“Welcome to the most beautiful beach in the world!” proclaims the sign at the entrance to Praia do Sancho on the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha. When you travel a lot, you get used to these kinds of hyberbole, but it’s certainly one of the nicest beaches I have ever been to. Access is not easy, however, as it’s backed by high cliffs. You have to climb two vertical ladders down through a narrow chasm and then the rest of the way is along stone steps cut into the rock. But once you’re there it’s all worthwhile. Fine white sand, waters of every shade of blue imagineable, and all kinds of marine life await you if you have a snorkel.
Fernando de Noronha is renowned throughout Brazil as a tropical, paradisiacal, but high-end and costly destination. Outside Brazil, though, it’s not that well known except as the place where Air France flight 447 tragically crashed in 2009. Fernando de Noronha is actually an archipelago of 21 islands 354 kms off the coast of northern Brazil. Recife and Natal are the gateway cities and flights are not cheap, nor is accommodation or food and drink. But with the current devaluation of the Brazilian real, foreigners will find things pretty reasonable right now.
The best beaches are in the national park, for which you need to pay an entrance fee, but they are superb. Praia do Sancho and Baia dos Porcos are visually dramatic and have excellent snorkelling. Praia do Leão is wonderful and is a short walk from Baia do Sueste where you can snorkel with turtles. I also saw a shark there, but don’t worry, they’re a harmless species.
Even the beaches outside the designated park are stupendous. On Praia da Conceição I saw seabirds diving into the water to fish and thought there must be something worth seeing there. So I put on my snorkel and waded in. Just metres from the shore I was astonished to find myself surrounded by millions of sardines. Even more spectacular was swimming very close to a stingray. On the beach at the port I also snorkelled with three turtles.
There are some great trails. The most popular and easiest is to the Mirante dos Golfinhos, the Dolphin Lookout Point. Huge numbers of spinner dolphins are to be found all around the island, but this is one of the best places to spot them and the view is amazing.
If you’re prepared to stay in homestays like I did and walk and take the bus rather than hire taxis and beach buggies, then you can cut costs dramatically. There is a steep daily tourist tax to pay which goes towards the preservation of the island. But this, and the fact that tourist numbers are limited, means that it never feels crowded and it’s really easy to find a space to yourself – even on the most beautiful beach in the world!