Just thinking about Fernando de Noronha brings the biggest possible smile to my face. As I organize my thoughts and memories regarding the time I spent there, I get rather overwhelmed by what an incredible experience it was.
Looking back, I feel just so incredibly privileged to have made it there. It's not easy for me to make such a statement, but I believe it is the single most beautiful place I have ever visited in the entire world. It's not just the natural beauty, but a combination of everything that makes that island so incredibly special. Surely there are many beautiful idyllic islands in the world, but there's just something very special about Noronha that I hope I'll be able to express in words to properly describe it doing it justice…
A peculiar thing about the Fernando de Noronha archipelago is that it is not all that famous outside Brazil. Surely, it's well known by enough Europeans and other foreigners, but it certainly isn't as mainstream as one would expect such a place to be. To those that aren't all that familiar with it, it is an archipelago approximately 300 Kilometres offshore from the Northeast coast of Brazil, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It is well known for having not only amazing fauna, marine life and pristine beaches but also for its geological composition of submarine volcanic formations, that create an absolutely stunning landscape all around the islands.
When it comes to wild and marine life, the diversity is truly spectacular, and the fact that it has excellent under water visibility regularly, due to the currents that come from South Africa, makes it a top destination for diving and snorkeling.
The first thing to know about Fernando de Noronha National Park, is that it is truly empty, when it comes to inhabitants and visitors. The few privileged traveles that manage to venture out there will literally have the place to themselves. Access to the island is very restricted, as there are limited flights allowed to land there per day, as well as very few boats, so even though there is a fair number of people in the island, with its size of just over 18 square Kilometres (The main island, the only inhabited one), it feels very empty.
There are 17 beaches in the main island, and finding a beach that has more than a dozen people is hard, work. And EVERY beach is absolutely stunning. Three out of Brazil's Top 5 beaches are located there, but they are all breath taking.
Tourism in Fernando de Noronha
The tourism industry in Noronha has really only started about 12 years ago. The place is still well protected from becoming mainstream, keeping it incapable of interfering with the amazing atmosphere the island boasts. It isn't exactly a place where many backpackers or solo travellers venture into. Some surfers venture out there for some of Brazil's best waves, but mostly, Noronha is visited by couples, divers and well to do families. Mostly go there for the scenery, the pristine beaches, the tranquillity and the amazing marine life.
Unfortunately, Noronha is not exactly a place that most can visit. It is costly. Access to the island is costly, so the transporting of supplies is expensive, making the cost of things there costly. Even the very cost of being in the island is considerable as there is a National Park fee of R$42 per day for every night spent there.
It is a cost fairly high to Brazilians but reasonable for visitors coming from abroad that aren't exactly on a backpacker's budget. Accommodation is available to suit different comfort levels, from 5 star hotels to bed and breakfasts, and even though what is considered to be budget accommodation there is higher than in most places in the country, it can still suit those travelling with more restricted funds. With a little bit of planning, it can certainly be done!
Backpacking a posh island, assisted by friendly locals
As soon as I managed to get booked into a very sought after flight going there on mileage, I started worrying that a few days there could break the bank, as, once again, it is not a backpacking friendly place, budget wise.
Not too long before flying, I heard that some local residents rent rooms from their own houses, and as soon as I read that, I knew this would be my attempt, as it would not only provide me accommodation, but access to observing local life.
Before flying into Noronha, while still in Recife, I went to a supermarket and purchased enough food for my 5 days and 4 nights there. I only brought 2 changes of clothes with me, as well as some toiletries in my backpack, my laptop and about 10 kilos worth of food. I even brought milk and water.
This were supposedly really over priced in the islands but as I hoped to stay at a local's house, I would have access to a kitchen which would be handy. My expenses would involve the daily National Park fee, accommodation and maybe activities, and although I wasn't yet sure of how I would manage to take upon such activities, something inside me gave me the confidence that no matter how, I would find a way to make it happen.
The arrival was amazing, as the aerial view of the islands from the plane was already mind blowing. I was incredibly taken aback by such amazing natural beauty. I had thought that I had seen a lot and maybe the most beautiful places this planet had to offer. I was wrong. And it never felt to right to feel wrong!
After paying my R$172 for 4 nights in the island, I went out looking for the bus stop. A few taxis and private bus companies came offering me rides, to which I said no, and then, funnily enough, the same driver that offered me a paid ride on his private bus ended up offering me a free ride into town.
