Although I loved Rio's Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, Praia Lopes Mendes has to be the best beach I saw in Brazil.
Two miles of uninhabited beach backed by verdant tropical jungle, with sand as soft as silk and the color of pure milk, whilst surf rolls in off the Atlantic. A curtain of palm trees is a wild backdrop while at either end of its curved bay are towering mountains and jumbles of explorable rocks.
Praia Lopes Mendes has that wow factor and the best thing is that we nearly had it all to ourselves.
Ilha Grande is rather a big island that faces the Atlantic from the coast of Brazil. While the lovely town of Agraao faces onto a millpond like bay, Praia Lopes Mendes faces the hard and tough Atlantic, meaning that its surf is too strong for boats to land. Ilha Grande is a NP and there are no roads across the island to the beach; dirt tracks climb up and down the mountains but take a long time. The best way to reach it is to hire a boat from Agraao. There is a ferry which departs from the piers at 10am and delivers you back at 4:30pm, but any schooner captain will take you there for about 20 reals and wait to collect you at 4pm.
This was the method we used to reach Praia Lopes Mendes. Six of us missed the official ferry around the to beach (due to stinking hangovers) so we resolved to hire a boat ourselves. There were plenty of offers at the harbor but we chose to go with a fishing boat for about 20 reals each. The fishing boat was tiny--only 10 feet from prow to stern--and passengers had to sit either on the prow or at the back of the boat. To get on board we had to take off our shoes and socks, haul our daypacks onto the deck, then clamber awkwardly on board ourselves. I elected to sit on the prow with Irish Derek, English Gemma, and Oliver. All of us enjoyed good views of Agraao as we headed out of the harbor with its bobbing boats and golden beach. But as we headed further out we had to traverse a promontory and head to the seaward side of the island, where the sea is squeezed out of a channel and the swells of the ocean collide. Huge waves and swells hit the small boat and we were shaken from side to side. Spray washed over the four of us on the prow and we laughed and giggled as if it was some kind of fairground ride.
Praia Lopes Mendes is on a bay so rough that we had to beach on a bay on the other side of the island and walk across its neck. After a while, we were getting rather worried on our two-hour journey to this bay as the boat looked too small for the seas it was trying to negotiate. At the same time, you could have a close look at the island. Visitors have only been allowed on Ilha Grande since 1994 as it was previously used as a prison and quarantine. It has a fearsome reputation for Brazilians as somewhere in those jungles is a prison where political prisoners were tortured. One of our number, Gary, reckoned that some of the quiet hostility that he has sensed comes from those days, as many of the warders/prisoners must have stayed on. This may have given the island a disreputable image but it has kept it in pristine condition.
We eventually chugged into the bay leading to Lopes Mendes. This was stunning--completely enclosed by an enfolding forest with a palm-backed beach. A few fishing boats were offshore but there were only three buildings in sight--two residential and a barraca. The rest of the island was pure wilderness. We took off our shoes, heaved our daypacks onto our shoulders, and jumped into the water. Then it was a walk along the beach to a small uphill trail. The jungle closed in and we passed huge groves of natural bamboo. Ants covered the trail and colorful mushrooms grew on the boles of trees. After a 10-minute walk, the trail descended and we eventually spilled out at Lopes Mendes beach--wow!!!
Everybody just stopped and stared, their eyes gazing out at two miles of uninabited beach. The curve of snow-white sand stretched beyond visible range and was bookended by jungle peaks. Palm trees swayed above us and the roaring of the surf was deafening. The surf in fact was very strong as it crashed against boulders at the far end of the beach. Best of all, we were one of only a handful of people there.
The sun was out but not blisteringly hot--definitely sunbathing weather. Some of our group wanted to explore the end of the beach and set off. A few of us just threw our gear onto the sand and collapsed. Off came the shorts, on went the suncream, and out came a paperback and time to relax. We all went into the water but the pounding surf made swimming difficult, especially when the waves knocked you sideways. It's best to watch for the tide--at one point we had to move our bags further up the beach as the tide was nearly reaching them. Our boat pilot and friend were spotted carrying surfboards--this beach is a favorite with the Brazilian surfing community.
It was a good place to mess around. I could see the pinpricks of the others up against the enormity of the beach and they discovered wild monkeys at the very far end. I took a bit of driftwood and wrote 'STEVE WOZ HERE' in big letters on the deserted beach.
I'm making the most of my time here as I will probably never come back and Ilha Grande will get more touristy. It is a National Park but if they are not careful, it could end up another Buzios or Rio. That would be a shame because it has been so pristine for so long. I am glad I have seen it now--in another 10 years, it could have been discovered, made hip, and probably ruined.