Ilha Grande

The second stop on our trip was Ilha Grande. Located just three hours south of Rio, and with its plentiful beaches and rainforest hikes, it's no surprise that the island is the favourite holiday destination of Brazilians and tourists alike. For us, it was a much needed time to relax after a hectic, party-filled Carnival. As many others do we stayed in the main town, Vila do Abraão, which although fairly touristy still retained the quaint character of a small fishing town and hosted some great beach-side fish restaurants and bars.

Our stay was split across two hostels due to the busy holiday season. The less said about our fist hostel, El Misti, the better (a hot stuffy room which wasn't particularly clean - and pretty big cockroaches!). Our second stay was at Holandes, a beautiful hostel located just a short walk from the town bustle, with our own individual Jungalow (jungle bungalow) surrounded by tranquil rainforest. The area around the hostel had a really peaceful atmosphere, with the odd cat chilling out in the shade.

Hiking is highly recommended at Ilha Grande, so on our second day we decided to walk to the 'Feiticeira' waterfall. It was a fairly steep hour and a half trek through lush rainforest along a stony path. The waterfall itself was small but very refreshing to take a natural shower under after a humid, wet and muddy trek. After a quick swim at the waterfall we walked back in the cool of the afternoon for a lovely beach-side meal at the O Pescador.

The most popular thing to do on Ilha Grande is to visit some of it's many stunning beaches. This became apparent when we took a couple of boat tours around the island. Although the beaches and lagoons were truly beautiful, it was somewhat spoilt by the number of people and boats at each stop. We still had a great time snorkeling, sun bathing and eating freshly grilled fish on the more remote, traditional restaurants on the island.

Our favourite day was spent on Lopez Mendez beach, a beautiful 2km or so stretch of white sand with crystal clear water backed by tall coconut trees. We were able to find a peaceful patch of beach to ourselves, and even catch a few cheeky (but small) waves on rented boards. We stopped off at 'Pouso' beach for a Caipirinha at a great little floating cocktail bar before getting a taxi boat back to Abraão.

Although we found Ilha Grande to be firmly established on the gringo trail, we realised that the island still has enough natural beauty to go round even during the busy summer season, with some great restaurants, bars and a few seclude beaches if you're willing to go a bit further and earlier to find them.