Our trip to Brazil in November was the first time I've dabbled in the winter sun game and honestly i couldn't recommend it enough. I actually don't know why us Brits don't do it more, when you think about it summer in England is actually pretty awesome, yes the weather may not be wholly consistent but it is by enlarge warm and dry(ish). It's that super depressing spell from October-December and January-April when you're vitamin d deprived and dreaming of warmer climes, that you need to get the hell out.
You may think going further afield to find the sun in winter can be expensive, but a lot of places are actually out of season so flights and accommodation can be cheaper than visiting mainland Europe in school summer holidays. If you aren't fussy about direct flights for example, flying to Brazil in November can be as cheap as £300-400 return with a short stop in Lisbon. My tip is to try and go in the Spring/Autumn of the Southern Hemisphere, peak season in Brazil is Dec-Feb when its get very hot and humid and carnival is in the air. Therefore, November is an ideal time as the weather is at a perfect mid to high 20s, everything is open and ready for high season and accommodation is good value and available. Obviously Brazil is a huge country and the climate changes depending where you visit, its also tropical so weather and temperature can be volatile.
We began our trip in a beautiful spot called Toque Toque. After working for a week in Sao Paulo, Shaun flew out and joined me and we headed to the coast nearest the city. A lot of my Brazilian colleagues recommended hiring a car but we opted to travel by coaches between destinations. The coach system in Brazil and other areas of South America is pretty swish, comfortable and above all, cheap as chips. The only slight problem was speaking basically zero Portuguese (English isn't widely spoken in the country, you'll find people either speak absolutely none or are almost fluent) so it was a little tricky buying coach tickets etc but with a little help from google translate we had nailed 'dois bilhetes por favor' in no time.
After catching a coach from the city down to Toque Toque we arrived at the beautiful Boutique Hotel, set on a cliff with dreamy views of the Atlantic ocean below. The hotel has 13 rooms, a spa, pool, gym, restaurant and most important, each room has a terrace with a hot tub. We spent three nights and two full days there and had the most amazing time. The staff were very friendly and helpful, even picking us up on the first day when we got off the local bus at the wrong stop! If you ever visit this hotel or area you have to visit the secret beach, its a short walk along the road from the Hotel and down basically the first road you come to. It's unknown to tourists and is quiet and private. It's basically deserted apart from a few 'in the know' sun worshippers and it was the perfect place to relax.
Secret beach near Toque Toque Boutique Hotel
After Toque Toque we headed down to Sao Sebastiao to cross over to the island of Ilhabela - literal translation - beautiful Island. Earning it's name from its abundance of lush tropical forest, gorgeous white sand beaches and numerous waterfalls most of the island is a protected national park and only the shoreline is inhabited. We only stayed two nights and only had one full day on the island which was a shame as it was probably one of the most beautiful places i've ever visited. We stayed in an Airbnb at almost the very end of the main road that runs half way around the island and just before the notorious hiking trail to one of the countries most beautiful beaches. I cannot recommend the Airbnb enough and have linked it above, Daniel the owner was so awesome, so helpful and friendly. As well as picking us up from the ferry, he also gave us his freshly grown bananas and mangos, which were like nothing i've ever tasted and will completely change your conception of how fruit should taste. The situation of our room couldn't have been more dreamy, with breathtaking views of the ocean right outside the doors and a hammock perfectly placed to relax with a beezy and take in the views.
One of the must-visit areas of Ilhebela is Bonete Beach. Completely hidden and inaccessible by road/car it's a 4-5 hour hike from the habited area of Ilhebela, there is a small fishing community living there and during the winter months when the sea is too rough to get to the beach by boat the only option is the 15KM hike to and from the main town. We decided to brave the hike as our Airbnb host recommended it and arrange a boat to bring us back from the beach, meaning we only had to do the 15KM there and not back.. As a pair of non-hikers, we literally had no gear and even less idea what we were in for but it was totally worth it. The trail is pretty hard going at times with sharp inclines and steep decends which why the 3 sets of waterfalls you pass are welcome break from the hot sun and luckily you're almost fully covered by forest for the majority of the walk so you don't get frazzled. Obviously we took full advantage of the waterfalls to have a little swim and cool. Towards the end of the hike after you pass the third set of waterfalls and walk for another hour, the thick jungle starts to clear and you're suddenly struck by the most incredible view of the atlantic ocean as far as the eye can see, and down below in the near distance - Bonete Beach.
The beach itself is basically deserted, there is one restaurant where you can get traditional Brazilian food and lovely cold drinks. One thing to be aware of on Ilhabela and especially if you are going hiking is the mosquitos or 'borrachudo' which are Ilhabela's own particularly viscous strain. You have to ensure you take tropical repellant and reapply it every few hours. We had a nightmare in that once we had a lovely swim on Bonete and went to reapply our repellant and we couldn't find it, thinking we must have dropped it somewhere on the hike (only to discover later when we got back to the UK that it had slipped into the lining of Shaun's backpack) we swiftly decided to go get the boat back. Literally in the space of time we were waiting for the other couple to get to the boat, our legs got eaten alive by the little bastards. They are different to normal mosquitos as you don't feel the bite and only notice when looking down these tiny little flying bugs on your legs. They leave a bite with a tiny red dot in the centre and are so itchy; I've been back from Brazil for two months and they are only just healing now. We barely got bitten anywhere else in Brazil, but if you do visit Ilhabela, which I recommend doing, make sure you take repellant and don't let it get lost in the lining of your backpack!
Second part of our adventure coming soon!