Immersed in tropical vegetation
Without a shadow of a doubt, Ilhabela is one of the most beautiful spots on the Brazilian coast between Santos and Rio. When you step ashore from your MSC cruise ship you’ll feel surrounded by nature.
Of volcanic origin, the island’s startling mountainous scenery rises to 1370m and is covered in dense tropical foliage. With 83 percent of the island protected within the boundaries of the Parque Estadual de Ilhabela, the dozens of waterfalls, beautiful beaches and azure seas have contributed to the island’s popularity.
Old or new, most of the buildings are in simple Portuguese-colonial styles – as far removed from brash Guarujá as you can get. The island is a haunt of São Paulo’s rich who maintain large and discreetly located homes on the coast, many of which have mooring facilities for luxury yachts or helicopter landing-pads.
Almost all of the island’s 30,000 inhabitants live along the sheltered western shore, with the small village of Vila Ilhabela (often referred to as “Centro”) serving as the main population centre. On an MSC South America cruise excursion you can visit Vila Ilhabela, which has a few pretty colonial buildings, dominated by the Igreja Matriz, a little church completed in 1806. Situated on a hill, the white-and-blue wedding cake-like building has a Spanish-marble floor and provides both a cool retreat from the sun and a good view over the area.
Following the coastal road south from Vila Ilhabela along the mainland-facing shore, the beaches are small, but pleasant enough, the calm waters are popular with windsurfers, and bars and restaurants dot the roadside as far as Perequê, the island’s second-biggest town, about halfway south along the island and the location of the port. There are more attractive beaches on the further-flung coasts of the island, most of which can be reached by schooner and/or jeep.