A tropical island for a good price?

Amazon: For every day of the year.

Rio Islands 311 (photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
Rio Islands 311
(photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
Ever wondered where you might be able to pick up a tropical island for a good price? Well, apparently, there are 365 – one for every day of the year – just off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and many of them can be privately owned by individuals (apparently wealthy ones) who seek the seclusion and tranquility of this breathtakingly beautiful spot.
Several of these islands are open to us mere mortals who can only dream of being the kings (or queens) of their own land one day. Ilha Grande (pronounced Gran-jeh) is the biggest of this cluster and it boasts pure sandy beaches set in bays of lush tropical greenery, with waves from the clear blue Atlantic Ocean gently lapping against its shores.
My journey to this stunning landscape started in Rio, one block from the famous Copacabana beach. Visiting the bustling city for just over a week, I was fortunate enough to be able to set one day aside for a trek outside its limits to explore the exotic foliage.
Although it seemed like a long journey, organizing this outing was extremely straightforward. Advertisements for oneday excursions to Ilha Grande and its neighboring islands appear in almost every hotel, both big and small, or they can be arranged privately with smaller tour companies either via the Internet or through travel agents in the area.
I chose to book my trip with the reception desk in the hotel, the main reason being that I wanted someone else to take the responsibility (and provide a translation) for making sure that the tour operator was reliable and would show up at the allocated time.
Tours to the island leave the Copacabana strip almost every day, although when the weather is bad, the ships do not sail and all trips are cancelled. It’s worthwhile to book the trip for a day when the skies are clear.
A clean and modern air-conditioned bus showed up at my hotel right on time at 7:30 a.m. and the cheery tour guide, Tanya, proved adept at not only giving out the joyful and warm Rio spirit but also sharing a detailed narrative of both the urban and rural sites in English. (She also spoke in Portuguese and Spanish.) From the minute the international band of travelers boarded, Tanya’s happy chatter into the microphone filled the bus’ speakers and she spilled insights into the city’s famous sites and its various landmarks, including the specially-built Carnival stadium outside the city’s center. And despite the early hour, Tanya also made sure that we did not fall asleep by entertaining us with impromptu samba dancing and highvolume Brazilian tunes.
The three-hour drive to the port of Angra dos Reis passed by quickly and after a short break to stretch our legs, we boarded a large yacht that would take us on a tour around the islands, including a short stop at one of Ilha Grande’s shady bays.
According to the Lonely Planet Rio de Janeiro guidebook, Ilha Grande was originally home to the Tupinamba Indians, before the Portuguese colonized the area.
Once the Europeans reached Brazil, the island became a shelter for pirates and smugglers from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
Later, a prison was built there and it was only demolished in 1994. Since then tourists have been free to discover the delights of the island and others in the vicinity.
As well as half-a-day boat rides, the islands also have several secluded resorts, most with their own private beaches. It can be a very romantic getaway, if that is what you are looking for.
For those who don’t have time to stay over, the boat ride take you around the islands, stopping at several locations and allowing visitors to jump into the icy blue waters, paddle over to the white sandy beach and stroll around the beauty spot for half an hour or so, while the boat moors nearby, waiting while you enjoy the tranquility.
The price of the trip to Ilha Grande includes the bus ride, the boat and lunch – either fish or chicken – as well as entertainment from a three-piece samba band that, during my trip, expertly courted the crowd to dance and sing along.
Tanya the tour guide, whose language skills included Spanish, French, Italian and Japanese (and a shalom), was also happy to share her knowledge of the area, pointing out who owns which private island and even offering a deeper explanation as to why visiting Ilha Grande is good for your health.
“It’s just the best way to relax, eh?” she laughed. “You just have to let go of the Middle East tension.”
Indeed, as our group made its way back to the bustling Copacabana, a feeling of total relaxation (or perhaps exhaustion) washed over me. The crisp colors of the Amazon, the fresh coastal air and a fine layer of sand that had exfoliated my skin only added to the contentedness of the day.
One day tours to Ilha Grande from Rio De Janeiro’s tourist areas costs between $40 (90 riels) and $75 (150 riels) per person.
Depending on the time of year you make it out there, it’s recommended to take along a warm sweater (the boat ride gets chilly later in the day) and a towel for drying off.
For more information, go to www.ilhagrande.com.br.