We arrived at Ilhabela, just a short way up the coast from Santos, on the morning of February 23. Ilhabela is an archipelago about four miles off the coast of Brazil. Discovered for Europeans by Amerigo Vespucci in 1502, the largest island that we visited is today a beach and watersport resort that is very popular with vacationers from Sao Paulo (127 miles away) and Rio de Janeiro (210 miles away). In season it can get very crowded on weekends but we were there on Saturday and there were few visitors in evidence other than ship passengers. It is no wonder this is a popular getaway, with vast amounts of blue water and many miles of beaches.
This little town (the whole archipelago has a permanent population of about 32,000) definitely has the laid back ambience of most beach towns. It is small enough that no transportation is needed in town, although we understand that most visitors spend their time on or under the water, on the beach, or hiking the nature trails that abound on the island. The tender dropped us off on the dock right in the center of town, and on the other side of a small park is the church. The town & especially the church were decorated with long streams of flags, but we don’t know whether that is normal or perhaps it was a holiday.
The Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora D’Ajuda (Church of Our Lady of Help) was first built at the end of the 18th & beginning of the 19th centuries by slave labor. It was significantly renovated in the 1950’s. Sitting on top of a hill, its blue and white facade dominates the town and there is a very nice view from its veranda.
At the bottom of the front stairway of the church is a large sculpture of Jesus on the cross, much larger than life. To the right of the cross is a yellow castle style building that was the home of something called the Chain and Forum. It was transformed from an earlier building in 1913 and restored in 2001; today it houses a visitor center.
We walked down to visit the public library, somewhat hidden in the Cultural Center. It was small but light and airy (maybe because hardly anyone was there) with a small patio outside a glass wall.
Next door we happened upon the small Waldemar Belisario museum. Established in 1968, the museum is devoted to local artist Belisario, who was born in 1895 and lived in Ilhabela from 1929 until his death in 1983. It was highlighted by a set of four stained glass windows, a room full of Belisario’s paintings (no photos allowed) and a room of photographs that appears to be a temporary installation. Worth seeing if you ever find yourself in this town.
That was the last of the landmarks we wanted to see so we walked around the streets of the town for a while. There were quite a few restaurants and stores, most of which were selling souvenirs and clothing of the type you would expect in a beach town. The streets were surprisingly empty, though.
After a few hours we were finished with this small town, so we walked back down to the docks. After spending a little time there looking at the water and scenery we boarded the tender and returned to the ship. Tomorrow would be a much fuller day.