The Brazilian paradise nobody really knows about

The island of Fernando de Noronha | Brazil


[FERNANDO DE NORONHA,  BRAZIL] — My sign of a perfect vacation?  Not seeing another American for the whole trip.  Fernando de Noronha is one of those places.

Sitting on the tippy-top of an underwater volcano about 220 miles off the state of Pernambuco and the northeast coast of Brazil, the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha is a magical paradise. The geology is like nothing I’ve ever seen, the perfect set for a Bond film: soaring granite monoliths, wide bays with sea turtles and spinning porpoises and clear blue-green water that shimmers deep.


Dois Irmãos hero shot

I mean….

Its history is a little bit like Alcatraz; it was a Portuguese then Brazilian penal colony and military base for hundreds of years, even spent a stint of time as an Air France refueling base for flying boats, the last stop before crossing the Atlantic. Then they finally realized it was so amazing, they turned it into a huge nature preserve — now a protected UNESCO World Heritage site. About 70% of the island is protected.

Dois Irmãos coastal view

The view looking down the coast from Dois Irmãos.


Everyone in Brazil knows of this place, often cited as the ultimate Brazilian vacation paradise — “Ahhh, Fernando….the most beautiful.”  It’s a little hard to get to, you have to fly to Sao Paolo, then Recife or Natal, then take another hour flight out. But that makes it better, keeps people away.  Almost everywhere I went during my week there everyone asked: “Where are you from? How did you find out about this place?”

Only a few handfuls of tourists are allowed on the island at any one time — which further assures you’ll have it all to yourself — and there are only a few decent hotels. You’ll need a permit to even land on the island.

Fernando de Noronha map

The island is about an hour flight and 220 miles off the coast of Brazil’s beautiful northeastern coast.


Fernando de Noronha volcano

Fernando de Noronha is really a bunch of islands that are the tippy top of a huge underwater volcano.

Getting Around on Fernando de Noronha

There are no cars on the island, just scary-safe dune buggies to rent for the week to zip around the island’s one main road and ride the muddy, bumpy roads to the blue edges. Just give the brakes some extra room to do their job…or bring an ⚓!

Fernando de Noronha dune buggy and surfboards

Basically, the little island has one paved 4 mile road that goes through the top middle of the island.  From there, you take some extremely bumpy dirt and puddle-strewn roads to the edges of the island, then paths down to the beaches. The main mode of transportation is dune buggies, even the taxis.  You need to rent a dune buggy for your stay, but they’re cheap. (Dune buggies are small, btw….and not necessarily known for their crash worthiness.)

Praia do Sancho Fernando de Noronha map




It is an adventure land of fun with diving, snorkeling, beaches and boat rides on the agenda every day.


Dois Irmãos big surf

You really feel like you are on top of an underwater volcano.


Basically, the island is more Adventureland than relaxing, sit-by-the-pool resorts place.  Each day, you pick a different beach and then set off to explore. Or go snorkeling, scuba diving, take an awesome boat ride, swim, etc. And like the rest of Brazil, there’s usually a beach shack ready to sell you a caipirinha or coconut to chill your chill.🌴🌴🐬🐟🌞🍍

Each beach has its own characteristic..and challenge…to get to it. That’s what makes it fun.  I brought five books to read for the week and only got through one.

Praia do Sancho from above

Praia do Sancho from above.

The island is pretty rustic, it’s been only 15 years since this whole process started — at the time I was there in 2012, the internet there is like the whole island sharing one dialup line — so it has a few nice restaurants, a few nice hotels, but the rest is pretty honest Brazil. They’ve done it right though, the hotels can book your activities and most places will bill your hotel directly, then you only have pay once at the end of your week. They only recently added ATMs on the island, before you had to bring all your money with you. I still would.  Not that much English is spoken, but the people are super nice and patient.

The coastline is protected, so there aren’t any hotels right on the water. There are only a few licensed tour operators (scuba, boats, etc.) so the whole island has a calmness and you’re not inundated with people begging you to take a tour. Five nights is a good amount of time, which still leaves you with more to see upon your return.

The Beaches of Fernando de Noronha

Dois Irmãos

Dois Irmãos during the day

Dois Irmãos is one of the most well-known rock formations. Make sure you go back again and again, the light and water change the looks throughout the day.



Dois Irmãos view coast

Jurassic Park… wait, it’s the island of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

Praia do Sancho

Praia do Sancho from above

Praia do Sancho is the most famous beach on the island. Ranked as one of the Top 10 Beaches in the World, mostly because of how difficult it is to get to. Either by boat or by the crazy way you’re about to see…

 To get to this beach you park a ways away, then hike past the iguanas though the forest until you arrive at this remarkable overlook.
Praia do Sancho beach


Praia Conceição



Where to Stay on Fernando de Noronha

I first saw this pool in Taschen’s The Hotel Book years ago and instantly knew I had to find out where this place was…and then go there. (Their pictures are better than my crummy ones.) #PousadaMaravilha on the island of FernandoDeNoronha, an island on top of a 13,000ft volcano 220 miles off the coast of #Brazil.
The island is amazing, but this view made it hard to get up and go explore.



Water Sports on Fernando de Noronha

If you’ve never been to Brazil, here’s the thing to do, all along its bazillion miles of sandy coastline: Each day you find a colorful old wooden schooner and jump on with an always fun group of Brazilians— cute honeymooners, families, grandmothers, kids, etc. — for an afternoon of trolling the inaccessible beaches and rocky coastline, ducking into clear green coves, swimming to the isolated Gilligan’s Island beach bars, snorkeling and all-day bobbing to the ever-present beat of Brazil.

It’s a hoot and never gets old. The schooners are a bargain, come in all shapes and sizes, always crank an awesome soundtrack and serve up cheap beer, caipirinhas and surprisingly good food. And smiles.

And like all of Brazil, everyone welcomes you into the party. The best vibe in the world.


The island has one of the biggest spinner dolphin populations, so you’ll see them all over. And there’s a vast organization focused on raising those huge green sea turtles in protected areas.  So the whole preserve is about turtles and dolphins. Awesome. You can be snorkeling and look left and realize you’re in a bunch of huge turtles, or sharks, or dolphins. Amazing.





Other Travel Resources

Finding good information about the island in English is hard to find..maybe purposefully?  So here are a bunch of articles I found:

Travel & Leisure lists it as one of the most Romantic Islands in the world.  Here’s a great overview of the island in another Travel & Leisure article. NYtimes Magazine.

Wikipedia.  Conde Nast Traveler. NYTimes. The Guardian.  And another great Conde Nast Traveler article. Hurry, before more show up.

Last visited March 2012



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