Text and photos Roberto Quintero
In Fernando de Noronha life is a true delight. Unlike other beach destinations that offer crowded resorts, the low-density tourism in this archipelago in Pernambuco, Brazil is respectful of the environment. The reason is simple: this ecological sanctuary of great importance to the planet has achieved world fame for the beauty of its beaches, attracting large numbers of tourists every year. Conscious of the jewel they hold in their hands, the locals control the way their natural resources are exploited, minimizing damage to the beauty all around them. This is fortunate, because the place is gorgeous.
It also has a fascinating history. The archipelago bears the name of the Lusitanian nobleman who financed the expedition of Amerigo Vespucci, the first European to land on the islands in 1503. Following this discovery, the archipelago was besieged by the French and English and then passed into Dutch hands in 1629, where it stayed for the next 25 years until Portugal recovered the islands in 1654. Almost two hundred years later, the famous English scientist Charles Darwin stopped here en route to the Galapagos on his legendary expedition aboard the HMS Beagle. The archipelago also served as a penal colony, first for common criminals and then for political prisoners. Later, as a federal territory during the Second World War, it was used as a military base and maintained a large presence of American soldiers. And just thirty years ago it was returned to the state of Pernambuco and began its new life as a center for recreation.
A praia mais bonita do mundo
People in the village say that when Vespucci disembarked he exclaimed, “Paradise is here!” And although this may seem like an exaggeration, I believe it’s true. The natural landscape of Fernando de Noronha is dazzling. Of the 21 islands in the ten-square-mile archipelago, only one is inhabited. The archipelago was declared a National Marine Park by the Brazilian government and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Its beautiful crystalline beaches, kissed by warm waters, are a source of pride throughout Pernambuco, but there is one in particular that everyone raves about. Its name is Baía do Sancho, but on the main island it is better known as “A praia mais bonita do mundo” (“The World’s Most Beautiful Beach”). Just like that, as if there were no other like it. Indeed, Baía do Sancho has been named the most beautiful beach in the world three times in the TripAdvisor website’s annual rankings.
As a hidden treasure, it’s not easy to reach. Being a protected area, you must first register at the access entrance where you’ll also find a tourist information center and a souvenir shop with various products. If you come without water, food, or sunscreen, you’ll need to purchase supplies at this shop since there is nowhere to do it past this point. And, of course, you won’t want to carry many things. From there, you’ll walk through the greenery along a path leading to a lookout point. Finally, you’ll descend a cliff through several caves where long, steep stairs have been installed.
But at the end of all this effort you will have conquered paradise. The sea is delicious, the sand soft, and the landscape unsurpassed. Birds fly by undisturbed, crabs run free along the sand, and on the quiet afternoon when I was there, I felt that happiness could be eternal. I have no idea whether Baía do Sancho is actually the most beautiful beach in the world, but its incredible beauty made a believer out of me. It’s worth a visit to see for yourself why it’s one of the most coveted ecotourism destinations in the world.
And while you’re on that part of the island, I recommend you continue along the path that leads to Baía do Sancho until you reach the next viewpoint, where you’ll get a view of Baia dos Porcos: a bay filled with multicolored fish, known for the natural pools of turquoise water that form between the rocks, guarded by the imposing Morro Dois Irmãos. This view, besides being the image featured on one of the archipelago’s most famous postcards, is one of nature’s true spectacles.
As in any paradise, in Noronha (as it is known familiarly) one eats very well. From among the many options, I decided to check out the local flavors. Of all the restaurants I visited, there were two that surprised me. Lunch at Mergulhão provided an excellent opportunity to taste the delicacies of contemporary Brazilian cuisine. All the dishes served at this restaurant on the port are delicious, and the beautiful view makes you want to stay forever. Try it! At nightfall, dinner at the Ze María Gastronomic Festival is an unforgettable experience. Diners participating in this culinary ritual gather around a sumptuous banquet featuring paella, fish, seafood, and typical northeastern Brazilian fare. It happens on Wednesdays and Saturdays, starting at 8:30 p.m., so it’s important to book in advance, as the dinner has become one of the most popular evening events on the island.
After stretching out on the sand to enjoy the hypnotic sound of the waves as they come and go and the peace that reigns throughout the island, after eating and drinking like a Viking, who could ask for more? It was more than enough for me, but Fernando de Noronha has a lot more to offer active visitors looking to enjoy the sea.
The wealth of marine fauna and the transparency and warmth of its waters make the beaches of the archipelago an ideal place to snorkel and scuba dive. Under these conditions, your visit would be incomplete if you failed to take the opportunity to see dolphins and swim with sharks and huge sea turtles. Check out Praia do Cachorro, Baía dos Golfinhos, Baía Sueste and Praia do Boldró for these activities.
The archipelago is also the perfect setting for ocean sports. In fact, surfers call this place the “Brazilian Hawaii.” From November to March, when surfing conditions are best, Cacimba do Padre beach (considered among the best in Brazil) draws surfers from all over the world.
Also fun is the boat ride around the archipelago. If you’re looking for a dreamlike sunset to enjoy, you won’t want to miss the view from Fortinho do Boldró. Believe me, it will leave you breathless.
Copa Airlines offers two flights weekly to Recife from North, Central, South America and the Caribbean through the Hub of the Americas in Panama City. Several Brazilian airlines offer air service from Recife to Fernando de Noronha. It is only reachable by plane.
Where to Stay
Lodging consists of small comfortable inns, such as the recommended Dolphin Hotel. For more information, visit: http://dolphinhotel.tur.br
This report was made possible by support from the Tourism Company of Pernambuco (EMPETUR).