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I recently returned from a short trip to Fernando De Noronha, an archipelago of 21 islands about 220 miles off the coast of mainland Brazil, and found this far-flung natural paradise (and UNESCO World Heritage site) a perfect spot for scuba diving and quiet relaxation. I’ve so far shared the adventures of my American Airlines flight to the the Brazilian beach city of Recife, my Azul Airlines connecting flight to Fernando de Noronha, and a review of my Fernando hotel, the Ecopousada Teju Açu. Today’s tale will be of a private tour of the island led by a wonderful guide named Jefferson Cachorrinho from tour company Patas e Trilhas.
My traveling companion on Fernando de Noronha was my Brazilian-born friend Sergio, who had wanted to visit this island chain since he was a child. He and I decided to book this private tour in order to get a local feel for the island’s many beaches. The tour was definitely local, as Cachorrinho (the name he asked that we use) only spoke Portuguese to us. In general I picked up the gist of what he said, but luckily Sergio is fluent and was able to translate anything I might have missed.
This all-day tour included visits to the following beaches: Leão, Cachorro, Americano, Atalaia, Sancho, Boldro and Meio. Including hotel pickup and drop off, the tour cost a worthwhile 500 Brazilian Reals (BRL), or about $220 US for up to four people.
Cachorrinho picked us up at our hotel at about 9:30 am, and our first stop was at the port at Santo Antonio. Here they have a bay where nurse sharks feed, as well as a shark museum, the latter of which is both basic and free to enter. (I’m not sure if you all know this, but I am obsessed with sharks, so I was in heaven)
While at the museum, we also learned some of the island’s history, including various theories of how it was discovered and founded; few historians can agree which 14th-century Portuguese sailing expedition first reached Fernando, but it’s generally thought that explorer Amerigo Vespucci was the first to describe it in formal records, in the year 1503. Within a span of about 200 years, ownership of the island bounced back and forth between the English, French and Dutch, finally settling into the hands of the Portuguese in the mid-1700s. From the late 1770s until 1957, this remote island was mainly used as a Portuguese prison compound.
After getting our dose of history, we saw a surfing competition on the main beach, Praia de Meio, which was an incredible experience.
Nearby we saw some swimming pools in the rocks, which were simply amazing.
Then we moved on to secluded Praia de Cachorro, where despite strict rules prohibiting new construction, Cachorrinho and his father are lucky to live in a beachfront house. If you fall in love with the islands and start entertaining fantasies of moving here and building yourself a dream house on the beach, you should think again.
The islands are bound by stiff regulations to keep them as pristine and natural as they are right now. Only one of the islands, Noronha, is inhabited, but the entire island chain is a protected park where only 420 visitors are allowed per day. Currently, an environmental tax is charged by the Brazilian state of Pernambuco: a five-day stay on the island costs $180 BRL ($80 US) per adult, and the longer you stay, the higher the permit fee.
Aside from this environmental protection tax, the Marine National Park of Fernando de Noronha charges an entrance fee (valid for 10 days) of $150 BRL ($67 US) to access several beaches, to scuba dive and to explore the park’s networks of walking trails. The park is managed by Eco de Noronha, whose representative, Pablo Morbis, kindly granted Sergio and me complimentary entrance to the park since we met through mutual friends on the island. To say that the islanders are friendly would be an understatement of the century!
At Cachorro (dog) Beach we headed over to what they I called “nature’s jacuzzi,” large tide pools that are naturally refreshed with water and fish every day at high tide. Hanging out here was one of the most relaxing parts of our whole trip.
All throughout our tour, Cachorrinho stopped to pick up locals and drive them to our next destination. Quite literally, our guide knows every single inhabitant on these islands, and everyone we picked up was really warm and friendly. Completing the picture of Fernando as that surfer/hippie paradise you’ve always dreamed about, Cachorrinho even played Bob Marley and other reggae music on our truck’s stereo all day.
When it was time to break for lunch (which is not included in the tour), we headed to the popular, well-reviewed Ze Maria (more on this incredible restaurant to come) for some BBQ. After lunch, it started to rain a bit but we still went to our next spot – and I’m so glad we did!
We visited Baia de Sancho, just voted the best beach in the world by TripAdvisor. Even in the rain, this beach was pristine and gorgeous. To access the shore, you need to climb down ladders and narrow passages to first reach a cliff, then the sand. We caught glimpses of sea turtles in the water as we descended, and once we dove into the warm water, we swam with our mouths hanging open in amazement as seabirds swooped down around us to spear fish with their beaks. We soon spotted a hopping party boat in the water with locals enjoying their day to to the fullest, and wished we could have climbed aboard – but that would have meant leaving this slice of paradise!
After this, we drove around a bit more to see some other beaches, but by then it was pouring, so we made our visits quick. It didn’t bother us to keep things moving, though – it would have been hard to top what we’d already seen, especially Baia de Sancho.
Our last stop was an area where the US military had a base which was later turned into Noronha’s first hotel, Hotel Esmeralda de Atlantico, and has since been commercially abandoned and co-opted by squatters. The Brazilian government wants these squatters to leave and to once again turn this now Dharma Initiative-esque structure into a hotel, but since no new construction is allowed on the island, there’s nowhere for these squatters to move – and so the situation remains at a standstill.
Our one disappointment of the day was missing one of Fernando’s legendary sunset views from the Fort San Pedro Boldro due to the rainy weather. Even in the sunset’s absence, though, we returned to the hotel at about 6 pm with big smiles on our faces.
I’ve never been a fan of all-day tours, but I loved this experience and would highly recommend it. Getting to see a wide variety of beaches in one day – including some I might have never found on my own – was a rare treat. After touring around with Cachorrinho, I really felt like I’d properly seen Fernando de Noronha.
Overall, I’d describe Fernando De Noronha as similar to Chile’s Easter Island, but smaller and with much better beaches. Locals are extremely friendly and conservation is the archipelago’s primary focus. The regulations are strict, but that’s why these islands are in such beautiful condition – no crowds, no trash, and just one stunning vista after another.
To book your own tour with Jefferson Cachorrinho and Patas e Trilhas, send an email request with your travel dates and interests to [email protected] – and tell him Brian and Sergio say hello!