An aireal view of the a beach in Port Ilha Grande.

Abraao, Ilha Grande, Brazil

Travel just 110 kilometers (68 miles) down Brazil’s coast from Rio de Janeiro and you’ll encounter a big bay with a big island that's aptly named Ilha Grande. The rough-and-tumble past of the 192-square-kilometer (74-square-mile) island—it was once a pirate hangout and later home to a leper colony and an infamous prison—slowed development, which has turned out to be a blessing, as there are pristine beaches, rain forests cover much of the island, and almost 90 percent of the land is protected as a state park. In other words, it’s a great escape, whether you head to the jungle in search of Amazon parrots, howler monkeys and sloths, or to one of the beautiful strands such as the laid-back Lopes Mendes, where you might spot southern right whales swimming along the coast.All around the island, small fishing vessels bob in small coves and visitors enjoy caipirinhas with ocean views. The island’s now-abandoned prison, which housed political prisoners along with criminals up until the mid 1990s, still stands, a reminder of how far Brazil has come in just two decades.