Isla Grande, Paraty, and Sao Paulo

Isla Grande is a small island off the coast of Brazil with gorgeous beaches, tons of hikes, and no cars allowed.  Sign us up!

The island is undeveloped because it has historically been home to some undesirable inhabitants.  It was once home to a leper colony and then later the site of a top security prison.  The prison, which housed the most dangerous criminals, was closed in 1994.  Once rid of these less than ideal citizens, the island’s pristine beauty, unspoiled nature, and convenient yet isolated location made it a perfect tourist destination.

We stayed at Tropical Mountain House, which was a 20-minute jungle hike from the port.  It’s a charming place with private suites, a hammock-filled porch with ocean view, and a well-stocked kitchen.  Perfect for us!  We hiked to amazing beaches, yoga’d, caught up on writing, and Ryan reread Treasure Island in one sitting.  A perfect vacation to energize us for the next portion of our trip.

After Isla Grande we took a ferry to delightful Paraty—a UNESCO World Heritage Site and picturesque colonial town.  The grid layout of cobble-stoned streets shows whitewash buildings with colorful trimmings that contrast beautifully with the dark wood.  

We stayed in the family run ­­­Hotel Solar dos Gerânios, a restored mansion from the early 1900s.  It had a lobby we want to mimic in our library one day and rooms overlooking the town square.  We loved it so much we extended our stay a night, and then another night!  We toured the town, ate in the delicious restaurants, and went on an island hopping tour to the neighboring beaches.

But we had to move on eventually and make our way to Sao Paulo.  We had low expectations for this city—it’s the business hub of Brazil with a lackluster reputation.  Maybe it was our low hopes, but we were pleasantly surprised by Sao Paulo!  We stayed at Sampa Hostel, which has simple clean rooms and really cool art around it.  Plus, the neighborhood Vila Madalena can’t be beat for restaurants and nightlife.

The fabulous artwork at Sampa!

Sao Paulo has a surprisingly clean and doable subway system that we used to its full advantage.  We first went to the Museum of Immigration, which not only highlights Sao Paulo’s role in immigration for South America, but also gives a fascinating perspective on pioneers and immigrants throughout history.  The museum put us in the shoes of immigrants and, as we constantly move from one place to the next, we could identify with the need and fear of discovering a new home (of course recognizing our trip is much less stressful!).

We continued on our self-guided walking tour to the spectacular Theatro Municipal.  Considered Sao Paulo’s most splendid construction, the theater was built in the early 1900s and is still used today.

We next walked to the Mercado Municipal, a covered market with any local food you could wish for.  The market was designed as an old train station, which has a gorgeous setup that also happened to be a delicious spot for lunch!

Our time in Sao Paulo was very brief, but we had places to get to!  In particular, magnificent Iguaçu Falls!