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.  About 200 miles off the Pernambuco coast of Brazil, there’s a small group of volcanic islands rising 13,000ft off the ocean floor that’s Fernando de Noronha.  Its history is a little bit like Alcatraz; it was a Portuguese then Brazilian penal colony and military base for hundreds of years, then they finally found it so amazing, they turned it into a huge nature preserve. About 70% of the island is protected.

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 Recife or Natal, then take another hour flight out, but that makes it better.  Almost everywhere I went during my week there everyone asked: “Where are you from? How did you find out about this place?”

Sitting on top of a volcano about 220 miles off the coast of Brazil, the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha is a magical paradise and a protected UNESCO World Heritage site. A former prison colony turned national marine park, only a few handfuls of tourists are allowed on the island at any one time and there are only a few decent hotels. You’ll need a permit to even land on the island.

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. 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 bumpy roads to the blue edges. Just give the brakes some extra room to do their job…or bring an ⚓️ It is an adventure land of fun with diving, snorkeling, beaches and boat rides on the agenda every day. Pick a different beach and head out. And like the rest of Brazil, there’s usually a beach shack ready to sell you a caipirinha or coconut to chill your chill.🌴🌴🐬🐟🌞🍍

fernando de noronha map2

Basically, the little island has one paved 4 mile road that goes through the top middle of the island.  Form 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. (Dune buggies are small, btw….and not necessarily known for their crash worthiness.)




Dois Irmãos

This is not a magazine. This is what you see. Unbelievable.

Basically, the island is more Adverntureland than relaxing, sit-by-the-pool resorts.  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. 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. 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.

The island is pretty rustic, it’s been only 15 years since this whole process started — 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.

Dois Pedros view

The view up the coast, from Dois Irmãos

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.


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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