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Fernando de Noronha - the Brazilian Fantasy Island
Distance kept this small island protected for centuries. Fernando de Noronha is 340 km off the Brazilian coast, and the access to and permanence in the island is strictly controlled, to prevent damages to the environment; the beaches are as beautiful as they were 500 years ago.
Mean annual temperature is 26 degrees Celsius, and winds are relieving and permanent.
Noronha was officially found in 1503 by an expedition led by Americo Vespucio (the man after whom America was named); the king of Portugal gave the possession of the island to the sponsor of the venture, Fernando de Loronha, a wealthy man in the pau-brasil (a kind of tree which abounded in Brazil) business; Loronha never saw the island, and it's unknown why the name was changed to Noronha.
As Portugal never cared much about the island, it was occupied by French and Dutch, for brief periods. In 1737, Portugal reclaimed the island, and, shortly after, because of the insulation of the place, Noronha became a prison for convicted Brazilians; in 1832, the natural forests were completely devastated, to prevent the prisoners from building boats to scape the island; in 1942, it was used by US forces during WW II; in 1972, the first tourists visited the island; in 1988, Noronha gained status of National Marine Park, and became a major tourist resort.
Several travel agencies operate tours leaving from Natal and Recife; visitors must arrive with a package tour scheduled. There are only two villages in Noronha: Vila dos Remedios and Vila do Trinta.
There is a limit for the number of tourists arriving to Noronha (about 500 - five hundred - per day). Because the island is a protected area, there is strict vigilance by IBAMA, the Brazilian agency for environment protection. An "environment tax" is collected from each visitor; in an attempt to desestimulate long stayings, the tax grows very quickly, according to the number of days; expect to pay around R$100 for a one-week sojourn, and over R$1,000 if you stay one month.
Visit the Noronha's official site (in Portuguese only - this site in Portuguese only is also a good source) for more information about the bureaucracy, taxes and other administrative issues.
Noronha is small (about 10 km across and 7 km down); there are about 3,000 residents, most of which strangers who fell in love with the island or with someone who lived there. Migration is controlled, and so is the real estate speculation.
So, don't expect luxury resorts. (Update: resorts are still non-existant, but since 2008 some upscale pousadas have been built in Noronha - check out hotels in Fernando de Noronha).
Recently, some higher standard hotels were built, but, because land, electricity and fuel are scarce commodities here, not much of it can be wasted with luxuries like, e.g., shopping centers, air conditioners and neons.
Don't expect bargains, either; the long distances and the laws of market (demand exceeding the limited supply) cause all prices to be higher than in the mainland.
The most common means of transportation are the buggies (available for rent, expect to pay over R$100 per day). There are taxis, but rides are a very common practice; Noronha has the shortest paved highway in Brazil (7 km long), but the unpaved roads are inevitable.
Besides the rides, the smallness of the island induces other ways of socialization. The nights are animated by forro, which happens in open air bars along the beaches; socialization between foreigners and between tourists and locals are common. Other popular events are the expositions promoted by IBAMA; with themes such as sharks or dolphins, these meetings attract large audiences interested in learning more about nature and its preservation.
During the day, options are many.
The IBAMA folks can guide tours to watch turtles laying their eggs at Praia do Leao (Lion's beach), or watch the dolphins ballet at Baia dos Golfinhos (Dolphins Bay).
The Dolphins Bay is home for over 1,000 dolphins, which return there to rest when the sun is setting, after spending the day in high sea looking for food. Accostumed to the human presence, the dolphins surround the boats where amazed tourists trigger their cameras.
Looking for beaches? Noronha has sixteen beaches, all paradisiac; five of them (including the above mentioned Leao and Golfinhos) are of restricted access, for preservation purposes. Among the others, the most frequented (that means a few dozen people in each) are beaches of Cachorro, Conceicao, Americanos, Quixaba and Cacimba do Padre. All beaches have fine grained sand and cristaline warm water. In some of the beaches, like Baia dos Porcos and the Baia Sueste, there are natural pools formed by water trapped among the reefs; a perfect place to bring children.
Fernando de Noronha is also perfect for diving. The island is the peak of a mountain, part of a volcanic chain which erupted a few million years ago; so, the submarine surface has a steep slope, which allows for a deeper view into the sea waters. The entire island is good for diving, but some spots, like Baia dos Sanchos, concentrate the diving operators.
Fernando de Noronha was blessed by God, and (until recently) protected from men.
http://www.noronha.com.br In English, commercial site
Also, read what UNESCO says about Noronha
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