Island Hopping

Angra, as the 365 islands scattered across the bay of Angra dos Reis are commonly called, is the great Brazilian escape. A three-hour drive south of Rio (to the town of Angra dos Reis, then off you go by boat), some of the islands are still wild and uninhabited, but many are the private playgrounds of Carioca tycoons—and are yours for the renting. A few have restaurants and bars, outposts of popular Rio spots open only from November to February (Brazilian summer). Sushi Leblon, for example, usually sets up on Ilha do Arroz; the Leblon hangout Zuka arrives with its haute Brazilian fare on Ilha de Itanhangá.

But Angra's appeal is not dining out. Rather, this is a place of private islands, fantastical houses, over-the-top parties (especially between Christmas and the New Year), and Ferretti speedboats whizzing from one place to another.

Angra is all about rentals; there are no good hotels. Each of the three travel firms we recommend—Angatu, Matueté, and the Brazilian Beach House Company—has exclusive villas and islands in its portfolio. Ilha do Piedade ($8,000; angatu.com) is a massive spread on a little isle of its own that can accommodate 20 people in four suites and six bungalows, all arranged around a dining room, a home theater, a piano bar, and snooker tables. The island also has a tennis court, a soccer pitch, and four beaches. Five bungalows done in Balinese style make up Ouriço, a 200-by-600-foot speck in the bay ($3,000; brazilianbeachhouse.com) whose central palm-thatched living room has a glass floor. At night the water beneath is lit to show off the colorful starfish and other aquatic life. Designer Island ($7,500; matuete.com) was built by the noted Brazilian architect Thiago Bernardes. A villa and three bungalows cluster around a stunning glass-front living room with views out over the beach and bay. The island's helicopter can fly you here straight from Rio. The more modest of the bunch—but one of our favorites—is a villa on the island of Gipóia ($6,000; matuete.com). Owned by a Brazilian shipping magnate, it is set on seven acres, with seven bedrooms, a pool, and a tennis court.