By Maureen Valentine
This article was first published at the whl.travel blog, who have agreed to its republication here. View the original article on the whl.travel blog.
Found off the coast of southeast Brazil, Ilha do Mel, which means Honey Island, is about as far from life’s chaos as serene nature can get. Hikers, surfers, bird watchers, stargazers and nature lovers alike are in awe of all that this little Atlantic island has to offer. In fact, many agree that Brazil’s most pristine beaches are located right here, where, until the 1970s, the local economy was dominated by fishermen and the lack of traffic spared the land as an ecotourism haven.
As Ilha do Mel is an island of fishermen, this colourful pier is always full of activity. Sampling the abundance of seafood available in the eateries from the daily catches is always a treat.
Ilha do Mel is hardly a mass tourism destination, which is one of the things the locals and visitors love about it. Recently reconnected with the mainland – electricity was introduced in 1998, as were regular boat shuttles, water pipes and other eco-friendly amenities – the island today is fortunately still car-free, a sandy knot of trails crisscrossing an ecological reserve protected by strict regulations on guesthouses, restaurants, stores and tourism. Even better, one guiding principle on the island – a long-term one – is to preserve the environment in its unspoiled state.
Building and Supporting Sustainable Infrastructure
Ilha do Mel is a relative newcomer as a tourism destination and is actively fine-tuning its infrastructure. Efforts are also being made to educate local business owners about business improvement opportunities that tap into tourism as a force for long-term sustainability and an improved standard of living.
Boats are a common sight around this oddly shaped island, since they are the only form of motorised transport. Travellers must reach the island by boat and can walk its expanses, taking in all the magnificent views.
Within this framework, some guidance is being offered by Discover Paraná, the whl.travel local connection on Ilha do Mel, in cooperation with Sebrae, a non-governmental organisation that contributes to the sustainable development of communities by offering to micro and small enterprises the conditions necessary for their survival.
“Our main focus on Ilha do Mel is to train the local guesthouse owners,” explained Bibiana from Discover Paraná. “Together with Sebrae, we take part in meetings. On these occasions we explain to entrepreneurs what the Internet is, how Internet bookings can help them, how they can reach clients, what clients expect from them etc. Building up the entrepreneurs we will build up the destination, as they will be more aware about what they can do. With this done, a change in the destination will be a natural process.”
One local guesthouse owner, Carlos, is a community leader and involved with many programs, like the Ministry of Tourism’s ‘Bem Receber‘, which educates and incentivises entrepreneurs to create and run projects relating to responsible tourism, including water and energy saving, staff education and training, waste recycling and more. As a result of his participation in this program, Carlos’ pousada, Enseada das Conchas, as well as another lodge called Fim da Trilha, have succeeded in reducing the accommodations’ waste production. Travellers staying in these inviting, locally owned Ilha do Mel hotels and guesthouses are rewarded with the knowledge that efforts are being made to minimise the environmental impact their stay is having on the surrounding gorgeous gardens.
Ilha do Mel is accessible only by boat from Paranaguá or Pontal do Sul. From Pontal do Sul, the 30-minute service runs every hour in low season, every 30 minutes otherwise. Cars can be left in Pontal do Sul, in parking lots from which public transport buses easily reach the dock. After 5pm, private boat transport must be arranged.
From Paranaguá, boats depart for the 90-minute crossing two to five times per day, depending on the season. The boat owners are organised in an association and all tickets include the price of the return trip, as well as a nature conservation fee of approximately US$2 dollars. All passengers arriving from Pontal do Sul must produce a badge showing that the fee has been paid.
Upon arrival at the island’s dock, several men wearing uniforms (t-shirts) wait to assist travellers with luggage. Their services are priced at fixed rates, depending on the location of the guesthouse; haggling is not usual in Brazil. These helpers are also organised in an association and only the next worker in line is able to take luggage, a very helpful service for guests who don’t know their way around the island and will have difficulty toting their bags through the sand.
Travellers who can get by with a little Portuguese will find that guesthouse owners are more than willing to lead personalised Ilha do Mel tours that bring to life their little paradise in the Atlantic. Others will simply take pleasure in exploring the bountiful jungle or strolling along pristine, sandy beaches. Surf enthusiasts will find all their needs met by Fernando (from Pousada Treze Luas) and Zeco (from Grajagan Surf Resort), experienced surf instructors with boards for rent or lessons to teach.
The local cuisine is all about fish and seafood. Try the best of it at Mar e Sol, where the ‘Prato Surfista’ is highly recommended.