There are a few places on this planet where things seem to fall into place without any hesitation. Ilha Grande, Brazil, is one of these places. Even on busy weekends, there is a no-stress atmosphere. On the beach, in the garden hammock, or at 20 metres depth—it’s all laid back and lazy.
All things connected—the lush green forrests, tiny quiet villages on the water’s edge, deserted beaches, wooden schooners anchored in the bays, and the attractions of the deep azur ocean. Arriving on the island—after you have just transferred from either busy Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo—is like stepping onto another planet as soon as you step off the boat.
Diving is important. Otherwise, I would have written this story for a food magazine. When I am on a dive trip, I want to dive! But this time, it was different.
As usual, I headed for the dive centers shortly after checking in at the hotel, in order to set up things. The conversation I had with a guy from one of the dive centers was short. It went like this:
“No diving today because the visibility is too bad.”
“OK, what do you mean by bad?”
“10-12 metres! Better wait for another day!”
I know quite a few people who would love to dive with 10-12 meters of visibility—anyday, any where! This time, I didn’t really get upset for a cancelled dive trip. I just went back to our hotel, surprising my wife with my sudden return.
She is used to the phrase, “setting up things for diving”, meaning hours of yadda yadda, and wasn’t expecting me so soon. So, we picked up our beach stuff, my camera and found a lonely part of a nearby beach and enjoyed a heavenly afternoon of tranquility.
The next day, we stopped by the dive center, but the owner had left for business on the main land. This meant we could spend a whole day exploring the island. You basically have two choices: either going by foot on some of the dirt trails that criss-cross the rugged island, or taking a much more relaxed tour on a so-called schooner.
We chose the latter option. These locally made wooden motor yachts, whose riggings are fake, are pleasent ways of visiting other villages and beaches.
There is a wide choice of trips. They all basically stop at a few different beaches and serve warm food and drinks on board. Most of them make a snorkling and bathing stop as well. Sailing around the island gives you some spectacular views of it and the mainland.
After a couple of days beach combing, it was good to be back in the rumble and bumble on board a dive boat. With a mixed crowd of Scandinavians, Germans and Brits, we steamed out of the Bay of Abrão, heading for the windward side of the island.
Open to the ocean, this area offers the best diving, although there are many dive sites in the strait between the island and the main land as well. Having some newbee’s on board we opted for quieter water in a bay. Anchoring up in a secluded bay at little São Jorge Island, we found some nice spots for diving.
The coast of Rio de Janeiro isn’t tropical, so don’t expect vast colourful coral reefs. That being said, the marine life is abundant. At any dive site around Ilha Grande, there are some hefty rock formations. The rocks and crevices are hide-outs for a multitude of marine life. There are many swim throughs, but stay away from the black sea urchins, which can give you a few hours of pain.
Even though the dark grottos are attractive, don’t forget the blue water or the sandy bottom. There are plenty of seaturtles around, and small groups of batfishes travel by. The wet desert isn’t really as deserted as one would think. Bottom dwellers use the sand to hide and wait for a suitable pray to swim by.
As an ocean current passes the island, the water is nutrient rich. The outer rocks are often covered with corals. What sometimes lacks in visibility, is well made up for by the divers marine life.
For those interested in wrecks, yes there are some good wreck dives to be made here as well, but we have to get back to you on this, for the next feature.
You can certainly find more beatiful beaches somewhere else on the planet, and you can find more picturesque villages on other islands. But these 193 km² of paradise-on-earth aren’t weeks away on a sailboat, or hours in a plane away from civilization. It’s just a mere two hours south of Rio de Janeiro, or seven hours on the road from São Paulo. Whatever you do on this island, it’s very much connected to nature.