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Honey Island

A Brazilian Eco-Friendly Destination as Sweet as its Name

Ilha do Mel in Brazil
The seemingly endless sands of Praia Grande.
Photo Chris Moore

Ilha do Mel, Honey Island, is a warped whale-shaped stretch of land just over two miles off the coast of Brazil. It is an extraordinary place. Ilha do Mel has no cars, no roads or power lines to the mainland. It’s an ecological paradise, a conservation project that attracts people who can live without a television in their hotel room. Indeed, even the post office isn’t up to much, as I found out when I attempted to buy a stamp. The guy behind the table tried really hard but just couldn’t find one for me.

What Ilha do Mel has in place of the usual luxuries is miles of achingly beautiful beaches; Gruta das Encantadas, a natural grotto; and terrific views from the highlands—just check out the sunset from the Conchas Farol, the lighthouse.

One of the highlights of any stay on the island is a stroll along the sands to the Nossa Senhora dos Prazeres. This still impressive, whitewashed beachside fortress was built in 1767 by the Dutch to ward off marauding English buccaneers. These days, visitors can look around the bleak, dank jail, the only bleak and dank place on the whole island.

For those who want to do more than explore the shady thick jungle or wander along miles and miles of quiet, white sandy beaches, there is plenty to experience. Ilha do Mel is a magnet for the more savvy surfers, people who want to catch the big one in waters that are safe, clear, and very pleasantly warm. Then there is the nightlife.

Okay, so there are no Club Tropicana-scale extravaganzas to keep you occupied in the heat of the night, but that’s not what Ilha do Mel is about. And besides, the fragrant and atmospheric beach bars that frequently roll on into the night as locals and visitors jam to the backbeat of a sultry Brazilian soundtrack more than suffice. Knocking back a few bottles of Brahma beer after a hard day riding the surf at Praia Grande beach or participating in an impromptu game of beach soccer was never so enjoyable.

We stayed at Pousadahina, a small and rather rickety-looking wooden hostel, with good, clean, but basic amenities. It cost us about $12 a night and included breakfasts of superb fruit, bread, cereal, juice, and coffee. For food we either ate at “home,” as the proprietor laid on a mean fish and rice dish for only a few dollars, or else we headed out to one of the many eateries, such as Restaurante Mar e Sol, which is located near the lighthouse. It is at places such as these where you get to sample the fresh fish that the local fishermen bring in on their brightly colored launches every morning.

There is only one way to reach Ilha do Mel, and that’s by boat. Invariably, you’ll find that your fellow passengers are locals from the island returning from shopping expeditions on the mainland. The journey takes around 40 minutes.

To reach Ilha do Mel, you need to catch the boat from Pontal do Sul, which is just a 4-hour train journey through the jungle from Curitiba followed by a half-hour coastal bus ride from Paranaguá. The journey itself is worth the ticket price. The scenery is awe-inspiring, the squawks of native birds emitting from the lush green of the jungle canopy only occasionally broken by the remains of long abandoned rail stations, really does sharpen the senses to the fact that you are leaving the 21st century way behind. Believe me, it’s worth all the hassle to get to this tranquil oasis.

For More Info

Getting there

Regular flights to Curitiba from North American destinations; coach (two and a half hours) or train (four hours) to Paranaguá; 30 minutes bus ride to Pontal do Sul; then a ferry to Ilha do Mel.

Getting around

On foot, or bicycle—available for hire from many beachside pousadas.

Where to stay

Pousadahina, Brasilia Ilha do Mel, $12 per room including breakfast; Pousada das Meninas, Praia do Farol das Conchas, from $20 per room, Tel: 011-041-33426-8023.

Where to eat

Anywhere (although we tended to eat at our pousada). All of the many mini bistros (often also hostels) serve fresh fish. Meal prices are competitive, although slightly higher than on the mainland (so expect to pay between $6 and $12 a meal). Those with a slightly bigger budget could check out Restaurante Mar e Sol, and be sure to try the house seafood specialty “Moqueca da Ilha do Mel.”

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