My first impressions of the island were great, to say the least. It was so raw, so beautiful and so peaceful! The paved road was fairly decent, and I started noticing some of the villages, with its Pousadas (BandBs)and small shops all around. We finally reached the Vila dos Remedios, sort of the centre of town in the island, where I was planning to walk around looking for a room to rent.
After asking around, I was taken to a house allowed by the governmental agency to rent rooms and I managed to get a room for R$40, which for Noronha is beyond a steal! Although it was paid accommodation, I quickly managed to get the local immersion that I look for whenever travelling, and became a part of the family's daily life while I was there, having coffee with them in the evenings and chatting away about life in the island, about world travel and more.
I went to check out the beach as soon as I arrived, but as it was around 2PM and the sun was really hot, I didn't dare to step out of the shade. Praia do Cachorro was really nearby, only a short walk through the historical part of town away. There, I made my first acquaintance: "Pirata", a gentleman that offered to take my picture as he observed me taking my own shots. After chatting for a short while, he noticed I wasn't a typical visitor (those were his words) and told me right away that locals are nice and helpful and that he worked in the port. He told me he'd help me get on a boat tour for free if I came looking for him the following day in the morning. Could I have asked for better luck?
Not too long after, I met yet another local who turned out to be a guide. He told me that trekking would be the best way to see the island and invited me to do a few trails with him, out of friendship. We walked from Praia do Cachorro through to Praia do Meio, Praia da Coinceicao, Praia do Boldro and a few others all the way to the Baia dos Porcos. I was constantly in state of awe, at times simply unable to believe just how beautiful the island was and how empty it was as well! Those heavenly beaches had nearly nobody on them - out of this world amazing! Our trails were partially in the sand, partially climbing rocks and partially going up some hills.
I spent my entire second day visiting beaches and hiking on my own. Here's another great thing about Noronha: It's the only place in Brazil where hitchhiking is common. All local cars take people on rides and many of the tourists that rent buggies do the same. I hitchhiked from everywhere to everywhere, all day, every day. At instances making new friends and joining people on their hikes.
I finally made it into Praia do Sancho - listed as Brazil's #1 beach! It was jaw dropping beautiful! It involved some hiking and going down some really steep stairs, but was well worth it.
Nigh life in Fernando de Noronha is limited, but every night has a specific thing to done, and Monday nigh was Maracatu night.
I had low expectations, and was blown away as soon as the band walked in. Maracatu is a cultural manifestation from this region of Brazil, with African origins and based on big drums and other instruments. This show was small and low key, but very impressive!
Great times with lots of happy people singing and dancing
The following day got even better as I joined the "complimentary" boat tour my new acquaintance had offered me. Beyond impressive. Stunning limestone cliffs, marine life and rock formations, as well as some top notch swimming opportunities.
As I had finally gotten my hands on a snorkeling mask and fins so I immediately saw massive turtles, dolphins, impressive corals and fish of all shapes and colours.
Time there seem to fly as I continued my days either taking hikes or hitching rides to different beaches to snorkeling. I visited the Praia do Leao (ranked as Brasil's #3 beach!) and Praia do Sueste, full of turtles. Later on, I finally visited the Tamar and ICMBio headquarters, where lot of information about the island, its ecology and preservation efforts can be found. Very interactive and interesting to see.
Kissing Paradise goodbye
I still wanted to visit a few of the historical sights before departing the island, such as the Fort, but will admit that taking time away from snorkeling was hard. I hiked up there, under the sun, just to find it absolutely empty, with just nobody there are all! The views from above were beautiful, and when I got too tired of the sun I noticed a swing by a nearby tree, under a shade. Idyllically relaxing – a great way to spend my last afternoon, before making my way back to the airport and facing reality again.
Leaving Noronha wasn't exactly pleasant nor easy, for I had truly enjoyed my time there! I had managed to do everything I wanted to and could have easily stayed there for a lot longer. But as most good things do come to an end, off I went, back to the airport, appreciating the fresh air and stunning nature down to the last minute.
All I could think about when I boarded that air plane, was the concept of Karma, and how it sometimes does seem to take its place in life. What goes around does come back around, and even if it takes the long way around to find you again, it ends up finding you in places that you might need it the most…
My experience in Fernando de Noronha was fantastic, and all the incredible nature wouldn't have been so beautiful if it wasn't for all the internal beauty I came to see there, through the friendly people I had the pleasure to come across. Fernando de Noronha is the most beautiful place I have ever been to and I highly recommend it to just about any person that appreciated nature, landscape, culture and beaches!