Ilha do Mel (Honey Island) has a curvaceous outline, pristine beaches, diverse ecosystems, and no cars at all. Access to the island, one of the top destinations in Southern Brazil, is made by boat only and controlled by an environmental institute; no more than 5,000 people can visit at a time.
The island has never been busier since its first inhabitants left behind traces of their existence in local sambaquis, or shell mounds, over 5,000 years ago. Ilha do Mel draws plenty of young travelers during the summer and the Brazilian version of spring break, in October. However, the beaches around the villages of Encantadas, to the south, or Nova Brasília and Fortaleza, on the whale-shaped north, still offer a tranquil environment for hiking, scuba diving, boat trips and contemplation.
In Encantadas, go surfing, scuba diving or people watching at Mar de Fora (Outer Sea), one of the island's best beaches - then view the sunset from the pier. Nearby Gruta das Encantadas, a grotto by the sea, is worth a visit; you can enter the grotto when the tide is low.
Near Nova Brasília, walk and climb dozens of steps to Farol das Conchas (Lighthouse of the Shells), designed by Zózimo Barroso, who also designed the Itapuã lighthouse in Salvador. The one on Ilha do Mel was built in 1872 by P. & W. MacLellan, from Scotland, during the reign of D. Pedro II.
The view from Mirante do Farol, the lighthouse lookout point, is superb: bring your camera for great shots of three beaches - Praia de Fora, Ponta do Joaquim and Praia Grande.
Fortress of Nossa Senhora dos Prazeres, a 40-minute walk from Nova Brasília on the Figueira trail, is another can't-miss stop (which can also be reached by boat or bicycle). The fort was built in 1767, when Brazil was still a Portuguese colony, to defend the coast from attacks from French and Spanish galleons.
Dolphins show up often in Baía dos Golfinhos, a bay which can be reached by boat from the Encantadas and Nova Brasília piers. Tours (about $13 and up, depending on the number of people) can be arranged with the boatmen.
Ilha do Mel has about 30 beaches. Some of the busiest ones are Mar de Fora and Prainha (with the pier) in the South and Praia da Fortaleza (Fortress Beach) in the North. The Encantadas region has more beaches than Nova Brasília, which is located on a narrow isthmus. However, Limoeiro, one of the most beautiful beaches, is a five-minute walk north of Nova Brasília on the west side of the island.
Praia do Miguel and Praia Grande, near the lighthouse, are great beaches for surfing in the Encantadas region; ask the locals about small, secluded beaches such as Praia da Bica de Norinho, with drinking water from a spring, and Praia das Conchinhas, covered with small shells.
How to Get to Ilha do Mel
From Curitiba, take a bus or the train to Paranaguá, where there are daily boats to Ilha do Mel at 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. (check schedule at the time of your trip). The crossing lasts about two hours and costs about $8. There are more daily boats from Pontal do Sul, less than six miles from Paranaguá.