From the warm clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean, 350 km (220 m) off the coast of Brazil, the lush green mountains and sheer cliffs of Femando de Noronha rise in all their tropical perfection. There are 21 islands in the archipelago, all uninhabited apart from Femando de Noronha itself. The waters surrounding the islands are a National Marine Reserve and home to counttless species of fish, rays, sharks and spirmer dolphins. Considered to be one of the most important ecological sanctuaries in the world and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the area attracts keen divers and wildlife enthusiasts for the trip of a lifetime.
To prevent damage to the natural landscape, only 420 visitors are allowed on the island at a time. Accommodation is in sustainable tourist lodges which are designed to have minimum impact on their surroundings. The island is nearly always fully booked, particularly in the busiest months of December and January.
First discovered by an Italian merchant and cartographer in 1503, the archipelago is 4 degrees south of the Equator. During its 500 years of history, Femando de Noronha has been temporarily occupied by the Dutch, French, British and Portuguese, who held it from 1737 onwards and built a series of nine forts on the island to defend their territory.
Femando de Noronha is known for its beaches, which offer crystal clear blue water perfect for swimming. The Praia do Leão and Baia do Sancho are widely considered to be the best in Brazil. With underwater visibility up to 50 metres, the island is a Mecca for divers and snorkellers, with more than two hundred species of fish, five shark species, sea turtles and dolphins. Snorkelling in the tidal pool of Praia da Atalaia is now restricted to 100 people per day, but well worth the effort for its remarkable diversity of sea life. Lobsters, octopus and numerous fish species inhabit the pool and you may even see a baby shark.
Another memorable sight is the Baia dos Golfinhos (Bay of Dolphins), where every morning more than 1000 spinner dolphins gather to frolic and dance in the early sunshine. Sea turtles are also prolific here, using many of the wide, secluded beaches as ground on which to lay their eggs.
WHEN TO GO
Any time of year; even in the rainy season (April-August) there are only intermittent showers.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly from Recife or Natal in Brazil or take a cruise ship between October and February.
Praia do Leao and Baia do Sancho - these pristine beaches are the best on the island and widely considered to to be the best in Brazil.
Praia da Atalaia - a beautiful tidal pool just 45-60 cm (18-24 in) deep with an enormous diversity of marine life to explore with a snorkel.
Diving in the crystal clear waters to view spinner dolphins, turtles, lemon sharks and other marine life.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
The smaller islands can only be vIsited with an official license from the Brazilian Environmental Institute.