Rua do Meio in Ilhabela, Brazil

Rua do Meio means Middle Street, an apt name for the center of Vila. This is where tourists of all ages tend to congregate. Some like strolling among the lively ambiance. Others prefer to window shop. A hot afternoon prompts licking of ice cream cones or sipping cold drinks. Many folks linger on benches to people watch or be entertained by street performers. Whatever your pleasure, enjoy this experience slowly. The street is only a couple of blocks long.

R. São Benedito, 50 - Centro, Ilhabela - SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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9 Crafts Market in Ilhabela, Brazil

East of where Rua do Meio intersects with Rua da Padroeira is a crafts market. The canopied stands are chock full of merchandise sold by local artisans. Rua São Benedito is the place to go if you like bargaining for souvenirs.

R. São Benedito, 103 - Centro, Ilhabela - SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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10 Waldemar Belisário Museum in Ilhabela, Brazil

If you espouse to the theory that local art reflects local life, then you will want to visit Central Cultural da Vila. The gallery was established in 1968 by the Ilhabela Art and Culture Foundation. Their mission is to exhibit paintings, sculptures, photography and films on a rotating basis. A permanent feature is the Waldemar Belisário Museum. His specialty was modernistic plastic arts, meaning the diverse manipulation of materials into three-dimensional artworks. He was born in São Paulo in 1895. In 1929 he moved to Ilhabela where he spent his artistic career until his death in 1983.

Av. Pedro de Paula Moraes, 139 - Centro, Ilhabela - SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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11 Teiú Arte in Ilhabela, Brazil

The saying goes you can’t judge a book by its cover. In the case of this kaleidoscopic exterior, it promises something exciting inside and delivers. Teiú Arte is a gallery owned by artist Fred Teiú. His forte is vibrant collectables using different mediums. They tend to reflect tropical themes. This is among the best shops in Centro Histórico. Chances are excellent you will find the perfect memento of your trip to Ilhabela.

Av. Força Expedicionária Brasileira, 32 - Centro, Ilhabela - SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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12 Cannons along Waterfront in Ilhabela, Brazil

By the end of the 18th century, the village had grown to more than 3,000 residents. This made Vila Bela da Princesa – the name for Ilhabela during most of the 19th century – a potential target for pirates and privateers. In defense, cannons were installed along the waterfront. There was an equivalent battery on the other side of São Sebastião Channel. Watch for the rusted cannons near the main pier as you return from your walking tour of Vila.

Praça da Bandeira, 1 - Centro, Ilhabela - SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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13 Bust of Joaquim Marques Lisboa in Ilhabela, Brazil

Soon after the Independence of Brazil in 1822, Joaquim Marques Lisboa joined the newly establish Brazilian Navy. During his illustrious 70 year career, he was appointed commander-in-chief of Naval Forces in 1864 and Minister of the Supreme Military Court in 1893. He is still revered as a national hero and the Patron of the Navy. This bust is adjacent to the waterfront cannons.

Praça da Bandeira, 1 - Centro, Ilhabela - SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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14 History of Ilhabela, Brazil

The Tupinambas, a tribe of the Tupi people, originally inhabited this island. They called it Ciribaí meaning serene place. When Portuguese navigator Gonçalo Coelho arrived on January 20, 1502, he named the island São Sebastião in honor of Saint Sebastian’s feast day. Nearly a century would pass before Francisco de Escobar Ortiz became the first settler. Other Portuguese seamen soon began taking residence on both sides of the channel. Vila de São Sebastião was established in 1636. During subsequent centuries, the town’s name changed several times. The variations included Nossa Senhora D’ajuda and Bom Sucesso Chapel, Vila Bela da Princesa, Vila Bela and then Formosa. On January 1, 1945, the municipality adopted the current name of Ilhabela. This is Câmara Municipal, the City Hall of Ilhabela.

Avenida Dona Germana, 85 - Centro, Ilhabela - SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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15 Gilmar Pinna Sculpture in Ilhabela, Brazil

You will not be in Ilhabela for long before you notice monumental metallic sculptures glistening in the sunshine at different locations. This stainless-steel piece titled, “God’s Law, Law of Men” was erected in front of Câmara Municipal in 2016. It is one of several stunning works of native son Gilmar Pinna. Since he began teaching himself in the 1970s, he has gained a revered reputation in Brazil and internationally.

Avenida Dona Germana, 85 - Centro, Ilhabela - SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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16 Sailing in Ilhabela, Brazil

Judging from all of the boats anchored in the channel, there is credibility to Ilhabela’s claim to be Capital de Vela. This means the Sailing Capital. The are several regattas in the city each year, ranging from local races hosted by the Ilhabela Yacht Club to the Ilhabela International Sailing Week in July. This is the largest sailing event in Latin America. Assuming you are not a world-class competitor, consider signing up for sailing lessons from a local school. Or charter a sailboat or yacht for a sightseeing cruise around the archipelago.

Praça Cel. Julião de Moura Negrão, 250 - Ilhabela, SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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17 Miles of Glorious Beaches in Ilhabela, Brazil

Ilhabela has 40 beaches along its 85 miles of coastline. That should be enough to satisfy any sun worshiper. The western shore is almost a continuous ribbon of sand. The closest beach to the Historic Center is Praia do Pereguê in the Saco da Capela neighborhood. A lovely promenade starts near the main pier and hugs the waterfront for miles. Or claim your spot at Pereque Beach while relishing the tropical climate. It has every amenity you need. Among the best beaches on the island – and some claim in Brazil – are Baia de Castelhanos, Julião, Jabaquara, Bonete, Pedra do Sino and Pinto.

Av. Pedro de Paula Moraes, 151 - Saco da Capela, Ilhabela - SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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18 Water Activities in Ilhabela, Brazil

Sitting below a crooked palm tree is some people’s idea of a perfect day at the beach. For those who love water activities, there are plenty of options. The calm western waters facing the channel are ideal for swimming, kayaking and paddle boarding. The best locales for snorkeling or scuba diving are south and east of the island. There are over 100 shipwrecks in the area … the largest concentration in Brazil. Surfers match their skills against the strong waves along the southern and eastern beaches.

Av. Pedro de Paula Moraes, 250 - Saco da Capela, Ilhabela - SP, 11630-000, Brazil
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