Fernando de Noronha Brazil | BCBusiness
Brazil’s version of the Galapagos offers an introduction to Atlantic island hopping.
Fernando de Noronha is proof that nature abounds in phallic symbolism. Situated an hour’s flight east of Recife, Brazil, the island from which the Atlantic archipelago draws its name is marked by a singular skyward thrust of volcanic cone. It’s the first thing you see by sky or sea, from west or east – an outcropping of green and grey surrounded by acres of tiered and fertile green hillsides.
After flying across the continent on the heels of a 10-day tour of the Galapagos, I didn’t expect much about this group of islands that could better my previous excursion, but an email from friends – who had just arrived via sailboat from South Africa – triggered an interest. A red-eye flight from Quito to Recife plus a puddle jump to the islands, and I land, one of the 480 visitors allowed in the marine sanctuary and UNESCO World Heritage Site at one time.
Best Bed Accommodation is rustic; many places don’t offer hot water showers, but the Pousada Maravilha is situated prettily with excellent rooms and beachfront access for swimming and snorkeling. pousadamaravilha.com.br
Best Meal Try Mergulhao for a simple, well-prepared seafood dinner overlooking the warm sea. Or, wander the streets and stop at a place that catches your eye to sample local barbeque.
Can’t Miss Diving or surfing. The crystalline waters are so far from the polluted mainland that they offer a unique and unfettered view of the marine environment’s ample sea life and great waves.
Within 25 minutes of landing, I have paid the state-sanctioned eco fee, jumped into the back of a lurching jalopy and made it to the marina, where a Zodiac awaits to buzz me away from the tiny port like a jet-lagged bumblebee.
We turn past the first island and are still about 500 metres from shore when my friends grab their surfboards and jump into clear blue water behind some of the most perfect, intermediate, isolated swell I’ve ever seen. It isn’t yet 7 a.m., but sitting in a dinghy seems purposeless without a fishing rod, so I follow suit, despite being a mediocre surfer who has never approached a wave from the back. As a result, I eat sand for breakfast and spend most of my time bobbing on my board behind the swell. However, the morning kicks off a routine as natural as breathing for the week we are here. The Fernando rhythm – surf, swim, snorkel, dive, sleep, eat and gape – has everything to do with the lack of tourists and the perfectly translucent water, said to be some of the clearest in the world.
No one likes to admit it, but it doesn’t take long for paradise to get boring. Fortunately, on Fernando a decent smudge of history interlaces with the white sand and omnipresent emerald overhang, and includes some juicy bits that entertain. Theft, isolation, fortification and incarceration are just some of the highlights this tiny chain of islands has experienced through 500 years of myriad European escapades. And then there are the sharks: 14 kinds! Today the most dramatic experience you’re likely to face will take place while trying to order a cone of the island’s excellent açaí ice cream without speaking Portuguese, but remnants of its more dramatic eras remain.
While swimming with the countless green sea turtles that reproduce here, it’s hard to imagine any of the main island’s imported 19th-century inhabitants – prisoners – actually cared to leave, but just in case, their Portuguese wardens cut down most of the island’s jungle to ensure they didn’t build boats. The jungle grew back and the charlatans are gone, but old stone forts remain, presenting perfect places to chew over the futility of forts on tiny islands in the middle of nowhere.
Hundreds of beaches could make the cut for “prettiest beach in the world,” but only one offers the chance to descend a series of ladders that slink through stone caves and narrow crevices to a white beach. The ladder descent to Golfinhos Bay isn’t for the faint of heart, but the type of traveller who makes it to the relatively unknown Fernando isn’t apt to shy away from impromptu spelunking on the way to the beach. And here, doing so is a veritable rite of passage.