The beautiful and environmentally protected archipelago of FERNANDO DE NORONHA lies in the equatorial Atlantic some 545km from Pernambuco, though it’s actually nearer to Rio Grande do Norte. Access is mainly from Recife and Natal. Boasting more than sixteen very clean and stunning beaches, it’s hard to beat for scuba diving – its clear water stretches down to a depth of 40m in places, with a white sandy sea bottom, plenty of coral, crustaceans, turtles, dolphins and a wide range of fish species and shoal types. The islands are also breeding territory for a number of tropical Atlantic birds.
European explorers first came here in 1503, and after a struggle between various powers, with the Dutch running the show from 1700 to 1736, the islands ended up under the control of the Portuguese in 1737. Lisbon considered the archipelago strategically important enough to build the Forte dos Remédios, of which only some remains can now be seen.
In recent years, the archipelago has become well known as an ecotourist destination. Most of it has been protected as a marine national park, created in 1988 in order to maintain the ecological wonders that have been preserved by the islands’ isolation from the rest of Brazil. The vegetation is fairly typical northeastern agreste, but the wildlife is magnificent: birdwatchers will be amazed by the variety of exotic birds, including several types of pelican, and you’ll be moved by the remarkable sight of thousands of dolphins entering the bay every day between 5am and 6am, viewed from the harbour.
The main island, Ilha de Fernando de Noronha, shelters plenty of stunning beaches. The water can sometimes be turbulent and not perfectly clear, but it is a fairly constant and very comfortable 28°C. The best beaches are probably Praia da Atalaia and Cacimba do Padre, and at Mirante dos Golfinhos you can watch dolphins leaping over the waves. A number of ecological trails allow good birdwatching, and several companies specialize in scuba-diving courses and trips, including Aguas Claras (t 81/3619-1225, w www.aguasclaras-fn.com.br), Atlantis (t 81/3619-1371, w www.atlantisnoronha.com.br) and Noronha Divers (t 81/3619-1112, w www.noronhadivers.com.br). Various companies also offer boat trips around the archipelago, departing from the ports at the northeastern tip of the island and from the Bahia dos Golfinhos at the island’s southern end. Boat trips from the latter leave most days (R$45 per person including transport to the harbour; t 81/3619-1295).