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Map of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

Fernando de Noronha

Diving is the activity of choice in Fernando de Naronha, Brazil For travelers interested in ecologically friendly tourism, this tiny island off the northeast coast of Brazil is a hidden jewel waiting to be discovered. Approximately 340 miles from the city of Recife, this paradise is part of an archipelago of 21 separate islands, islets, and crags, all situated atop a submerged volcano in the warm waters of the Southern Atlantic.

The famed navigator Amerigo Vespucci staked a Portuguese claim here in 1503, proclaiming "the paradise is here" as he stepped onto the deserted island. This archipelago was a favorite haunt of early pirates before being subsequently claimed by the Spanish, French, and Dutch, who all wanted it for its strategic location. Reclaimed by the Portuguese in 1737, it became home to a U.S. military base during World War II. The remote location also lent itself fittingly for use as a penitentiary. The ruins of the ten forts Portugal built to reassert possession still remain on the island, and are of interest for a day of exploration.

Fernando de Noronha, at a mere 7.1 square miles, is by far the largest and only inhabited island in the archipelago. Today the island boasts approximately 3,000 inhabitants, who subsist on fishing, agriculture, and a budding tourist industry. Although the local government has made impressive efforts to increase the hospitality infrastructure to promote tourism, it has taken pains to do so in a responsible and constrained manner. A number of small bed and breakfasts, or pousadas, have been built, but the quality of lodging is usually quite poor.

Recognizing the importance of protecting its delicate ecosystem, the island's authorities have implemented strict regulations, such as limiting the number of visitors allowed on the island to 1000 at a time. By controlling the number of tourists the island assures a lucky few uncrowded beaches, secluded sites to enjoy the magnificent sunsets, and less wait for a table at the restaurants dotting the main village of Vila dos Remedios.

Just one of the beautiful beaches with jagged cliffs on the island of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil This tiny island is home to some of the most beautiful beaches to be found in all of Brazil, and one can argue, the world. While every one of the 16 beaches boasts sparkling turquoise waters, each one has particular traits and attributes that distinguish it. Some are ideal for sunbathing, swimming, and family activities, while others appeal to those who enjoy more active pursuits like snorkeling or exploring the natural aquariums that have formed in the rocks.

Due to its warm waters and exceptionally clear visibility, the area has become renowned for superb snorkeling and diving. Plentiful marine life, submerged shipwrecks, and underwater cliffs are just some of the attractions that make this a mecca for dive enthusiasts. During the winter months, surfers come from all over the world to take advantage of the island's superlative waves.

Almost three quarters of the area was designated a National Marine Sanctuary in the 1970's, in order to preserve the abundant and unique marine life that thrives in the surrounding waters. The island hosts a protected beach which is a feeding and breeding area for hawksbill and green turtles, and the archipelago is home to the largest bird-breeding colonies of all the islands of the Tropical South Atlantic. Thanks to its exceptional environment, Fernando de Noronha was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.

Although most places can be easily reached on foot, by renting or bike, or just calling taxis, a great way to discover the island is by renting a dune buggy. A buggy is basically a four wheel drive vehicle that doesn't really have door or windows, but is more of an outdoor ATV. Another wonderful way to explore the area is by taking a boat tour of the surrounding islands, often in the company of schools of dolphins.

The climate is tropical with year-round average temperatures ranging between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. There are two distinct seasons: the wet season, which lasts from January to August, and the dry season, September through December.

Fernando is accessible by plane and by boat. There are daily flights from Recife and Natal, which last just over an hour. Since visitor numbers are limited, it is advisable to arrange travel to the island well in advance, particularly during the peak seasons (December through February; July). Travelers should also prepare for an "environmental preservation tax," assessed to all visitors upon arrival. The tax, approximately $22 U.S. per day, varies depending on length of stay.

Map of Fernando de Naronha

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