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Noronha, a slice of paradise

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

For many, landing in Fernando de Noronha is a dream come true. The exquisite scenery and the opportunity to be close to nature make Noronha one of the most sought-after destinations for beach lovers. I turned that dream into reality for the first time in 2006.

I landed on the island from aboard a cruise ship. Cruise ships have been forbidden from boarding Noronha since 2013, but Embratur, the Brazilian Institute of Tourism, has announced this year that cruise ships will be allowed on the island again soon. I didn’t explore much of the island on that first trip, but it was enough to get me hooked. It was only when I returned in 2009, this time to lodge on the island, that I really started to grasp all the archipelago has to offer. I’ve been back two other times, staying at Noronha for five days on each instance.

Five days is actually the minimum for truly enjoying the island, getting to know all the beaches and bays, and having time to go back to your favorite spot. Be warned, picking a favorite will be hard because everywhere you go you will be mesmerized. Still, depending on your interests, you might be able to pick one spot. Surfers love Cacimba do Padre beach. Tourists looking to appreciate marine life via aquatic tours and life vests flock to Sueste Bay. I always return to Porto de Santo Antônio beach, because that’s where I lose track of time snorkeling among turtles, colorful fish and sharks.

Porto de Santo Antônio. Photo: Naara Vale.

Photos: Naara Vale

Surrounded by the beauty of the ocean

Fernando de Noronha is an archipelago in the State of Pernambuco, in Brazil. It’s composed of 21 islands, the largest of which (about 7 square miles), lends its name to the entire archipelago. That’s where you will find the shortest national highway in Brazil, less than 4.5 miles long. Beaches and bays in Noronha are classified as “Mar de Fora”, those facing the Atlantic and Africa, and “Mar de Dentro”, the ones facing the coast of Brazil. Beaches facing the Atlantic have stronger waves and the ones facing the coast of Brazil are calmer and a better choice for swimming and snorkeling.

To get to Fernando de Noronha, you can catch a flight from Natal or Recife, in Northeast Brazil. Because of Covid-19, there was a drastic reduction in the number of flights and only visitors that can prove they have had Covid already are allowed to travel. Proof of a previous Covid diagnosis must be submitted up to 72 hours before arrival, online only, along with proof of payment of the Environmental Preservation Fee (from around US$15 per night in the islands).

Despite the fact that Noronha boasts sunlight and Summer temperatures all year round, choosing the right time to visit will make all the difference, especially if you plan to explore marine life. The archipelago has roughly two seasons, one dry (September to March) and one wet and rainy (April to August).

During the dry season, the island is not as beautiful because the vegetation dries out, but the water is perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving, with amazing visibility underwater. In the wet season, the islands are covered in luxurious green, but sand and debris are carried into the ocean waters by rain showers, decreasing underwater visibility. That means you might not get a chance to enjoy what I love the most about Noronha: the beauty that lies underneath the water. Still, rain showers come and go in the wet season, so it’s worth it, if that’s when you can go.

Once there, you can rent a car (sand buggies are recommended because you need an off-road vehicle to get to some of the beaches), try one of the few cabs in the island or, for the more adventurous, take the local buses. They are ok, but some of the stops are far from the beaches.

Sailing, boating and snorkelling are a must

Photo: Naara Vale

I always warn those that ask me about Fernando de Noronha: don’t expect to find extensive infrastructure for tourists, extreme comfort and a bustling nightlife. The main island has an ok nightlife, with some good restaurants, some parties at Bar do Cachorro, good samba on Sundays next to the church at Muzenza and some seasonal attractions like the well-known Gastronomic Festival at Pousada do Zé Maria. But these are all things you can find in many other parts of the globe. The pristine beaches and beautiful marine life in Noronha, however, are hard to beat.

That’s why my advice is to enjoy the daylight and to plan in advance because despite the diversity of options and activities, there is high demand and the tours fill quickly. You will find several tour agents in the island that can help you book tours and experiences. Also check at your inn for recommendations. Prices vary, so be sure to do your research.

I recommend “Ilha Tour” for you to have a better idea about the main island and most popular attractions. You can book a full-day or half-day tour, lunch included or not.

A traditional experience in Noronha is a boat ride along the coast of Mar de Dentro, with a stop at Sancho Bay, which has been nominated as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world over five times. One of the attractions of this tour are the dolphins swimming next to the boats, quite the treat!

Sancho Bay. Photo: Naara Vale

Another experience I suggest is the planasub. It’s an acrylic board pulled by a boat at very low speed. You snorkel while holding on to the board and you can dive down or remain at the surface of the water. When you dive down, you feel like flying underwater!

Photo: Naara Vale

To me, however, the best experience so far has been the hawaiian canoe ride. At first I didn’t want to do it, because we needed to be at the beach before 5 am if we were to catch the sunrise on the ocean. Who wants to wake up at 4am on vacation? I did it anyway and oh, boy, was I glad I did! Once we got there, we received the instructions and started rowing. Suddenly, we were watching the sunrise from the ocean! All very much worth the early rise.

But true magic was still to come. When you are rowing and suddenly dozens of dolphins are swimming right beside you, diving under your canoe back and forth, so close that you can hear their voices, it’s unforgettable! You can obviously not count on seeing dolphins up close, but that’s the best time to try it since that’s when they travel between bays for feeding. It’s a truly breathtaking experience!!

Photo: Naara Vale

Noronha provides, by the way, a succession of awe-inspiring moments. Every stunning view that unfolds elicits a sigh and an expression of wonder. So much so that the lookout over Morro Dois Irmãos and Porcos Bay was named “ai que lindo” (Portuguese for “oh, that’s beautiful”). It’s on the same trail that leads to the steps to Sancho Bay, and will provide you with a 180 degree view of the area.

I could describe many more wonders about visiting, living and feeling Noronha, but I suggest you plan your trip and see for yourself all the islands have to offer, remembering to protect the amazing environment you will have the privilege to experience.

Photos: Naara Vale and Unsplash.

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