Fernando de Noronha is an archipelago of 21 islands and islets in the Atlantic Ocean, 354 km offshore from the Brazilian coast. It is a relatively undiscovered part of the world which sadly became a landmark in international news when an Air France flight crashed into the Ocean close to the islands in 2009.
The archipelago got its name from the Portuguese merchant Fernão de Loronha, who was granted the islands by the Portuguese Crown for services rendered in the wood import business.
About 70% of the area is a national maritime park. In 2001 UNESCO designated it World Heritage Site because of the importance of its environment and the number of endemic species of animals and plants. It is also home to a large number of dolphins, 5 species of sharks as well as mantas and moray eels.
Cliche as it may be this is island life at its best. The atmosphere is undeniably relaxed. Bars constantly run out of main items which need to be imported but nobody complains. If you can’t have a pina colada, then you go for the rum and coke. The 5,000 residents are decidedly hippy and free-spirited, a philosophy that is helped by the feeling of extreme remoteness and peace. The number of visitors is controlled at all times and the visit tax increases the longer your stay in an attempt to discourage long visits. Once you get there, it is easy to understand why the government has to push you to go – the place is so stunning and the lifestyle to chilled that you may consider moving in.
The beaches are some of the most beautiful in Brazil and well wroth the long journey and the often precarious access points. The msot famous one, Baia do Sancho, can only be accessed juggling a dangerous vertical ladder. When you first grasp a view of the bay from above you can barely believe it is real. When I took those photos digital cameras were not so common so this is a regular developed photo that has been digitized and there is no editing to it, these are the true colors of Fernando de Noronha.
The beauty of this isolated part of the world does not stop at the beach. The marine sightings while snorkeling were some of the best I have ever experienced. We got to (probably inappropriately) hold a kind of sea urchin which clung on to our hands and swim with wild dolphins. The waters are warm and clear and visibility is almost perfect. Praia da Atalaia is a natural pool with shallow waters where we spotted baby sharks. After a hiatus in the number of visitors who could access it the beach has now reopened albeit with a limited numebr of visitors per day to preserve the area. Snorkelling in this small piece of paradise felt like a temporary break in life, as if were stuck in a dream. Back in 2005 when I visited we had it all to ourselves.
The transportation on the island is on either pick-up trucks or buggies. Renting a buggy affords total independence. Alternatively, you can hitch a ride. Fernando de Noronha has a village-like feeling and a community oriented way of life where everyone greets everyone.
The main island was covered in forest until the 19th century when it was cleared to prevent the prisoners from building rafts and escaping. Today it certainly does not feel like a prison I wouldn’t mind being stuck in. It has become a popular honeymoon destination creating an interesting mix of well dressed honeymooners mixed up with some alternative meditation-and-yoga fanatic sporting ornate braids.
We sipped on fruit juices, enjoyed a beach full moon party, mingled with the locals (not necessarily from Fernando but from all over Brazil) and sampled the local cuisine. Here is where I discovered that cashew nuts are not the fruit of a tree but rather the little add-on on a apple cashew fruit, alas, a bi-product. They were everywhere in Fernando and given the limited options in food one has in a tiny isolated island they were a common ingredient in our diet.
If you’d like to read more about South America, check these posts…