Fernando de Noronha in Brazil

This small volcanic island rising from the deep, on the eastern edge of the mid-Atlantic ridge 350 km off the coast, is the St Barts of Brazil and one of the world's great romantic destinations. It is blessed with exceptional natural beauty; rugged like the west of Ireland, covered in maquis like Corsica and fringed by some of the cleanest and most beautiful beaches in the Atlantic. Many of the beaches are exposed to the full force of the ocean and pummelled by a powerful bottle-green surf that has earned the island the nickname 'the Hawaii of the Atlantic'. Surf championships are held on Cacimba do Padre beach. However, there are numerous coves where the sea is kinder and the broad beaches are dotted with deep clear-water rock pools busy with juvenile reef fish. The water changes through shades of aquamarine to deep indigo and is as limpid as any on earth. Diving here rivals Mexico's Cozumel and the Turks and Caicos.

Despite the fact that two-thirds of the island is settled, it is an important nesting ground for turtles and marine birds, both the island itself and the seas around it are a marine park, protected by Ibama. All that is needed to make it a sanctuary of international standing is to remove the non- native feral monitor lizards (brought here in the 20th century to kill rats), goats and the island's abundant cats and dogs. Tourism, however, is controlled and only limited numbers can visit the island at any time. Book well in advance.

Getting there and around

Flights to the island from Recife and Natal are run by
TRIP
, www.voetrip.com.br, and
Varig
, www.varig.com.
CVC
, www.cruisevacationcenter.com, operates a small cruise liner, which sails from Recife to Noronha and then back to Recife via Fortaleza and Natal. Buggy hire, motorbike hire and jeep tours are available in town.

Best time to visit

The rains are April to July. The vegetation turns brown in the dry season (August to March), but the sun shines all year round. Noronha is one hour later than Brazilian Standard Time. There are far fewer mosquitos here than on the coast but bring repellent.

Tourist information

Ibama
has imposed rigorous rules to prevent damage to the nature reserve and everything, from development to cultivation of food crops to fishing, is strictly administered. Many locals are now dependent on tourism and most food is brought from the mainland. Entry to the island is limited and there is a tax of US$30 per day for the first week of your stay. In the second week the tax increases each day. Take sufficient
reais
as it's difficult to change money. For information see www.fernandonoronha.com.br.

Sights

The island was discovered in 1503 by Amerigo Vespucci and was for a time a pirate lair. In 1738 the Portuguese built a charming little baroque church,
Nossa Senhora dos Remedios
, some attractive administrative buildings and a fort,
O Forte dos Remédios
, which was used as a prison for political dissidents by the military dictatorship in the late 20th century. The most famous was the communist leader Luis Carlos Prestes, who led the famous long march, the Prestes Column, in 1925-1927. Many people were tortured and murdered here. The islands were occupied by the USA during the Second World War and used as a naval base. US guns sit outside the
prefeitura
in the centre of the main town,
Vila dos Remédios
, which overlooks the coast on the eastern shore.

Some of the best beaches lie immediately south of the town, clustered around an imposing granite pinnacle, the
Morro do Pico
. The most beautiful are
Conceição
,
Boldró
,
Americano
,
Baía do Sancho
,
Cacimba do Padre
and the turquoise cove at
Baía dos Porcos
, which sits on the edge of the beginning of the marine park. Beyond is the
Baía dos Golfinhos
, with a lookout point for watching the spinner dolphins in the bay. On the south, or windward side, there are fewer beaches, higher cliffs and the whole coastline and offshore islands are part of the marine park. As with dive sites,
Ibama
restricts bathing in low-tide pools and other sensitive areas to protect the environment.

There are good possibilities for hiking, horse riding and mountain biking. A guide will take you to the marine park and to beaches such as
Atalaia
, which has the best snorkelling.

Wildlife and conservation

The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It may look like an ecological paradise but it has been the victim of much degradation. Almost all of the native vegetation was chopped down in the 19th century, when the island was used as a prison, to prevent prisoners from hiding or making rafts. A giant native rodent, recorded by Amerigo Vespucci was wiped out and linseed, feral cats, dogs, goats, rats, mice, tegu lizards and cavies were introduced in the 16th century. These continue to damage bird and turtle nesting sites and native vegetation. Nonetheless, the island remains an important sanctuary for sea bird species. Ruddy turnstone, black and brown noddy, sooty tern, fairy tern, masked booby, brown booby and white-tailed tropicbird all nest
here. Some endemic bird species still survive: the Noronha vireo (
Vireo gracilirostris
); a tyrant flycatcher, the Noronha elaenia or cucuruta (
Elaenia spectabilis reidleyana
); and the Noronha eared dove or arribaçã (
Zenaida auriculata noronha
). There is an endemic lizard (
Mabuya maculate
) and at least 5% of the fish species are unique to the archipelago. The most spectacular animals are the nesting hawksbill and green turtles, and the spinner dolphins. Good terrestrial wildlife guides are
non-existent on Noronha and even
Ibama
spell the species names incorrectly on their information sheets. T
here are a number of reasonable dive shops;
though biological knowledge is minimal.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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