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22 March 2014

Haven on Earth

Baia do Sancho

Fernando de Noronha is an archipelago of 21 islands and islets in the Atlantic Ocean, 354 km offshore from the Brazilian coast. It became a landmark in international news when an Air France flight crashed into the Occean close to the islands in 2009. I had a friend on board.

The archipelago got its name from the Portuguese merchant Fernão de Loronha, who got the archipelago from the portuguese Crown for services rendered to the wood imported from Brazil. 

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 and sharks.

Map Fernhando de Noronha
Cliche as it may be it is simply a very beautiful place with a hippy and free atmosphere, a feeling of remoteness and peace hard to match and crystalline waters dreams are made of. 

Some of the beaches like the one pictured, can only be accessed juggling a dangerous vertical ladder but the effort is well worth it. The marine sightings while snorkeling were magical. We got to (probably inappropriately) handle some variety of sea urchin which clung on to our hands, swim with dolphins and enjoy pure bliss.

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 but like a paradise of beautiful, quiet beaches and marine life. It is a very popular honeymoon place and in the recent years sine I visited it has gathered some momentum in this space, well dressed honeymooners mixing it up with some free-spirited inspired individuals seeking solace. 



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.

The details


How to get there

You can get there by plane or cruise from Recife (545 km) or by plane from Natal (360 km)


Best time to visit

Sep-Feb - dry season

Where to stay

Pousada do Vale is a good option. High-end Pousada Maravilha or Pousada Zé Maria are all good options depending on your budget
 

How to get around

Rent a dune buggy, the island's most common form of transportation: not exactly the environmentalist's first choice, but practical given the pervasiveness of the potholes, the lack of paved roads and the amount of sandy strips

 

What to do

Take a boat tour to see incredible rock formations, snorkel in Baia dos Sanchos (pictured) and see the spinner dolphins dance in the water - priceless. If you dive, don't miss this chance. If you are not afraid of horses, take  sunset horse riding tour of the island through its beaches and you will appreciate a calmer ronmantic side

Practicalities

  1. Its timezone is UTC-02:00 all year around, no daylight savings
  2. There are only 1-2 ATMs in the island so bring cash
  3. Because it is only linked to mainland by erratic service expect restaurants and bars to be out of essentials frequently
  4. An environmental preservation fee is charged from tourists upon arrival and calculated depending on the duration of the trip. The longer the higher the fee working on a progressive scale system to discourage long-term stays
  5. Bring water friendly t-shirts because swimming with sun screen on is forbidden in some beaches due to the delicate eco system 

MY TIP

Go for the more affordable pousadas rather than the posh ones (unless youa re there looking for a romantic sejour) so that you have a chance to mingle with the locals more. And DIVE, the marine life is unforgetable