Posted by: Stephanie Tuck | September 27, 2010

Paradise Island, Brazil-Style

This talk of frisbee (see previous post) has brought back a flood of memories of my well, ULTIMATE frisbee experience ever (and maybe for the rest of life) tossing around a disk in the warm but strong waves on a little island two hours south of Rio. Specifically, we were at Lopes Mendes on Ihla Grande in Agra. To get to this beach – ranked in the top 10 beaches in Brazil (which is saying something)  -we hiked for a few hours on a twisting path through the jungle, past Jurassic Park-sized trees and vines and boulders, and arrived at a gorgeous, expansive, white sand playground with NO ONE on it – no snack shack, no life guard, no boom boxes, nada. We were the only visitors. I took off my hiking boots and shorts, stripped down to my bikini,  and dove right in. Yes. Loved it.

Lopes Mendes, Brazil

And by “love” I do mean the head-over-heels variety. In fact, I’ve been back three times since. That’s because I keep returning to The Island Experience, a wonderful week-long fitness/adventure program on Ihla Grande (a tropical island with no cars) and a hike to Lopes Mendes is always on the schedule.
The Island Experience is my kind of paradise. You start every day with yoga, then  hop into a sea kayak and paddle through bright blue lagoons until you disembark and hike through the jungle to the day’s beach and picnic lunch spot. After an hour of splashing, you hike back to your kayak, kayak back to the lodge, do some more yoga, GET A MASSAGE (!!!!), have a healthy dinner (fish and veggies mostly – there’s no salt, alcohol, caffeine and very little fat) and collapse. You keep this up for six days -wash, rinse, repeat – and by the end you’re bionic.

Who knows – for you the high point may be something other than Lopes Mendes – it could be snorkeling or scaling the boulders that surround the jungle waterfalls or learning to samba in the evening with the scraps of energy you may have left.

Yes, you’ll  lose a few pounds after a week here and without a doubt your skin will glow and your eyes will shine as a result of the detox food plan. But something else may happen here, too – you may decide to give yourself a break and accept your body. I’ve seen the same arc repeat itself every time I go: the first day in our bikinis and briefs, everyone in our small group (8-12  folks) is self-conscious and self-critical and squirmy. Gradually -it may take 2 days it may take 4 -everyone (and I do mean everyone, regardless of shape) lets that go and forgets about looking good from a particular angle. Who cares?  Who is looking at you, anyway? We’re all working hard kayaking and hiking and swimming and stretching and we’re doing this in one of the most spectacular natural settings on the planet. It’s so so so much more satisfying to look outside yourself at the starfish, turtles, tropical fish and delightful Brazilian guides than to stress about your thighs.  In fact, you may just come to truly appreciate your body as it and it alone will power your paddle and lift those feet. Out there on the water,  I feel like The Little Engine That Could (“I Think I Can, I Think I Can”) and hey, after  a week at the Island Experience you’ll not only feel great and be adept at kayaking (a new sport for you, perhaps?),  but your own little caboose will be tighter and stronger.

gorgeous kayaking/snorkling spot


  1. Great site Stephanie! Very inspiring! Thanks for mentioning it on fb. Keep it going!

    – David


  2. This sounds wonderful. And so much better than doing a fast or the Master Cleanse.
    Since you’ve gone several times, I have to ask: How long does it take for you to “shut off”? Hours? Days? Also, how in-shapes does one have to be to tackle all of this?
    And finally: Is the food tasty?
    Thank you!


    • Hi Lori –
      I’d say that by the time the sun sets on day two the shut off switch is on. You don’t need to be in great shape to tackle The Island Experience and enjoy it but you do need a good attitude. I’ve been there with a range of people and those who are not already fit do the same hikes as the Energizer Bunnies, they just take their time on the trails or on the water. That’s one of the great things about The Island Experience – you go at the pace that works for you and your body – there’s no pressure to perform and the guides are tuned-in to and supportive of those who are on the slower side, should they need a boost. Everyone covers the same distance and I have never seen anyone not be able to handle the program. The atmosphere is not competitive and every day is not a race to the finish. Truth is you could argue the slower you go, the better, as you have more time to soak in the nature around you. And whatever your fitness level is when you arrive, it will be higher by the time you leave! As for the food, yum. The chef and nutritionist, Adriana, knows her stuff. The diet is heavy with fruits and vegetables and also has whole grains, like quinoa, and local fish for protein. it’s all fresh fresh fresh – the fruit, in particular, is ridiculous. Some people miss coffee when they are there but I have not had a problem. Happy trails! Steph


  3. […] good moment for me, then, when I was introduced to quinoa. I was at The Island Experience in Brazil (see this post, Paradise Island,  for more info) and had just kayaked and hiked for a few hours, and I was HUNGRY. For lunch we were served about a […]


  4. Dear Stephanie-
    This place looks amazing but I’m thinking I’d like to stay a little closer or go someplace warm for the for the December holidays that offers a structured workout/healthy eating program. I’ve heard of
    Bikini Boot Camp in Tulum but can you recommend any others? I’d like it to include accommodations and I would be going alone.


    • Hi Tamara –
      I have not been but I’ve heard great things about the program at Maya Tulum. If you go, please let me know how your experience is. I’m dying to check out the Tulum area.


  5. Got back from the Island Experience a few weeks ago and still feeling the glow – although freezing cold weather and one-to-many Christmas parties trying to derail me. This was one of the most wonderful vacations I’ve ever had. Steph, thanks so much for turning me on to it. It was the perfect balance between active (hiking, kayaking, yoga) and relaxed (yoga and a massage every evening!). It was also the perfect balance in eating. There was tons of amazingly delicious fruit. And, while the meals were healthy and helped detox, they were so good that I would totally become a vegetarian (if I had Adriana cooking for me every day). There were only 9 guests when I was there and they and the staff were so wonderful that it made the whole trip a pleasure. I’m already trying to figure out when I can go again.


    • Nikki – SO great you went and better still you had such an awesome time! Makes me really happy – that place is special.
      I can’t wait to go back, too 🙂
      xox Steph


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